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A Complete Guide to the Trans-Siberian Railway

Trans-Siberian Railway: Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian

The Trans-Siberian Railway is one of the greatest railways in the world, spanning three countries and two continents. Transporting both passengers and freight, it’s a safe and popular route for all travellers, even those going solo.

The term ‘Trans-Siberian Railway’ actually covers three lines across Siberia, the Trans-Mongolian, Trans-Manchurian and Trans-Siberian, all with the same route for the first four days from Moscow to Ulan Ude. The Trans-Mongolian route then carries onwards to Beijing through Mongolia, and the Trans-Manchurian goes a longer route through Harbin in the north-east of China. The Trans-Siberian line itself does not go to China or Mongolia, instead carrying on east to Vladivostok. 

Prices from: €300
Departing from: Moscow
Journey length: 6-7 nights

trans-siberian railway express map

Trans-Siberian Railway Options

Trans-Siberian Express: Moscow to Vladivostok
Trans-Mongolian: Moscow to Beijing via Mongolia
Trans-Manchurian: Moscow to Beijing via Manchuria

Trans-Siberian Railway: Express Route

The Trans-Siberian Express route itself stays within Russia, offering a seven-day journey across Siberia from Moscow to the far eastern port of Vladivostok. The original route on the railway covers 5,752m and crosses seven time zones, allowing passengers to see Siberia’s vast landscapes, mountains and isolated villages. From Vladivostok, it’s a nine-hour flight back to Moscow or two-night journey to South Korea and Japan. A luxury private train also runs this route, the Golden Eagle.

  • Trans-Siberian train Rossiya
  • vladivostok cathedral
  • Trans-Siberian train russia lake
  • Trans-Siberian train Rossiya

It’s the Rossiya train you’ll need to catch from Moscow to Vladivostok, otherwise known as train number 2. The journey runs for seven days, along 207km of Lake Baikal, Yaroslavl, Perm, Yekaterinburg and Irkutsk before arriving in Vladivostok in the early morning. It stops at 90 destinations , crosses the border between Europe and Asia and is the world’s longest railway journey. 

Despite being the original line, it’s actually the least popular with tourists, and most passengers on the Rossiya aren’t on it for the full journey, instead using it for shorter journeys within Russia. The train departs from Moscow’s Yaroslavsky station at 23:45 and arrives seven days later in Vladivostok at 7am.

Russia Trans-Siberian scenery
The stunning Russian scenery along the way

Trans-Siberian Railway train and cabins

The Rossiya train is Russian through and through, and both its livery and interiors are themed on the Russian flag. The train itself is comfortable and clean, with both first, second- and third-class accommodation available, along with a restaurant car, toilets and washrooms at the end of every corridor and access to a shower (for an extra charge).

First and foremost, it’s a train for locals and real travellers, so there are no unnecessary cars like lounge or bar carriages and you won’t find any luxury on board. However, despite all that, the Rossiya train is actually considered one of the best trains in Russia, thanks to its friendly staff and continued upkeep. 

All passengers on the Rossiya get a flat berth to sleep in

There are three classes of accommodation on board the Rossiya, and all passengers get a proper flat berth to sleep in and access to washrooms and toilets. First class compartments (or spalny wagons) host two people and have two lower berths, a personal TV, plug sockets, crisp bedlinen, a personal hygiene kit and magazines, and the cabin is lockable with a hotel-style key card.

Second class compartments have four berths – two upper and two lower – and come with bed linen, a table, luggage storage and lockable door. It’s recommended to travel first or second class from Moscow to Vladivostok, as third class is an open carriage of 54 sleeping berths arranged in two levels, without any closed compartments. 

Food and drink on Trans-Siberian Express

As with all the Trans-Siberian/Trans-Mongolian trains, the Rossiya has a decent restaurant carriage, serving up Russian classics and traditional meals at an affordable cost. Soup (chicken or meat borsht) is available for 350 rubles, while main meals can be purchased for around 480 rubles. The menu is extensive featuring pancakes (with jam or even caviar), pork schnitzel, ham and fried eggs for breakfast, salads and other ‘meat and potato’ dishes. 

Snacks and alcoholic beverages like beer, wine and vodka are also available to purchase throughout the journey. Be sure to make use of the 5-20-minute station breaks by paying a quick trip to the kiosk and fill your suitcase up with packet soups and noodles, as unlimited boiling water is available for free on almost all Trans-Siberian trains.

Trans-Siberian train Rossiya

Dress code

There is no dress code on board and most passengers wear their comfy and warm clothing. Remember you’re on board for seven days (with the exception of short stops to stretch your legs), so soft, cosy fabrics are essential. 

Fellow passengers

The train from Moscow to Vladivostok is a regular railway and is not designed for tourists, though tourists of course do use it. Fellow passengers will mainly be Russians travelling cross-country, but occasionally you’ll meet travellers who will make for great travel companions.  

What’s included

What’s included varies per train on the Trans-Siberian railway, but for the most a ticket simply buys you your travel and accommodation. Meals are usually at an extra cost, unless stated on your ticket, but boiling water is free of charge (perfect for packet noodles, soups and hot chocolates). Some trains offer tickets ‘with or without services’, but again, it’s worth checking as this ‘service’ could be one meal a day. 

