A beginner’s guide to the Trans-Siberian (2022 sanctions updates)

A beginner’s guide to the Trans-Siberian (2022 sanctions updates)

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The Trans-Siberian, one of the world’s greatest train journey ! Russia is undoubtedly the best country to experience a long and slow train adventure.

From Moscow to Vladivostok, a 9288 kilometres overland journey to travel across this continent-size country, you will be able to admire Siberia’s wilderness through a train window, discover enchanting colorful towns and mostly experience real Russia, very different from the negative one portrayed by Western medias. Reminder : government does not equal people.

This guide aims to help you, independant traveller/backpacker plan your Trans-Siberian adventure on your own with all the basic informations you need to cross Russia by train : the best route to chose, how to book your ticket, life on board, safety tips for solo female travellers, 2022 sanctions updates and more !

Last updated : 06/11/2022

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The Trans-Siberian history

The Trans-Siberian is a railway not just a train. Covering 9288 kilometers, it’s the longest railway in the world. It takes an entire week to go from Moscow all the way to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast, crossing 10 time zones at a speed of 50 to 60 kms/h : slow travel at its best !

However, this railway isn’t meant to be a touristy route. It carries lots of local passengers as well as freight accross the country every day.
The contruction of the railway started at the end of the 19th century under Tsar Alexander III. Bridges and tunnels were built in extremely harsh weather conditions by a large amount of prisonners. The Moscow – Vladivostok railway was fully completed in 1916 and plays a major role in Russia’s economy until today.

Trans-Siberian guide 2022 sanctions

The routes

The term “Trans-Siberian” often defines 3 differents train lines across Siberia : the classic Trans-Siberian going all the way to Vladivostok, the Trans-Mongolian to Beijing via Ulan Bator in Mongolia to finish in China’s capital city and the Trans-Manchurian to Beijing, China.

However, the BAM & the AYAM lines with the classic Trans-Siberian, are the other routes only going through Siberia, Russia and not in the neighboring countries of Mongolia & China. It makes them in my opinion the 3 real Trans-Siberian routes you should consider if you wish to travel exclusively in Russia.

I cannot provide much informations on the Trans-Mongolian & the Trans-Manchurian because I have not been to either countries.

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The classic Trans-Siberian

The original route crossing the entire length of Russia from Moscow to Vladivostok. A 9288 kilometres journey that would take 7 days to complete if not stopping (which would be mad and pointless). The railway ends in Vladivostok on the pacific coast, one of Russia’s most underrated city if you ask me.

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The Trans-Manchurian to Beijing, China

This line goes just like the Trans-Siberian one on but diverts in Chita in the middle of Siberia, after Baikal lake if coming from Western Russia. The 9000+ kilometres journey takes a whole week to complete, goes through Manchuria in Northern China to end in Beijing, the country’s capital.
Check out Nora’s blog post about her Trans-Mandchurian adventure.

The Trans-Mongolian to Beijing via Ulaan – Bator, Mongolia

This is probably the most popular route among travellers. The Trans-Mongolian goes all the way from Moscow to Ulan – Bator the capital of Mongolia and even further to Beijing in China, a 7000 kilometres journey that takes 6 days to complete.
The train divert in Ulan – Ude, the capital of Buryatia in Siberia then heads south to Mongolia.
I have unfortuneltly never been to Mongolia, so I’d recommend to check out Andrew’s review on his Trans-Mongolian journey on Etramping.

The BAM : Baikal Amur Magistral

The BAM is the off the beaten track route of the Trans-Siberian. Just like the classic route, it goes to Krasnoyarsk but then spits in Taishet and divert to the north of Baikal lake.
It goes all the way to the coastal town of Sovietskaya Gavan right in front of Sakhalin island but you can easily rejoin the main line to Khabarovsk and Vladivostok from Komsomolsk on Amur.

The AYAM : Amuro Yakutskaya Magistral

The AYAM line is a recently built (2019) & is a partially complete railroute going North in Siberia. The plan is to build it all the way to Magadan ! Even though it’s a little known train route, the journey ends in Nizhny Bestiakh, right across Yakutsk on the Lena river, the coldest inhabited city an earth !
The AYAM line is accessible from Tynda on the BAM. This is a journey of almost one thousand extra kilometres (Next door for russian standards) for those who fancy a “detour” to a very remote but interesting city built on the permafrost !

Buy your ticket

Can I buy my Trans-siberian tickets online ?

At the time of writing (March 2022) and due to the ongoing sanctions on Russia it is not possible to buy your ticket on the Russian national railway website right now considering Visa/Mastercard aren’t operating in the country anymore.

