Welcome to the Ultimate Guide to Riding the Trans-Siberian Railway! Kara and I just completed our 11 day Trans-Siberian journey from Moscow to Vladivostok. Our entire journey covered over 9,280 km. We spent 7 nights sleeping on the train, 4 nights sleeping in cities a long the way, and consumed far too many instant meals to count.
We have traveled to over 60 countries, and the Trans-Siberian has been one of the hardest trips I have ever planned. First, we had to sort out our Russian visas. Next, we had to figure out our route. Then, we had to figure out how to buy the train tickets (without getting ripped off), and that was just the beginning of the planning.
Before leaving for this trip, I really struggled to find all of the information I needed to plan and book this trip independently. It was even harder to get a feel a for what the trip itself would actually be like.
So, I’m hoping this blog post can serve as a practical guide to help you plan your trip, and our YouTube videos will give you an idea of what to expect day in and day out. If you’re wondering why you’d ever want to spend 11 days riding across Russia on a train, check out some of our YouTube videos from the trip!
Hopefully after watching our videos you’re ready to book your trip! So, without further ado, let’s jump into the nitty gritty stuff – starting with Visas.
Getting a Russian Visas
Kara and I both hold passports issued in the U.S.A., so this section is going to be written from the perspective of an American citizen. If you don’t have an American passport, you’ll need to do some additional research. However, I’ve heard the process is similar in most countries.
There are actually three steps in the visa process:
- You need to get a letter of invitation.
- You need to get a visa.
- You need to register your visa once you get to Russia.
If you already know the exact dates of your travel, and you can pre-book your accommodations, this will make the visa process much easier. Kara and I rarely plan more than three weeks in advance, so we did not have our accommodations booked and did it the more challenging way.
Step 1: Getting a letter of invitation.
If you are able to pre-book your accommodations, choose an accommodation that will provide you with a letter of invitation. Most large hotel chains will offer this service free of charge.
If you won’t be pre-booking your accommodations, you’ll need to get a letter of invitation by other means. Most visa service companies will offer this service. However, I found that most visa service companies drastically overcharge for this. For example, we used VisaHQ to obtain our visa (more on that further down the page) and they were going to charge us $50 per person for a letter of invitation.
However, I did some additional research online and found that Fortuna Travel offered letters of invitation for only $12. I wasn’t sure whether or not to trust a random website I found online, but I figured worse case scenario I would only lose $12.
Fortuna Travel turned out to be completely legit. They sent me an invitation in less than an hour, and when I sent the letter of invitation to VisaHQ they had no trouble using it to process my visa.
Side note: In order to get a letter of invitation (and your visa), you’ll need to let them know where you’ll be staying during your trip.
Kara and I had no clue, so we booked a refundable hotel in Moscow through Booking.com.
Get $20 off your first stay on Booking.com
You don’t actually have to stay where you say you’re going to stay on your visa. Kara and I actually ended up canceling our stay at the hotel we booked, and we instead spent 5 nights in an Airbnb in Moscow. That turned out to be a big mistake, but we’ll get to that later in the post.
Step 2: Applying For Your Russian Visa
After you’ve secured your letter of invitation, you’re ready to apply for your visa. In order to apply for a Russian visa in the U.S.A., you (or another human) must personally deliver your visa application to one of the Russian consulate offices located in the United States. You CANNOT mail in your visa application.
Below is a list of the cities where Russian consulate offices are located.
- New York, New York
- Washington D.C.
- Seattle, Washington
- Houston, Texas
If you don’t live close to one of these cities you are left with two options.
Option 1: You can drive a long way and personally hand in your application.
Option 2: You can use a visa service to hand in your application on your behalf.
The first option is cheaper but will take a lot of time. The second option is much easier but more expensive.
We live in Nashville, Tennessee,. The closest Russian consulate office is in Washington D.C. which is a 10+ hour drive. So, we opted to use a visa service company.
