How to arrange an overland journey between Europe & China or Japan...

A journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway should be on everyone's bucket list.  It's safe, comfortable & affordable.  On this page I'll assume you know nothing about the Trans-Siberian other than its name.  I'll explain the routes, trains, classes, prices, answer your questions, and help you plan & book your trip...

The Trans-Siberian express 'Rossiya' from Moscow to Vladivostok in the snow...

Train number 2 Rossiya, on its 7-day 6,152-mile journey from Moscow to Vladivostok.  Photo courtesy of Daniel Brewster

Trans-Siberian train times, fares & tickets...

  Planning your trip, a step-by-step guide...

  Interactive route map: click for times, fares, info.

  What are the trains like?

  Trans-Siberian timetable - eastbound

  Trans-Siberian timetable - westbound

  How much does it cost?

  Check Trans-Siberian train times & fares online

  How to buy tickets

  Visas and how to get them...

  Travel tips & FAQ: Security, food, bikes, stopovers...

  A journey in pictures from Moscow to Beijing

  A brief history of the Trans-Siberian Railway

  The luxury option: Trans-Siberian by private train

Connecting trains & ferries...

  Trains from London & Paris to Moscow

  Trains from Beijing to other Chinese cities

  Train from Beijing to Hanoi, Vietnam

  Ferry from Vladivostok to South Korea & Japan

  Ferry from China to Japan

  Ferry from China to Taiwan

   

What is the Trans-Siberian?

The Trans-Siberian Railway is just one part of the massive Russian railway network.  It connects the European rail network at one end with the Chinese rail network at the other.  Take a look at the route map to see where the Trans-Siberian Railway goes.  It does far more than link Moscow with Vladivostok.  You can use it to travel overland in either direction between London, Paris or anywhere in Europe and China, Japan, Korea or even Southeast Asia...

An overview of the 3 routes...

Moscow to Vladivostok:  Every second day, the Rossiya (the Russia, train number 2 eastbound, train 1 westbound) leaves Moscow on its 6-night journey to Vladivostok.  This is almost the longest train ride of them all, 9,258 km or 6,152 miles. This train has 1st class 2-berth compartments called spalny wagon or SV, 2nd class 4-berth compartments called kupé, open-plan bunks called platskartny & a restaurant car, see the photos below or virtual tour.  One-way fares in the summer months cost around 18,629 rubles ($640 or £420) in kupé or 31,175 rubles ($1,070 or £695) in spalny vagon, a bit more if booked through an agency.  See a brief account of the journey.  From Vladivostok there is a weekly ferry to South Korea & Japan, taking 36 hours (2 nights).

Two routes to China:  Although the main Trans-Siberian line runs from Moscow to Vladivostok, most western travellers head for China on one of two branches, the Trans-Mongolian line (completed in the 1950s) or the Trans-Manchurian line (built around 1900), see the route map below.  There are two direct trains each week between Moscow & Beijing, train 3/4 via Mongolia using Chinese coaches and train 19/20 Vostok via Manchuria using Russian coaches.

Moscow to Beijing via Mongolia:  This is arguably the most interesting Trans-Siberian route to take.  The weekly Trans-Mongolian train (train 4 eastbound, train 3 westbound) leaves Moscow for Beijing every Tuesday night.  The 7,621 km (4,735 mile) journey takes 6 nights.  This train crosses Siberia, cuts across Mongolia and the Gobi desert, then enters China.  Westbound, it leaves Beijing every Wednesday morning.  This train uses Chinese rolling stock and has deluxe 2-berth compartments (with shared shower), 1st class 4-berth compartments & 2nd class 4-berth compartments.  Booked through a local Russian agency, journey costs around $805 or £555 one-way in 2nd class 4-berth or $1130 or £780 in 1st class 2-berth.  See an illustrated account of the journey.

Moscow to Beijing via Manchuria: The weekly Trans-Manchurian train (the Vostok, train 20 eastbound, train 19 westbound, using Russian rolling stock) leaves Moscow on Saturday nights for Beijing via Manchuria, taking just over six days to cover the 8,986km (5,623 miles).  Westbound, it leaves Beijing every Saturday night.  There are 2-berth 1st class compartments (spalny vagon) and 4-berth 2nd class compartments (kupé).  Prices are similar to the Chinese train.

Other Trans-Siberian trains:  These aren't the only Trans-Siberian trains.  Far from it!  Many other trains run over parts of these routes.  There's even a slower, lower-quality Moscow-Vladivostok train, train 100 taking 7 nights instead of 6...  See the Trans-Siberian timetable below.


Planning your trip...

  Train 2, the Rossiya, from Moscow to Vladivostok
 

Train 2, the Rossiya from Moscow to Vladivostok,  6,152 miles in 6 nights.  Photo courtesy of Colin Langdon

  Train 4, the Trans-Mongolian train from Moscow to Beijing
 

Train 4 from Moscow to Beijing via Mongolia.  4,735 miles, 3 countries, 6 days. Courtesy of Tony Willis

  Train 20, the Vostok, from Moscow to Beijing
 

Train 20, the Vostok from Moscow to Beijing the weekly Russian Trans-Manchurian train, at Ulan Ude.  Each carriage proudly carries the lettering 'MOSKVA-PEKIN'.  6 days, 5,623 miles... Photo courtesy of David Smith

  Train 362 Irkutsk-Ulan Bator
 

Daily train 362 Irkutsk-Ulan Bator. If you stopover in Irkutsk & Mongolia you'll probably use this daily train.  Just this one nicely-refurbished sleeping-car with 4-berth compartments runs Irkutsk-Ulan Bator, with other coaches attached either side of the border.  That's why journey planners sometimes don't find this train, but it certainly does exist.  Why the coach lettering refers to Peking is a mystery! Photo courtesy of David Smith

 

Buy online at AmazonBuy the 'Trans-Siberian Handbook' online at AmazonRecommended

guidebooks...

The kilometre-by-kilometre guide in Bryn Thomas' Trans-Siberian Handbook makes it particularly useful...

1.  When to go? Which direction? Is it safe?

Yes, the Trans-Siberian is perfectly safe, even for families or solo females.  It's the way Russian families and women travel, after all.

You can go at any time of year as the Trans-Siberian Railway operates all year round.  Naturally, the summer months from May to September have the best weather and the longest daylight hours so are the most popular.  In winter it's easier to get tickets, the trains are warmly heated and the Siberian landscape beautiful in the snow, but the hours of daylight will be shorter and stretching your legs at stations or visiting the cities will be chillier.  In many ways it's the slushy thaw around April that's least attractive. 

On board the trains, Kupé 4-berth sleepers (2nd class) is the usual comfortable choice for most westerners.  2-berth Spalny Vagon (1st class) is double the price and is only for people who aren't worried about cost.

You can travel the Trans-Siberian Railway either eastbound or westbound, it's up to you, although eastbound tends to be more popular with westerners, perhaps because going out by rail from your local station and flying back is more romantic than starting your trip with a flight.  On this page I cover both directions, remember that any comments written from an eastbound perspective usually apply westbound too!

See the Trans-Siberian travel tips for more advice & answering all your FAQs.

2.  Decide on your route & final destination...

The Trans-Siberian Railway doesn't just go to Vladivostok.  It links Europe with China, Japan, Korea, even Vietnam and South East Asia.  How about  going to Beijing?  Shanghai?  Hong Kong?  Tokyo?  Tibet?  See the interactive Trans-Siberian route map to open your mind to all the possibilities which the Trans-Siberian Railway offers.  You can even reach Hanoi, Saigon, Bangkok or Singapore overland from London.

Vladivostok is an interesting place for a day or two if you're passing through before catching the ferry to Japan or Korea, but probably not worth a 7 day journey from Moscow just for its own sake.  Beijing is a far better choice of destination as it's an absolutely amazing city that's well worth the overland trip from Europe.

The Trans-Mongolian is easily the most interesting of the three routes, even though it means an extra visa, there are superb views of the Gobi desert and a chance to stop off in Mongolia on the way. 

But why end your trip in Beijing?  Shanghai or Xian are just a few hours high-speed train ride away.  Or how about Japan?  There are ferries from Shanghai to Japan and a ferry from Vladivostok to Japan.  There's even a twice-weekly train from Beijing to Hanoi in Vietnam taking 2 nights, 1 day (see the Vietnam page), then you can take daily trains to Saigon, a bus to Phnom Penh and on to Bangkok, then a train to Malaysia & Singapore, see the Cambodia & Thailand pages.

3.  Do you want to stop off on the way?

You cannot buy an open ticket and hop on and off, as the Trans-Siberian is an all-reserved long-distance railway where everyone gets their own sleeping-berth and every ticket comes printed with a specific date, train number, car & berth number.  However, you can easily arrange stopovers along the way using a separate ticket for each train, easily pre-booked especially if you use the Trans-Siberian Trip Planner.

The varied scenery and camaraderie on board the direct Moscow-Beijing trains makes non-stop travel on these trains an enjoyable option and maximises your time in China.  On the other hand, travelling to Vladivostok non-stop in 7 days can be tedious (I should know) and it's better the break up the journey and see something of Siberia.  And even if you're heading for China, there's lots worth stopping off for on the way if you have time.

The obvious stopovers are Irkutsk in Siberia for Lake Baikal and Ulan Bator in Mongolia, for a side trip into the Gobi desert.  If you have more time, Ekaterinberg & Ulan Ude are also worth a stop.

To help decide where to stop off, buy a copy of Bryn Thomas' excellent Trans-Siberian Handbook, with journey planning information, town guides, the history of the line, and best of all, a mile-by-mile guide to the sights you can see from the train, which really helps you get the most from the trip. The Lonely Planet Trans-Siberian Railways guide is also good.

Most western travellers pre-book all their tickets, but if you have lots of time and are determined to stay flexible and buy tickets at stations as you go, read this section about buying tickets at the station.

4.  Plan your Trans-Siberian trains...

There is no such train as the Trans-Siberian Express but a whole range of trains across Siberia, including countless Russian domestic trains plus a handful of direct international trains to Mongolia and China.  Plan your trains using the Trans-Siberian timetable below or the Trans-Siberian trip planner.  Within Russia, there are both faster quality firmeny trains & slower cheaper trains, it's your call which you take.

So for example, if you chose to travel from Moscow to Beijing straight through without stopovers, you'd obviously book one of the weekly direct Moscow-Beijing trains, trains 4 or 20.  But if, say, you wanted to go from Moscow to Beijing with stopovers at Irkutsk and Ulan Bator, you might first take any regular daily Russian domestic train from Moscow to Irkutsk, and it might be nice to ride the Moscow-Vladivostok Rossiya for this bit unless a cheaper ticket for a slower lower-quality train better suited your budget.  Then you might take the daily train 362 from Irkutsk to Ulan Bator, as this is easier to get berths on and more frequent than waiting for weekly trains 4 or 6.  Then you might pick up trains 4 or 24 from Ulan Bator to Beijing.  Browse the Trans-Siberian timetable or use the Trans-Siberian trip planner.

5.  How much will it cost?  How long does it take?

To give you a rough idea, the cheapest trip put together yourself would include a Moscow-Beijing 2nd class train ticket for around £470-£550, plus London-Moscow train tickets for around £200.  You'll also need at least 1 night in a hotel in Moscow, and of course you need to budget for visas for Russia, China and possibly Mongolia and Belarus, plus travel insurance.  But it all depends on what you want to do, and how economically or luxuriously you want to travel.

Fares are shown in the fares section below, although what you actually pay depends on how you buy your tickets as the various booking agencies add differing mark-ups.  You can use the the Real Russia Trans-Siberian trip planner to get a good idea of cost including stopovers.

In terms of time, London to Beijing with a one day stopover in Moscow takes around 10 days, London to Beijing with 2-days in Irkutsk and 3 days in Ulan Bator in Mongolia would take 15 days.  London to Tokyo or Hanoi with stopovers in Moscow and Vladivostok takes about 14 days.  You could reach Bangkok in around 20 days.  But where and how long you stop off is up to you.  I suggest sketching out an itinerary and budget using the method explained on the How to plan an itinerary & budget page.


Booking your trip...

Step 1.  Buy your Trans-Siberian train tickets.

When you have planned your journey, the first thing to arrange are your Trans-Siberian train tickets.  There are several ways to buy tickets, some cheaper but more effort, others easier but more expensive.  See the how to buy tickets section below for an explanation of all the options, but I'd recommend the Real Russia Trans-Siberian trip planner as arguably the best compromise between cheapness & simplicity for arranging your tickets.

Step 2.  Book connecting trains, ferries & flights.

After booking your Trans-Siberian train ticket, book any onward trains within China, the Beijing-Hanoi (Vietnam) train, a China-Japan ferry, the Vladivostok-Japan ferry or a ferry to South Korea.  You may also need to book a one-way flight if you are going one way by train, the other by air.

Step 3.  Book your hotels.

To find & book hotels in Moscow, Beijing, Vladivostok or in cities along the way, I suggest using www.hotelscombined.com both as a hotel search engine and as a hotel price comparison to find the cheapest seller of any given hotel.  It's a remarkable site, it checks all the major hotel booking sites at once, including Expedia, Hotels.com, Agoda, Booking.com and many more.  Alternatively, I often use www.booking.com as my hotel booking site, as you can usually book their hotels with free cancellation, so you can safely book your accommodation as soon as you decide on your travel dates without any risk of losing money, before confirming your train tickets or visas.

Step 4.  Arrange your visas

 

Direct trains from western Europe to Moscow

 

The Paris to Moscow express... Russian Railways run direct trains to Moscow from Paris, Frankfurt, Berlin, Warsaw, Vienna, Prague... Photo courtesy of David Smith

Once you have booked the Trans-Sib train, you need to arrange your visas.  You can usually only get visas within 3 months of travel.  See the visa section below for details of how to do this.

Step 5.  Book your train from London to Moscow: 

Finally, arrange travel from London to Moscow to connect with the Trans-Siberian, see the London to Russia page.  You can also travel to Moscow by direct sleeping-car from Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Helsinki and many other places, to find train times, use www.bahn.de/en.  Bookings for European trains typically open 92 days before departure, you can't book until reservations open, so do this bit last.

Don't fly to Moscow!

Flying to Moscow to pick up the Trans-Siberian Railway is like entering a marathon, then accepting a lift in someone's car for the first two hundred yards...  Don't cheat!  If you're going to go overland to the far East, do it properly, starting at London St Pancras and staying firmly on the ground.  It's easy to travel from London to Moscow by train, click here for train times, fares & how to buy tickets.


Trans-Siberian route map

Interactive route map: Trans-Siberian, Trans-Mongolian & Trans-Manchurian railways.

Click on a route to see train times, fares and information for that route.