The Trans-Siberian isn’t an hop on and off touristy train. You need to book each segment between two cities separately.

For example if you plan to do Moscow – Kazan – Irkutsk – Ulan Ude – Vladivostock, you will need to book one ticket Moscow – Kazan, another one Kazan – Irkutsk and so on.

Online or at the station ?

It’s up to you really. You can buy it directly at the station. In many large cities there are automatic ticket machines with an English language option (like the ones in Moscow’s metro), or if you’re confident enough about your russian language skills you can buy your ticket directly at the kassa (касса – ticket office).

If you have a local friend in Russia willing to buy the ticket for you (with his/her national bank card and you give cash in exchange) or if you get a MIR bankcard on arrival in Russia, the easiest way in my opinion is to buy your tickets online on RZD, the National Russian railway website/App. It has a very good and easy to use interface.
You need to register to buy a train ticket but then you can keep track of all your trips and have your etickets available anytime on your account.

The website uses a different english spelling for some cities like Moscow is Moskva, St Petersburg is Sankt Peterburg, Khabarosvk is Habarovsk … Try different spelling if the regular one doesn’t work.

At the time of writing, I couldn’t access either the RZD website nor the App in France with a French IP address. I used the Russian server on Hotspot shield VPN (has a 7 days free trial) and it worked. If you can’t connect on rzd.ru or its App from your country to see the prices, try to use a VPN to locate in Russia. It might have something to do with the ongoing sanctions. (ProtonVPN has +15 servers in Russia & CyberGhost VPN +50 servers with virtual locations)

You don’t need to book your train tickets in advance to apply for your Russian visa.

Links :

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Printed or electronic?

I personally always print my tickets (either at the station, a friend’s place or I ask the hotel receptionnist) for two reasons :

  • First, the provodnitsa will most likely keep your ticket close by in her cabin considering you will be the only foreigner in her carriage. She won’t forget to wake you up and tell you to get ready for you stop. Yes, the provodnitsa is usually a nice lady !

  • Second, if you travel in winter time your smarphone won’t last long outside with the quite extreme cold. You will be glad to have a printed ticket on paper !

Insurance

When booking your ticket either online or at the station, there’s an extra 150 rubles “accident insurance during the trip”. Make sure to uncheck the box if you book online or tell the lady at the counter that you don’t want it. I’d be pointless to pay for it as a foreigner.

Bed sheets

On the other hand, make sure to check the box “pay for bed clothes” unless the trip you’re booking is a 3 hours train ride. It’s kind of included in the ticket’s price. The clean sheets come in a cealed plastic bag, and is given by the provodnitsa right after the train departure. It includes two large sheets, a pillow case and a small hand towell

Good to know : If you have an accent mark on any letter of your names, don’t write them. For example my name in french is Noémie and I always fill up the form writing Noemie without the “é”. I also have three “first names” and write my two second “first names” in the “middle name” box like it’s show on my passport. There is no need to write them down in cyrillic. I’ve never had any issues writing my full name that way on the online form.

Inside the train

Train classes

  • The first class : a two beds compartment. If you choose Russia over the Maldives for your honeymoon, you might want to book that one for more privacy.
  • The second class (kupe in russian) : a 4 bed compartment. You could be alone in it but also share it with three strangers that don’t know each other either.
  • The third class (platskart in russian) : an open carriage with 50 beds and very little privacy. But that’s my preferred choice as it is in my opinion the safest for solo female tourists. Also the best for socialising with people.
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The provodnik/provodnitsa

The provodnitsa (it’s often a woman) is the person in charge of the whole wagon. There is one for each wagon of the train.
She will be the one checking your documents when boarding the train, bringing clean bed sheets to everyone, keep the wagon as weel as the bathrooms clean, making sure the samovar is always running, selling tea/coffee/snacks near her cabin and making sure all passengers begave themsellves !

The provodnitsa often kept my train ticket and brought it back whenever it was time for me o get off. She will most likely not speak english but no need to worry, even though she might seem a bit cold, she’ll help you if you need anything !

Top or lower bunk bed ?

It’s really up to you, but you must know that if you choose the lower bed, the person above you will seat on it during the day when he/she will use the table when having food/tea.
It’s not expected for the lower bunk bed on the lateral side to packed it up during the day to use the table & steats. The person is going to use the table on the opposite side of the hallway.

I personally choose the lower bunk bed on the third class and most of the time the lateral side because I can sleep all bed and no one will seat on my bed.