Once you start researching online, you’ll find tons of visa service companies willing to help you secure your Russian visa. The service fee each company charges varies substantially.
We needed a rush visa because we were leaving the U.S. in 10 days and wouldn’t be back before starting our Trans Siberian trip. VisaHQ offered the best prices for a rush visa so we decided to try them out, and I’m so glad we did!
I can highly highly recommend VisaHQ. I called them on the phone multiple times for help filling out the visa application, and they were always super helpful!
Plus, they have an automated system that sends you updates throughout the process so you know the exact status of your visa the entire time.
A few pro tips for filling out your Russian visa:
- You don’t have to enter the country on the day you say you’re going to on your visa. However, that is the day your 30 day window will start. Therefore you don’t have to be exact when you enter your arrival date on the application, but you should be close if you want to spend the maximum amount of time in Russia.
- You don’t have to stay where you say your staying on your Visa, so don’t stress about booking your accommodations before submitting your Visa.
- The application asks for every country you’ve visited in the last 10 years. Thankfully, you only have to list the 5 most recent!
If you have any other questions while filling our your visa, I highly recommend calling VisaHQ!
Step 3: Registering your visa
Now that you have your Russian visa, you have everything you need to legally enter Russia. However, once you get to Russia you must register your visa within 7 working days. You only have to register your visa if you’re going to be in Russia for more than 7 business days. I’m going to assume most people who are riding the Trans-Siberian will need to register their visas.
The easiest way to get your visa registered is to stay in a hotel that offers the service free of charge. Most big hotel chains will offer this service, but make sure you ask before booking. This is another reason why it’s better to have your hotel booked ahead of time.
This is where Kara and I really messed up. I booked an Airbnb without asking about the registration process. On the day we checked in I asked our host about registering our visa, and she tried to charge us $100 per person. Knowing that most hotels offered this service for free, I had a pretty good feeling were getting ripped off.
It’s supposed to be your host’s responsibility to register your visa no matter where you are staying, but we were determined to find another way besides paying our host too much. However imagine explaining that to a Russian police officer who only speaks a few words of English. Our visa registration was never checked, but we heard that you end up paying a very large fine if caught without it, so I don’t think it’s worth risking.
Thankfully, we ended up making a local friend who offered to register us at her address free of charge. Otherwise, I guess we would have been left with no choice but to pay our Airbnb host $200.
So, the moral of this story is either book a hotel that offers the service, or negotiate with your Airbnb host before you book a stay at their property.
In addition, I’ve heard that most hostels and cheaper hotels offer the service for a small fee between $5-$10. This could also be a good option, just make sure you know the fee before you book!
There you have it! It’s a bit complicated, but it shouldn’t be too painful if you follow my suggestions. That should be everything you need to know in regards to getting your visa sorted for riding the Trans-Siberian!
Planning Your Route
There are two main routes that you’ll most likely be choosing between. The first route is the Trans-Siberian which runs all the way across Russia from Moscow to Vladivostok and vice versa. The second is the Trans-Mongolian which runs from Moscow to Beijing (through Mongolia) and vice versa.
We took the Trans-Siberian because we ran out of time to get our Chinese visa. I would highly consider doing a second trip just to experience the Mongolian and Chinese portion of the trip.
Since we rode the Trans-Siberian, that is the route I am going to focus on in this post. First, I’ll tell you about our exact route, and then I’ll tell you what we would have done differently looking back.
The first leg of our trip was from Moscow to Irkutsk. This was 74 hours of non-stop train travel.
We stopped in Irkutsk for two nights. Then we hopped back on the train for a short 6.5 hour ride to our second stop of Ulan-Ude.
We stayed in Ulan-Ude for two nights before beginning the final leg of our journey to Vladivostok which was another 64 hours of non-stop train travel.
Our trip lasted 10 days and 11 nights. Four days were spent on land and 6 days were spent on the train. We spent 7 nights sleeping on the train, two nights in a hostel, and two nights in a hotel.