Trains from Beijing to Guangzhou Trains Bangkok - Penang - KL - Singapore Buses Saigon - Phnom Penh - Siem Reap - Bangkok Trains from Hanoi to Saigon Beijing to Guilin & Nanning Beijing to Guilin & Nanning Beijing to Hanoi by train Trains in China Train from Beijing to Hong Kong Train from Beijing to Lhasa & Tibet Train Beijing to Xian Train Beijing to Shanghai Ferries Shanghai to Japan Ferry Tianjon to Korea Ferry Vladivostok-Korea-Japan Trans-Siberian Railway St Petersburg to Moscow by train London, Paris, Amsterdam to St Petersburg London, Paris, Amsteram to Moscow

There's also a less well-travelled route to China via Kazakhstan, sometimes known as the Silk Route, details shown here.


Sponsored links...


What are the trains like?

Real trains for real travellers...

The Trans-Siberian Railway is a regular railway, a means of transport vital to the people living along it.  It's not run for tourists, so you won't find bar cars with pianos or deluxe suites with en suite showers (although one or two tourist cruise trains now operate on the Trans-Siberian from time to time, details here).  However, all passengers get a proper flat berth to sleep in, provided with all necessary bedding, convertible to a seat for day use.  There are washrooms and toilets along the corridor, and a restaurant car for meals.  Whichever train you take, the Trans-Siberian is a safe and comfortable way to reach China and the Far East.  You'll find more details about food, showers & toilets in the Travel tips & FAQ section.

Trains 1 & 2, the Moscow to Vladivostok Rossiya...

The Rossiya (Russia) runs from Moscow to Vladivostok every other day, 6,152 miles in 6 nights, with 2nd class 4-berth sleepers (kupé) and 1st class 2-berth sleepers (spalny vagon or lyux) with two lower berths, and a restaurant car.  The Rossiya's coaches were replaced in the early 2000s and the new interiors are shown below.  Other Russian firmeny quality trains on the Trans-Siberian Railway are similar, but with different colour schemes.  It's a very comfortable train.

Each carriage of the Moscow-Vladivostok 'Rossiya' carries a train nameboard   2-berth first class compartment on the 'Rossiya' from Moscow to Vladivostok   Meal served in your compartment on the Moscow-Vladivostok Trans-Siberian 'Rossiya'

Each carriage proudly carries a Rossiya nameboard.

 

1st class 2-berth sleeper on the Rossiya with 2 lower beds.

 

A 'with services' meal, served in your sleeper.

The restaurant car on the Moscow-Vladivostok 'Rossiya'   Bar area in the restaurant car of the 'Rossiya'   A Skoda CHS4 locomotive

Restaurant car on the Rossiya - complete with Xmas decorations!

 

The restaurant car also features a bar area for drinks & snacks.

 

All these Rossiya photos courtesy of Daniel Brewster.

Virtual tour of the Rossiya: 

 

Click here for a virtual tour inside the Rossiya from Moscow to Vladivostok.  The this nifty virtual tour on the RZD website shows 4-berth & 2-berth sleepers & restaurant car.

Virtual journey on the Rossiya: 

 

Google Maps have a real-time video of the view from the Moscow-Vladivostok Rossiya, see www.google.ru/intl/ru/landing/transsib/en.html.  It'll take 7 days to watch!

What's the journey to Vladivostok like?

The Man in Seat 61 says:  "A journey from Moscow to Vladivostok on the Rossiya was a totally different experience from a previous journey from Moscow to Beijing on train 4.  Travelling to Japan via Vladivostok, my 1st class 2-berth car was comfortable, spotlessly clean and even air-conditioned.  I usually ate in the restaurant car, and by the end of the trip Mischa in the kitchen would have my ham & eggs in the frying pan for breakfast as soon as I appeared in the restaurant.  In contrast to the vibrant international community on board train 4 to Beijing, on train 2 I was the sole Westerner aboard until Irkutsk.  And also unlike the Moscow-Beijing train where almost everyone is making the complete journey, very few passengers on the Rossiya are going all the way to Vladivostok.  The Rossiya is used for all sorts of shorter intermediate journeys, with Russians getting on and off at every station.  I had a compartment all to myself on leaving Moscow, then shared it with a professional Russian ice hockey player from Yaroslavl to Perm, on his way to trial for the team there.  His place was taken by a Russian lady from Yekaterinburg to Irkutsk who said very little.  In Irkutsk two professors from Alabama joined the train and became my meal companions in the restaurant.  The train stops several times a day, usually only for 10-20 minutes, but you can stretch your legs and take photographs.  Arrival in Vladivostok was a full two minutes ahead of schedule, seven days after leaving Moscow. The ocean terminal is adjacent to the station, but you may need to spend a night in Vladivostok to be sure of a safe connection.  Vladivostok is an interesting city, and a day or two spent there will not be wasted.  Overall, the Moscow-Vladivostok route is 7 days of Siberia on a train with few fellow westerners and indeed few Russians making the whole trip.  This makes for a much less interesting journey that the Moscow-Mongolia-Beijing train, and one that it would be good to break up with stopovers rather than make in one go.  If you've got the time to watch it, Google Maps have posted a complete real-time video of the view from the window on the Moscow-Vladivostok Rossiya, see www.google.ru/intl/ru/landing/transsib/en.html."

Trains 3 & 4, the Moscow to Beijing Trans-Mongolian Express...

Trains 3 (westbound) and 4 (eastbound) link Moscow & Beijing once a week all year round, taking the shorter and most interesting route via Mongolia and the Gobi desert, 4,735 miles in 6 nights.  The train is Chinese, and has Chinese carriage attendants.  Using the correct Chinese terminology it has deluxe soft sleepers (2-berth), soft sleepers (4-berth) and hard sleepers (also 4-berth).  Most westerners are content to use the fairly comfortable & economical 4-berth hard sleepers, which are essentially the equivalent of 4-berth kupé on the Russian trains.  The 4-berth soft sleepers are not worth the extra money as they are virtually identical to the 4-berth hard sleepers, just slightly larger, though not so as you'd notice without getting your tape measure out.  However, the 2-berth deluxe soft sleepers are definitely worth the extra cash if you can get one, as they have upper & lower berths and an armchair in one corner, a small table and access to a compact en suite washroom with shower head shared with the adjacent compartment, see the deluxe sleeper photo here.  Don't expect too much of the shower head though!  There are both western and squat toilets at the end of each car, along with washrooms.  A Russian restaurant car is attached whilst the train is in Russia, a Mongolian one in Mongolia and a Chinese one whilst it is in China, see food details here.

How to avoid confusion over classes...  Remember that this train is Chinese, not Russian.  Deluxe soft sleeper, soft sleeper & hard sleeper are usually translated for westerners as 1st class 2-berth, 1st class 4-berth & 2nd class 4-berth, certainly by agencies at the Chinese end.  In my opinion that's an appropriate translation as the Chinese 4-berth hard sleepers are equivalent to 4-berth kupé sleepers on Russian trains, and so can safely be thought of as 2nd class, not 3rd.  However, some Russian agencies including the reliable Real Russia booking system translate the deluxe soft sleeper, soft sleeper & hard sleeper on this Chinese train as 1st, 2nd and 3rd class, where 2nd class means a 1st class 4-berth soft sleeper that's not worth the extra money and 3rd class means a comfortable 4-berth hard sleeper which is more accurately thought of as 2nd class and which I would recommend for most budget travellers.  I hope that's clear!

Chinese restaurant car attached to train 4 in China   Train 4 from Moscow to Beijing in Mongolia

The Chinese restaurant car on train 4, attached between Erlan & Beijing.  A Russian restaurant car is attached whilst in Russia, a Mongolian one in Mongolia.  Courtesy of Peter & Janet Jackson.

 

Train 4 crossing Mongolia...  The train calls at Ulan Bator, then sweeps across the wide open spaces of the Gobi desert.  Courtesy of Tony Willis.

Carriage side, train 4 from Moscow to Beijing   4-berth sleeper on train 4 from Moscow to Beijing   Corridor in a first class deluxe 2-berth car on train 4 to Beijing

Each carriage of trains 3 & 4 proudly carries a 'Beijing - Ulan Bator - Moscow' destination board in Russian & Chinese.  Courtesy of Tony Willis.

 

4-berth hard sleeper. Soft sleeper 4-berth is virtually identical. Courtesy Tony Willis.

 

2-berth deluxe soft sleeper with shared en suite washroomPhoto courtesy of Richard Kirk

What's the journey to Beijing like?  Click here for an illustrated account...

Trains 19 & 20 Vostok, the Trans-Manchurian train between Moscow & Beijing...

Train 19 westbound, train 20 eastbound, the Vostok is the Russian train linking Moscow and Beijing once a week.  It by-passes Mongolia, crossing directly from Russia into China via the older and slightly longer route through Manchuria, 8,986km (5,623 miles) in 7 nights.  The name Vostok simply means 'East'.  The Vostok was given a makeover in 2012-2013, and the photos below show the new red and grey colour scheme and smart refurbished interior.  The train has Russian-style 2-berth & 4-berth sleepers, and a restaurant car - a Russian restaurant when in Russia and a Chinese one when in China.  Unlike the Chinese 2-berth sleepers on train 3/4, the Russian 1st class 2-berths on this train are of the Russian spalny vagon type with two lower berths, think of it as a 4-berth with the upper berths removed, but no washbasin or adjacent washroom, as in the 4-berth sleepers there are toilets and washrooms at the end of the corridor.  For an account of this journey, see Angie Bradshaw's blog here.

Train 19 from Beijing to Moscow, in Siberia   4-berth sleeper on train 19 from Beijing to Moscow

Train 19 from Beijing to Moscow, at a station stop in Russia.  Photo courtesy of David Smith.

 

4-berth sleeper on train 19 from Beijing to Moscow. Photo courtesy of Angie Bradshaw, see her blog here.

Russian restaurant car attached to train 19   Trans-Siberian train 19 from Beijing to Moscow

The Russian restaurant car attached to train 19 whilst in Russia.  Photo courtesy of David Smith.

 

Another shot of train 19 whilst in Russia.  Photo courtesy of David Smith.


Trans-Siberian train times

Here is a summary of all the most important trains on the Trans-Siberian Railway.  Make sure you read the notes!  The times shown are departure times unless it says otherwise, at most stations you can assume the arrival time will be 5 to 15 minutes before departure.  There are other slower trains not shown here, simply use the Real Russia online system here to find train times for all possible trains, or to confirm these times.

All trains run to Moscow time whilst in Russia, and all Russian timetables quote Moscow time, even though local time can be up to 7 hours ahead of Moscow.  So the times shown in the timetable below for all Russian locations are Moscow time, but the times shown for locations in Mongolia and China are local time.  So when you see that the Rossiya leaves Vladivostok at 04:25, that's 04:25 Moscow time which is 11:25 local time, as Vladivostok is +7 hours ahead of Moscow.  Russia abolished Daylight Saving Time in 2011, or rather decided to keep it all year round, so Moscow is now GMT+4 all year and Mongolia & China are permanently 4 hours ahead of Moscow as they too have no DST.

Eastbound timetable...

 Moscow ► Ulan Bator, Beijing & Vladivostok

 Dist-

 ance

 (Km)

Hours

ahead

of

Moscow

Train number & name:

72

 2 Rossiya  

4

6

20 Vostok

44 or 100

362

24

Days of running:

Daily

Every two days

Every Tuesday

Wed & Thurs

Every Saturday

Daily

Daily

1 or 2 per week

Notes:

See note E

See note A

See note B

See note C

See note D

See note F

See note G

See note H

 0

0

 Moscow Yaroslavski station

-

 13:50  day 1

 21:35  Tue

 21:35  day 1

 23:45  Sat

 00:35 day 1

 461

0

 Nizhni Novgorod

-

20:03  day 1

 03:47  Wed

 03:47  day 2

 05:49  Sun

|

   

 -

0

 St Petersburg Ladozhki station

17:07 day 1

 |

 |

 |

 |

|

 1,397

+2

 Perm

22:41 day 2

 09:50  day 2

 17:42  Wed

 17:42  day 2

 20:11  Sun

 03:20 day 2

 1,778

+2

 Yekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk)

04:24 day 3

 15:44  day 2

 23:23  Wed

 23:23  day 2

 01:59  Mon

 10:15 day 2

 2,676

+3

 Omsk

 

 03:30  day 3

 11:38  Thur

 11:38  day 3

 14:03  Mon

 00:04 day 3

 3,303

+3

 Novosibirsk

 

 11:29  day 3

 19:19  Thur

 19:32  day 3

 22:16  Mon

 09:26 day 3

 4,065

+4

 Krasnoyarsk

 

 23:02  day 3

 06:47  Fri

 06:47  day 4

 09:59  Tue

 21:54 day 3

 5,152

+5

 Irkutsk 

arrive

 

 15:57  day 4

 23:47  Fri

 23:47  day 4

 02:27  Wed

 16:19 day 4

 5,152

+5

depart

 

 16:20  day 4

 00:12  Sat

 00:12  day 5

 02:57  Wed

 16:49 day 4

 17:10  day 1

 5,608

+5

 Ulan Ude

 

 23:17  day 4

 08:15  Sat

 08:15  day 5

 10:07  Wed

 00:18 day 5

 00:50  day 2

 5,864

+5

 Naushki (Russian border)

arrive

 

|

 13:08  Sat

 13:08  day 5

|

|

 08:53  day 2

 5,864

+5

depart

 

|

 16:43  Sat

 16:43  day 5

|

|

 13:50  day 2

 5,887

+4

 Suhe Bator (Mongolian border)

 

|

 21:30  Sun

 21:30  day 5

|

|

 18:36  day 2

 6,265

+4

 Ulan Bator

arrive

 

|

 06:30  Sun

 06:30  day 6

|

|

 06:10  day 3

 6,265

+4

depart

 

|

 07:15  Sun

|

|

 07:15  day 1

 6,770

+4

 Dzamin Uud (Mongolian border)

 

|

 19:10  Sun

|

|

 19:10  day 1

 6,780

+4

 Erlian (Chinese border)

arrive

 

|

 21:00  Sun

|

|

 21:00  day 1

 6,780

+4

depart

 

|

  00:57  Mon

|

|

 00:57  day 2

 6,626

+5

 Zabaikalsk (Russian border) arr.

 

|

|

  07:17 Thur

|

|

 6,638

+4

 Manzhouli (Chinese border) dep.