The bed

As I said in the “Buy you ticket” above, bed sheets are included in the price of the ticket (if you didn’t uncheck the box). The provodnitsa is giving them to the passengers almost right after the train leaves the station. It comes in a sealed bag and includes 2 large bed sheets, a pillow case and a small hand towel.

There is no need to worry about cleanliness or bed bugs, I’ve never had any issues.
You will find a pillow rolled up in a thin matress usually on the top beds. There is one for each of the beds as well as covers depending on the season you might not be warm enough.

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Bathroom

There are no showers (except in some first class wagon and not every train) but bathrooms can be found at every end of each carriage. It’s very basic with a non drinkable cold water sink, soap (wouldn’t recommend if you’re a bit of a germophobe) and toilet that flush on the tracks (so there are locked when the train approches a town/city and when stopped at a station). There is toilet paper but bring some with you in case it runs out (they sell single ones in stores or just grab a half empty roll from your previous hotel room).

For the sake of you travel companions sleeping next to you, do not neglect your personal hygiene (don’t lie we all meet a smelly backpacker once in our life). You can easily get a quick wash with some water, soap and a facecloth, or simply use baby/biodegradable wipes, brush you teeth in the sink (let water from the samovar cool down in a cup/bottle if you wish warm water).

Pack clean socks, underwear and a t-shirt in a totebag (make no noise compare to a plastic bag) to keep with you near your bed. If you stay more than 24 hours in the train so you can change.
Watch out for the bumps on the track when you change in the bathroom …

Samovar

A samovar is a large water boiler aka the best thing about russian sleeper trains in my opinion ! You can find a samovar at the beginning of each wagon, almost right in front of the provodnitsa’s cabin. This is basically a free & unlimited access to hot water all day long to make yourself tea, coffee or instant noodles.

At night, people are supposed to sleep so the samovar isn’t warming up anymore and I advice you to wait for your morning tea that the provodnitsa starts it again or you will get told off for sure !

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Food

There aren’t always a restaurant wagon in each train, in fact there are less and less restaurant in Russian trains simply because the food is notoriously bad & expensive so people don’t go.
Like most Russian travellers do, bring your own food.

The younger passengers often eat instant noodles but some babushkas can pull out a whole feast on their table.

The provodnitsa has the most common snacks for sell : instant noodles, chocolate, biscuits, tea bags and instant coffee etc. If you don’t have a cup just order a tea from her and she’ll bring it to you in an old style glass cup with a metal holder. I’d highly recommend you to bring you own cup and tea bags though.

In any russian supermarket or small food store you will be able to buy basic stuff for the journey : fruits, instant noodles, instant porridge, chocolate, biscuits and all the junk food you will need whenever you get bored (because you will) !

Sometimes, not always, either the provodnitsa or a lady working in the restaurant wagon have savory pirozhki for sell. There’re often 2 options : one with meat and another one with potatoes or cabbage. There are usually very good, cheap and filling ! A must try when in Russia !

Electroniks

There are plugs to charge your phone here and there in the train. There are usually located in the hallway or under the tables depending on the trains really.
If you will really use your phone (it’s unlikely to have any phone reception outside the towns and cities) or laptop (definitely no wifi on board) it’s probably a good idea to bring a powerbank with you.
Or simply use this internet-free time on the Trans-Siberian to cut your social medias addiction !(Social medias like Facebook, Instagram & twitter are blocked in Russia right now without a VPN)

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What to wear

If you’re in for a 24 hours or more journey, you better wear something comfy! Russians often change right after the train departure, especially the shoes !

Most of the passengers will wear tapochki which are slippers, and often made of plastic. I’d suggest you to get yourself a pair of tapochki for your Russian journey. Not only for the train but also if you’re invited into someone’s home; Russians take their shoes off in every house and they will provide you some slippers which are most likely to be way too big or too small for you.

Store your luggage

You can store your luggages under the beds : two 60L bakpacks would fit easily; or at the very top above the bunk bed. And don’t worry short ladies, chilvaly isn’t dead in Russia, any teenage boy or man will help you out.

Language barrier

Outside of Moscow and large touristy cities (let’s name Saint Petersburg or Kazan), people will not speak english in the train. The young ones probably can but will pretend they don’t because they are out of practice and worry that you will make fun of them.

But contrary to popular belief and their cold facial expression, Russians are a friendly bunch !
The babushka in the bed next to yours will probably overfeed you with sweets and show you pictures of her grandchildren and if you’re travelling in platskart get ready to have half of the wagon coming to greet you whenener everyone realise you’re a foreigner !
Once you have a couple of passengers breaking the ice with you, others will follow.