To be completely honest, we really enjoyed the long legs (74 & 64 hours) of the journey. But keep in mind that we travel full-time, and it was nice to be stuck in the same spot for 6 days while getting to catch up on work and experience different views out the window. With that said, I think we missed a couple interesting stops that you might want to consider when planning your journey.
What We Might Have Done Differently
We met several local Muscovites when we were in Moscow for 5 days before the trip. They all recommended that we stop in the town of Kazan. It’s a predominately Muslim city, and they all seemed fascinated by it. At this point, our tickets were already booked so we didn’t have the option to stop. However, we try to take advice from locals anytime we can. So, I’d highly recommend doing some research on this city when you’re planning your trip.
If you have any appreciation for Russian history, you’ll want to stop at Yekaterinburg. It’s the town where the last tsar of Russia and his family were executed. I saw this stop listed on many itineraries when I was booking our trip, but at that point I didn’t have a good appreciation for Russian history. However the longer I stayed in the country, the more fascinated I became by its history. So you may want to book this stop ahead of time and assume you’ll be more into learning about the last tsar when you arrive.
The next change I would make to our itinerary would be stopping in Irkutsk for 3 days instead of 2. The main draw of this stop is seeing Lake Baikal, which is the deepest lake in the world.
Irkutsk is the closest major city to the lake; it’s still a 2-hour drive away, though. There is a popular island on the lake called Olkhon Island that most tourists take a ferry to and stay overnight.
However, you need at least 3 days for this trip. It takes 7 hours by the time you drive to the lake and ferry to the island, so you’ll need one full day of travel for each leg of the journey, and you’ll want one full day to explore the island. So, I highly recommend scheduling at least 3 days in Irkutsk.
Ulan-Ude, on the other hand, could definitely be seen in a day. There really isn’t a lot to see in the city. The main attractions include the world’s largest statue of Lenin’s head, the main walking street in the center of town, a beautiful church that sits near the end of the walking street, a monastery that sits on a hill and overlooks the city, and another monastery that’s located 45 minutes outside of the city. So, you could easily see all of the major sites in one day if you planned ahead.
There’s no harm in spending more than a day in the city. We enjoyed having a day of rest. I just wanted to let you know that you don’t need to schedule more than one unless you want to.
In all of my research, I didn’t come across much to do between Ulan-Ude and Vladivostok. So I don’t think there are any additional stops I would suggest adding on to the last leg of our trip.
The last change I would have made on our journey would be the amount of time we spent in Vladivostok. Unfortunately, the flight we needed to get to our next destination left the morning we arrived. We didn’t get to see any of the city which was really sad because it looked really cool. At the same time, when first booking this trip, we had no idea how much we would enjoy Russia. We were kind of hoping we would be sick of it by the end and ready to get to the airport, but that wasn’t the case!
When to ride the Trans-Siberian
The time of year you decide to ride the Trans-Siberian is going to totally depend on personal preference. However, after having completed the trip, I wanted to give you my thoughts on when to go.
Personally, I think there are two seasons you should consider for your trip, fall or winter. We got lucky and planned our trip in the fall because that’s when Russia fit into our travel schedule. In the fall the weather is mild, and the leaves are changing colors which made the scenery even more beautiful.
Russia has no shortage of trees. In fact, you’ll be staring at trees through your train window for the majority of the Trans-Siberian journey. So I recommend going in the fall when the trees are most beautiful. We started our trip on Sept. 7th, and the trees were just starting change colors. I think a couple weeks later would have been absolutely perfect. Assuming the leaves change colors at a similar time every year, I would recommend booking your trip towards the end of September, maybe even early October.
After doing this trip in the fall, I really want to do it again in the winter. I think it would be a totally different experience. Sure it would be cold, but I feel like the Trans-Siberian is meant to be experienced in the winter.
The countryside would be incredibly beautiful covered in snow, and you would have an excuse to buy one of those awesome fur hats that they seem to be selling in every city.