 

|

|

 00:10  Fri

|

|

 7,574

+4

 Harbin (local time)

 

|

|

 12:23  Fri

|

|

 7,622*

+4

 Beijing main station

 

|

  14:04  Mon

 05:46  Sat

|

 14:33  day 2

 8,492

+7

 Khabarovsk

 

 01:10  day 7

06:25 day 7

 9,258

+7

 Vladivostok

 

 13:10  day 7

 

18:45 day 7

* Moscow-Beijing is 7,622 km (4,735 miles) via Ulan Bator or 8,986 km (5,623 miles) via Harbin.    Map of Moscow showing Yaroslavsky station

Remember, the times shown above are all Moscow time, not local time, for stations within Russia.  In Mongolia & China, times shown are local time.

Note A:  Rossiya.  High-quality firmeny train, see here for photos & more information.  Runs every second day, leaving Moscow on odd-numbered dates (1st, 3rd, 5th etc.) in June, July, Sept, Oct 2013 & Jan 2014, and on even numbered dates in Aug, Nov, Dec 2013 & Feb, March 2014.  Runs from Vladivostok on even-numbered dates (2nd, 4th, 6th etc) in June, July, Sept, Oct 2013 & Jan 2014 and on odd-numbered dates in Aug, Nov, Dec 2013 & Feb, March 2014.  2-berth spalny vagon, 4-berth kupé, platskartny berths & restaurant car.  You can check days of operation using the online system here.

Note B:  Moscow-Beijing Trans-Mongolian express, see here for photos & information & see here for an illustrated account of the journey.  Leaves Moscow every Tuesday eastbound, leaves Beijing every Wednesday westbound.  Operated with Chinese coaches & staff.  1st class 2-berth, 1st class 4-berth, 2nd class 4-berth.  Russian restaurant car whilst in Russia, Mongolian restaurant in Mongolia, Chinese restaurant in China.  Note that if you're trying to buy a ticket from Ulan Bator to Beijing, berths on train 4 can only be booked within 24h of departure from Ulan Bator, so you'll find it much easier to use train 24 instead.

Note C:  Train 6 runs from Moscow on Wednesdays (a Mongolian train) and Thursdays (a Russian train). Train 5 runs from Ulan Bator on Tuesdays (a Mongolian train) and Fridays (a Russian train).  This train has 2-berth & 4-berth sleepers & restaurant car.  During the winter from late October to mid May a reduced service operates, with Russian and Mongolian trains each operating every two weeks, so check departure dates using the online system.

Note D:  Vostok.  Moscow-Beijing Trans-Manchurian express.  Leaves Moscow every Saturday (it left on Fridays until March 2011).  Westbound, leaves Beijing every Saturday.  Operates with Russian coaches & staff.  2-berth spalny vagon, 4-berth kupé.  There is a Russian restaurant car whilst in Russia and a Chinese restaurant car in China.

Note E:  Runs daily.  Fast high-quality firmeny train with 2-berth spalny vagon, 4-berth kupé, platskartny St Petersburg-Ekaterinberg.  Note that the St Petersburg-Irkutsk Baikal was discontinued in May 2013.  Train 71/72 is now the principal direct link between St Petersburg & Siberia unless you go via Moscow.

Note F:  This is a slower, cheaper, lower-quality alternative to the high-quality Rossiya for journeys within Russia.  4-berth kupé and platskartny only, there are no 2-berth sleepers on this train.  Runs between Moscow & Khabarovsk every day as train 43/44 one day and 99/100 the next, it is extended to & from Vladivostok every 2nd day as train 99/100, check dates using the online system.

Note G:  Runs daily.  Trains consists of one direct 4-berth kupé sleeping-car between Irkutsk & Ulan Bator, with other cars attached on each side of the border.  No 2-berth.

Note H:  This train is operated by the Mongolian Railways one year and Chinese Railways the next year, switching over each year at the end of May when the days of operation also change.  From May 2013 to May 2014 (and unless things change, May 2015 to May 2016), Chinese Railways runs the main all-year-round service with train 23 from Beijing to Ulan Bator running every Tuesday and train 24 from Ulan Bator to Beijing running every Thursday.  The Mongolians then run an additional weekly departure in summer from late June to early September, with train 24 from Ulan Bator to Beijing also running on Saturdays and train 23 from Beijing to Ulan Bator also running on Mondays.  From May 2014 to May 2015, Mongolian Railways will run the main all-year-round service with train 23 from Beijing to Ulan Bator running every Saturday and train 24 from Ulan Bator to Beijing running every Thursday.  The Chinese are expected to run an additional weekly departure in summer from late June to early September, with train 24 from Ulan Bator to Beijing running additionally on Fridays and train 23 from Beijing to Ulan Bator running additionally on Tuesdays.  The Chinese train has deluxe soft sleeper (2-berth), soft sleeper (4-berth) and hard sleeper (4-berth).  The Mongolian train has spalny vagon (1st class 2-berth), and kupé (2nd class 4-berth).  Note that's it's far easier to buy a ticket from Ulan Bator to Beijing ion train 24 than to get a berth on train 4 coming through from Moscow.  There are alternative, less convenient but more frequent ways to get from Ulan Bator to Beijing, with changes of train, click here for details.

Trains 3/4, 5/6 & 19/20 between Moscow, Ulan Bator & Beijing are principally intended for passengers making international journeys (for example, Moscow to Beijing, Irkutsk to Beijing or Moscow to Ulan Bator).  If you want to stop off at Ekaterinberg or Irkutsk for example, you would normally take a Russian internal train between Moscow, Ekaterinberg & Irkutsk such as the Rossiya or train 44 or 100.

Westbound timetable...

 Vladivostok, Beijing & Ulan Bator Moscow

Hours

ahead

of

Moscow

 Train number & name:

1 Rossiya

3

5

19 Vostok

23

361

43/99

71

 Days of running:

Every two days

Every

Wednesday

Tues & Fri

Every

Saturday

1 or 2 per week

Daily

Daily

Daily

 Notes:

See note A

See note B

See note C

See note D

See note H

See note G

See note F

See note E

+7

 Vladivostok

 04:25  day 1

 

  

 

 

 

  18:56 day 1

 

+7

 Khabarovsk

 17:04  day 1

  

 

 

 

  

  08:49 day 2

 

+4

 Beijing main station

|

 08:05  Wed

 

 23:00  Sat

 08:05  day 1

 

|

 

+4

 Harbin

|

|

 

 15:10  Sun

|

  

|

 

+4

 Manzhouli (Chinese border) arrive

|

|

 

 03:27  Mon

|

  

|

 

+5

 Zabaikalsk (Russian border) depart

|

|

 

 10:57  Mon

|

  

|

 

+4

 Erlian  (Chinese border)

arrive

|

 20:37  Wed

 

|

 20:37  day 1

 

|

 

+4

depart

|

 23:59  Wed

 

|

 23:59  day 1

 

|

 

+4

 Dzamin Uud (Mongolian border)

|

 00:25  Thur

 

|

 00:25  day 2

 

|

 

+4

 Ulan Bator

arrive

|

 13:20  Thur

 

|

 13:20  day 2

 

|

 

+4

depart

|

 13:50  Thur

 13:50  day 1

|

 

 21:10  day 1

|

 

+4

 Suche Bator (Mongolian border)

|

 20:50  Thur

 20:50  day 1

|

 

  ??:??   day 2

|

 

+5

 Naushki (Russian border)

arrive

|

 19:14  Thur

 19:14  day 1

|

 

  ??:??   day 2

|

 

+5

depart

|

 22:31  Thur

 22:31  day 1

|

 

 11:50  day 2

|

 

+5

 Ulan Ude

 18:26  day 3

 03:09  Fri

 03:09  day 2

 07:15  Tue

 

 18:02  day 2

 14:23  day 4

 

+5

 Irkutsk

arrive

 01:10  day 4

 10:39  Fri

 10:39  day 2

 13:42  Tue

 

 02:55  day 3

 21:39  day 4

 

+5

depart

 01:45  day 4

 11:04  Fri

 11:04  day 2

 14:12  Tue

 

 

 22:14  day 4

 

+4

 Krasnoyarsk

 19:29  day 4

 04:12  Sat

 04:12  day 3

 07:31  Wed

 

 

 16:39  day 5

 

+3

 Novosibirsk

 07:01  day 5

 16:14  Sat

 16:14  day 3

 19:50  Wed

 

 

 05:09  day 6

 

+3

 Omsk

 15:22  day 5

 23:39  Sat

 23:39  day 3

 03:45  Thur

 

 

 14:25  day 6

 

+2

 Yekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk)

 04:04  day 6

 12:06  Sun

 12:06  day 4

 15:33  Thur

 

 

 03:34  day 7

20:46 day 1

+2

 Perm

 09:46  day 6

 17:46  Sun

 17:46  day 4

 21:45  Thur

 

  

 09:36  day 7

02:45 day 2

0

 St Petersburg Ladozhski station

 |

 |

 |

 |

 

  

 |

08:39 day 3

0

 Nizhni Novgorod

 23:09  day 6

07:02  Mon

 07:02  day 5

11:12  Fri  

 

 

 |

 

0

 Moscow Yaroslavski station

 05:52  day 7

 13:58  Mon

 13:58  day 5

 17:58  Fri   

 

  

 11:03  day 8

-

Information on connecting trains & ferries...

Alternative trains between Ulan Bator & Beijing...

If you're trying to do the Trans-Mongolian route flexibly, buying tickets as you go, this is relatively easy between Moscow & Ulan Bator, as there are a whole range of domestic trains between Moscow, Irkutsk and Ulan Ude every day, then a daily train from Irkutsk or Ulan Ude to Ulan Bator.  Obviously, you still need to be flexible with exact date, train & class.

The pinch-point is between Ulan Bator and Beijing where there are just two direct trains per week.  And one of those is train 4, the through train from Moscow on which only limited berths available for passengers joining at UB and these are only released for sale 24 hours before departure from UB.  However, there are alternative trains between Ulan Bator and the Chinese border, so you're unlikely to be completely stuck.  Here are the alternative trains, not shown in the timetable above:

  • There is a daily overnight sleeper train (number 276) from Ulan Bator to Zamin Uud on the Mongolian side of the Chinese border, just 10km from the Chinese frontier at Erlian.  It leaves Ulan Bator at 17:20 and arrives Dzamin Uud at 07:10 next morning, the fare in a soft sleeper is around 40,000 Mongolian Tugrik ($22).  Local buses or taxis are available to Erlian (a taxi will cost around 40-50 RMB, about $7), then you can take daily trains from Erlian to Jining Nan (Jining South) and a number of daily trains from Jining Nan to Beijing.

  • On Mondays & Fridays, a hard class sleeper train (train 34) leaves Ulan Bator at 20:05 arriving Jining Nan (Jining South) around 19:00 next day (the train's final destination is Huhhot).  There are then several daily trains from Jining Nan to Beijing, journey 9 hours, fare about $7 with soft class seat.  www.chinahighlights.com/china-trains will confirm train times for any journey within China (click 'trains between 2 of all stations', this system recognises 'Jining South', not 'Jining Nan', beware that trains 3, 4, 23, 24 aren't daily).

  • On Thursdays & Sundays, a hard class sleeper train (train 22) leaves Ulan Bator at 20:05 for Erlian, just on the Chinese side of the border, arriving next morning.  There are daily trains from Erlian to Jining Nan (Jining South) then a number of daily trains from Jining Nan to Beijing.  Use www.chinahighlights.com/china-trains to find trains within China.

  • This information comes from travellers, the latest being a photograph of Dzamin Uud departure board in summer 2013.  If you have more information on these alternative UB-Beijing journey, please e-mail me!


How much does it cost?

In a nutshell...

 

  • Around £470 buys you a one-way train ticket from Moscow to Beijing on train 4 including a bed in a 4-berth sleeper, pre-booked through a reliable agency such as Real Russia.  For almost 5,000 miles of travel, a bed for 6 nights and a memorable world-class travel experience, that's a bargain!  If you want a bed in a 2-bed sleeper, make that around £695.

  • If you want to stop off at places on the way, that increases the ticket price a bit, but not hugely.

  • Add train tickets from London to Moscow for around £200 and you're all set for an epic journey from the UK to China.

  • Don't forget visas.  This could add £100-£200 depending on which visas you need.  Russia, China, possibly Mongolia & Belarus.

  • You should budget for at least one night in a hotel in Moscow, £40 upwards depending on how classy a hotel you want.

The full story...

A Trans-Siberian journey certainly isn't expensive if you travel independently rather than with an inclusive tour.  It's a real railway with regular fares, not an expensive tourist attraction.  However, what you pay can vary enormously depending on:

  • Which class you choose.  Most western travellers go 2nd class 4-berth (kupé).  1st class 2-berth (spalny vagon ) is nice if you can afford it, but twice the price of kupé so only worth it if money is no object.  3rd class (platskartny open-plan bunks) is a bit basic for most western travellers and not available on every train, but some adventurous low-budget travellers go for it.

  • For journeys wholly within Russia, whether you travel on a 'firmeny' fast quality train (recommended) such as train 2 Rossiya or a slow unnamed lower-quality train such as trains 240, 340 or 904 which have cheaper fares.  As a general rule, low train numbers are quality trains, slower low-quality trains have three-digit train numbers.  When you contact an agency, make sure you know what specific train number you're being quoted a fare for so you compare like with like.

  • Whether you travel independently (cheaper) or book an all-inclusive tour (more expensive).

  • If travelling independently, whether you buy your ticket through a Russian travel agency like Real Russia (cheaper, recommended), a western travel agency (more expensive), or at the ticket office (cheapest, but not always practical if you need to be sure of being on a certain train on a certain date).

  • If booking through an agency, which agency you use.  Demand for the two weekly Moscow-Beijing trains exceeds supply, Russian Railways sells off tickets to travel agencies before bookings open to the public, and these agencies sell tickets to tourists for whatever price they can get for them.  So you need to shop around!

  • Some quality trains such as the Rossiya allow you to buy tickets 'with services' or 'without services'.  'With services' means that a light breakfast and cooked dinner with beer are served in your compartment (or sometimes in the restaurant car), like the meal shown in these photos.  This is usually good value and simplifies payment as you won't need cash, so buying a ticket 'with services' is often a good idea.

Prices if you buy tickets at the ticket office in Moscow...

Here are typical fares charged by Russian Railways, taken from the Russian Railways website www.rzd.ru - you can check any journey in Russia for your own dates yourself, click Eng for English top right.  In the search results, Reserved seat = platskartny, Compartment = kupé 4-berth, Luxury = spalny vagon 2-berth.  Russian fares vary by season, higher in summer, lower in winter, the ones below are for September 2013.  Summer fares will be a few percent higher.  As you can see, higher fares are charged for fast high-quality firmeny trains, lower fares for slower low-quality trains.  I recommend firmeny trains unless you are on a tight budget.  www.rzd.ru also lets you buy Russian domestic train tickets online, but not tickets for the international trains to Mongolia or China, and it may struggle with some overseas credit cards.

