A Short Guide to the Trans-Siberian Railway: How, Where, and How Much

A Short Guide to the Trans-Siberian Railway: How, Where, and How Much

A few travel itineraries can be called ‘classics’ to the extent the Trans-Siberian railway is — completed in 1916, the world’s longest railway line consistently features on most travelers’ bucket list.

It’s now a flexible and unique way to explore the many stunning landscapes that Russia has to offer. Tourists can expect immense panoramas that range from taiga to pine forests, observed from a train window as one lets their thoughts roam free.

The Trans-Siberian railway can be traveled in many ways: in more or less luxury, quicker or slower, following several different routes, and stopping in several spots. This article will help you plan the right Trans-Siberian itinerary by giving information on:

  • Distances and itineraries
  • Different trains and costs
  • How to book your ticket
  • What to pack for a Trans-Siberian trip
  • Documents necessary for the Trans-Siberian railway.

Where Does the Trans Siberian Railway Start and End?

As mentioned above, there are different available routes for those who wish to jump on these famous trains:

  1. The original Trans-Russian line connects Moscow with Vladivostok. This itinerary is the least popular with Western tourists who usually want to explore as many countries as possible during their trip. It covers a distance of 9,258km or 6,152 miles and takes 7 nights to complete.
  2. The Trans-Manchurian line connects Moscow with Beijing via Harbin, Manchuria. The tracks are 8,986km (or 5,623 miles) long and it takes six nights to cover them all.
  3. Probably the most popular route with tourists, the Trans-Mongolian line connects Moscow with Beijing via Mongolia and the Gobi desert. It takes six nights for this train (that only departs once a week) to travel the 7,621km/4,735 miles of the route.

Most tourists opt to move East, from Moscow to Vladivostok or Beijing, but it is possible to travel both ways on the Trans-Siberian railway. Moreover, during the decades a series of extensions have been added.

One can, for example, start the journey in stunning and culturally-rich St Petersburg before taking the train to Moscow, or maybe take a ferry to Japan from Vladivostok. There is also a more northerly route, unknown to most tourists, that crosses Siberia from Tayshet to Sovetskaya Gavan on the Pacific coast. It’s called the Baikal-Amur-Maestral railway (or BAM) and makes for an unusual adventure.

What Is the Trans-Siberian Railway Cost for Travelers?

Of course, the total cost of your Trans-Siberian holiday will depend on many factors. First of all, the stops you intend to make. A 6-day direct train from Moscow can cost as little as less than $200 depending on the class one chooses. However, most travelers decide to take it slower and stop along the way.

The train class will also make a great difference. The Trans-Russian line has 3 classes available, while Trans-Manchurian passengers will be able to choose between first and second-class coaches, and so will Trans-Mongolian travelers.

First and second-class coaches offer berths that are folded into seats during the day. Most public trains won’t have shower facilities. There is plenty of food available onboard as well as at the station. Platform vendors will provide you with fruit and snacks for pennies without you having to leave the train — however, avoid cold meat and salads. Wi-Fi is usually not available on the train but you can find free Wi-Fi hotspots at several stations.

Tickets must be booked in advance to reserve a berth. However, tickets cannot be purchased earlier than 45 days prior to your intended date of departure.

Peak and low seasons also play a role in the final fare. There are plenty of specialized travel agencies offering packages so that foreigners don’t have to worry about choosing and reserving tickets.

Depending on how you decide to book and travel, you can spend a few hundred bucks or easily get in the range of thousands.

What Should I Pack for the Trans-Siberian Railway Trip?

Trains are always warm but the temperature can drop dramatically outside, especially during the winter. If you’re traveling during the winter, it’s vital that you bring warm and thermal clothes for when you plan to leave the train.

Bring your own coffee and tea bags — service trains offer unlimited boiling water. Sleeping comfortably is also important so don’t forget your earplugs and sleeping mask. Other items that can be useful include:

  • Sunglasses
  • Hand sanitizer and wipes
  • Money belt
  • A small torch
  • An umbrella
  • Your devices and chargers
  • A towel
  • Your medications
  • Books and other distractions

What Documents Do I Need for the Trans-Siberian Railway?

You will need your current passport at all times. Moreover, a valid Russian visa is required for entering Russia, no matter what route or leg of the Trans-Siberian railway you decide to travel. The type of visa you’ll need will depend on how long you intend to stay in the country for, your nationality, and other factors.

Moreover, if you intend to travel through more than one country as part of your holiday, you’ll need to apply for each visa separately. Border crossing with Mongolia, for example, can take several hours on either side of the border. Uniformed border control officers will go cabin to cabin to perform document checks, so have your passport and visa ready. You may also need to complete a customs declaration. After document checks, you’ll be allowed to leave the train as carriages are added or removed — make sure to have all your valuables with you.