If you enjoy nature, Lake Baikal will definitely be one of the highlights of your Trans-Siberian journey. I think visiting the lake in the winter (when it’s frozen) would be even better than the fall when it’s just water like any other lake.
If you visit in the winter, your excursions could be way more epic! They have hover boats that will take you around the frozen lake, and you could even go dog sledding! If you live somewhere where these activities are normal, maybe you should stick to fall. But we live in Tennessee where it rarely snows, so we get super excited about the snow and everything that goes along with it.
My last argument for going in the winter is that you’re going to be eating and drinking hot things on the train, and it’s way better to eat and drink hot stuff when it’s cold outside. Each train car has a free hot water dispenser, so if you bring supplies you can have unlimited tea, coffee, and instant meals during the entire trip. It would be way more enjoyable to sip tea and coffee all day if it were freezing cold outside.
This section was obviously just a personal opinion. I think the most popular time to go is actually summer, but I really don’t understand why. I don’t see how the summer heat would make this trip any more enjoyable.
Trans-Siberian vs. Trans Mongolian
I’ll keep this section brief because we haven’t experienced the Trans-Mongolian, so we can’t do a true comparison. With that said, I think the Trans-Mongolian would be an overall better experience. During our 144 hours on the Trans Siberian, the scenery outside our window didn’t change drastically.
There was a giant lake, some mountains, small towns, big cities, and a ton of trees. So while I definitely enjoyed getting to see the countryside of Russia, I would have loved some more variation in the views, which you would get on the Trans-Mongolian.
The most beautiful section of the Trans-Siberian is the section where the tracks run beside like Baikal for a few hours. You’ll ride this section of the tracks on both the Trans-Siberian and the Trans-Mongolian. Plus, if you ride the Trans-Mongolian, you’ll also get to see the Gobi desert and the Chinese countryside.
The Trans-Mongolian turns south to Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, after passing through Ulan Ude. So you could do all of the stops I mentioned in our itinerary. Plus, you’d get to stop in the capital of Mongolia and end in Beijing where you could see the Great Wall of China!
Again, I really don’t know enough about the Trans-Mongolian to speak knowledgeably on it. But I do know that you basically get to experience the best of the Trans-Siberian plus Mongolia and China on the Trans-Mongolian. So it seems like the clear winner to me.
The only thing that may stop you from choosing the Trans-Mongolian over the Trans-Siberian is what stopped us, visas. As an American citizen, you don’t need an additional visa for Mongolia, but you will need one to enter China. Chinese visas aren’t cheap and you’ll need to send your passport off to a visa service company like we did for our Russian visa.
With that said, I think the added cost and annoyance of the additional visa would be totally worth it if you have the time!
Choose your class or train
After you’ve chosen your route, it’s time to choose which class of ticket you’ll book for the trip. Your options include 1st, 2nd, or 3rd class.
The biggest difference between each class of service is the number of people who share a cabin. In first class, there are only two people in a cabin. In second class there are four people, and in third class there are no cabins. Instead, there are 50 people in the train car, and all of the beds are open to the rest of the car.
If you want a tour of a first class cabin, watch this video [starting at 6:45]
If you want a tour of a third class cabin, watch this video [Starting at 7:40]
We didn’t stay in a second-class cabin, but you can catch a glimpse of one at 1:22 in the video below. They look similar to the first class cabin except there are four beds instead of two.
One important (and possibly obvious) thing to point out is that unless you’re riding the Trans-Siberian without stopping, you’ll be on different trains during each segment of your journey.
After you get off your train at your first stop, that train will continue to its final destination, and you will be catching a different train a few days later whenever you decide to leave.
So you don’t have to choose one class of service for the entire journey because you’ll technically be booking separate tickets for each segment.
For example, Kara and I booked first class for our 74-hour journey from Moscow to Irkutsk. We booked 3rd class for our second segment because it was only 6 1/2 hours from Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude, and we booked first class again for our 64-hour journey from Ulan-Ude to Vladivostok.
