The Trans Siberian Railway

Not only the longest train journey in the world, but the most romantic as well, the Trans Siberian Railway links Moscow with remote communities in the Russian Far East. For travelers it’s an opportunity to explore these distant and beautifully wild regions, whereas for locals, the railway is an essential way for them to commute, study or visit relatives. You’ll be sharing your journey with a constantly rotating mix of interesting and friendly fellow passengers – listening to music with Mongolians, sharing family photos with Iranians, or a picnic with an Uzbek family, playing chess in the corridors with the Russian elite – it all makes the trip even more enjoyable.

Trans Siberian itinerary & highlights

The Trans Siberian Railway runs from Moscow, with lines leading to China, Mongolia and North Korea. The Trans Mongolian line branches off at Ulan Ude, while the Trans Manchurian branches off at Tarskaya, with both eventually finishing in Beijing. Whichever route you opt for, you can expect an ever changing tableaux of scenery from the window, and always fresh faces to encounter in the corridors and dining car every day.
Make no mistake – although you’re traveling by train, you’re certainly not confined to it for the duration of the trip. Trains are scheduled regularly and reliably, so your itinerary will be planned to allow you to jump off and back on again at many points – something which is not possible for independent travelers who buy a single train ticket. Popular stops include Lake Baikal, thought to be the oldest and deepest lake in the world, and Ulaanbaatar, capital of Mongolia, to see the gigantic statue of Genghis Khan nearby.
You might stay with a Mongolian family, sleeping in a traditional ger (yurt) and learning how to make delicious dumplings; slap yourself with birch twigs in a banya; or tour the landmarks of Beijing, St. Petersburg and Moscow.
Travel Team
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The train usually involves sharing a four-berth sleeper cabin with fellow members of your group. There is a toilet and sink in every carriage, and most trains have a dining car, though menus tend to be limited so bringing plenty of snacks and water is recommended. Samovars of hot water are usually available to make hot drinks or soups.
The trains tend not to have air conditioning, so they can get very warm, even in winter, but in general they are perfectly comfortable. Off-train accommodations, whether in yurts or guesthouses, are typically basic but very hospitable.
Most overland tours on the Trans Siberian see you traveling in 2nd or 3rd class, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to meet your fellow passengers (very few of whom will speak English). It’s useful to try and learn some Russian phrases before departure, and be prepared for impromptu toasts with vodka! Note that on the Mongolia-China border, due to a difference in gauges, the train wheels need to be changed, which can take several hours but is a lot of fun to watch.
Dan Mozley, from our supplier, Sundowners Overland, advises how to make a good first impression on the Trans Siberian:
“Very few Provodnitsas (train attendants) are fluent in English but they will always be friendly and available to help, let you know which station you’re arriving into and how long you have at each station before departing again. A helpful tip – When you first board the train and your attendant introduces herself along with the mandatory souvenir offering of pens, cuddly toys and ornate drinking cups, take them up on it. They will be forever grateful and keep an eye out for you during your journey. ”

Tips from our vacation reviews

"The Mongolian ger camp was wonderful and Lake Baikal was also amazing...great fun with the sauna and jumping in the freezing river..standing on the frozen lake...beautiful and memorable. The entire train journey was special and being escorted by a brilliant guide was just the best way to feel safe yet given every opportunity to meet and interact with travelers from everywhere, learn new languages and it made for a fascinating insight into these less travelled places. Read some online information on traveling the trans siberian express. I got some good tips there on what to take, what to eat, what type of bags to take (wheelie suitcase actually ) plus small ruck sack as train corridors are tight and steps to platforms steep so need to be able to manage your own stuff. Be prepared for some hard beds but all linen and bedding was lovely. Be prepared for the toilets in China and along the way…it's not pretty but you'll manage and all part of a real adventure.” – Rachel Guinee
“I loved the train journey, chatting to the locals, making food, using the hot water urns at the end of the carriage and having the wheels changed on the Mongolia/China border was a fantastic experience. Take warm clothes if you are going in the autumn and a mug and spoon for the train. Learn some Russian before you go and take maps of the train journey as these are a great way to start conversations.” – Sally Foote
“Nobody notices (or cares) if you wear the same things every day. Take as little luggage as you can. Remember that you have to carry all your luggage around. Have some washing done in the guesthouse on Lake Baikal. Make sure that your camera works and take a phone just in case it doesn't. We were able to charge our electronics on the train. Take warm clothes and a jacket that repels water (or snow).” – Barbara Shaw
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Phil Whitehouse] [Intro: Sundowners Overland] [Itinerary & highlights 1: Sundowners Overland] [Itinerary & highlights 2: Jeanne Menjoulet] [Practicalities 1: Sundowners Overland] [Practicalities 2: Sundowners Overland] [Practicalities 3: Sundowners Overland] [Dan Mozley Quote: Sundowners Overland] [Rachel Guinee Quote: Sundowners Overland] [Sally Foote Quote: Sundowners Overland] [Barbara Shaw Quote: Sundowners Overland]