Types of Trans Mongolian
railway vacations

Small group or tailor made trip?

The vast majority of Trans Mongolian railway vacations are small group trips, where you’ll be traveling as part of a group of around 15 people, accompanied by a professional tour leader. These are fixed itineraries departing on set dates throughout the year and offer all the advantages of any small group trip: convenience, socialising, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing all of the logistics are being taken care of for you, and any bumps in the road (or tracks) will be smoothed out on your behalf.
With a tailor made vacation, you follow a similar itinerary (there are some key stops on all Trans Mongolian tours such as Lake Baikal), but you have greater flexibility on your travel dates. You can add an extra day in here and there, or include a few extra excursions.

Independent trips are also available, where you follow a standard small group trip itinerary, with travel and accommodation included, but without a tour leader, leaving you free to do whatever you want at each stop. This is ideal for travelers who enjoy their independence but still want a bit of structure and organisation.

Trans Mongolian upgrades

All trips offer the option to upgrade in terms of accommodation. If you prefer a two-berth compartment to a four-berth then this will be possible, subject to availability, and there may also be the option to pay a single supplement. While you can expect off-train accommodations to be comfortable enough, such as hotels and boutique properties in big cities, gers and guesthouses in Mongolia and Siberia, some suppliers may also give you the option to upgrade these, bearing in mind that outside of Moscow and Beijing the amount of choice is fairly limited.

Christmas on the Trans Mongolian railway

Christmas is an absolutely magical time on the Trans Mongolian railway, so long as you’re not put off by scenery that consists of little but white snow for much of the journey. It will be cold outside, of course, and can fall to -20°C at night in Siberia, but train compartments have heaters and your accommodation, such as Mongolian gers with their potbelly stoves, will be nice and cosy.

It’s wonderful to take in iconic sights such as the cupolas of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, or the Great Wall of China, under a sprinkling of snow. You might celebrate Christmas at Lake Baikal, taking a ride in a horse drawn sleigh around the lake before warming up with a sauna afterwards, watch the festive fireworks on New Year’s Eve in Red Square, or learn the unique ways that Mongolian nomads celebrate the festive season on the pristine snow-covered steppe – yes, it’s a Buddhist nation, but they still have a tree.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Trans Mongolian Railway or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Naadam Festival, Mongolia

Mongolia’s biggest and most exciting festival can easily be tied into a Trans Mongolian railway vacation, as you can participate in the events that take place in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, a common stop on the route. Naadam takes place across the country in mid-summer, and in Ulaanbaatar it is concentrated on the national stadiumin mid-July where the ‘Three Games of Men’ take place: archery and wrestling on day one, and horse racing on day two. Despite the name, women now compete in archery and horse racing.

On arrival in the capital you will be accompanied by a local guide as you mingle with the cheering crowds in an electric and welcoming atmosphere. You’ll watch as thousands of riders parade in national dress, deel – colourful long tunics. Enjoy performances of traditional dance and music, have a go at popular games such as tossing sheep anklebones, and tuck into meat pastries and horse milk from the many food stalls.

Family trips

The Trans Mongolian is suitable for adventurous traveling families. Children love the experience of staying in gers, and many aspects of train life, and there will no doubt be other kids on the train who they can play with; children are amazing at overcoming language barriers.

There are a few things to keep in mind, however. You probably won’t want to have a stranger sharing your cabin so if you have a spare bunk then you’ll need to book that one as well. You will need to bring plenty of snacks and entertainment to stave off boredom – long train journeys such as the Trans Mongolian can require being a bit more generous with screen time. And since these itineraries involve a lot of changing accommodation, it’s vital to pack as light as possible.
Dan Mozley from our supplier Sundowners Overland on what to expect from staying in Mongolian gers: “If you’re traveling in Mongolia with us, it is possible to stay with nomadic families in homestays or within ger camps. This will enhance your understanding of this traditional way of life and support the communities in the region – an experience that will surely become one of your most treasured memories. Gers feature a small kitchen, beds along the sides, and a fireplace in the center to keep families warm through harsh winters. It’s common for four generations of a family to live in a single ger. During your stay you’ll be hosted by a local nomadic family, eat traditional food and if you’re lucky enough, quench your thrust with some fermented yak’s milk after a day of horse riding, archery lessons and walking the beautiful Mongolian steppe.”
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Marko Mikkonen] [Small group or tailor made trip?: Chelsea Marie Hicks] [Christmas on the Trans Mongolian railway: Vitaly Vlasov] [Naadam Festival, Mongolia: Zazaa Mongolia] [Dan Mosley Quote: Jeremy Weate]