Central Asia & the Silk Route 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 - Ürümqi - The next step on the route to China.

Ürümqi- 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 on the excellent modern Paris-Moscow Express.  For times, fares, how to buy tickets and Russian visa information, see the London to Russia page.  Direct sleeper trains run to Moscow from Paris, Vienna, Prague, Warsaw, Berlin, Budapest, Helsinki and many other cities, go to this page and select your starting city, then select Moscow.  You will usually need a Belarus transit visa as well as your Russian tourist visa, see the visa section on the Russia page.

Moscow - Almaty & 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 7

Kazakhstan

Train 72

Belgorod

Train 84

 Moscow

depart

21:33  day 1

22:48 day 1

22:48 day 1

 Almaty II

arrive

06:27  day 5

|

|

 Astana

arrive

-

10:17 day 4

07:50 day 4

 Almaty & Astana ► Moscow

 Each train runs every 2 days

Train 7

Kazakhstan

Train 71

Belgorod

Train 83

 Astana

depart

-

09:15  day 1

11:15  day 1

 Almaty II

depart

07:34  day 1

|

|

 Moscow

arrive

10:38  day 4

15:20 day 3

15:20 day 3

The best place to confirm days of running & times, including times of border crossings (and therefore entry dates for visa purposes) is at the Russian Railways site www.rzd.ru, see advice on using it, or using the Real Russia online system below

Train 7 Kazakhstan:  Southbound, train 7 departs Moscow's Paveletskaya station on even dates (2nd, 4th, 6th etc of each month).  Northbound, train 7 departs Almaty on odd-numbered dates (1st, 3rd, 5th etc), but not the 1st following a 31st.  The train is a quality firmeny service with spalny vagon (2-berth sleepers), kupé (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 for 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) from May to October, runs every 4 days in winter.  Train 71 departs Astana on odd dates (1st, 3rd, 5th etc of each month, but not 31st) from May to October, runs every 4 days in winter.  The train is a 'fast' service (but not a firmeny top quality train) with spalny vagon (2-berth sleepers), kupé (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 (2nd, 4th, 6th etc of each month).  Train 83 leaves Astana on even-numbered dates.   Spalny vagon (2-berth sleepers), kupé (4-berth sleepers) & platskartny (open plan dormitory cars) plus restaurant car.

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

 The Kirgizia

Train 17 or 27

 Moscow Kazanski station

depart

22:40  Thur & Sat

 Bishkek II

depart

09:39  Mon & Wed

 Bishkek II

arrive

23:06  Sun & Tue

 Moscow Kazanski station

arrive

11:15  Thur & Sat

The best place to confirm days of running & times, including times of border crossings (and therefore entry dates for visa purposes) is at the Russian Railways site www.rzd.ru, see advice on using it, or using the Real Russia online system below

Fares: Moscow to Bishkek costs £295 in 4-berth kupé, 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.

  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 3 times a week from Moscow to Tashkent in Uzbekistan.  This is the Uzbekistan, with Spalny Vagon (2-berth sleepers), kupé (4-berth sleepers) and platskartny (open plan dormitory car) plus restaurant car.  The train passes from Russia into Kazakhstan then it enters Uzbekistan.

 Moscow ► Tashkent

 

 Tashkent ► Moscow

 The Uzbekistan

Train 6

 The Uzbekistan

Train 5

 Moscow (Kazanski station)

depart

22:40  Tue, Wed, Sun

 Tashkent

depart

18:50  Thur, Sat, Sun

 Tashkent (Uzbekistan entry point)

arrive

16:50  Fri, Sat, Wed

 Moscow (Kazanski station)

arrive

11:15  Sun, Tue, Wed

The best place to confirm days of running & times, including times of border crossings (and therefore entry dates for visa purposes) is at the Russian Railways site www.rzd.ru, see advice on using it, or using the Real Russia online system below

Fares:  Moscow to Tashkent costs around £415 in 4-berth kupé 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:

Visas:  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.  But 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 since 2014.

You can make arrangements for trains, hotels and tours in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan through local agencies such as www.tourasia.kz.

The train from Moscow to Tashkent

The Uzbekistan from Moscow to Tashkent.  Courtesy of Jeff Mortelette.

Sleeper corridor   4-berth compartment   Food on the Moscow-Tashkent train

Life on board the Uzbekistan:  The corridor, a 4-berth sleeper compartment, and food in the restaurant car. 

Courtesy of Jeff Mortelette & family.

 

The Uzbekistan in winter...  Photos courtesy of Sascha & Manuela Dubach

Travellers' reports...