 One way, per person, in roubles:

Platskartny

3rd class bunks

Kupé

2nd class 4-berth 

Spalny vagon 

1st class 2-berth

 Moscow - Vladivostok (firmeny train 2 Rossiya)

10,102 (£202)

17,343 (£346)

34,708 (£694)

 Moscow - Irkutsk (firmeny train 2 Rossiya)

7,101 (£142)

12,919 (£258)

23,765 (£475)

 Moscow - Irkutsk (slower train 44 or 70)

4,771 (£95)

9,222 (£184)

-

 Moscow - Yekaterinburg (firmeny train 2 Rossiya)

3,075 (£62)

5,507 (£110)

8,882 (£177)

 Moscow - Yekaterinburg (slower train 44 or 70)

2,087 (£42)

3,928 (£79)

-

 Yekaterinburg - Irkutsk (firmeny train 2 Rossiya)

5,406 (£108)

9,801 (£196)

17,390 (£348)

 Yekaterinburg - Irkutsk (slower train 44 or 70)

3,641 (£73)

6,996 (£140)

-

 Irkutsk - Vladivostok (firmeny train 2 Rossiya)

6,465 (£129)

11,756 (£235)

19,043 (£381)

 Irkutsk - Vladivostok (slower train 100 or 134)

4,347 (£87)

8,392 (£168)

-

 Irkutsk - Ulan Bator (train 362)

-

About $80

-

 Moscow - Beijing (trains 3, 4 or 19, 20) or

 Moscow - Ulan Bator (trains 5 or 6)

The price charged at the ticket office for trains 3/ 4, 5/6, 19/20 is almost irrelevant.  Demand exceeds supply and tickets are bought in bulk by Russian travel agencies before booking opens to the public, so the ticket office will usually tell you they are full.  You should buy through an agency if you want to travel on these trains.

With or without services?

On the best trains you can buy tickets without services meaning without any meals, or with services meaning with all your meals included, either served in the restaurant or in your compartment.  All the fares shown above and below are without services.  Expect to pay an extra 1,708 rubles (£34) in kupé or 2,830 rubles (£57) in spalny vagon for a 'with services' ticket on train 2 from Moscow to Irkutsk for example, not bad value for a 4-day trip!  You can see an example of the food in the Rossiya photos above.  When using www.rzd.ru, if you select a train in the search results and  click continue, if it's a train where 'services' are offered you'll see two prices for each class.  The higher price, with a У4, У7, and so on in the 'category' column indicates a 'with services' option where the number indicates the number of meals provided.

Prices if you buy tickets from Real Russia or another Russian travel agency...

Unless you have lots of time and can afford to take pot luck when you get to Moscow, you'll probably want to book your trains in advance.  Most westerners buy tickets through a travel agency, either a local Russian one such as the excellent Real Russia or other reputable Russian agencies (recommended) or a specialist western agency (sometimes less hassle, but significantly more expensive).  Different agencies charge completely different prices for the same journey, so shop around for the best deal.  However, to give you a rough idea, here are the prices charged by Real Russia, including their agency mark-up.  'Shopping around' means emailing each agency for a specific quote, not just looking at their website, as some agencies don't update their sites when prices rise - and Russian & Chinese railways have imposed some big fare rises in recent years.  When emailing an agency, be specific about which train you want, and remember to ask about their delivery charges & credit card fees.  I've seen websites quote very competitive prices for (say) Moscow-Irkutsk which turn out to be for a low-quality slow train, and the price they charge for a quality 'firmeny' train such as the Rossiya is much higher and less competitive.  When you get quotes, make sure you compare like with like!  And some agencies charge credit card fees of up to 12% on top of their advertised fares (Real Russia charge 2.5%), so make sure the quote explains these.  How to buy tickets from Russian travel agencies.

 One way, per person:

Platskartny

3rd class bunks

Kupé

2nd class 4-berth 

Spalny vagon 

1st class 2-berth

 Moscow to Beijing (Trans-Mongolian, train 4)

-

£468 / $733

£732 / $1146

 Moscow to Beijing (Trans-Manchurian, train 20)

-

£544 / $851

£770 / $1205

 Moscow to Vladivostok (firmeny train 2, Rossiya)

£258 / $403

£439 / $687

£755 / $1182

 Moscow to Irkutsk (firmeny train 2, Rossiya)

£146 / $220

£320 / $481

£588 / $884

 Moscow to Irkutsk (train 44 or 100)

£123 / $194

£235 / $369

-

 Moscow to Ulan Bator (train 4 or 6)

-

£280 / $438

£443 / $694

 Irkutsk to Ulan Bator (train 362)

-

£142 / $222

-

 Irkutsk to Beijing (train 4 via Mongolia)

-

£330 / $517

£418 / $654

 Irkutsk to Beijing (train 20 via Manchuria)

-

£343 / $536

£482 / $755

 Ulan Bator to Beijing (train 4)

-

£192 / $301

£285 / $446

 Ulan Bator to Beijing (train 24)

-

£129 / $202

£192 / $301

These are September 2013 prices without services (i.e. without meals) from Real Russia, prices will be higher in summer.

Where did I get these fares?  How can you check current fares & fares for other journeys?  See the Real Russia Trans-Siberian trip planner.

Prices if you buy tickets from a western travel agency...

There are various western agencies who specialise in Trans-Siberian travel.  They can sell you a package tour or arrange a tailor-made tour for you, but they can also sell just a train ticket if you like.  Their prices vary enormously, so shop around.  With higher overheads to support, a western agency will charge much more than a local Russian agency.  More information about arranging your trip through a western tour agency.

Prices if you buy tickets in Ulan Bator...

A Ulan Bator to Irkutsk ticket costs about 33,000 togrog ($30) if bought at the station.  More information about buying tickets in Ulan Bator.

Prices if you buy tickets in Beijing or from China International Travel Service (CITS)...

You can buy tickets in person at Beijing main station or via CITS (the Chinese state tourist agency).  You used to be able to check fares at www.cits.net but they now refer you to another site, www.chinatraveldesigner.com/trans-siberian-trains (their fares are shown below).  You can also check the 'official' train fares in RMB at www.cbwchina.com/travel/ticketprice.htmlMore information about buying tickets in person in Beijing or by email via CITS.

 One way, per person:

2nd class 4-berth

(hard sleeper)

1st class 4-berth

(soft sleeper) 

1st class 2-berth

(deluxe soft sleeper)

 Beijing to Moscow (train 3)

$628

$925

$1012

 Beijing to Moscow (train 19)

$694

-

$1078

 Beijing to Irkutsk (train 3)

$368

$521

$563

 Beijing to Irkutsk (train 19)

$411

-

$623

 Beijing to Ulan Bator (trains 3 or 23)

$247

$333

$360

Children...

  • In Russia, children under 5 sharing a berth with an adult go free, children 5 to 10 travel at half the adult fare. 

  • On the Trans-Manchurian and Trans-Mongolian international trains (trains 3, 4, 19, 20), children under 4 go free if they share a berth, children 4 to 11 (inclusive) travel at 75% of the adult fare. 

  • For journeys wholly within China, children under 120cm tall travel free, 120-150cm tall travel for half fare, over 150cm tall pay full fare (new child height limits since December 2010).


Check Trans-Siberian train times & prices online

Trans-Siberian train times, prices & online tickets...

Use this form to check train times & prices and buy tickets for any individual train on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Buy Trans-Siberian tickets

Planning a trip with stopovers?

This form books one train at a time.  To plan a trip between Moscow and Beijing or Vladivostok with stopovers, use the multi-leg Trans-Siberian trip planner.  This will book all your trains at once with stopovers wherever you want for however long you want.

 

This system links to www.realrussia.co.uk, a reliable UK-Russian agency selling Trans-Siberian train tickets online using data direct from the RZD (Russian Railways) database.  It's a good way to check Trans-Siberian train times & fares and indeed buy your tickets.  Real Russia can also arrange your visas for Russia, Belarus, Mongolia & China.

Is this the cheapest way to buy tickets?  Real Russia is an agency, and the fares shown include a mark-up  on RZD's actual ticket prices, typically around 15-23%.  They also make a 2.5% charge for credit card payments, but you can avoid this if you call at their UK office to pay by debit card when your tickets are confirmed.  Real Russia are a reliable agency which gets good reports, so I recommend them and seat61 gets some commission if you buy through them.  I suggest comparing prices with the other Russian agencies shown here, and of course you can buy tickets at the station without any mark-up or buy online from RZD, at least for domestic Russian routes.  The full story on all the possible ways to buy Trans-Siberian train tickets is explained in the following sections.

What tickets can this system sell?  This system can sell tickets for any mainline train journey within Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Lithuania, Kazakhstan and the other ex-Soviet states, including the Trans-Siberian Railway.  It can also sell tickets starting in those countries heading outwards, for example Moscow to Beijing or Irkutsk to Ulan Bator.  Reservations officially open 45 days before departure, but with Real Russia you can 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, Singapore or wherever.

How are tickets delivered?  Tickets are collected free of charge at Real Russia's offices in Moscow or St Petersburg, or an e-ticket can be emailed to you so you can collect the ticket from most main stations in Russia.  Tickets can be sent to UK or EU addresses for a £12-£15 fee, or couriered to any address worldwide, also for an extra charge.

Booking tips:  'Firmeny' trains marked 'firm' are the best trains, with modern coaches and good on-board service.  'TBC' means the system cannot provide an online price for that particular train, but they'll call or email you with the cost.


How to buy tickets

There are four ways to book a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway, each with advantages & disadvantages:

Option 1:  Buy tickets at the station...

Is buying tickets at the station a practical proposition?

If you have a definite itinerary and limited time, and want to be sure of confirmed reservations, you should go straight to option 2 below to pre-book your tickets in advance through a reputable agency.  However, if you have lots of time, want to stay free and flexible, and are willing to take pot luck on what places you find available, it is indeed possible to buy your tickets at stations as you go along, at least for journeys wholly within Russia.  It's not usually difficult to get a ticket for a Russian internal journey a day or two before departure, for example Moscow-Ekaterinberg, Moscow-Irkutsk or even Moscow-Vladivostok, assuming you can be flexible about your exact departure date, time and class of travel.  The daily Irkutsk-Ulan Bator train is not too difficult to book at the ticket office, either.

But for travel between Russia and Mongolia or China, here's a reality check:  Demand exceeds supply for the two weekly Moscow-Beijing Trans-Mongolian & Trans-Manchurian trains (trains 4 & 20), also the weekly Moscow-Ulan Bator train (train 6), especially in the busy May-September peak season.  Russian Railways opens bookings to travel agencies 60 days before departure, and Russian travel agencies buy up all the tickets to resell them at a mark-up.  Station staff may therefore tell you that these trains are all sold out even if you went to the station the moment bookings opened to the public 45 days before departure, although you may be able to buy tickets if you called one of the agencies.  If you want to use these trains, you should pre-book through an agency as shown in option 2 or 3 below.  Ulan Bator to Beijing is also a pinch-point, as there are only 2 trains a week, so this too is best booked in advance through an agency.

How to buy tickets in Moscow & Russia...

You can go to the ticket office at any Russian station and buy a ticket for any journey in Russia, including the Trans-Siberian Railway.  This is the cheapest way to book because you pay the real Russian Railways price with no mark-up or agency fee.  Remember to take your passport.

To avoid language problems, it's a good idea to learn the Russian alphabet so you can write down your requirements to show to the ticket office staff.  When writing dates, use roman numerals for the month, or example for '3 June 2013' write '3 VI 2013'.

Many big Russian stations now have a 'servis tsentr' (service centre) where you pay a small fee of around 100 rubles to buy your ticket in a relaxed air-conditioned environment, and it's well worth paying this small extra fee for the hassle it can save you.  Russian railway reservations are computerised, so you can arrange any journey from any station, as long as the journey starts in Russia or one of the ex-Soviet states.

 
 

Buying Trans-Siberian tickets in Ulan Bator:  Go to the international booking office on Zamchyd Gudamj, a couple of roads over from the railway station.  The foreigners booking office is in room 212, open 08:00-20:00 Monday-Friday.  At weekends use the normal booking window...

  Beijing International Hotel   CITS office to buy Trans-Siberian tickets in Beijing
 

Buying Trans-Siberian tickets in Beijing:  Go to the CITS office on the ground floor of the Beijing International Hotel, open 09:00-12:00 & 13:30-17:00 Monday-Friday, 09:00-12:00 on weekends and holidays.  See location map.

How to buy tickets in Ulan Bator...

You can buy tickets in Ulan Bator at the International Railway Ticketing Office on Zamchyd Gudamj, a couple of roads over from the railway station.  The foreigners booking office is in room 212, open 08:00-20:00 Monday-Friday (at weekends use the normal booking window).  International trains to Irkutsk, Moscow and Beijing can be booked up to 30 days in advance, except for berths on the Moscow-Beijing and Beijing-Moscow trains 3/4, on which berths for passengers joining at UB are only sold 24 hours before departure.  If you are travelling to Beijing and find trains 4 & 24 fully-booked, don't worry, there are alternative trains from Ulan Bator to northern China, where you can change trains for Beijing, and indeed a daily overnight train from Ulan Bator to Dzamin Uud on the Chinese border from where you can easily reach Beijing any day of the week, see here for details of these alternatives.

How to buy tickets in Beijing...

You can buy westbound Trans-Siberian tickets in Beijing at one of the designated reservation offices, although not at any of Beijing's stations.  The two weekly Beijing-Moscow trains often get booked up well in advance, so buy tickets as far ahead as you can.  However, don't despair if you need to travel in the near future, as it's not impossible to get tickets from Beijing to Moscow a week or two ahead, certainly outside peak season.  Westbound trains are generally easier to get berths on than eastbound trains, and it's easier finding a place in winter than in the May-September peak season.  Train 3 to Moscow via Mongolia is often fully booked a couple of weeks in advance especially in summer, although it can be easier to get a berth on train 19 via Manchuria, which occasionally has berths available even a few days before departure, but obviously not always!  So the basic message is this:  If you positively have to be on a specific train on a specific date, forget booking at the ticket office, you should pre-book via CITS or some other agency and pay their extra fee.  But if you're living in Beijing, or plan to be there for some time before leaving, and can be a bit flexible about exactly what date you leave, booking in person can be an option.  You can buy Trans-Siberian train tickets in Beijing at:

  • The CITS international train booking office on the ground floor of the Beijing International Hotel.  This is about 5 minutes walk north of Beijing railway station on Jianguo Men Nei Dajie, see location map.  It's open 09:00-12:00 & 13:30-17:00 Monday-Friday, 09:00-12:00 on weekends and holidays.  It's not well-signed, but simply go through the hotel's main entrance and turn left, looking for a passageway at the far left side if the reception desks.  It's unlikely to be crowded.  The staff speak basic English and leaflets are available with international train times & fares in English.  See the section above for fares or try www.cbwchina.com/travel/ticketprice.html

  • Alternatively, try BTG Travel & Tours who have various agency offices around the city.

