Important info about the Trans-Siberian railway:
It goes through seven time zones
Taking an alternative route is possible by entering Kazakhstan via Yekaterinburg and travelling down to Astana before looping around back into Russia. The same is true with Mongolia, as a common route is passing through Ullan Bator. There are also many different starting points, one could easily start from Scandinavia or come up through Latvia and Estonia. If you are in a hurry, you can get from Moscow all the way to Beijing and Mongolia in as little as 6-7 days. However, this would not allow much time to see anything, so breaking up the journey is advisable in order to prioritise the places you really want to see.
Why would people want to do it?
There has always been a fascination with the vast plains of the east. This curiosity is mainly due to wanting to experience, themselves, the wild plains of Mongolia that have untamed horses roaming the land and nomadic tribesman living in yurts across a huge expanse of land. Further east are the even more remote wind swept lands of Siberia that are famous for the one of the most extreme and inhospitable places on earth. Having previously been cut off because of communism, the railway has opened up to foreigners and people are coming to experience in increasingly more numbers year on year.
Highlights of the route
When to go:
Travelling in the summer means you can enjoy longer days, more sunshine and a brighter landscape in general. Going in the winter may have its own charms, but there are more chances of rain and days are shorter. One positive is that it will be quieter, which means you can enjoy more flexibility in your trip as changing your route will be easier because trains are less likely to be fully booked.
Where to buy:
Purchasing tickets at the station is risky due to availability, and the official website is in Russian, so unless you have the language skills, I’d go for an agency. A recommended option is the Transsiberian Express. These guys will also assist you in getting the required visas for your trip.
It really doesn’t have to be that much endless you travel in first class. A budget of 500 euros should be enough to get you across the country. Bear in mind that the more stops you take, the more it will cost. Also, travelling at night is a great way to save money as well!
Is it a good idea to do the Trans-Siberian railway in third class?
The prices vary hugely between the classes and the main difference is the amount of beds in each carriage. The first class carriage has two beds and in the third class there are 6 beds (two beds in the hallway and two lots of bunk beds). Whereas in first class you can close the door to your carriage, in the third class you can’t do this so there isn’t much privacy and can get fairly noisy. It’s great to meet the locals but don’t expect to have a great conversation as not many speak English.
”The Trans-Siberian railway in third class was completely fine, and the amount you save for sure it’s worth it” Andy that did the trip last year.
Make sure to bring your own food as buying it on the train is pricey and the quality isn’t great. The locals around us brought a picnic of mainly fruit and vegetables that they got from the supermarket before boarding.
Depending on if you take a direct train or a local train will affect what kind of people you will meet. Many tourists take the direct train but there will be more locals on the local trains where you have to make stopovers. I found people to be friendly and most of the time open to talk (limited conversation but still nice) which made the experience very interesting at times.
Making the decision
The trip can be made on a variety of budgets and time frames which really does make it available to anyone. Give it a go, guys!