There is nothing quite like the romance and adventure of train travel, particularly on the longest train journey in the world – the Trans-Siberian railway. This train journey is one of the best ways to see some of the less-explored parts of Russia. It is a truly unique experience to hop on a train in sunny Moscow, travel across the country watching the seasons change before your eyes, and get off the train 5 days later in snowy Irkutsk.
In addition to seeing parts of the country that other people would miss, you also have the chance to share a carriage with local Russians – some who may be more friendly than others. This is your chance to drink vodka with a Russian (warning: they can always drink more than you).
Can I book tickets for the Trans-Siberian myself?
You have three main options – an organised tour, tickets booked through a booking agency, or booking tickets yourself either online or in person at the station. These three options range in both price and difficulty.
Obviously, the most difficult (but cheapest option), is to book the train tickets yourself. The challenge here is that the websites are in Russian, and if you want to buy tickets in person, you will not have the proof of travel that you need when organising your Russian visa. The tickets are also sold using a pricing policy that gives the best seats and prices during the first few hours that they come on sale. If you wait until you enter Russia to buy ticket yourself you might pay a lot more or miss out completely if the train has sold out.
An organised tour is the simplest but most expensive option. With a tour, the tickets will be purchased for you, however depending on the tour company, you will not always have any say in which stations you will stop at. They usually provide you with some form of visa assistance as well.
In my opinion, it is easy and relatively cheap to book your tickets using a booking agency like Real Russia. This was the option that we chose for our trip and I cannot fault our experience. We travelled second class from St Petersburg to Moscow, Moscow to Irkutsk, Irkutsk to Ulaanbaatar, and finally from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing.
Can I do the Trans-Siberian without stopping?
To start planning your journey, please select your departure and arrival points, as well as your date of travel, from the search engine and press ‘Search for available trains’. You will then be able to select from any of the available trains and ticket classes before entering your passenger details.
It is important to note that if you are booking within 45 days of travelling, Real Russia will issue your electronic ticket within two working days, or paper tickets within the selected time frame. If you would like to reserve your tickets outside this time frame, Real Russia will keep your request and book your tickets as soon as they are available.
What is the difference between the Trans-Siberian and the Trans-Mongolian?
If you would like to go via Mongolia, you will take the Trans-Mongolian from Moscow to Beijing via Ulaanbaatar. If you would like to travel only through Russia, starting in Moscow and ending your journey in Vladivostok, you will book the Trans-Siberian.
Did you know there is a third route? The Trans-Manchurian also travels from Moscow to Beijing, however instead of travelling via Mongolia, you pass through the Manchuria region of Northern China.
Can I get off the train? How do I book tickets for each leg?
Your first step will be to use the journey planner below to decide at which stations you would like to get off the train. Each stop will require a separate ticket – i.e. if you buy a ticket from Moscow to Beijing, you will not be permitted to get off the train and get back on again. If you would like to stop at Irkutsk, for example, you must buy a ticket from Moscow to Irkutsk and then another ticket from Irkutsk to Beijing.
We used this scheduler to book our tickets and it couldn’t have been easier!
First, select which of these historic routes you will be travelling along; when you would like to begin; and where your departure and destination points are. You will be taken to a list of cities between those two points and then you can select which cities along the way you would like to visit, as well as your length of stay.
The Real Russia system will then suggest trains for each section of the journey based on your initial date of travel.
It is important to note that tickets for international train journeys departing from Russia will not be issued until 60 days prior to departure. If you are booking within this time frame you are able to pay immediately and your ticket will be processed. If you book outside this time frame, Real Russia will take your details and contacted you before the 60 days to confirm the price, etc.
If you decide to travel via Mongolia or China, your tickets will not be issued until 15-20 days before departure. In this instance, Real Russia will organise for your tickets to be delivered to your hotel or a partner organisation in your departure city.
What do the train numbers mean?
The train numbers signify the speed of the train and the services available. Rather than remembering all of this information, the Trans-Siberian Journey Planner (above) shows the departure and arrival times but also how long each journey will be. It will also show whether you can choose a female only carriage, which class of travel, and whether you would like food to be included in your ticket price.
In summary the faster and newer trains are more expensive than the slower, older trains.
- Numbers 1-160: Comfortable fast trains with limited stops
- Fast train with a name (e.g. Rossia 2, or Red Arrow): Fast trains but cleaner and with train attendants who are a bit more friendly
- Numbers 161-169: Feeling fancy? These trains are for you! These aren’t available on all routes, but when they are you can watch the world go by in a super comfortable seat, or chill out with a DVD player.
- Numbers 170-870: These are passenger trains that are slower and make more stops. We travelled using these trains and found they were usually comfortable and well equipped.
What are the classes of travel on the Trans-Siberian?
There are three classes of travel on the Trans-Siberian, Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian – first class, second class and third class.
- First class: Each (lockable) berth will have either a bunk bed and a small sofa, or two lower beds. There are showers and toilets at either end of the carriage.
- Second class (kupe): Each (lockable) berth will have two bunk beds and there are (usually) clean toilets at either end. If you are travelling in a pair, it is a good idea to book a top and bottom bunk (bottom bunks are odd numbers, top bunks are even numbers) so you can both sit on the bottom bed during the day. If you are a solo traveller you will either have to share your seat with someone else during the day, or make friends and hope that you can sit with the person travelling in the bottom bunk. This is the class that most travellers and locals choose.
- Third class: This is a open-plan dormitory car with 54 bunk beds and there are toilets at either end of the carriage.
Can I combine the Trans-Siberian with train travel in Europe or Asia?
If you are interested in booking a train journey elsewhere in Russia, or select international routes in Europe and Asia, but you are not sure on which day you would like to travel, then the ‘Train Schedule’ tool can help. First, select your month of travel and your desired departure and arrival points, and then Real Russia can tell you on what days trains will be running and at what time. From here you can then proceed to book the most convenient train with the minimal of fuss.
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Please note that if you book through the Real Russia website within a few weeks of visiting this page, I will receive a small commission from the sale. This will not increase or alter your ticket price in any way. If you would not like this to happen, please contact me for additional information. My affiliation with Real Russia in no way has impacted my representation of the company in this article. It is only because I found them to be so amazing that I have included them on Grassroots Nomad. Thank you! 🙂
Have you booked your own tickets for the Trans-Siberian? How did you find the booking process?