The Silk Route & Central Asia by train

The most usual (and easiest) route from Europe to China is via the classic Trans-Siberian Railway, shown in blue on the map below.  But there is another route now open to foreigners, the so-called 'Silk Route' via Kazakhstan, shown on the map in yellow.  Let's be clear, if you want to travel between Europe and China, the main Trans-Siberian route is faster and easier to arrange, both in terms of visas and train tickets - for a start, just one Trans-Siberian train will get you all the way from Moscow to Beijing.  The 'Silk route' will take a little more thought and organisation, with more visas, train tickets and stopovers to arrange.  However, this page will explain routes, train times, costs and how to buy tickets.  You can also use trains to reach Central Asia from Europe and Moscow.

On this & other pages...

London - Moscow - This is the first step, with daily trains taking 48 hours.

Moscow - Almaty or Astana (Kazakhstan) - This is the direct option, take this train if you want to head straight for China.

Moscow - Bishkek (Kyrgistan)

Moscow - Tashkent (Uzbekistan) - Alternatively, take this train if you want to start by visiting Uzbekistan.

Tashkent - Samarqand - Bokhara & Urgench for Khiva - Trains link Tashkent with 3 of Uzbekistan's most remarkable cities.

Almaty or Astana - rmqi - The next step on the route to China.

rmqi- Xian - Beijing - The final train ride into Xian & Beijing.

Route map...

Route map - The Silk Route & Central Asia by train

London - Moscow...

It's easy to travel from London to Moscow by train, in 48 hours with comfortable sleepers for the overnight sections.  For times, fares, how to buy tickets and Russian visa information, see the London to Russia page.  Direct sleeper trains also run to Moscow from Paris, Vienna, Prague, Warsaw, Berlin, Budapest, Helsinki and many other cities, just use http://bahn.hafas.de to check train times.  You will need a Belarus transit visa & Russian tourist visa, see the visa section on the Russia page.

Moscow - Almaty or Astana (Kazakhstan)...

Two direct trains link Moscow with Kazakhstan every second day, the Kazakhstan to Almaty (also written Alma-ata) and the Belgorod to Astana.  Of the two, the Moscow-Almaty route offers the best train, as it is a quality 'firmeny' service.  Both trains are safe and comfortable.  A couple of other trains which link Moscow with Astana on the way to somewhere else are not shown here.

 Moscow ► Almaty & Astana

 Each train runs every 2 days

Train 8

Kazakhstan

Train 72

Belgorod

Train 84

 Moscow

depart

22:50  day 1

23:10 day 1

23:10 day 1

 Yaisan (Kazak frontier)

arrive

13:04  day 3

|

|

 Mamlyutka (Kazak frontier)

arrive

|

|

19:53 day 3

 Kustanay (Kazak frontier)

arrive

|

21:00 day 3

|

 Almaty I

arrive

07:22  day 5

|

|

 Astana

arrive

-

10:26 day 4

07:26 day 4

 Almaty & Astana ► Moscow

 Each train runs every 2 days

Train 7

Kazakhstan

Train 71

Belgorod

Train 83

 Astana

depart

-

08:05  day 1

10:45  day 1

 Almaty I

depart

05:42  day 1

|

|

 Kustanay (Russian frontier)

arrive

|

20:23  day 1

|

 Mamlyutka (Russian frontier)

arrive

|

|

18:22  day 1

 Yaisan (Russian frontier)

arrive

01:07  day 3

|

|

 Moscow

arrive

10:30  day 4

15:20 day 3

15:20 day 3

Train 7 & 8 Kazakhstan:  Train 8 departs Moscow's Paveletskaya station on odd dates (1st, 3rd, 5th etc of each month, but not the 1st following a 31st).  Train 7 departs Almaty on even dates (2nd, 4th, 6th etc).  The train is a quality 'firmeny' service with spalny vagon (2-berth sleepers), kup (4-berth sleepers) & platskartny (open plan dormitory cars) plus restaurant car.  The train passes from Russia into Kazakhstan, but briefly transits another part of Russia before re-entering Kazakhstan.  However, it is reported that you just need single-entry visa for Russia and a single-entry visa for Kazakhstan to travel on this train.  Multiple-entry visas for Russia and Kazakhstan are not required just because of this (but please double-check this).  In fact, this Kazak visa question may have been resolved completely, as Kazakhstan has reportedly removed the need for UK & some other nationalities to get a visa, at least for a trial period from 2014 onwards -please check the latest Kazak visa situation.  Moscow to Almaty is 4,017 km.