Make sure to check out my tips to travel russia without speaking russian, it includes plenty of tips to make your Russian journey easier !

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Safety

Solo female

I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of hours solo travelling in Russian trains, and not once I’ve been harrassed nor felt uncomfortable with another male passenger.
I always try to travel in third class mainly for safety purpose. There is no way a dodgy man will bother you in front of other passengers without them calling him off. Russia isn’t Western Europe, people won’t look away. Even an old babushka will speak up for you !

The second class might be more comfortable for travellers as it’s a bit more private than an open wagon. I personnally wouldn’t feel fully comfortable stuck with even one male passenger in a closed compartment. That is really up to you.
I would suggest if you’re a solo female tourist on a budget to get yourself a platkart ticket, also because you will meet great people ! Isn’t it what travelling is all about ?

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Travel with kids

Plenty of Russian families travel with kids. Children are very welcome in the trains, there’s just nothing to entertain them and time travel between stops can be very long !
A child is probably the easiest way to break the ice wih other passengers so go for it !

Time

How long are the stops ?

If you read cyrillic you can easily check the schedule board near the provodnitsa’s cabin for the arrival & departure in each city on your train’s route.
In some small towns, the train will stop only for a few minutes and no passengers is allowed to get out of the train. In bigger cities trains can stop for an hour or even more.
I wouldn’t recommend you to go sightseeing in a city center in the meantime. Just in case you misunderstood the time or whatever. I wouldn’t risk it, they won’t wait for you.

Moscow time

Until 2018 all the trains across Russia were running on Moscow time, which were in my opinion really unconvenient in the middle of Siberia and five hours ahead of Moscow.
Nowadays you don’t need to worry about it, they are all on local time !

The train stations

When entering any train station, even small ones, you have to go through a security check where your luggages are scanned and you go through a metal detector.

The departure boards are mostly written in cyrillic throughout the country but you can easily compare the name on your ticket & the one on the board or simply look for the train number.

In major cities the words arrivals, departures, time, might be translated to english on the board like on the picture bellow but in case the only word you must remember is basically “путь” (“put”) which means “track”.

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Kassa – ticket office

The kassa is the ticket office where you can buy your train tickets. The ladies working there won’t speak english, you will have to queue in the middle of babushkas. Queueing in Russia is quite an experience really, forget about your personal space.
If you don’t speak any Russian, just use the translator (English to Russian works pretty good on Google Translate) on your phone mentionning the place you want to head to, the day, a top or lower bed, the train class, and also don’t forget to write that you don’t want the unless insurance. If everything is mentionned, she won’t even ask you a single question and you might even get a smile if it’s your lucky day!

Cafeteria

In many train stations you will find a café or even a stolovaya which is a canteen. They usually serve all the classic russian dishes from borsch to pelmenis to olivier salad.

Kiosque on the platform

In smaller towns there are small kiosques directly on the platform selling basic snacks like instant noodles and pirojki, but also card games and all sort of things you might need for your journey.

Do’s and Don’ts : rules to follow

Some rules you shoul follow in the train :

  • Don’t monopolize the table.
    Even if you’ve booked a lower bunk bed, the table doesn’t belong to you, passengers from the top beds have all rights to use it and they will seat on your bed in the meantime. That’s the way it works.

  • Don’t get drunk.
    First because it is now prohibited to drink alcohol outside the restaurant wagon (I know, you saw travel vloggers on youtube doing so). Second, you will annoy people next to you if you’re yelling and laughing out loud. Be respectful to others.

  • Don’t stay in the bathroom for too long. Be mindful of all the other passengers.

  • Don’t cook your noodles in the middle of the night.
    It smells. A lot. Even if you board the train late at night and you’re hungry, well just eat something else. There’s nothing worse than waking up in the middle of the night by the smell of freshly made instant noodles in an already stuffy train.
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Traveller’s favourite stops

Planning the right stops on the Trans-Siberian can be overwelming due to the size of the country and the amount of cities and towns along the way. Here is a list of so called best stops to make according to famous travel guides and other bloggers.

  • Moscow
  • Kazan
  • Yekaterinburg
  • Novosibirsk
  • Krasnoyarsk
  • Irkutsk
  • Olkhon island (Baikal)
  • Ulan Ude
  • Vladivostock

Alternative suggestions

In the winter 2015-2016 I did an extensive Trans-Siberian journey over the course of 4 months, stopping in dozens and dozens of cities & smaller towns along the way, spent 400+ hours (yes, I’ve kept count) in the trains … I wrote a post with my very own list of favourites places along the way. Some of them aren’t famous or migh not even be known of you, but I highly recommend taking the less traveled routes in the already little known Russia.