The Trans-Mongolian/Manchurian

With so many trains and routes it can be tricky to navigate the routes and trains, and those looking to make the bucket list trip from Moscow to Beijing will need to board Train 4 or Train 20 (the Vostok train), with both running once a week all year round. Chinese operated Train 4 leaves from Moscow every Tuesday night, travelling 4,735 miles across seven days and offers two-birth deluxe and four-berth first- and second-class compartments.

Russian-operated Vostok train runs a slightly longer route of 5,623 miles and eight days through Manchuria (the Trans-Manchurian line) departing on Saturdays with two-berth & four-berth sleepers, and a restaurant car. Two luxury private trains also run this route, the Golden Eagle and Tsar’s Gold Train.

  • Beijing trans-mongolian railway

Trans-Mongolian/Manchurian Railway: Moscow to Beijing

Trans-Mongolian: Train 4 

Train 4’s journey takes six days and is a more interesting route around Mongolia and the Gobi Desert. The train stops at a station every couple of hours for around five-10 minutes, so passengers can stretch their legs or buy something from the station traders. Most of the journey is spent crossing Siberia, entering Mongolia in the evening of day six and journeying through Ulan Bator, the Gobi Desert and Chinese border at Erlan. Finally, in the afternoon on day seven, the train pulls into Beijing’s central railway station. 

Trans-Manchurian: Train 20

Train 20’s journey is similar, embarking on a less direct route from Moscow to Beijing, via the Manchuria region of China. Much like Train 4, most of the journey is spent passing through Siberia, stopping at cities like Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk and Harbin. Guests will enjoy scenery of the Ural Mountains, Lake Baikal and the Manchurian Plain, taking the scenic route into Beijing. 

Trans-Siberian Railway trains

Trans-Mongolian: Train 4 

Being Chinese operates, Train 4 is attended to by Chinese staff, with the majority of the train made up of first and second-class sleeper cars. Additional carriages are added and removed on the Mongolian and Chinese borders, including the thrice-changing restaurant car which changes from Russian to Mongolian to Chinese. While the train is a little worn and dated, it’s perfectly comfortable and offers many desirable amenities, with the changing restaurant car being a highlight 

Trans-Manchurian: Train 20

Slightly newer and more modern than Train 4, the Vostok train was given a makeover in 2013. The result was a shiny new grey and red colour livery and refurbished interior, with sleeper cars housing two- and four-berth cabins and a restaurant car. Just like on Train 4, the restaurant car changes in Russian and China, with different interiors and menus – mixing the journey up. 

Chinese-operated Train 4

Trans-Siberian Railway train cabins

Trans-Mongolian: Train 4 

When booking a compartment, it’s important to recognise the correct Chinese terminology, choosing from either a deluxe soft sleeper (two-berth), soft sleeper or hard sleeper (both four-berth). Equivalent to first class, the two-berth deluxe sleepers are worth the money with upper and lower berths, an armchair, small table and en-suite washroom with shower head (shared with an adjacent deluxe sleeper). However, the economical hard sleepers are perfectly comfortable, comprising two bunk beds with shared washrooms and toilets (both Western and squat) available at each end of the carriage. Soft sleeper are just slightly bigger, with the additional space barely noticeable. 

Vostok train trans-siberian mongolian machurian

Trans-Manchurian: Train 20

The Vostok also offers both two- and four-berth compartments, both slightly different to those on Train 4. First class two-berths are Russian spalny vagon type with two lower berths rather than multi-level. Both two and four-berth cabins have power sockets and access to shared washrooms and toilets at the end of each carriage. 

Food and drink

Food on the Trans-Siberian railway is provided by local Russian, Mongolian and Chinese cars, changing three times on Train 4 and twice on Train 19, with all meals at an additional cost. In the Russian car, meals like soup (£7.50), steak or fish with rice and potatoes (£11) and pancakes with salmon and schnitzel are on offer, with Russian wine, vodka, chocolate and snacks available.

The Mongolian dining car offers local dishes like fried rice (£4) or rice and mutton, and beers for £1. Often considered the highlight, the Chinese dining car offers a selection of Chinese meals with beers for £1 – some tickets have meals included once in China. It’s worth stocking up on packet soups and noodles and bringing a mug and spoon, as unlimited boiling water is available for free on almost all Trans-Siberian trains.

Dress code

There is no dress code on the rail route, but it’s important to remember to pack warm, comfortable clothes and bring modest sleeping gear is sharing a compartment.

Fellow passengers

As one of the most famous and popular rail routes in the world, the Trans-Siberian railway attracts every passenger under the sun, from solo travellers and backpackers to couples and retired guests. Anyone and everyone will feel at home. 

Trains pass through Mongolia and its stunning Gobi Desert

What’s included

What’s included varies per train on the Trans-Siberian railway, but for the most a ticket simply buys you your travel and accommodation. Meals are usually at an extra cost, unless stated on your ticket, but boiling water is free of charge (perfect for packet noodles, soups and hot chocolates). Some trains offer tickets ‘with or without services’, but again, it’s worth checking as this ‘service’ could be one meal a day. 

Pros and cons

This is truly a once-in-a lifetime journey, and everything should be taken with a pinch of salt. Cabins and train interiors are a little shabby and dated, but clean and comfortable none-the-less. A proper shower isn’t really a thing on board, with low-pressure showerheads available. Most information, such as menus, is in just the local language, so make sure to purchase a language guide, and there is no Wi-Fi available. For a more luxurious experience across Siberia and China, try the Golden Eagle.

With so many ticket operators available, it’s worth booking directly through a travel agent such as Real Russia.

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