Trains 71 & 72 Belgorod:  Train 72 departs Moscow's Kazanski station on odd dates (1st, 3rd, 5th etc of each month, but not the 1st following a 31st).  Train 71 departs Astana on odd dates (1st, 3rd, 5th etc of each month, but not 31st).  The train is a 'fast' service (but not a 'firmeny' top quality service) with spalny vagon (2-berth sleepers), kup (4-berth sleepers) & platskartny (open plan dormitory cars) plus restaurant car. Moscow to Astana is 3,105 km.

Trains 83 & 84:  Train 84 leaves Moscow's Kazanski station on even-numbered dates.  Train 83 leaves Astana on even dates.   Spalny vagon (2-berth sleepers), kup (4-berth sleepers) & platskartny (open plan dormitory cars) plus restaurant car.

You should check train times and days of running using the Real Russia online system below.  Train 8 is sometimes shown as train7!  You can also check times, surprisingly, at the German railways website www.bahn.de/en and if you click on the arrow for details, then click on the train number, you'll see a useful end-to-end list of calling points and times at each station.

Fares:  Moscow to Almaty costs around 270 in 4-berth kup or 514 in a 2-berth spalny vagon, booked with Real Russia.  Moscow to Astana costs 247 in kup, 490 in spalny vagon.

How to buy tickets:  You can book train travel in Russia, including this train, through several reputable Russian agencies, including:

You can make arrangements for trains, hotels and tours in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan through local agencies such as www.tourasia.kz.  You will need Russian & Kazakh tourist visas for this journey (please check the latest Kazak visa situation as Kazakhstan no longer requires UK & some other nationals to get a visa, at least for a trial period from 2014 onwards).  For information on Russian visas, see the visa section on the Russia page.

Moscow-Almaty better via Astana than direct?  Traveller Chris Nuttall suggests going Moscow-Almaty via Astana, rather than using the direct Moscow-Almaty train:  "I travelled from London to Almaty (Kazakhstan) and back last autumn (2009). On the return journey I travelled via Astana and as a result made the journey from Almaty to London in under 5 days, about 13 hours quicker than using the direct train from Almaty to Moscow (train 7/8).  I departed Almaty 2 station at 19:28 on the daily Talgo overnight train to Astana (train number 1 / 2) and travelled in Platskartny which consisted of 4 berth compartments, the same as the 'Tourist class' on the Spanish railways own Talgo sleeper trains, rather than the usual Russian semi-open carriages.  According to my sister, who lives in Almaty and has used this train on a number of occasions, this service has a reputation for arriving punctually, unlike many other trains in Kazakhstan.  I then used train 83/84 to Moscow as shown on your site.  As well as being quicker and giving me the opportunity to explore Astana for a few hours, this route only crosses the Russia / Kazakhstan border once. I know you mention that only single entry visas are required for train 7/8, but I couldn't find further information on this, so my chosen route gave me added peace of mind."

Moscow - Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan).....

A train called the Kirgizia links Moscow with Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, with 4-berth sleepers & restaurant car.  No 2-berth sleepers.

 Moscow ► Bishkek

 

 Bishkek ► Moscow

The Kirgizia

Train 18 or 28

The Kirgizia

Train 17 or 27

Moscow (Kazanski station)

depart

22:48  Fri & Sun

Bishkek II

depart

13:08  Mon & Thur

Yaisan (Kazak frontier)

arrive

07:27  Sun & Tue

Kaindy (Kazak frontier)

arrive

14:42  Mon & Thur

Kaindy (Kirgiz frontier)

arrive

21:49  Mon & Wed

Yaisan (Russian frontier)

arrive

08:44  Wed & Sat

Bishkek II

arrive

00:54  Tue & Thur

Moscow (Kazanski station)

arrive

15:30  Thur & Sun

Fares: Moscow to Bishkek costs 295 in 4-berth kup, booked with Real Russia.  Check days of running using the Real Russia online system below.

How to buy tickets: You can book this train in either direction Real Russia online system below.

On board the Moscow to Bishkek train   The Moscow to Bishkek train

Above:  The express from Moscow to Bishkek.  Photos courtesy of Chris Nuttall

Moscow - Tashkent (Uzbekistan)...