  • You cannot buy Trans-Siberian tickets at Beijing stations.

Option 2:  Buy tickets using the Real Russia Trans-Siberian trip planner...

Most western travellers want their Trans-Siberian reservations confirmed in advance before they leave home.  The best option is to buy tickets over the internet through a reputable local agency such as Real Russia or Svezhy Veter.  Real Russia (www.realrussia.co.uk) deserve a special mention as they've developed an online trip planner that makes planning a Trans-Siberian journey & ordering tickets remarkably easy, eastbound or westbound, with or without stopovers on the way.  In terms of price, simplicity & a sound reputation for customer care, they're one of the best agencies.  The company was started by a Brit with links to Russia, hence the .co.uk.  The prices shown on the Real Russia system are the Russian railways price plus a small (15%-23%) mark-up (all agencies mark up the basic price, naturally).  Their system is linked to the actual Russian Railways database for train times, prices & availability, although orders are fulfilled manually when made online.

Trans-Siberian multi-leg trip planner

How the trip planner works:  Choose your route (Trans-Siberian to/from Vladivostok, Trans-Mongolian or Trans-Manchurian to/from Beijing), pick your end points (Moscow, Beijing, Vladivostok, eastbound or westbound) & enter your date of departure. 

On the next page you can choose where you want to stop off, and select how many days to spend in each place. 

Then it'll give you a choice of trains & prices for each leg of your trip, and let you order all the tickets in one go.

How are tickets delivered?  Tickets are collected free of charge at Real Russia's offices in Moscow or St Petersburg, or sent to UK or EU addresses for a £12-£15 fee, or couriered to any address worldwide, also for an extra charge.

 

◄  Book a Trans-Siberian journey with stopovers online... 

  • On the train results pages, 1st class = 2-berth.  2nd class = 4-berth, the recommended option for most travellers. 3rd class = platskartny open-plan bunks.

  • However, just to confuse you, when booking train 3 from Beijing to Moscow, 3rd class means 2nd class 4-berth, and  2nd class means the 1st class 4-berth unique to this train.

  • Trains marked 'Firm' are Firmeny high-quality trains, with higher fares than other trains. Firmeny trains are recommended unless you're on a tight budget.

  • On the best trains you can book tickets with or without 'services', which means meals.  Buying 'with services' is often a good deal.

  • To book just one specific Trans-Siberian train (without stopovers) use this online tickets system instead.

About this system...

Who runs this service & are they reliable?  It's provided by Real Russia, a reliable UK-Russian company which gets many positive reports from users.  So much so that Real Russia has become RZD's (Russian Railways') biggest single customer.

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.

Is this the cheapest way to buy tickets?  Real Russia charge the Russian Railways fare with a small mark-up to cover their costs.  There's a 2.5% charge for credit card payments, but you can avoid this by calling their UK office to pay by debit card when your tickets are confirmed.  By all means shop around other agencies.  Seat61 gets some commission if you book through this system.

Don't forget your visas:  Real Russia can also arrange your visas for Russia, Belarus, Mongolia & China.

How to buy train tickets from London to Moscow      Book your hotels here...

Option 3:  Other agencies who can arrange Trans-Siberian tickets...

For journeys within or starting in Russia, use a Russian agency...

Real Russia is one of several reputable Russian agencies who can arrange Trans-Siberian train tickets, here are the best of the rest... 

These agencies may keep their own waiting lists and will take Trans-Siberian bookings months ahead, well before the 60 day point when they can buy up the actual ticket, so contact a booking agency as far ahead as you can. 

All these agencies have been recommended by Seat61 correspondents and are all reputable, although further feedback is always welcome.  Booking through one of these Russian agencies is much cheaper than booking through a western travel agency, but prices vary enormously from agency to agency, so shop around.  Make sure that you compare like with like, so any quote you get is inclusive of credit card fees, and you know whether it's for a slow low-quality train (3-digit train numbers) or one of the fast quality trains such as the Rossiya (one or two-digit train numbers & usually a name).

Tickets can be picked up at their offices in Moscow or sent to you for a courier fee.  Some agencies (but not Real Russia) may ask you to fax them a photocopy of your credit card and/or passport, which sounds dodgy, but is not unusual when dealing with Russian companies.  Be prepared for a 7%-12% credit card fee (Real Russia charge only 2.5%), but using a credit card is still a safer way to buy tickets than using a money transfer.  These Russian agencies can also book hotels in Moscow and other Russian cities, and they can arrange a visa support letter for Russia (or use the recommended visa service at www.realrussia.co.uk).

For booking trains 3/4, 5/6 & 19/20 on the Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian routes, it helps to know how the system works:  Russian Railways open up bookings to travel agencies for these and other trains 60 days before departure, before bookings are opened up to the public 45 days before departure.  Knowing that demand for these trains exceeds supply, Russian agencies buy up blocks of tickets, leaving few or none for sale at the ticket office when public bookings open.  The agencies then re-sell these tickets for whatever price they can get, which may bear no relation to the face value of the ticket.  Trans-Mongolian train number 4 is particularly popular, and 1st class deluxe 2-berth on this train can sell out very quickly indeed, with more travel agencies trying to fulfil orders from rich privacy-loving westerners for deluxe berths than there are deluxe berths on the train.  So these particular trains should be be booked well in advance.  You'll sometimes be told by one agency says the train is full, but another agency has speculatively bought a block of tickets and has some left, or knows a rival agency that it can buy tickets from.  So once again, the message is shop around!

Most of these agencies can also book journeys starting in China or Ulan Bator through their contacts in those countries, but as these contacts also take a 'cut' you'll usually find it cheaper to book journeys starting in Beijing direct with CITS as described below.

Remember that an agency cannot 100% confirm your reservation until Russian Railways opens reservations, 60 days ahead to agencies and 45 days ahead to the public.  However, travel agencies will take your booking (and money) several months ahead as they keep their own internal waiting lists for the most popular trains such as the Moscow-Beijing Trans-Mongolian & Trans-Manchurian trains.  They will make your reservation with Russian Railways the moment bookings open, 60 days ahead.  99.9% of the time there's no problem, but very occasionally there are more tourists wanting berths than there are berths, especially for the deluxe 2-berth 1st class on Trans-Mongolian trains 3/4 as this is very popular with rich shower-loving westerners.  If you're trying for the deluxe 1st class, tell your agency in advance that you'll accept a 1st or 2nd class 4-berth ticket (or that you're willing to pay for dual occupancy of a 4-berth compartment) if the deluxe 2-berth is sold out.

For journeys starting in Beijing, use China International Travel Service (CITS)...

To book Trans-Siberian trains which start in Beijing, whether you want a ticket all the way to Moscow or only as far as Ulan Bator or Irkutsk, the best agency to contact is CITS.  CITS are the official Chinese state tourist agency, and they're usually the cheapest way to buy westbound Trans-Sib tickets from Beijing, see their prices above.  You can book trains from Beijing to Moscow, Irkutsk or Ulan Bator by emailing info@cits.com.cn or by calling CITS on + 86 10 6522 2991, lines open Monday-Friday 09:00-17:00 GMT+8.  The CITS website is www.cits.net, but they now refer you to a separate site for Trans-Siberian train fares & bookings, www.chinatraveldesigner.com/trans-siberian-trains.  Expect to pay by bank transfer rather than credit card.  Reports suggest they can't book Beijing-Irkutsk tickets on train 3, only Beijing-Krasnoyarsk and beyond, so by all means ask for Beijing-Irkutsk, but be prepared to accept an offer of a Beijing-Krasnoyarsk ticket and simply get off in Irkutsk (though their website shows Beijing-Irkutsk fares!).  They will still be the cheapest way to buy tickets!  CITS can only arrange tickets starting in China, so if for example you wanted to stop off in Irkutsk, you'd need to buy the onward Irkutsk to Moscow ticket from Real Russia or a Russian agency Further feedback on the CITS booking situation would be welcome, to keep this page updated.

...or use Chinatripadvisor or Monkeyshrine.

Chinatripadvisor (www.chinatripadvisor.com) sells tickets for Chinese trains on a whole series of routes, including Trams-Siberian tickets starting in Beijing.  Beijing to Moscow costs $610 in hard/2nd class 4-berth, $899 in soft/1st class 4-berth or $979 in deluxe soft/1st class 2-berth on Trans-Mongolian train 3, or $719 2nd class 4-berth, $1109 1st class 2-berth on Trans-Manchurian train 19.

Monkey Shrine (www.monkeyshrine.com) is an experienced China-based tour agency who can arrange a tailor-made itinerary with stop-overs and hotels along the way, plus help with visas.  Monkeyshrine offer a good service, but are naturally more expensive than booking it all yourself via CITS or Chinatripadvisor.  A key advantage is being able to arrange onward tickets, not just tickets starting in Beijing, and to arrange hotels or tours along the way.  They charge €649 (about $850) for a one-way Beijing to Moscow ticket in 4-berth on train 3.

For journeys starting in Ulan Bator...

To reserve tickets starting in Ulan Bator from outside Mongolia, try www.traintomongolia.com, a Mongolian train travel agency that has so far been recommended strongly by one seat61 correspondent.  Alternatively, contact a local hotel, guesthouse or travel agency in Ulan Bator for example, www.discovermongolia.mn or www.legendtour.ru.  If these approaches fail you can use the Real Russia online system or contact one of the Russian agencies as most have contacts in Mongolia who can arrange tickets starting in Ulan Bator.

Option 4:  Let a specialist western agency arrange your whole trip...

The most hassle-free way of arranging a Trans-Siberian trip, but the most expensive, is to arrange a tailor-made itinerary through one of the western travel agencies who specialise in independent travel to Russia.  There are various agencies in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and so on.  They can arrange your Russian visa, your hotel in Moscow, your Trans-Siberian train reservation, stop-overs and tours if you want them in places like Irkutsk or Mongolia, connecting trains in China and even the ship to Japan.  You can go in either direction, as they can make all the necessary arrangements through contacts in each country.

  • Real Russia, www.realrussia.co.uk.  This is a well-respected UK-Russian company, originally doing just visas, then Russian train tickets, and now inclusive Trans-Siberian tours.  You can use them wherever you live.  Real Russia really know what they're doing, and have tours with better class of hotels and more feature-laden itineraries, at cheaper prices than many other western operators.  For example, a Moscow-Beijing 'Three capitals' trip with visits, city tours and hotels in Moscow, Mongolia and Beijing starts at £1,335 per person for two people travelling together or £1,450 for a solo traveller, with 2 tour departures a month, departure dates guaranteed with no minimum group size, but there's a maximum group size so (as their site puts it) you're a small group not a 'herd'.  Seat61 gets some commission if you use the www.realrussia.co.uk link, but feedback is always welcomed.  Reports on Real Russia's service with visas and train tickets are always very positive.

  • Railbookers (UK www.railbookers.com, 020 3327 0761, USA & Canada www.us.railbookers.com toll-free 1-800-408-3280, Australia www.railbookers.com.au call toll-free 1300 971 526, New Zealand 0800 002 034) are an experienced rail holiday specialist with offices in the UK, USA & Australia, and they can tailor-make the whole train journey from London St Pancras to Beijing, including Eurostar, 1 night in Berlin, sleeper to Moscow, 2 nights hotel in Moscow, 6 nights aboard the Trans-Mongolian express (train number 4) to Beijing, 1 night hotel in Beijing and British Airways flight back to London, from around £1,799.  They can extend the trip to Shanghai or Xian, or add extra nights in Beijing if you like.

  • The Russia Experience, www.trans-siberian.co.uk, call 020 8566 8846:  Another reliable and experienced agency with good-value tours and tailor-made itineraries.  The Russia Experience charges about £840 for a ticket from Moscow to Beijing in 2nd class 4-berth on train 20 including two nights hotel in Moscow.  Travelling 1st class in a 2-berth room on this train costs about £1,240.  Getting to Moscow, hotels in China, visas and return trains/flights are extra - you can arrange these yourself or they can do this for you.  Unfortunately, The Russia Experience no longer book places on the Chinese Trans-Mongolian train (train 4), but they can book you on the Moscow-Ulan Bator and Ulan Bator-Beijing trains with a stop-over in Mongolia.

  • Erail, www.erail.co.uk, 020 7619 1080.  Please quote 'Seat61.com' when you call...  UK-based Erail offer a remarkable 19-day trip, actually starting in London by Eurostar & the Russian railways air-conditioned sleeping-car from Cologne to Moscow, then by scheduled Trans-Siberian trains to Beijing with stopovers at Irkutsk & Ulan Bator.  From £2,445 in 4-berth, £3,210 in a 2-berth.

  • Intourist UK, www.intouristuk.com, call 0844 875 4026 (UK callers only):  A well-established and experienced UK agency, Intourist can arrange tailor-made Trans-Siberian itineraries.  Intourist offer fares of about £720 per person for a Moscow-Beijing ticket on the Trans-Mongolian train in 2nd class 4-berth, including one night in a hotel in Moscow, but always get a quote as these prices are subject to availability. 1st class deluxe 2-berth is offered at £1,013, again subject to availability.  Intourist can also book westbound Beijing-Moscow trains (which for some reason cost a few pounds more than eastbound), stopover tours along the Trans-Siberian Railway, the Vladivostok-Japan ferry and key trains in China. Getting to Moscow, hotels in China, visas and return trains/flights are extra - you can arrange these yourself or they can do this for you. For Moscow to Vladivostok, Intourist charge about £792 one-way in 2nd class 4-berth or £1,445 in 1st class 2-berth.

  • Vodkatrain www.vodkatrain.com:  An Australian agency offering budget Trans-Siberian tours.

  • Trans-Sputnik, www.trans-sputnik.nl.  This is a Dutch agency, but very good value so they are worth contacting even if you're not Dutch!  They offer one-way Moscow-Beijing fares from 510 euros (£465) 2nd class 4-berth or 750 euros (£680) 1st class 2-berth on train 4, a bit more for train 20.  They can also arrange an Amsterdam-Moscow ticket from 265 euros (£240) one-way with sleeper.

  • Sundowners, www.sundownersoverland.com:  Sundowners offer all sorts of tours, including trips covering just train travel plus a night or two's hotel at each end.  Sundowners offer Moscow-Beijing trips via Mongolia, with many options and stopovers available.

  • Flower Travel Pty (Australia), www.trans-siberian.com.au, an Australian agency.  A whole range of Tans-Siberian trips is offered, with visas and tickets and hotels all arranged for you.

