The Trans-Siberian Railway is the world’s longest railway. It was built over a 25-year period between 1891 and 1916 to link Moscow with Vladivostok via inhospitable Siberia, that remote outpost right in the east of the Russia. It originally went via the cities of Perm, Yekaterinburg, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, Chita, and Khabarovsk.
There are three rail routes on the Trans-Siberian Railway – terminating at Moscow, Beijing and Vladivostok – as well as a weekly connection to Pyongyang in North Korea from Moscow. The three main routings are:
- The main Trans-Siberian route from Moscow to Vladivostok (Pacific Terminus)
- The Trans-Mongolian, from Moscow to Beijing via Ulan Bator in Mongolia
- The Trans-Manchurian, through Siberia and Manchuria (China) to Beijing
To get to the start of the Trans-Siberian Railway, rail services run to Moscow from all over Europe. Those coming from London (one-way) start on the Eurostar London to Brussels service, from where you can get to Moscow via Berlin and Warsaw. You can also get to Moscow by coach with Eurolines, or indeed fly in direct.
If you are coming in the other direction starting at Vladivostok, you can get a ferry over from Fushiki in Japan (northwest of Tokyo) and from Sokcho in South Korea. Aeroflot also fly to Vladivostok, while those starting from Beijing have many options.
You will of course need to do a fair bit of planning other than simply booking tickets and turning up. Most of the routings will require travelers to pick up visas for all three countries – China, Mongolia and Russia. China and Mongolia tourist visas are straightforward enough, yet Russia can be a pain. Russian visas are by invitation only and need to be registered once in the country. Those from the US won’t need a visa for Mongolia.
The ticketing system for the Trans-Siberian Railway in the Russian part can also be a pain. You will need to fix the dates on purchasing the tickets for the Russia sector and not deviate from your plans. If you decide to stop off anywhere the rest of the ticket will be cancelled.
Schedules are varied on Trans-Siberian services, with some trains running daily, some on odd and even dates, and others only running one or twice a week. You can also get caught out by the so-called passing-by trains, such as the Ekaterinburg to Irkutsk section of the Vladivostok train, which is part of a longer schedule, affecting availability.
Fares are also up and down, with the Russian services subject to dramatic changes from season to season. A markup of 40 per cent or more is not unheard of in the high season.
Long haul journeys on the Trans-Siberian Railway come with sleepers, while services from Moscow to St Petersburg have seats only. Three classes are available on Russian trains: first class (SV), second class and third class.
- Plan well ahead
- Ensure passport and visas are in order
- Photocopy your travel documents and scan and email to yourself
- Keep a physical copy of the documents separate from the real ones
- Pick up travel insurance
- Visit your GP and ask about vaccinations well before you depart
- Take your favourite books to read to relieve boredom on drab sections
- Pack wisely, taking note of the climate in the depths of Siberia