Hopefully, you now have a decent understanding of your booking options. Now let’s look at how you actually purchase these tickets.
There are two different ways you can buy tickets for the train. You can buy your tickets through one of many online brokers, or you can buy them directly from the train company through their website.
Buying through a broker is easier but more expensive while buying from the train company’s website is more confusing, but substantially cheaper.
If you buy through a broker, you’re basically paying someone to guide you through the purchasing process. To be fair, booking through the train website can be confusing. However, you’ll pay quite a bit of money for this middleman service, and the fees from each broker vary considerably.
If you decide to go through a broker, I’ve heard that TuTu has some of the lowest fees.
One of the most popular online brokers is RealRussia.com. Their site has a great tool for planning your trip. You can put in where you want to stop and how many days you want to spend at each stop. Then, the website will show you all of the available trains for each segment of your journey.
I was super close to purchasing my tickets from RealRussia.com. However, right before I was going to purchase the tickets I discovered that the official Russian train website has an English version that I could use to purchase tickets!
So, I compared the prices between RealRussia.com and the train company’s website, and I was shocked to learn that the exact same tickets on RealRussia.com were marked-up over $300 EACH!
Even though the train company’s website was more confusing, I booked the tickets that way and saved over $600!
My advice would be to do as I did (on accident). Use RealRussia.com’s online tool to plan your journey. Then, buy your tickets directly from the train company’s website.
One important thing to note: If you ride the Trans-Siberian all the way across, you will transit through 5 time zones. This makes planning your journey a bit more challenging. Thankfully, RealRussia.com takes the time change into consideration on their online planning tool. When you are planning your trip on their website, it will give you all of the times in local times. However, when you search for tickets on the train company’s website, all of the times will be listed as Moscow time.
Pretty much everything that has to do with trains is listed in Moscow time. For example, the clocks on the trains stay on Moscow time. The clocks at each train station are on Moscow. The schedules both on the trains and at the train stations are listed in Moscow time.
To make sure that you’re booking the same tickets on the train company’s website as you found on RealRussia.com, it’s helpful to use an online time converter such as TimeZoneConverter.com
Searching for Trans-Siberian Tickets on RealRussia.com
Below I’m going to show you exactly how to search for your route on RealRussia.com. Then, I’ll show you how to actually book the tickets on the train company’s website.
You can start planning your journey on RealRussia.com by following these four easy steps.
Step 1: Select “Trans-Russia” at the top of the journey planner and enter your estimated departure date.
Step 2: At this point, you should see all of the possible stops along the Trans-Siberian listed in the journey planner. Select each city you want to visit and specify how long your stay will be using the drop-down menu. Once you have entered your selection click “search for available trains”
Step 3: On the next page you’ll see all of the trains that are available for the first segment of your journey. This is where you have the opportunity to choose which train you want to take, and which class of service you want to choose. Repeat this step for every leg of the journey.
Step 4: Once you have entered your train selection for each leg of the journey, you’ll be presented with your “journey summary”. You’ll also be given the opportunity to purchase your tickets. I recommend not purchasing your tickets through Real Russia because you’ll pay a premium for using their service. Instead, you should record all of the details in your journey summary and book your tickets on the train company’s website.
Buying Trans-Siberian Tickets Through Rzd.ru (English version)
Now I’ll show you how to save a substantial amount of money by booking your train tickets on the English version of the rzd.ru website.
Step 1: In order to buy tickets on the website, you must create an account. It doesn’t take long, it’s pretty straightforward, and it’s free. You can click here to get started creating your account.
Step 2: Once your account has been created, you’re ready to start booking your tickets. You’ll need to book each leg of your journey separately, so start by entering the origin and destination of the first leg of your trip. Make sure to refer back to your journey summary from Real Russia and enter the appropriate dates. At this point, you don’t need to worry about the time. You will have the option to select your time and class of service on the next page.