  • Monkey Shrine (www.monkeyshrine.com) is a long-established China-based tour agency who can arrange Trans-Siberian trips and tours with stopovers to your specification.

How to arrange tickets for connecting trains & ferries...

Train tickets London - Moscow...

The Trans-Siberian Railway starts at St Pancras station in London, so don't cheat by flying the first few hundred miles!  It's easy to travel from London to Moscow using Eurostar to Brussels or Paris, a connecting train to Frankfurt and the daily Russian sleeping-car direct from Frankfurt to Moscow, see the London to Russia page.   You can only book European trains 2 months in advance or less, so wait to buy your train tickets to Moscow after you've arranged everything else.  Decide which service you want using the London to Russia page, then call Deutsche Bahn's UK office on 08718 80 80 66 (no booking fee) or www.europeanrail.com on 020 7619 1083 (£35 booking fee, but sometimes more familiar with exotic bookings like this) to buy tickets.

Alternatively, you can book westbound train tickets from Moscow to many European cities from a Russian agency such as the four agencies listed in option 4 above, though the final Eurostar leg to London will need to be booked separately online.  See the London to Russia page for train information from Moscow to London.

Train tickets Beijing - Shanghai, Xian, Hong Kong, Vietnam...

If you book through a travel agency (either a western or a Russian one) they may be able to book connecting trains within China for you to Xian, Shanghai, Hong Kong or even Hanoi in Vietnam.  Or you can book trains in China yourself at the ticket office when you get there.  Alternatively, you can pre-book using www.chinatripadvisor.com.  For train times, fares and how to book trains in China, see the China page.  Train times and fares for the twice-weekly train from Beijing to Hanoi are shown on the Vietnam page.

Ferry tickets Vladivostok - Korea - Japan...

If you book through a UK travel agency, they may be able to book  the Vladivostok to Korea & Japan or Shanghai to Japan ferries for you.  However, it's cheapest to book these ferries yourself by e-mailing or calling the ferry company.  See the Vladivostok-Korea-Japan ferry section below for the sailing schedule and how to buy tickets.

Ferry tickets between China & Korea or Japan...

See the China page for Shanghai-Japan sailing schedule and how to buy tickets.

If you want a one-way flight...

Try Virgin Atlantic Airlines or search www.e-bookers.com

If you're going Trans-Siberian one-way & returning by air, it's not hard to find affordable one-way flights.  Virgin Atlantic Airlines has direct non-stop flights from Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong to London, a great choice for both price and service.  Or search e-bookers.com to compare multiple airlines to or from a whole range of far-eastern airports.   Seat61 gets a small commission through these links.


How to arrange visas

After sorting out your Trans-Siberian tickets, you need to get your visas.

How to arrange a Russian visa...

 

You will need a Russian visa.  Always check the latest visa information, as it changes from time to time.  But here's a quick run-down of the arrangements as at 2010:

  • Tourist, transit or business visa?  A tourist visa allows stays of up to 30 days, and is usually what you need.  A business visa allows a longer stay, but is more expensive.  A transit visa allows up to 10 days in transit, but you aren't allowed to spend time in Moscow, as most Trans-Siberian travellers do, so a tourist visa is usually better.

  • When to apply?  Visas are only issued 3 months or less before your intended date of entry to Russia, so there's no need to apply before then.  Ideally, allow a month for the visa processing, but if you have less time than this, don't panic, various agencies offer 'express' services that will help you get a visa much quicker.

  • Letters of invitation & visa support:  A hangover from Soviet times is that to get a visa you need supporting documentation, usually just called 'visa support'.  In theory, this is a letter of invitation from your travel agency setting out confirmed travel & accommodation arrangements for your entire stay in Russia or (for independent travellers) an accommodation voucher issued by your hotel(s) showing confirmed accommodation for each and every night you plan to spend in Russia.  Having to pre-book all this would be ridiculously restrictive, so here's how it really works:  You go to an agency such as www.realrussia.co.uk or one of the Russian agencies listed above and they sell you the necessary visa support for a small fee, which allows you to get a visa without any genuine hotel bookings, so you can travel around freely just as you would in any other country, buying tickets and finding hotels as you go.  Behind the scenes, the agency usually has an arrangement with a local hotel, they make a dummy 'reservation' for the period you want to be in Russia so they can legally issue the visa support, though of course you don't pay for the hotel and everyone knows (apart from the Russian government) that you have no intention of ever using that hotel room.  Crazy, eh?

  • The easy way to get a Russian visa:  The easiest, quickest & least-hassle way to get a Russian visa is to ask www.realrussia.co.uk to get it for you (to use their service, you need to be a UK resident, or at least resident in the UK for over 90 days before the application).  Real Russia is a reliable UK agency based in Russia which arranges Russian visas simply and cheaply, with all the necessary visa support included in the price.  They have been recommended by several seat61 correspondents.  Seat61 gets a small commission if you buy through www.realrussia.co.uk using this link.  www.realrussia.co.uk can also arrange visas for Belarus, Mongolia & China, and arrange train tickets too.  If you have feedback on their service, please email me.  If you're a resident of the USA, try similar US-based agency www.russia-travel.com.

  • Dates of entry & exit:  Make sure you get these right.  It should be obvious, but I've known people date their visa for the date they arrive in Moscow, then get thrown off their sleeper train when it arrives at the Russian frontier the night before, as their visa wasn't valid for entering Russia until the next day.  Your date of entry into Russia is the date you physically enter Russian territory, in other words the date your train rolls across the frontier, not the date you reach Moscow, which is irrelevant.  Similarly, your date of exit is the date you physically leave Russian territory, which on a westbound sleeper train could be the day after you leave Moscow.  Double-check train times to see when it reaches the frontier, and double-check that the embassy have given you the right dates when you get your passport back with the visa.

  • Arranging a Russian visa in Beijing:  It's reported that the Russian embassy in Beijing will not issue tourist visas for Russia to anyone except Chinese residents, although a more recent report (early 2012) says that they now will, at least to Dutch passport holders, so by all means ask them.  However, they can certainly provide you with a transit visa, valid up to 10 days.  It costs around £70 and can be obtained in 1 day.  This will get you home, but will not allow you to stop off anywhere, other than as necessary to change trains in Moscow.

  • More information:  The Russian embassy in London website is www.rusemblon.orgwww.waytorussia.net has good information on Russian visas.

How to arrange a Belarus transit visa...

  • You'll need a Belarus transit visa if you are travelling between London & Moscow on the direct London-Cologne-Berlin-Warsaw-Moscow route, as all the direct trains from Cologne, Berlin or Warsaw to Moscow or St Petersburg pass through Belarus.  However, getting a Belarus transit visa is relatively straightforward.  You'll need a tourist visa if you plan to stop off in Belarus.

  • You will need to get your Russian visa before applying for the Belarus one, although you can apply for both together if you go through www.realrussia.co.uk.

  • Cost:  The Belarusians significantly increased visa fees in June 2007 and again in August 2008.  A Belarus transit visa now costs £63 one-way or £114 return if you arrange it yourself direct with the embassy, or £83 one-way or £133 return arranged through www.realrussia.co.uk.  It takes 6 working days, or there's an extra-fee express option which takes 2 days.  Ouch!  Before you blame Johnny Foreigner for this, the high costs are in retaliation for stringent visa requirements imposed on Belarusian by the UK Foreign Office.

  • For official visa information see the Belarus embassy website, www.uk.belembassy.org or call 020 7938 3677.  The embassy address in London is 6 Kensington Court, London W8 5DL, visa section open 09:00-12:30 Monday-Friday. 

  • The simple way to get a Belarus transit visa:  If you live in the UK, the easiest and quickest way to get a Belarus visa is to use www.realrussia.co.uk.  Real Russia is a reliable UK agency which arranges visas simply and cheaply, including all necessary visa support included in the price shown on their site.  They have already recommended by one seat61 correspondent.  Seat61 gets a small commission if you buy through www.realrussia.co.uk using this link.  www.realrussia.co.uk can also arrange Chinese and Mongolian visas, and train tickets too.  If you have feedback on their service, please email me!

  • Should you avoid Belarus?  Some people get worked up about trying to avoid Belarus, and with the new higher visa fees you might want to try.  Just remember that if you pay the visa fee, you can travel quickly and simply from western Europe to Moscow on a direct train through Belarus saving time and expense.  Avoiding Belarus by travelling via the Baltic states means an awkward and time-consuming relay race of trains and buses, taking at least 48 hours longer, with two extra hotel nights.  Going via Ukraine (Ukraine no longer requires EU citizens to buy a visa) is quicker, but will still take at least an extra 24 hours, changing trains in Kiev and with no easy way to pre-book the Kiev-Moscow train before you get to Kiev.  In other words, the detour might be interesting if you have the time and particularly want to see Ukraine or Lithuania/Latvia on the way, but it will take longer and in the end cost more than simply buying the visa and travelling direct.

  • Getting a Belarus transit visa in Moscow:  If you're travelling westbound and want to arrange a Belarus visa in Moscow, here's how.  The Belarus embassy is at Maroseika 17⁄6, 101990, Moscow.  It's a couple of blocks from Kitai Gorod or Lubyanka metro stations.  You will need photocopies of your passport, your Russian visa & your train ticket through Belarus, one passport photo, US$45 for same day visa issue or US$36 for next day visa issue (for British & EU citizens), payable in clean post-1995 US dollar bills, no change given.  The visa office is open 10:00-12:00 Mon, Tue, Thur & Fri (allow plenty of time) and you pick up your passport and transit visa between 16:00-16:30 on those days.  The visa entrance is down the side, the door on the right then walk up the stairs to the 2nd floor.  If you need dollars, you can change money into dollars at a nearby exchange office.  There's also a Belarus consulate in St Petersburg at 8/46 Naberezhnaya Robespiera, Apt. 66. US passport holders are currently charged $177 for a same-day visa, because of charges imposed by the USA on Belarusians.  Visa regs & costs change from time to time, the above is current at the time of writing.

How to arrange a Mongolian visa...

  • UK & many EU citizens citizens no longer need a visa for Mongolia, at least for a trial period from June 2014 until 31 December 2015.  The Mongolian government has abolished visas for 42 nationalities on a trial basis from 25 June 2014 until 31 December 2015.  You can travel for tourist or business purposes and stay for up to 30 days, visa-free, see www.embassyofmongolia.co.uk for a list.

  • US citizens have been able to enter Mongolia visa-free since 2001, for stays of up to 90 days, see http://mongolianembassy.us

  • Canadian citizens can enter Mongolia visa-free for up to 30 days, and citizens of Singapore for up to 14 days.

  • Australian citizens still need a visa to enter Mongolia, see www.mongolianembassy.org.au.

  • The Mongolian embassy in London is at 7-8 Kensington Court, London W8 5DL.  Open Monday-Friday 10:00-12:30, see www.embassyofmongolia.co.uk & click 'visa'.

How to arrange a Chinese visa...

  • You'll need a Chinese visa if you're visiting China.

  • You should apply for a visa at least a month before you leave, but less than 3 months before entering China.

  • In the UK, the Chinese embassy (www.chinese-embassy.org.uk) has outsourced visa issuing, and UK citizens should apply for a visa via www.visaforchina.org.uk.  It costs about £30 for a single-entry tourist visa.  Alternatively, you can use a visa service agency such as www.realrussia.co.uk.

  • Chinese visa requirements were tightened in 2008 for the Olympics, to require confirmed tickets into and out of China, plus confirmed hotel bookings for every night in China.  They were relaxed again afterwards, but tightened up yet again in November 2011, so always check current requirements with the local Chinese embassy.  You may now need hotel reservations for every night you plan to spend in China to get the visa, but you can easily make hotel bookings at a site like www.booking.com which can be cancelled at zero cost up to a day or two before the stay.  Feedback is always appreciated!

  • No Chinese visas in Moscow:  The Chinese embassy in Moscow will now only issue Chinese visas to Russian nationals, so don't plan to get your Chinese visa there. 

  • Reduced visa validity period:  Note that the validity window (the period for which a visa is valid when issued) has reduced to just a couple of months, so don't plan on months & months of travelling around before you reach China, as your visa will have expired by then!


Trans-Siberian travel tips & FAQ

When should you go?

  The 'Baikal' train from St Petersburg to Irkutsk, in winter

Trans-Siberian in winter:    This is the old Baikal to Irkutsk in November.  You can travel all year-round.  Courtesy of Sascha & Manuela Dubach

  Departure indicator at Moscow Yaroslavski station, showing the Rossiya to Vladivostok and train 6 to Ulan Bator about to depart

Worried about finding your train if you don't speak Russian?  Here's the departure board at Moscow Yaroslavski station.  Learn the alphabet and you can easily read the destinations.  You can see that train 318 to Archangel leaving at 19:35 will depart from platform 3.  The platforms for train 2 to Vladivostok (the Rossiya) departing 21:25 and train 6 to Ulan Bator departing 21:35 are not yet shown as they are not ready for boarding.  Learn the Russian alphabet here. Photo courtesy of Daniel Brewster.

The Trans-Siberian Railway runs all year round, so you can go at any time of year.  May to September are the peak months for foreign tourists, with the warmest weather and the longest hours of daylight.  This makes booking a specific date more difficult (you need to book well ahead) but you might like the party atmosphere amongst like-minded travellers on Moscow-Beijing trains 4 and 20.  On the other hand, Siberia in winter is a sight to see - the trains are well heated, warm and cosy, you'll just need to wrap up well when you get off for a stroll at station stops!  Traveller Rebecca Day reports from a February 2011 trip from Ulan Bator to Moscow:  "The train was really warm and comfortable.  For the outside I had snow boots, a jumper and a long wool coat, and this was fine most of the time. The temperature drops significantly once the sun goes down, but as long as I was wearing a hat and gloves I felt warm. I also brought a North Face down filled body warmer which was like a heater in itself! I ended up not wearing this most of the time, but it packs up really small and I'd probably bring it again if I were travelling in winter."

Should you travel 1st or 2nd class?

On the Russian internal trains there are normally 3 classes:  'spalny vagon' 2-berth compartments, often described as 1st class (and sometimes called 'myagky' or 'lyux'), 'kupé' 4-berth compartments, usually described as 2nd class, and 'platskartny' open-plan dormitory cars, sometimes described as 3rd class.  The Russian Trans-Manchurian train (trains 19 & 20) only has spalny vagon 2-berth and kupé 4-berth, there's no platskartny.  Kupé is the way most travellers go, and can be considered the normal class of travel.  Spalny vagon gives you much more privacy, with 2 people instead of 4 in the same size compartment, but it costs twice as much.  The choice is yours.  Platskartny is a bit rough for most western travellers, but some budget-minded backpackers enjoy it.  The Chinese Trans-Mongolian train (trains 3 & 4) has 1st class deluxe 2-berth, 1st class 4-berth and 2nd class 4-berth.  1st class deluxe 2-berth is expensive but worth the extra if you can afford it as it has two beds, an armchair, and a private washroom with showerhead shared with the next door compartment.  It gets booked out very quickly!  However, 1st class 4-berth on train 3/4 is virtually identical to 2nd class 4-berth (see for yourself in the photo gallery!) and is probably not worth the extra.