There is a train running 4 times a week from Moscow to Tashkent in Uzbekistan.  This is the Uzbekistan, with Spalny Vagon (2-berth sleepers), kup (4-berth sleepers) and platskartny (open plan dormitory car) plus restaurant car.  The train passes from Russia into Kazakhstan, briefly transits another part of Russia before re-entering Kazakhstan, then it enters Uzbekistan.  You will need a Russian visa, Kazak transit visa and Uzbek visa.  However, it is reported that multiple-entry visas for Russia and Kazakhstan are not required just because this train transits part of Russia after entering Kazakhstan (please double-check this).  You should check the latest Kazak visa situation as Kazakhstan no longer requires UK & some other nationals to get a visa, at least for a trial period from 2014 onwards.

 Moscow ► Tashkent

 

 Tashkent ► Moscow

The Uzbekistan

Train 6

The Uzbekistan

Train 5

Moscow (Kazanski station)

depart

23:48  Tue, Wed, Thur, Sat

Tashkent

depart

18:45  Mon, Wed, Sat, Sun

Yaisan (Russia/Kazakhstan frontier)

arrive

07:27  Thur, Fri, Sat, Mon

Yaisan (Russian frontier)

arrive

05:28  Wed, Fri, Mon, Tue

Tashkent (Uzbekistan entry point)

arrive

16:35  Fri, Sat, Sun, Tue

Moscow (Kazanski station)

arrive

13:53  Thur, Sat, Tue, Wed

You can check train times & days of running using the Real Russia online system below or at www.poezda.net.  You can also check times, surprisingly, at the German Railways website www.bahn.de/en and if you click on the arrow for details, then click on the train number, you'll see a useful end-to-end list of calling points and times at each station.

Fares:  Moscow to Tashkent costs around 415 in 4-berth kup or 461 in 2-berth spalny vagon, booked with Real Russia.

How to buy tickets:  You can book train travel in Russia, including this train, through several reputable Russian agencies, including:

You can make arrangements for trains, hotels and tours in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan through local agencies such as www.tourasia.kz.  You will need a Russian tourist visa, Kazakhstan transit visa and Uzbekistan tourist visa for this journey.  For information on Russian visas, see the visa section on the Russia page.

 

Above:  The Uzbekistan, from Moscow to Tashkent.  Photos courtesy of Sascha & Manuela Dubach

Tashkent - Samarkand - Bokhara - Urgench (for Khiva):  See the Uzbekistan page.

For train service within Uzbekistan, linking Tashkent, Samarkand, Bokhara & Urgench, see the Uzbekistan page.

Tashkent - Almaty

There are reportedly two infrequent direct trains between these cities, one running once a week departing Tashkent at 17:22 on Wednesdays taking 24 hours, and another running every 4 days, however neither of these are shown in the Thomas Cook Timetable so please check locally.  It's also possible to go by train on other days with a change at Arys, or by train+bus via Chimkent.  Use www.poezda.net to check train times.  Traveller Helmut Uttenthaler reports "It's possible to go by train with changing at Arys. We did this, we had 53 minutes for our connection from daily train 23 (to Aktjubinsk) to the twice-weekly train 381 (Ufa - Tashkent). Although train 23 left Almaty with 40 minutes delay, we arrived at Arys on time. The connecting train was also on time, so no problem.  However, getting tickets in advance from Arys to Tashkent on train 381can be difficult.  Free places for getting on at Arys are very rare and appear in the "express" booking system only a few days before departure (as the train comes from Ufa in Russia).  We were three people, and when we booked our trip to Arys 8 days ahead it was not yet possible to buy tickets from Arys to Tashkent.  Some days later (4 days ahead) we tried it again and now just 3 free places appeared for Arys-Tashkent. Two in platskartny, one in kup. We bought all of them... However, if we had failed to buy tickets or had missed our connection we would have made the way from Arys to Tashkent by taxi, as it's only about 150 km.  From locals we heard that they usually take the train to Chimkent and from there a bus to Tashkent.  But we wanted to go by train all the way."

Almaty (Kazakhstan) - rmqi (China)

A twice-weekly train links Almaty in Kazakhstan with rmqi in China.  It's believed that one set of carriages is Kazak with 2-berth and 4-berth sleepers, the other set Chinese with modern air-conditioned soft class (4-berth sleeper compartments) and hard class (open-plan bunks).  A Kazak restaurant car runs Almaty to the frontier at Druzhba, and a Chinese restaurant car runs from Druzhba to rmqi.