Step 3: On this page, you’ll be presented with all of the available trains on the day you chose. Refer back to your summary from Real Russia and choose the train that matches the journey you created. You need to be especially careful about the times on this step. The times on the rzd.ru website will all be listed in Moscow time, and the times on your journey summary will be listed in local time. Make sure to convert the times to ensure you’re booking the exact train you wanted on your original itinerary.
Step 4: After you’ve selected your class of service, you’ll need to choose a compartment. Once you’ve chosen a compartment, you’ll be presented with a seat map of the compartment. The seat numbers that are already taken will be grey, and the ones that are still available will be black. I recommend looking for a compartment that has open seats near the middle. I would especially avoid booking seat in the compartment next to the toilet. After you’ve found a suitable compartment, click “Go to Passenger Data Entry and Seat Selection”.
Step 5: Once you’ve chosen your compact, the next step is to fill in your personal information and choose your seat. Filling in your personal information is pretty straightforward, but there is one tricky part. When you are choosing your “Document Type” DO NOT select Foreign Passport. Instead, you should choose “Foreign Document”. You’ll still enter your passport information as usual, but for some reason, the site only works if you choose “Foreign Document”.
Next, choose your seat. If you would like a specific seat, just enter the seat number in both boxes of the seat range. In the example below I have chosen seat 29. After you’ve selected your seat click “reserve places” and you’ll be taken to the payment page.
Step 6: Purchase your ticket. This step should be pretty straightforward! The only thing you should know is that most U.S. banks tend to block purchases from Russia unless you have notified them ahead of time. I recommend calling your bank to let them know that you’ll be purchasing from Russia so they don’t block the transaction.
Step 7: Repeat this process for each leg of your journey.
Purchasing your tickets through the RZD website is a little extra work compared to purchasing your tickets on Real Russia, but with this guide you shouldn’t have any issues, and you will save a lot of money!
Now that you have your tickets booked, it’s time to think about what you’ll pack. This isn’t going to be a comprehensive packing guide because what you pack will depend on the season you ride the train and your personal preference.
Instead of a comprehensive list, I’ll give you some overarching guidelines and a few essentials you should definitely pack regardless of the season.
My biggest piece of advice when packing for the Trans-Siberian would be not to pack too much! Especially if you plan to travel in second or third class. If you’re traveling in first class you’ll have a little more storage space, but either way, the less you can pack the better.
In second and third class you’ll only have one storage compartment under or above your bunk depending on if you choose the top or bottom bunk. The space is big enough for two carry-on sized suitcases. In our case, we were able to fit our carry-on bag and backpack under the seat with plenty of room to spare.
It’s important that you don’t pack in a big suitcase otherwise it won’t fit in the storage compartment. I would recommend packing in a carry-on size bag, or an unstructured duffle bag that you can cram into small spaces.
Another important thing you should take into consideration is that you don’t need new clothes for every day you’re on the train. You’re pretty much just laying in your bed all day. There’s no reason to get dressed up or even change clothes from day to day. You probably won’t have the opportunity to shower anyway. So one or two pairs of comfortable clothes for your days on the train should be plenty!
Now let’s talk about the items that are worthy of taking up precious space in your carry-on sized bag.
- Shoes – You’ll want to make sure that you have a pair of shoes for the train that are easy to slip on and off. You’ll probably want to take your shoes off when you’re inside your cabin, and you won’t want to walk around the train without shoes on, so you’ll do a lot of taking your shoes on and off. Comfortable slip-on shoes are essential!
- Lounge clothes – You don’t need to look nice when riding the train. As I said before, you’ll be sitting on your bed for most of the day so make sure to pack comfy clothes!
- A Bag Lock – If you’re riding in first class you won’t need one, but you’ll definitely want to be able to lock up your stuff when you leave the train and sleep if you’re sharing a space in second or third class.