What do you do on a train for six or seven days?

This is the question most people ask.  Well, you put your feet up and relax.  You read, watch the scenery, look out for the sights listed on your Trans-Siberian Handbook, go to meals in the restaurant car, sleep in your own comfortable bed at night, meet people, talk, play chess, drink tea, drink vodka, get off at station stops and take photographs....  The Moscow-Mongolia-Beijing route is arguably the most interesting because of both the people on board and the sights and scenery on the way.  You are unlikely to be bored - the time just goes!

  • The Trans-Siberian Handbook has a kilometre-by-kilometre account of the sights to look out for from the train.  Highly recommended, as this helps you get the most from your journey.  You can tell where you are from the black and white kilometre posts all along the line, usually on the south side of the tracks.

  • Take plenty of reading books - Tolstoy's War and Peace is the most predictable title, but it's a great read.  The funny thing is, you probably won't finish it - there's so much else to do!

  • The Moscow to Beijing journey page shows what there is to see along the way, even if you don't stop off.

Is not speaking Russian a problem?

No, it isn't.  Very few western travellers on the Trans-Siberian Railway can speak Russian or for that matter, Chinese or Mongolian.  I certainly can't, and everybody manages just fine.  However, even if you don't speak Russian, it is definitely worth learning the Cyrillic (Russian) alphabet as you will then be able to read place names and understand many Russian words.  For example, 'PECTOPAH' is pronounced 'restoran' and means (surprise surprise) 'restaurant'.  'ABTOБYC' is pronounced 'avtobus' and means 'bus'.  You'll also realise that 'CCCP', the old acronym for the Soviet Union, is not 'see see see pee' but 'SSSR'.  You can learn the Cyrillic (Russian) alphabet here.

What about food?

  Typical meal in a Russian dining-car
 

Typical meal in a Russian dining-car, this one on train 19 en route from Beijing to Moscow...  Courtesy David Smith

See sample menu.

  A typical meal in a Mongolian dining-car
 

 Typical meal in a Mongolian dining-car.  You'd better like rice and mutton! Photo courtesy of Tom Woods

See sample menu.

  A typical meal in Chinese restaurant car
 

 Typical meal in a Chinese dining-car, this one on train 23 from Beijing to Ulan Bator...  Photo courtesy of Tom Woods.

All the main Trans-Siberian trains have a restaurant car, a Russian one when in Russia, a Mongolian one in Mongolia and a Chinese one in China.  Few people go to Russia for the cuisine, but contrary to what you might have heard, Russian restaurant car food is quite edible and not expensive.  The prices shown here are from 2013, further feedback is always appreciated.

  • Russian restaurant cars:  A soup (chicken or meat borsht) costs around 350 rubles (£7.50 or $12), a main course of steak or fish with rice or potatoes costs around 480 roubles (£11 or $17).  Don't expect an extensive menu or everything shown on the menu to be available!  Typical meals include ham and fried eggs for breakfast, schnitzel and potatoes for lunch or dinner, with soups and salads for starters.  The restaurant car also sells beer, Russian champagne and (of course) vodka, chocolate and snacks.  You can pay in rubles, although they may also accept euro or dollar notes.  See sample menu.

  • Mongolian dining-cars usually offer rice and mutton, and they accept euros, US dollars, Russian Rubles & Chinese RMB as well as Mongolian currency.  Fried rice costs RMB 40  (£4 or $6), a beer RMB 10 (£1 or $1.50).  See sample menu.

  • Chinese dining cars have a selection of excellent Chinese dishes, each for around RMB 15-20 (£1.50-£2 or $2-$3), but check if your ticket includes meals on the Chinese section of route, as it's reported that some tickets do.  A beer costs around RMB 10 (£1 or $1.50).

  • If you don't want to buy food & drink from the restaurant car, you can also buy food from the many vendors or kiosks on station platforms when the train stops.  But don't venture far from the train, as stops aren't long.

  • Don't forget that on almost all Trans-Siberian trains, unlimited boiling water is available free of charge from the samovar at the end of each coach, so remember to bring a mug, spoon, coffee and a selection of cuppa soups.  You can save money on restaurant car meals by bringing dried pasta or noodles, for example.  My personal favourite is water-based drinking chocolate for a relaxing night-time drink each evening...

What about security?  Is it safe for families or women travelling alone?

The Trans-Siberian is a very safe way to travel, even for families and women travelling alone.  After all, the train is full of Russian families and women travelling alone, it's how the Russians themselves get around!  Just use common sense as you would anywhere else, lock the compartment door at night and don't leave your wallet or camera lying unattended in your compartment while you go to the toilet or the restaurant car.  In addition to the normal lock on the compartment door, Russian 'Spalny Wagon' and 'kupé' compartments have a security latch which stops the door opening more than an inch or two, and which cannot be released from outside even with a staff key.  There's also a safe place for your bags at night - if you have a bottom bunk, there is a metal box underneath the bunk which you can only get to by lifting up the bunk.  In other words, for anyone to get to your bags, they will have to shift you off your bunk first!  Your carriage attendants may also lock the access doors at each end of the corridor at night to prevent intruders.  So don't worry, you'll be safe and snug.  Men and women share the same compartments, but on some routes you can now ask for a ladies-only compartment.  If you're a woman travelling alone and do happen to find yourself sharing with men who make you uncomfortable, ask the carriage attendants if they can move you to another compartment and they normally will, without too much problem.

Do the trains have electrical outlets?

Suddenly, no westerner can travel anywhere without a whole array of electrical gadgets, cameras, PDAs, iPods and mobile phones that need charging.  All Russian, Mongolian & Chinese trains have shaver sockets in the corridor and washrooms which can be used to recharge things with the right adaptor, and the best trains have one or two similar sockets in the corridor that can be used to recharge things if you keep an eye on them.  However, you're unlikely to find any specific powerpoints for charging laptops, mobile phones or digital cameras in your compartment.  Your carriage attendant may be willing to charge items using the socket in their own compartment, for a small tip.   Top tip:  Take a Power Monkey universal backup battery with you, this gives up to 96 hours phone stand-by when your phone's battery dies, and can also be used for PDAs, iPods & some cameras.  Highly recommended!

Toilets & showers...

  A clean western toilet on the 'Baikal' train

Just to reassure you!  This is a clean & modern toilet in a 1st class 2-berth car on a firmeny train like the RossiyaCourtesy of Sascha & Manuela Dubach

  A washroom on the 'Baikal' train

A washroom on the same train...

Courtesy of Sascha & Manuela Dubach

  Private washroom with shower head in deluxe 2-berth sleeper on train 3 & 4.

En suite washroom with shower hose attached to a deluxe 2-berth sleeper on Moscow-Beijing trains 3 & 4.  It's shared with the 2-berth compartment next door.  The photo is taken standing in the doorway from one compartment, looking towards the door to the compartment next door.  The frosted window is between the washroom and the corridor. Water pressure in the shower head is minimal, you may have to kneel to get any sort of shower, but the washroom is useful for washing plates! Courtesy of Alan Wilson

Each sleeping-car has at least two western-style toilets and a washroom with sinks.  The carriage attendants (provodniks) will keep the toilet clean during the journey.  How clean depends on both the provodniks and the passengers in your car(!), but there's normally no problem, especially on high-quality 'firmeny' trains like the Rossiya, see the photo on the right.  There are no showers on Trans-Siberian trains, with two exceptions:  On the Trans-Mongolian Moscow-Beijing train (train 3/4), there's a shower hose in the small private washroom shared between each adjacent pair of deluxe 1st class 2-berth compartments (see the photo below right), but don't expect much in terms of water pressure.  There may now be a shower in one of the cars on the Moscow-Vladivostok Rossiya (train 1/2), which you have to pay for.  Remember that the need to take a shower every single day is a relatively recent western social trend, not a human necessity.  Remember that not so many generations ago, Sunday night was bath night, whether you needed it or not!  Just lock yourself into the washroom half way across and make good use of the sink and a cup of water.

Smoking...

If you're a rabid anti-smoker, don't worry.  There isn't a problem in the compartments, corridor or restaurants which are all non-smoking.  But if you're a smoker, don't worry either.  You can grab a smoke in the vestibules between the cars or on station platforms.

Do Trans-Siberian trains run on time?

Within Russia, the trains are remarkably punctual.  My train from Moscow arrived in Vladivostok two minutes ahead of schedule.  However, on international trains you should expect an hour or two delay when crossing frontiers.  For example, on the Trans-Mongolian route it is not unusual to arrive in Ulan Bator perhaps 1 or 2 hours late and in Beijing 2 to 5 hours late.  Allow for this when planning any connections.

Can you stop off on the way?

All Trans-Siberian trains stop at stations every few hours for between 5 and 20 minutes, enough time to get off the train, stretch your legs, take photos and buy something from the vendors on the platform.  But not enough time for a tour of the town!

Many people travel all the way from Moscow to Beijing or Vladivostok all in one go on one of the direct trains.  Other people prefer to stop off along the way, breaking up the long journey and seeing something of Siberia or Mongolia.  Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk (for Lake Baikal) and Ulan Bator (Mongolia) are the most usual stop-overs.

On the direct Moscow-Beijing trains, the varied scenery and friendly atmosphere on board make travelling straight through without stopovers perfectly bearable and indeed, fun.  There are usually lots of westerners on board as well as Russians, Chinese and Mongolians, almost all of them making the whole trip, like yourself.  However, on a Moscow-Vladivostok train, you might be the only westerner on board for much of the journey, the whole trip is made within Russia, and relatively few of your fellow-travellers will be making the whole journey to Vladivostok.  It may be better to break up this trip with one or two stopovers, perhaps at Yekaterinburg or Irkutsk.

Remember that Trans-Siberian trains are 'reservation obligatory'.  Every time you step on board a train you must have a confirmed sleeping-berth reservation for that specific journey on that specific train on that specific date - you cannot hop on and off trains spontaneously without a reservation.  So if you want to travel from, say, Moscow to Beijing stopping off at Irkutsk you need a ticket/reservation from Moscow to Irkutsk and a second separate ticket/reservation for the train you want to take from Irkutsk to Beijing.  Think of these as two separate journeys, not one.  You can arrange all the tickets and reservations before you go.

If you are stopping off, remember that the weekly direct international trains 4 & 20 from Moscow to Beijing can only be used by passengers making the complete international journey from Moscow through to Mongolia or China, you cannot use them for domestic trips within Russia, although train 4 does carry passengers between Ulan Bator and Beijing, and allows passengers for Beijing to join at places like Irkutsk.  In practice, a typical trip from Moscow to Beijing with stop-overs at Irkutsk and Ulan Bator can be made using the 'Rossiya' or other Russian domestic train from Moscow to Irkutsk, the daily train 362 from Irkutsk to Ulan Bator and the weekly Ulan Bator-Beijing train, see the Trans-Siberian timetable section for train times.

In theory, the Russian railways have a system whereby if you hold a ticket/reservation from A to C, and get off the train at B, you can get the ticket endorsed by the station manager, then make a second reservation and pay a small reservation charge when you want to resume your journey.  However, this does not work with international tickets.  The Russians themselves don't often use this facility, so Russian railway staff may not be familiar with it.  I recommend buying separate tickets/reservations for each leg of your journey before you go, but if you want to try this, you had better practice your Russian language skills!

Can you take a car, bike or motorcycle?

Believe it or not, this gets asked from time to time.  Trans-Siberian passenger trains do not carry cars or motorbikes, full stop.  However, you can take bicycles with you, zipped up in a bike bag with pedals removed and the handlebars turned, free of charge as hand luggage.  Bear in mind that it will take up space in your sleeping compartment, so it may be less anti-social to book a berth in a more spacious 2-berth compartment than to inflict your bike on three fellow travellers in a 4-berth compartment.

Is this the longest train ride in the world?  No.  Well...  Sort of...

You'll sometimes hear Moscow-Vladivostok in 7 days on the 'Rossiya' referred to as the longest train ride of them all.  It isn't.  Nor is Moscow-Vladivostok in 9 days on the daily lower-quality slow train 904 (not a train normally used by foreigners, or one you want to get on by mistake).  Once a week or so the Rossiya conveys two through sleepers from Moscow to the North Korean border.  This is detached at Ussuryisk just an hour or so before Vladivostok, then it heads south all the way to Korea, making this a longer continuous train ride than Moscow-Vladivostok.  But this isn't the longest train ride either.  There is a through train from Donetsk and Kharkov in Ukraine to Vladivostok, and this appears to be the longest scheduled continuous train ride of them all.  Unless you know differently, of course!


A brief history of the Trans-Siberian Railway

  The Europe/Asia border obelisk
 

The Europe-Asia obelisk:  Approaching Yekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk) at the kilometre post exactly 1,777 km from Moscow, the Rossiya passes the obelisk marking the boundary between Europe & Asia, right by the track.  Some trains pass this in darkness, including Moscow-Beijing train 4.  Courtesy of David Smith.

In the late 19th century, Japan, Britain and America all managed to gain footholds on the Chinese coast as bases for their trade with China and the Orient.  Russia too needed to secure her foothold on the east as well as securing the vast expanses of Siberia, so in 1891 Tsar Alexander III approved a plan for a trans-continental line linking Moscow and St Petersburg with Vladivostok on the Pacific coast, as this was the only year-round ice-free port on Russian territory.  

A railway had been built as far as Ekaterinberg as early as 1878, and this was steadily extended Eastwards.  Omsk was reached in 1894, Irkutsk and Lake Baikal in 1898.  The Trans-Siberian Railway finally reached Vladivostok in 1901, but for several years passengers had to cross Lake Baikal by ice-breaking ferry to connect with a second train on the other side - only in 1904 was the line around Lake Baikal completed and the whole journey from Moscow to Vladivostok possible on a single train.  Until 1916, the eastern end of the journey involved cutting across China, over part of what is now the Trans-Manchurian route - you can see how the Trans-Manchurian line initially heads towards Vladivostok on the route map above.  The Russians secured the right to build and maintain this route across China thanks to a treaty signed after they made a generous loan to China to help them pay off their debts to Japan.  From 1916, the complete journey could be made from Moscow to Vladivostok within Russia, taking the route followed by today's 'Rossiya' and skirting the Chinese border to the north via Khabarovsk.  The Trans-Mongolian line is a relatively recent addition to the Trans-Siberian network - construction started in 1940, it reached Ulan Bator in 1949, and it was completed into China by 1956.