Check out the Best stops & detours on the Trans-Siberian post

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Costs

As stated above, there isn’t one Trans-Siberian train ticket. It’s not an hop on & off touristy train.
You must buy one ticket for every stop you want to make. The price of your Trans-Siberian journey will depend on the number of stops you make, train class you travel in and dates because during the high season (summer and public holidays) prices can litteraly double or more.

Here are example of trips for you to compare the costs. At the time of writing the currency rate is 1€ = 60₽ | 1₽ = 0,0166€

How much does it costs to ride the Trans-siberian ?

March 2022June 2022
Moscow – Kazan1 500 ₽ = 25€2 000 ₽ = 33€
Kazan – Yekaterinburg1 600 ₽ = 27€2 000 ₽ = 33€
Yekaterinburg – Irkutsk2 700 ₽ = 45€3 600 ₽ = 60€
Irkutsk – Ulan Ude1 200 ₽ = 20€1 800 ₽ = 60€
Ulan Ude – Vladivostok2 800 ₽ = 47€3 500 ₽ = 58€
Total164€244€

This is an example of a total price with 5 classic stops in the third class, which is the cheapest.


And here are prices if you travel directly without any stops :

Moscow – Vladivostok March 2022 Moscow – Vladivostok June 2022
1st class21 000 ₽ = 350€
2nd class11 000 ₽ = 183€13 000 ₽ = 216€
3rd class8 000 ₽ = 133€9 800 ₽ = 163€

It might seem very cheap for anyone coming from a “rich” country but for average russian it is not.

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A direct Moscow – Vladivostock in May 2022

You might have noticed that the more stops you make the more expensive the whole trip is going to be. The third class is really the best option if you travel on a budget.
However if you choose to travel right in the middle of summer, due to the high demand, the prices can get crazy high even in platskart.

All prices are average and only for informative purposes. If you want real prices on specific dates check out directly the official RZD website/app

Winter or Summer travels ?

Most people would not even think a second that travel in winter can be an option. If you’re one of them you must think me nuts for even bringing it up.
Let me change your mind with these 5 simple reasons to travel on the Trans – Siberian in winter time :

  • If you aren’t from Canada or any Scandinavian countries, this is your chance to experience extreme cold temperatures !
  • Trains won’t need to be booked in advance, people travel less than in the summer. Good if you like to make last minute travel plans, you will be able to buy your train ticket the day of departure.
  • You will be able to enjoy crazy russian winter activities : ice skating, fishing, driving, hiking, all of this on a frozen lake or river ! And even bathing if you dare !
  • Baikal lake is truely at its most magical in winter time.
  • Snow makes any kremlin and colorful orthodox churches looking like they belong in fairy tales.

I could keep on going with this list but I bet you’re already almost convinced !

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Extra tips

  • Eticket : if you travel in winter time I’d suggest to get a printed ticket for some simple reason : your smarphone will last only a few minutes outside when it’s -30°C. Good luck to warm it up to show your eticket to the provodnitsa !

  • If arriving late at night at your destination, book a hostel/hotel room in advance so you won’t have to roam around an unknown town in the middle of the night looking for a place and the hotel staff will be expecting and so waiting for you.

Booking.com and AirBnB suspended their activities in Russia. The best alternative to find a hotel, guesthouse and even a short-term rental flat during your trip is Ostrovok. Click here to learn more about it.

  • Don’t forget to bring distractions like books, musics etc

  • Bring sweets to share with strangers. Everybody in Russia like konfietki and they are widely available in any food store. It will help break the ice with your travel companions.

  • Plan your stops and book your tickets a bit in advance if possible if travelling high season (summer & russian public holidays).

  • Buy an old style tea cup in the train (from the provodnitsa), great to keep as a souvenir !

  • Bring earplugs (and eye mask if light bothers you to sleep), and you shall sleep like a baby !

  • Final major tip : lower your expectations
    The Trans-Siberian is not a romantic ride on the luxurious Orient-Express. It’s basic, slow, there isn’t much privacy and you will get bored at some point.
    However, you will be fully immersed into Russian culture and daily life of locals. That is to me what travelling is all about !
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I did not dare to name this travel guide the “ultimate one” but I tried to make it as complete as possible to help you independant travellers plan your perfect Trans-Siberian adventure on your own.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve found this travel guide useful and don’t hesite if you have any questions or suggestions to add to this guide !

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