13 Tips for Trans-Siberian railway travel
1th july, 2018
I have been travelling by Trans-Siberian Railway for the last ten years. I have discovered Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Beijing, Vladivostok, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Chita, Lipetsk, Khabarovsk, Baikal and Altai, Yaroslavl, Kazan and Ekaterinburg. I became disillusioned with some of the places, although I return to Moscow, Saint-Petersburg and Altai with great pleasure. For the ten years I have learn a lot of interesting things about Russia. My Russian friends have shared some life hacks for a comfortable and inexpensive journey by Trans-Siberian Railway. Now I would like to present these pieces of advice to you.
13 tips for Trans-Siberian travelers.
Medicine and health
You shouldn’t hesitate to apply to the first-aid station or call an ambulance. In Russia emergency is provided at no cost to any person, who resides on the territory of the Russian Federation.
You don’t need any documents for the urgent resort. However, you’d better come there with a Russian-speaking person.
You can count on free X-ray, plaster cast application, anesthetization, breaking the fever, etc. But the further medical treatment will be chargeable.
Unfortunately, there are usually long queues at the first-aid stations, and the ambulance car may be delayed, that’s why in some cases it’s better to apply to a private health care facility. In Russian cities there are lots of inexpensive pay-hospitals. A reception of the primary care doctor on the average amounts to 1000-2000 rubles (the cost in Moscow hospitals is higher, of course).
2) In Russian chemist’s shops most types of medicine are sold without a medical prescription. So, if you know the name of the medicine, you need, just go to the chemist’s.
Trains and tickets
Choosing the seat and train carriage. Buying a ticket.
In Russia there are 3 classes of trains:
1st class carriage (SV). 2 places in compartment
2nd class carriage (coupe). 4 places in compartment
3rd class carriage (sleeping car) 6 places in compartment
The far right compartment is directly close to a toilet (in the 3rd class carriage it’s very uncomfortable). I strongly recommend you not to buy tickets for those sleepers.
Summer in Russia may be very hot. That is why when you buy tickets for long distances, you should check the availability of the air conditioner. Otherwise, your carriage might turn into a small iron hell.
If you look for a ticket at the last moment, here is some useful information. The tickets for the passing trains appear 3 days before the train departure.
Of course, you should buy tickets through the internet. Firstly, it is cheaper. Secondly, nobody speaks English at the railway ticket office. So, buying a ticket without knowledge of the Russian language may be a problem.
- Prices change seasonally. Sleepers of different location have different prices. (For example, the upper berth in 2nd class compartment sometimes has 50% discount).
- The price of a ticket changes according to the number of days before the train departure. Discounts constantly vary, so you should check them before buying a ticket on the website rzd.ru.
- Prices for the international tickets are higher than the inland ones. That is why it is sometimes more profitable to get one ticket to the border and the other ticket — from the border to the foreign destination station.
5) In a ticket just one mistake in the name or the passport number is allowed. In other words, if one letter in your name or one number of your passport was confused, don’t worry. The train host will let you into the carriage.
6) If you fall ill just before the trip, the ticket can be extended. You need to bring the medical certificate for that.
7) 24 hours before the train departure you can change the ticket for an earlier train, making for the same direction (if there are available seats, of course). In this regard, you need to contact the railway ticket office and get a special mark on your ticket.
You have the right to go out of a train at any station and stay there up to 10 days. For this purpose, you have to get a special mark on the ticket at the railway ticket office during three hours after the stop.
To continue the trip you may have to pay some more money, according to the rate of the transportation carrier.
This option for a passenger is registered in the regulations of Russian Railways. Although, travelers don’t often use it. So, even cashiers do not always know about this possibility.
Pieces of advice
Russia is enormous. The trip from Vladivostok to Moscow by train takes more than 6 days without stops. Surprisingly, the most interesting things wait for you not in the train, but at the stations.
Don’t aim at travelling along the whole trunk. You won’t have enough time to see everything you have planned. Choose the most interesting places. That’s why I recommend to skip Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Chita, Ulan-Ude and pay attention to Moscow, Altai, Saint-Petersburg and Baikal. I will introduce the optimal route below.
10) If you plan to travel on your own, I advise you to learn the transcription of the Russian alphabet. In Russia there are little translated names, and the Cyrillic alphabet doesn’t look like English, so it is hard to follow directions.
Transport in Baikal.
It’s no use to stay in a long queue in the bus station at the ticket desk, trying to get tickets to Listvyanka on-site, there won’t be any tickets for that day. Cross the road from the bus station, there are private shuttle buses to Listvyanka.
You can get a single ticket for the shuttle bus and a ferry to Olhon island. This ticket costs 680 rubles + 140 rubles for the luggage.
Places of interest in Altai.
There are lots of amazing sights in Altai. However, all of them are situated further Chike-Taman mountain crossing (100 km form Chemal), closer to Mongolia’s border.
The sights of Altai can be visited only travelling by car. There’s no possibility to rent a car in Altai region. The closest car rental station is in Novosibirsk. Please, bear in mind, that the main road of Altai, Chuya highway, is very good, but if you pull off the main road, there is track road, where you may damage the car. Furthermore, in that area you have to use only four-wheel drive vehicle.