Traveller Jeff Mortelette travelled Tashkent to Moscow in 2016:  "The boarding arrangements were crazy.  We arrived an hour early and made our way to the security check.  There were tons of people pushing to get in.  I think there was another train leaving right before us, so a lot of people were trying to get on that train.  We waited in line for about half an hour before we realized we needed to start pushing our way to the front if we wanted to catch the train.  We finally got through with about 10 minutes to spare and hustled to the platform.  We got on our car with a few minutes to spare.

The train left Tashkent at 18:50.  About half an hour later we spent 80 minutes at the border while Uzbek border patrol went though.  They had me open some bags and answer some questions about where I was going and why.  They spoke no English.  We went for 20 more minutes and did the same thing with the Kazak border control.  It was pretty similar when we left Kazakhstan/entered Russia.  We only entered Russia once. 

On the train there were a few power sockets.  One at each end and one in the middle, but none in our cabin.  A nice feature is each car had shot water dispenser people used for noodles or tea.  We also had one employee of the train assigned to each car and ours was really helpful, especially when crossing borders.

There was a restaurant car that served Uzbek staples:  plov, lagman, and dumplings.  In addition sometimes people would go by our cabin and sell the food the restaurant cooked.  My friend and I got two bowls of plov and scopula beers for around $7.  It was pretty good for plov, but there was not much variety.  We paid in Kazak Tenge, but you could also pay in som or rubles.  It would help to not carry big bills;  I couldn't use my 10,000 Tenge note.  In addition to he food on the train, many stops of at least 20 minutes had places you could buy food.  Mostly crackers, potato chips, candy bars, water and soda, and uncooked ramen noodles.  Each car of the train had a place where you could get hot water that many people used for tea and ramen noodles.  In Samara, we could find more food for sale:  cheese, bread, sausage.  In general the closer we got to Moscow the more choices we had when we stopped."

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, but 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 kupé. 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 & Astana (Kazakhstan) - Ürümqi (China)

A twice-weekly train links Almaty in Kazakhstan with Ürümqi in China, with through cars Astana-Ürümqi  once a week.  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 Ürümqi.  Check your train times & dates carefully using the Real Russia online system below as times and days of running have changed regularly over the years.

 Astana, Almaty ► Ürümqi

 

 Ürümqi ► Almaty, Astana

 

Train 14

Train 54/14

 

Train 13

Train 13/53

 Astana

depart

-

16:20  Sat only

 Ürümqi

depart

23:41  Mon & Sat

23:41  Mon & Sat

 Almaty II

depart

00:15  Tue & Sun

|

 Kazak border

arrive

09:20  Tue & Sun

09:20  Tue & Sun

 Chinese border

arrive

22:10  Tues & Sun

22:10  Tues & Sun

 Almaty II

arrive

05:50  Wed & Mon

|

 Ürümqi

arrive

09:50  Wed & Mon

09:50  Wed & Mon

 Astana

arrive

-

12:16  Sat only

Fares:  Almaty to Ürümqi 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-Ürümqi  train at Almaty.  Photo courtesy of Mikhail Utkin.

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

Ürümqi - Xian - Beijing

All these trains have soft & hard sleepers and most have a restaurant car, see the Train Travel in China page for general information about trains in China.  There are other trains available between Ürümqi and Xian and between Xian and Beijing, see the Train Travel in China page.

 Ürümqi ► Xian, Beijing

 

 Beijing, Xian ► Ürümqi

 Eastbound...

Train Z70

Train T178

Train Z136

Train T308

 Westbound...

Train Z69

Train T179

Train Z135

Train T307

Daily

Daily

Daily

Daily

Daily

Daily

Daily

Daily

 Ürümqi South

depart

12:53  day 1

18:08  day 1

19:05 day 1

14:53 day 1

 Beijing West

depart

10:00 day 1

15:15* day 1

-

-

 Xian

arrive

|

|

22:33 day 2

19:51 day 2

 Xian

depart

|

|

07:36 day 1

12:06 day 1

 Beijing West

arrive

20:22  day 2

09:39* day 3

-

-

 Ürümqi South

arrive

18:18 day 2

06:31 day 3

09:24 day 2

17:32 day 2

Fares: Ürümqi to Beijing costs around RMB 901 ($146) in soft sleeper or RMB 566 ($92) in hard sleeper, if bought at the station.  Ürümqi to Xian costs around RMB 768 ($124) in soft sleeper. 

You can check times and buy tickets online at www.chinahighlights.com/china-trains.  Not all trains are shown here!

Ürümqi South (or Ürümqi Nan) is also known as Wulumuqi.

* Trains T178/T179 use Beijing main station, not Beijing West.

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 Ürümqi 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 2½ % 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.

 

Sponsored links...

 


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.


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