The Trans-Siberian Railway today...

Today, the Trans-Siberian Railway is a key part of the massive Russian railway system.  It is not a tourist line - it is a real, working railway, carrying a huge amount of freight and passenger traffic.  It is double-track and electrified all the way from Moscow to Vladivostok, and on some parts of the line freight trains rumble past every few minutes.  It is not the only line in Russia - on the contrary, if you saw a map of Russian railways you would be hard-pressed to decide which of the many routes Trans-Siberian trains actually take for the first few thousand miles East of Moscow.  There is in fact now a second route across Siberia to the north of the Trans-Siberian to Sovetskaya Gavan on the Pacific coast, called the BAM (Baikal-Amur-Maestral railway).  Started in the 1930s, it was only completed in 1991.  However, this route is of little interest to most Western travellers.

The best resource for further information about the Trans-Siberian Railway is www.transsib.ru/Eng/.


Trans-Siberian web resources

These sites are very useful in planning a Trans-Siberian train journey:

www.transsib.ru/Eng/  - the Trans-Siberian web encyclopaedia.

www.trans-siberia.com - an independent site, based on a traveller's experiences.

www.myazcomputerguy.com/everbrite/Page9.html  - excellent advice from Ruth Imershein, an experienced and regular traveller to Russia.

www.google.ru/intl/ru/landing/transsib/en.html - A Google Maps video of the view from the window on entire Moscow-Vladivostok journey, in real time.


Across Siberia by luxury train

If cost isn't an issue, you can ride the Trans-Siberian Railway in luxury with deluxe accommodation and 3-course meals with stopovers & tours included, using one of these two of privately-run deluxe cruise trains.  Expect fares of quite a few thousand pounds per person!

Golden Eagle private cruise train:  Moscow - Mongolia - Vladivostok in 15 days...

The luxurious Golden Eagle links Moscow with Vladivostok roughly once a month May to August, with a side trip to Mongolia. 

Golden Eagle luxury train - silver compartment   The Golden Eagle luxury train across Siberia

The Golden Eagle is sold by a number of travel agencies who can put together accommodation and travel to and from Moscow by train or air.  Here are two reliable agencies well worth contacting:

Railbookers.com - for tailor-made arrangements on the Golden eagle

www.railbookers.com is a train travel specialist who can arrange train travel from the UK to Moscow, a trip on the luxury Golden Eagle train from Moscow to Vladivostok or Moscow to Beijing, and flights back to the UK.  A 15-night trips costs from around £5,300 from Moscow to Beijing or £9,700 from Moscow to Vladivostok, excluding flights, visas and travel to Moscow.

  UK call 020 3327 0761, www.railbookers.com

Call toll-free 1-800-408-3280 or www.us.railbookers.com.

  Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, www.railbookers.com.au

  New Zealand call toll-free 0800 002 034 or see website.

Great Rail Journeys - for escorted tours on the Golden Eagle...Glacier Express holidays & tours

UK-based company Great Rail Journeys (www.greatrail.com) offers 5-star escorted tours, leaving London overland by Eurostar via Brussels, Cologne & Warsaw to Moscow using scheduled trains, then across Siberia on a deluxe charter train to Vladivostok with private en suite sleepers, lounge and restaurant with stops and tours along the way at places like Irkutsk, Lake Baikal, Ulan Ude and even Ulan Bator in Mongolia.  Expect it to cost over £6,500, though this does include all transport, accommodation, meals and even wine in the restaurant car.  Great Rail Journeys also offer rail-based holidays to other countries in Europe and worldwide.  Check the holiday details online, then call 01904 527120 to book or use their online booking form.  Seat61 gets some commission to help support the site if you book your holiday through this link and phone number, please mention seat 61 when booking.

Lernidee private cruise train:  Moscow - Mongolia - Beijing in 15/16 days

Roughly once a month May to September, this luxury train links Moscow with China in either direction, with stopover & tours included on a 15 or 16 day itinerary.  It can also be used for shorter sections.  You can book this train direct with the operator at www.transsiberian-travel.com or through Railbookers (UK 020 3327 0761, US/Canada toll-free 1-800-408-3280, Australia toll-free 1300 971 526.

The Lernidee private Trans-Siberian train   Category 2 superior sleeper on Trans-Siberian private train

The Lernidee private train across Siberia...  Photo courtesy of Lernidee.

 

Category 2 superior sleeper...  Photo courtesy of Lernidee.

Restaurant car on the Trans-Siberian private train   Bolshoi Platinum class sleeper

The restaurant car.  All meals are included...  Photo courtesy of Lernidee.

 

Bolshoi Platinum class sleeper with en suite shower & toilet...  Photo courtesy of Lernidee.



Ferry from Vladivostok to Korea & Japan

Ferry m/v Eastern Dream...

 

The ferry from Vladivostok to Japan & South Korea

 

The m/v Eastern Dream at Vladivostok.  Photo courtesy of David Smith

 

   

The time-honoured weekly ferry run by Russia's Far East Shipping Company (FESCO) fell victim to the recession in late 2009.  However, a new year-round weekly ferry from Vladivostok to South Korea & Japan started up in its place that same year.  The Eastern Dream is a good modern ship built in 1993.  Their official website is www.dbsferry.com/02_ticket/ticket03.asp.

Eastbound: Vladivostok ► Donghae (South Korea) ► Sakaiminato (Japan)

The Eastern Dream sails from Vladivostok every Wednesday at 15:00, arriving Donghae at 12:00 on Thursday and Sakaiminato at 09:00 on Friday.  You can confirm current sailing times and days at www.dbsferry.com/02_ticket/ticket03.asp

There's a departure tax to pay from Vladivostok, around 560 roubles, which is not mentioned anywhere on their website, so don't let this come as a surprise!

Westbound: Sakaiminato (Japan) Donghae  (South Korea) ► Vladivostok

The Eastern Dream sails from Sakaiminato at 19:00 on Saturday, arriving Donghae 09:00 Sunday. In summer from March to November she sails onwards from Donghae at 15:00 on Sundays, arriving Vladivostok at 13:00 on Mondays.  In winter from December until February she sails from Donghae at 15:00 on Mondays, arriving Vladivostok at 13:00 on Tuesdays.  You can confirm current sailing times and days at www.dbsferry.com/02_ticket/ticket03.asp.

How much does it cost?...

The cheapest fare from Vladivostok to Japan or vice versa is US$235 one-way or $435 return, that's in economy class with a berth in a shared open-plan sleeping area.   Sharing a 2-berth cabin the fare rises to $485 one-way or $825.  Deluxe suites also available.

How to buy ferry tickets...

You can book the ferry through their website www.dbsferry.com/02_ticket/ticket03.asp or at reliable UK ferry booking website www.aferry.co.uk/dbs-cruise-ferry-uk.htm.  Alternatively, you can give DBS Ferries a call on 00 82 2 5485502.  Ask for an English speaker, reserve your place by phone, and collect and pay for the tickets at the ferry terminal.

Train connections from Sakaiminato to Tokyo...

The ship arrives at Sakaiminato international ferry terminal, around 2.5 miles (4km) east of Sakaiminato station.  A coach costing 100 yen leaves from across the road after all ferry passengers have disembarked and emerged from passport control, taking you to the station (update - a summer 2014 report suggests there is now a free bus to take passengers from ferry to station, more feedback appreciated).

At Sakaiminato railway station, you are unlikely to have any problems buying train tickets to Tokyo or anywhere else in Japan on the day of travel.  However, if you plan to do any further train travelling in Japan, definitely consider a Japan Rail Pass.  A 7-day pass pays for itself in a single round trip between Tokyo & Hiroshima, for example.  Sakaiminato is now an official Japan Rail Pass exchange office, which means that if you've pre-purchased a rail pass as explained here you can exchange the voucher for the pass at Sakaiminato and start using it.

Sakaiminato is on a branch line with regular local trains to Yonago.  Yonago has regular limited express departures for Okayama where you can pick up the Shinkansen high-speed trains east to Osaka, Kyoto & Tokyo or west to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  You can check train times from Sakaiminato to any station in Japan at www.hyperdia.com (English button upper left).  For more information about train travel in Japan, see the Train Travel in Japan page.

Train connections from Donghae to Seoul..

Trains link Donghae with Seoul (in this case Seoul Cheongnyangi station rather than Seoul main Station) 6 times a day, journey time around 5 hours 55 minutes, see www.korail.go.kr (Tip for finding train times: Use 'Cheongnyangi' as your origin/destination, not 'Seoul').

On board the m/v Eastern Dream...

There are a range of comfortable cabins on board, a restaurant, shop and bar.  You can spend Yen, Won, or US$ on board, but definitely not roubles.  The ship remains on Vladivostok time until 22:00, then the clocks are put back 2 hours to Korean/Japanese time.

Reception aboard the Vladivostok to Japan ferry   Cabin en suite aboard the Vladivostok to Japan ferry   4-berth inside cabin aboard the Vladivostok to Japan ferry

The reception desk aboard the ferry m/v Eastern Dream...  Photos courtesy of David Smith.

 

4-berth inside cabin with shower & toilet.  Note the Japanese-style mats rather than western berths.

Entering Sakaiminato harbour   Sakaiminato, where the ferry arrives from Vladivostok

Arrival in Japan, all the way from London:  Sailing in to Sakaiminato.


The Thomas Cook Timetables

Thomas Cook European Timetable -  click to buy onlineTraveller's Railway Map of Europe - buy onlineThe European Rail Timetable (formerly the Thomas Cook European Timetable) has train & ferry times for every country in Europe plus currency & climate information.  It is essential for regular European train travellers and an inspiration for armchair travellers.  Published since 1873, it had just celebrated 140 years of publication when Thomas Cook decided to pull the plug on their entire publishing department, but the dedicated ex-Thomas Cook team have set up a private venture and published the first edition of a reborn European Rail Timetable in March 2014.  You can buy it online with worldwide shipping at www.europeanrailtimetable.euMore information on what the European Rail Timetable contains.

A Traveller's Railway Map of Europe covers the whole of Europe from Portugal in the west to Moscow & Istanbul in the east, Finland in the north to Sicily & Athens in the south.  On the back are detailed maps of Switzerland, Benelux & Germany, plus city plans showing stations in major cities.  Scenic & high-speed routes highlighted.  Click to see sample.  Buy online for €13 + €5.50 postage worldwide at www.treinreiswinkel.nl/railway_map_of_europe.

 


Recommended guidebooks

Bryn Thomas' excellent Trans-Siberian Handbook has journey planning information, town guides, train information, the history of the line, and most importantly, a mile-by-mile guide to the sights you can see from the train, to help you get the most from your trip.  The Lonely Planet guide to the Trans-Siberian Railway is also highly recommended.  Buying one or both of these Trans-Siberian guidebooks is well worth it, both for planning your trip and on the go.

At Amazon.co.uk...

 

At Amazon.com...

     

You should also take a good general guidebook for the countries you are visiting, and perhaps a Russian phrasebook, too.  I think the Lonely Planets and Rough Guides are about the best ones out there for the serious independent traveller, with plenty of historical and cultural background as well as stacks of practical information on accommodation, places to eat, things to see, visas, transport, dangers and annoyances.  You won't regret buying any of these..!  If you buy anything at Amazon through these links, Seat61 gets a small commission which helps support the site.

Also consider these guidebooks (click the images to buy online)

Click to buy onlineClick to buy onlineClick to buy online

Lonely Planet Russia - click to buy online

 

 

 

 

 

 


Hotels in Russia, Mongolia & China

Book a hotel in Moscow, Siberian cities or Beijing...

 

◄◄ Hotel search & price comparison.

www.hotelscombined.com checks all the main hotel booking sites at once to find the widest choice of hotels & the cheapest seller.  It was named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site at the World Travel Awards 2013 and I highly recommend it, both to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling your hotel for less!

www.booking.com is my favourite booking site.  It's really clear and you can usually book with free cancellation and so confirm your accommodation at no risk months before train booking opens.

Tripadvisor hotel reviews...

www.tripadvisor.com is a good place to find independent travellers' reviews of the main hotels.  It also has the low-down on all the sights & attractions too.

Backpacker hostels...

www.hostelbookers.com:  If you're on a budget, don't forget the backpacker hostels.  Hostelbookers has online booking of cheap private rooms or dorm beds in backpacker hostels in most Indian cities at rock-bottom prices.


Travel insurance, health card, SIM card

 

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

Get travel insurance, it's essential...

Never travel without insurance from a reliable travel insurer with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover.  It should also cover loss of cash (up to a limit) & belongings, and cancellation. An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheapest even for just 2 or 3 trips a year (I have an annual policy myself).  Don't expect travel insurance to bail you out of every missed connection, though, see the advice on missed connections here.  Here are some suggested insurers, Seat61 gets a little commission if you buy through these links, and feedback from using insurance for rail & ferry travel is always welcome.

In the UK, use www.confused.com to compare prices & policy features across major insurance companies.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65 (no age limit), see www.JustTravelCover.com.

        If you live in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, try Columbus Direct's other websites.

  If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

Get an EU health card, it's free...

If you're a UK citizen travelling in Europe, you should apply for a free European Health Insurance Card, which entitles you to free or reduced rate health care if you become ill or get injured in many European countries, under a reciprocal arrangement with the NHS.  This replaced the old E111 forms as from January 2006.  The EHIC card is available from www.ehic.org.uk.  It doesn't remove the need for travel insurance, though.

Get a spare credit card, designed for foreign travel with no currency exchange loading & low/no ATM fees

Taking out an extra credit card costs nothing, but if you keep it in a different part of your luggage you won't be left stranded if your wallet gets stolen.  In addition, some credit cards are better for overseas travel than others.  Martin Lewis's www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-travel-money explains which UK credit cards have the lowest currency exchange commission loadings when you buy something overseas, and the lowest cash withdrawal fees when you use an ATM abroad.

You can avoid ATM charges and expensive exchange rates with a Caxton FX euro currency Visa Card, or their multi-currency 'Global Traveller' Visa Card, see www.caxtonfx.com for info.

Get an international SIM card to save on calls & mobile data...

Mobile phones can cost a fortune to use abroad, so consider getting a global pre-paid SIM card for your mobile phone which can cut call & data costs by up to 90%.  At the time of writing, www.roamsure.com claims a definite 25% saving within the EU and up to 90% saving in the rest of the world.  Incoming calls are free in 73 countries, including all of the EU, the USA, Australia & South Africa.  There's no contract or commitment, and at time I write this Roamsure is offering a global SIM card for free when you buy £20 of call credit.  Seat61 gets some commission to support the site if you buy airtime from Roamsure.

 


Page last updated:  4 April 2014

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