For this reason, it is more convenient and cheaper to purchase a tour.
13) In some cities (except Moscow and Saint-Petersburg) travelling by taxi is rather cheap. Here are some popular mobile applications in many cities of Russia.
- Yandex taxi
- Get taxi
- In Novosibirsk the cheapest application is Ru Taxi. A taxi from the airport to the center of the city amounts to about 300 rubles.(it is about 30 minutes ride without traffic jams).
Optimal rout (duration from 20 days).
Duration: 1 day
In Irkutsk there are some nice churches, quite a good waterfront. As for the rest, there’s typical soviet period architecture. Therefore, don’t waste your time in this city, you’d better proceed to Baikal. If you still stay in Irkutsk, I recommend you to see the following sights.
- The waterfront of river Angara stretches for several kilometers and has a number of levels. There is also a monument of the Saints Peter and Favronia — the patrons of family and loyalty (Russian variant of Saint Valentine), restored Moscow gates (constructed in 1813 in honor of the emperor Alexandr I),
- one of the oldest churches of Siberia, made of stone - Temple in the name of the Holy Savior’s image,
- The central square of the city.
Duration: 3 days and more
Baikal is a fascinating place. It is one of the artefacts of Russia. It is mainly known as the biggest lake in the world. Baikal strikes with the purity and amazing color of the water-from dark blue to turquoise. In the south part of the lake fells prevail. In its north part there are mountains. Less number of tourists reach the north side (the area is far from Trans-Siberian Railway). Consequently, there are three main directions for your tour to Baikal:
- Listvyanka (a short and easy itinerary). The ride takes about one hour. In Listvyanka there’s lively atmosphere, there are lots of camp sites and cafes. The museum of Baikal is definitely worth visiting. The museum guides will tell you many interesting facts about the lake and its inhabitants, not only in Russian, but also in English or Chinese. Walk up the sealed road to the mountain “Cherskoy’s Stone”, where you will observe wonderful views of Baikal, the head stream of Angara, Shaman-stone, Baikal harbor and the beginning of the railway around Baikal. Moreover, there are amazing ringed seals, you can’t help but fall in love with in the sealarium.
- Olhon island (the most popular itinerary of average timeline). There is a number of islands in Lake Baikal. The biggest one is Olhon island. In the center of the island Huzhir village is located. Only in 2005 the electricity was installed there. The nationals used to do fishing. In fact, a local Malomorsky fish factory had been working there. If you are lucky enough, you will learn all these facts from watching a documental film, which is transmitted outside, right on a house wall on Sunday. There are many camp sites for calm rest in Olhon. You should choose the excursions like an island hopping tour (it’s better to take a small boat for 10 people) to see the islands of “Narrow sea”, and travel by Russian non-road vehicle UAZ to Hoboy cape — the north most part of the lake. If you like to walking the open air, you should reach the neighboring village Harantsy (Hurantsy). At first, you will walk along the beach and then - up the mountain. It’s better to allow the whole day for the promenade: it’s 6 kilometres one way (you can ride a bike, there’s a bike hire in Huzhir). Public and private transport (shuttle buses) goes from Irkutsk to Huzhir. It’s 6 and a half hours ride, taking a ferry into account.
- The north side of Baikal (a long term itinerary and the most beautiful as well). Besides a great number of interesting natural sights, there are lots of variants of tour itineraries.
Furthermore, you will ride past amazing views of margin of Baikal, going by Trans-Siberian railway from Slyudyanka to Ulan-Ude. Trains even used to have a stop there, and people used to swim in the lake back in the day! Near Slyudyanka the train goes through tunnels and along the steep slope down a mountain (and up the mountain on the way back).
Duration: 1 day
Novosibirsk is the third biggest city of Russia. It appeared solely due to Trans-Siberian Railway. There are several places, that worth visiting.
- The center of Novosibirsk and its main sight is the Opera and Ballet Theatre. It is the biggest theatre in Russia and it’s fascinating. There wasn’t enough space in Bolshoy Theatre in Moscow for the staging of the Opera and Ballet Theatre - the stage appeared to be smaller. The performances start from the middle of September and finish in the middle of July. The theatre is located in Lenin Square — the main square of the city. There is a monument of Lenin in front of the theatre.
- Chapel of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. All the citizens of Novosibirsk consider the chapel to be the geographical center of Russia.
- A Monument to the Heroes of the Revolution is the bed of honor of the revolution period. You will see the memorial of the Soviet time.
- The Monument of the Bridge is the real old rail bridge span.
- The Monument of Glory – planes, tanks and missile systems of the second World War time are located there.
- Locomotive museum. Various locomotives and train carriages of different times are exhibited there (including imperial and first soviet steam trains). Some of them are open and you can get inside. The price of the ticket is 200 rubles. However, the museum is rather far from the city center. It takes about one hour (one way) to get there from Rechnoy Vokzal, the closest metro station. From Rechnoy Vokzal you can get there by buses № 518, 519, 519a, 595 and shuttle buses № 20, 35, 321, 332.