 Almaty ► rmqi

 

 rmqi ► Almaty

 

Train 014

 

Train 013

Almaty II

depart

23:58  Mon & Sat

rmqi

depart

23:58  Mon & Sat

Astana

depart

|

Kazak frontier

arrive

09:20  Tue & Sun

Chinese frontier

arrive

22:10  Tues & Sun

Astana

arrive

|

rmqi

arrive

08:58  Wed & Mon

Almaty II

arrive

05:38  Wed & Mon

Fares:  Almaty to rmqi costs 123 in 4-berth or 138 in 2-berth, booked with Real Russia.

How to buy tickets:  You can book these trains in either direction using the Real Russia online system below or (for eastbound journeys) through a local agency such as www.tourasia.kz.

 

Above right:  The Chinese Almaty-rmqi  train at Almaty.  Photo courtesy of Mikhail Utkin.

Above left:  The Kazakh train to rmqi en route.  Photo courtesy of Helmut Uttenthaler.

rmqi - Xian - Beijing

Train T69/T70 has soft class (4-berth sleeper compartments) and hard class sleepers (open plan bunks).  There are other trains available between rmqi and Xian and between Xian and Beijing, see the China page.

 rmqi ► Beijing

 

 Beijing rmqi

Eastbound:

Train T70

Train T198

Westbound:

Train T69

Train T192/3

Daily

Daily

Daily

Daily

rmqi

depart

10:12  day 1

19:14 day 1

Beijing

depart

10:07 day 1

-

Xian

arrive

|

06:36 day 3

Xian

depart

|

19:04  day 2

Beijing

arrive

19:49  day 2

-

rmqi

arrive

19:59 day 2

10:46  day 3

Fares: rmqi to Beijing costs around RMB 970 (105) in soft sleeper or RMB 630 (70) in hard sleeper, if bought at the station.

Silk Route & Central Asia resources...

To check train times (and days of running) in any of the ex-Soviet states, use the Real Russia online system below or www.poezda.net.

An excellent personal account:  www.johndarm.clara.net/silkroute


Buy train tickets for Russia & ex-Soviet states

 

What tickets can this system sell?  This system can sell tickets for any mainline train journey within or between Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and the other ex-Soviet states, including (for example) Moscow to Tashkent or Tashkent to Moscow.  It will also sell tickets for journeys starting in those countries heading outwards, for example Almaty to rmqi or St Petersburg to Helsinki.  Reservations officially open 45 days before departure, but Real Russia allow you to request tickets up to 180 days ahead and they will contact you for payment when the price is confirmed.

Can anyone buy tickets using this system?  Yes, you can buy tickets online with a credit card whether you live in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, or wherever.

How are tickets delivered?  Tickets can be collected free of charge at Real Russia's offices in Moscow or St Petersburg, or (if your journey starts in Russia) an e-ticket can be emailed to you so you can collect the ticket from most main Russian stations.  For journeys starting in other ex-Soviet countries, tickets can be sent to UK or EU addresses for a 12-15 charge, or couriered to any address worldwide, also for an extra charge.

Who run this service?  Is it reliable?  This service is provided by Real Russia, a reputable joint UK-Russian company which has got good reports from users.  Real Russia can also sort out your Russian visa.

Booking tips:  Look for a train marked 'Firm' if there is one. 'Firmeny' trains are the best 'quality' trains, with modern coaches and good on-board service.  'TBC' means the system cannot provide a price for that particular train automatically, but they'll contact you with a cost by phone or email.

Is it cheaper to buy at the ticket office?  Real Russia charge the normal Russian Railways fare plus a 15-23% mark-up to cover their costs.  There's also a 2 % charge for credit card payments, though you can avoid this by calling their UK office to pay by debit card when your tickets are confirmed.  The fares shown include the mark-up, but not the credit card charge.  By all means buy tickets at the ticket office if you're flexible, but Russian trains can get fully-booked so it's good to pre-book if you want a specific date and train.  Russian Railways offer online booking but it's only in Russian, so it can be worth the extra to quickly and simply organise your Russian rail tickets in English.

 

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Planning your trip...

Probably the best way to plan a trip like this is to start by reading up on all the possible routes, trains and stopovers, then plan out an itinerary and budget using a simple table or spreadsheet:  How to plan an itinerary & budget.


Trans-Siberian page

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