The mythical Trans-Siberian Railway is by far the best travel adventure anyone can experience (one of the best anyway!). There are however a few misconceptions that can make travellers quite unsure about embarking on a long train journey across the vast territory of Russia, Mongolia and China: is it affordable? Is it boring? Is it safe?
How much does a Trans-Siberian ticket cost?
There are many ways to travel on the Trans-Siberian rail track. First of all, you can choose between a private train company and public trains that move tourists and locals around Siberia and neighbouring territories. A classic one way 6 – night Trans-Siberian journey ticket from Moscow to Beijing in a 2nd class compartment on a public train will cost around £580. The luxury of a private train with your own toilet and even a shower will cost you a few thousands more but you will be able to enjoy the extravagance of a hotel on wheels such as Tsar’s Gold train or the famous Golden Eagle.
But let’s talk about the simple Russian public trains that carry thousands of holidaymakers and locals every day! For anyone looking after their pennies, this is the way to travel. You do not need to get on the train in Moscow and stay on board all the way to Beijing. Both Russia and Mongolia have so many things to offer that we would consider it a sin not to stop over in the small (and not so small) traditional cities along the way.
One very important thing to mention; if you do stop over along the way, you need to purchase separate dated tickets for each bit of your journey as there is no hop on/ hop off ticket similar to what you would have in Europe. So, if you have no idea where you want to stop and for how long while experiencing the Tran-Siberian railway, we will help you design the dream holiday. And it will certainly not break your budget either: once we break the journey down, we have more options between the train classes. You are no longer limited to the 1st (2 berths) and 2nd (4 berths) but the 3rd class comes into play! This is the cheapest and arguably the most fun class! The entire carriage is open and there are no closed compartments or curtains. There are two lower and two upper berths on one side, a small and narrow corridor, and other two berths (upper and lower) located on the opposite side by the window. Instead of a compartment there are six berths and no doors. There is no possibility to lock anything or to have any privacy. Therefore, 3rd class tickets are good for short distances, anyone travelling on a budget and not interested in high comfort or looking to meet a lot of local people! Traveling by platzkart (3rd class) may be a reasonable option for a solo traveller as well as you will avoid getting stuck in a cabin with 3 strangers! Sometimes it is even more comfortable to travel 3rd class as these carriages may have better ventilation during hot summer months. You can also travel on the Trans-Siberian all year round! Each season will offer different advantages and prices do fluctuate as well; if you are looking to cut the costs, choose the low winter season and experience the snow you will hardly ever see in Europe!
A week on the train…it must be boring!
It is one of the biggest myths about the Trans-Siberian rail journey! This train journey may be many things but “boring” is not one of them. Even if you opt for a one way Moscow to Beijing ticket (6 nights on a train!) there are still plenty of things you can do!
Enjoy the passing of many time zones; it is really good fun when you are trying to catch up with it! Talk to other passengers! You would be surprised how many fantastic people you can meet on the way, and even if you are on the introvert side, you already have one thing in common: the thirst for adventure. If you chose to travel 1st or 2nd class, just leave the confines of your comfy cabin and have a stroll along the train to meet the “fun carriage”, the Platzkart passengers! Do not be afraid to speak to the locals; you will discover that Russians are among the kindest people you could meet, always ready to engage in conversations, share their stories and culture (as well as the food and Vodka they most likely will be carrying as well!) Russians do have a knack at making the compartments feel like home away from home. Learn a new language! ...or at least give it a try. If you do not speak Russian, chances are, you may be able to learn a few useful expressions. We definitely recommend learning the mysterious Cyrillic alphabet on the way. If you are travelling only to Irkutsk (still 3 nights on the train) we can guarantee you will be able to decipher the Russian words by the time you get off the train. And imagine the feeling of being able to read this Москва or Иркутск, or even this Я еду в Китай на поезде! Be amazed by the passing landscapes! And you can be sure you will be able to! With an average speed of 60km/h, the Trans-Siberian services will allow you to marvel at the passing nature, the vast Taiga and the many cities along the way. More than that, the train stops every few hours for 5 to 20 minutes. You can hop off the train to buy some delicious local food right there on the platform. It is a big part of the Trans-Siberian experience and you would normally see that the train becomes almost empty while the passengers are queuing on the platform to get some warm home-made Pirozhki. Many Babushkas living in the cities along the Trans-Siberian rail track prepare fresh food before the train’s arrival. It is a small business for them and even if you are not sure about trying the food (but really, it is delicious!) it is a great way to support them by buying a few things.
Is a Trans-Siberian Rail Journey safe?
You may already be excited about the prospect of the Trans-Siberian journey but the last thing that keeps you from going is the question of safety. In a way, trains are one of the safest means of travel across Russia, Mongolia and China! Every carriage is looked after 24/7 by at least one attendant (provodnista). Every train also has a police squad, in case anything goes wrong – not that anything ever happens but the Russian Railway is extremely well organized and any delay may disrupt the uninterrupted flow of trains along the track. Nonetheless, as with any travel anywhere around the world, let the common sense be your guide. Don’t leave valuables unattended and keep your passport and money on you at all times. 1st and 2nd class cabins can be locked from the inside. You can keep your luggage either in an overhead luggage storage area, or under the bench. It is best to keep it under your bench, if you occupy the lower berth. If you are a woman who travels alone and you happen to share the same compartment with 3 men, you may feel uncomfortable. In this case feel free to ask attendants if they can transfer you to another compartment. You can book the upper berth for some extra privacy and security (the lower berths can often be used as a bench to sit on during the day but no one will be sharing the top berth with you!).
As with anywhere, do not agree to look after another person's luggage or store it in your compartment. Travel with your own personal first aid kit (doctors are available only at the stations). When you socialise with fellow travellers, do not try to keep up with the locals! Too much alcohol does not help to keep you safe! Be careful hopping off and on the train at the train stations: the stops are only for 5 to 20 minutes and if you are late for your departure, the train will not wait for you. If that ever happens, contact the station master and ask them to contact the train to take your luggage off the train at the next stop (or if you are not far from the next stop, you can try getting there before the train…if you want to add more spice to your adventure!)
Look out for Part 2 of the Trans-Siberian adventure blog!
Book your unforgattable Trans-Siberian holiday here:
Create your route tool for tailor-made journeys: https://www.into-russia.co.uk/trans-siberian-railway-tours/trans-siberian
Group Trans-Siberian jourey by public trains: https://www.into-russia.co.uk/trans-siberian-railway-tours/rail-journeys/classic-trans-siberian-journey-by-public-trains
Luxury Trans-Siberian rail journeys: https://www.into-russia.co.uk/luxury-rail-journeys