- If you still reach Locomotive museum, take the time to visit the Academgorodok. Walk along the streets and avenues, surrounded by the forest. You can see a funny statue of a laboratory rodent there.
- Novosibirsk zoo. It’s one of the biggest zoos of Russia (its area is 60 hectares). 738 animal species and more than 11000 animal units live in the zoo, a half of them is included in the international endangered-species list. The zoo is situated at the edge of the city. The way to the zoo takes 15 minutes from the closest metro station Zaeltsovskaya (10 minutes by bus from Planovaya bus station + five-minute walk).
Duration: 6 - 10 days
Altai region is located on a plain and a foothill. All the mountains are located in the Republic of Altai. These are two different territorial entities.
The most visited part of Altai is the neighborhood of Chemal village and Artybash village. 90% of all tourists go there. All these people look for relax tour.
The most interesting sights are situated further Chike-Taman Passover (100 kilometers from Chemal).
The most number of tours start from Biysk city. Biysk is the last station on the railroad branch.
Before planning the trip to Altai, you should check your travel itinerary. In Altai there are places, that belong to border areas. In order to visit such area you need to have a special license. This kind of license is usually processed during about 2 months.
Duration: 1 or 2 days
In summer 1918 in Ekaterinburg the Royal family was assassinated. The whole world associate this city with the murder. Nowadays there is a Temple-on-Blood on that place. Here you think unvoluntarily about those terrible events and about what happened during the revolution of 1917 in general. You reflect on the “upheavals” that took place. You imagine how many destinies were ruined and people were killed in consequence of the bloody revolution.
Besides, in Ekaterinburg you can visit
- Square of 1905
- Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky and Trinity Cathedral
- QWERTY Monument (modern architecture)
- Europe-Asia monument, which is a border between Europe and Asia
- Take a walk along the waterfront of Iset river
Duration: 1 or 2 days
This is the city of 1000 years’ history. There are quite a few historical artefacts. In 2013 in Kazan a universiade was organized. So, many new buildings, hotels and stadiums have grown there.
Kazan town fortress is the heart of the city. It’s the place of synthesis of Tatarian and Slavonic architectural styles. It features in UNESCO World Heritage list. There is a great number of objects on the territory of the town fortress: a leaning tower Syuyumbike and a big mosque Kul Sharif – one of the most beautiful mosques of Europe (it is amazing not only from the outside, but also inside).
Walking on the territory of the fortress worth it. Come to the church and visit the square next to it, go up to the skydeck.
Practically all the attractive sights are located not far from the fortress, except the Temple of all religions and Zilantov convent (you’d better go there with a museum guide or audio-guide). Walking around the city is the best way to see the sights:
- Petropavlovsky cathedral
- Alexandrovsky passage
- Holy cross Cathedral(The icon of Kazan mother of God, one of the most worshipped icons in Russia, is stored there)
- The Palace of farmers
- Kremlin Riverwalk
- Monument to Russian soldiers, fallen in battle during the conquest of Kazan. It is far from the city center. It’s better to look at it from a distance.
Duration: 3 - 10 days
Moscow is the “center” of Russia. It has absorbed and gathered all the treasures and millenary history of the country. There are so many sights in Russia: churches, the Kremlin, old buildings of different times, modern buildings in a hi-tech style. There are plenty of such places of interest there. There are a lot of places, worth visiting. The itinerary depends on your preferences, the time and money you possess. In light of this, I will not offer any routes. However, here’s a piece of advice: if you are in Moscow for the first time and you don’t have much time, you should go to the city center. You can see the sights, included into UNESCO World Heritage List:
- Moscow Kremlin;
- The Red Square;
- Lenin’s Mausoleum;
- St Basil’s Cathedral;
- The GUM department store;
- The Cathedral of Christ the Savior;
- Moscow Metro;
- Stalin’s skyscrapers (Seven Sisters).
Duration: 2 - 10 days
Saint-Petersburg is a special city on the map of Russia. It had been the capital of Russia for more than 200 years. Only in 1918 the title of the capital came back to Moscow.
It is generally believed, that the most educated people of Russia live in Saint-Petersburg. They are also kind and warm-hearted.
In Saint-Petersburg there are as many sights as in Moscow. Whereas in Moscow the most sights have Slavonian routes, In St.-Petersburg you can feel the European style.
In St.-Petersburg you should definitely visit:
- Church of the Savior on the Spilt Blood
- Nevsky prospect
- Kazan Cathedral
- St. Isaac’s Cathedral (By all means you should go inside and go up to the observation platform)
- Peterhof. A visit there will take at least 6 hours. If you have time, you’d better spend there all day and look into the palaces, located on its territory.
- Hermitage. Hermitage composition is enormous. This is one of the biggest and the most outstanding museums of the world. You should visit it in case you have at least one whole day (Although, for one day you won’t even see 1% of the exhibit items).
More Trans-Siberian tips you can find on the explorussia.com web-site