- Body wipes – Kara used wipes to freshen up every morning. She basically just used wipes to clean her whole body. She calls it a wipey bath.
- Dry Shampoo – Kara says it keeps your hair from getting greasy and it gives it more body. Which I guess is what you need if you’re not showering for a few days.
- Converter & Power strip – Unless your electronics have European plugs, you’ll need a converter. If you ride in first class you’ll probably only have one outlet in your cabin. So if you want to charge more than one thing at a time, a travel power strip will come in super handy! If you ride in 2nd or 3rd you’ll have to share an outlet with a lot of people, so you can easily make friends by having a power strip that other people can use!
- Audiobooks and Podcasts – I recommend audiobooks and podcasts over books or a kindle because you can enjoy the scenery while listening. If you spend your whole trip with your head in a book, you’ll miss the best part, the views. CLICK HERE to get your first audiobook for free on Audible!
- Stuff for Sleeping Better – Melatonin/Eye Mask/Ear Plugs/Head Phones – If you have trouble sleeping, the items listed above may make it a little easier for you to sleep on a bed that is constantly moving and in a room that never quite gets all the way dark or quiet.
I think that about does it for my packing tips and necessities. Obviously, you’ll need to take into consideration what excursions you have planned when you’re off the train to complete your own packing list.
When it comes to eating on the train you have four options.
Option #1: You can buy food from the restaurant car on the train. The restaurant is the only place you’ll be able to get a proper meal while riding the Trans-Siberian. However, it won’t be cheap. We only ate in the restaurant once on our trip. A small bowl of soup and a small plate of fried potatoes cost us over $10. If you want a proper meal it will cost between $10 & $20 per person. The prices aren’t crazy expensive, but the cost of food would really add up if you ate every meal in the food car.
Option #2: You can buy snacks, drinks, and instant meals from your cabin attendant. The lady in charge of your car has a small supply of food that she’ll be happy to sell you at a premium. You’ll pay double what you would pay for the same thing in the grocery store. However, most of what they sell in the cabin is cheap so you’ll be paying $1 for your instant ramen noodles instead of $0.50. So, it’s really not a big deal.
Option #3: You can buy snacks, drinks, and instant meals at the train stops. The train will stop 3 – 5 times per day. You’ll have a few minutes to jump off and buy a few things. The stuff at the train station is cheaper than what you’d buy on the train, but still more expensive than the grocery store. If you don’t want to go grocery shopping before the trip, this is probably your best bet for purchasing food. At some of the stops, there will also be ladies selling home cooked food like dumpings and some sort of fried bread. However, I’ve heard they’re putting a stop to this because a lot of people were getting sick from the food.
Option #4: Bring your own food. This is the option we chose, and in our opinion, it was the right decision. It’s definitely the cheapest. Before each long leg of our trip we went to the grocery store and stocked up on all of the food we’d need for the next few days. Since there is unlimited hot water on the train, everything we bought could either be cooked with hot water, or didn’t need to be cooked at all. Also, there are no refrigerators on the train, so don’t buy anything that needs to be refrigerated.
Below is a list of foods I’d recommend picking up at the store before getting on the train.
- Ramen Noodles
- Instant Coffee
- Instant Oatmeal
- Instant Mashed Potatoes
- Plastic Cutlery
A normal day of eating on the train for us started with oatmeal and an apple for breakfast, instant potatoes for lunch, and ramen noodles for dinner. We also consumed way too much coffee, tea, and snacks on a daily basis. To be fair, our diet wasn’t healthy, but it was cheap and easy!
The optimal eating solution would probably be to have a balance between bringing your own food and eating in the restaurant car. For example, you could bring enough instant food for breakfast and lunch each day. Then, you could treat yourself to dinner each night in the restaurant cabin. How you decide to handle the food situation really depends on your personal preference and your budget. If you want to spend the least amount of money, bring your own food! If you consider eating the local food part of your travel experience, you should have at least a couple meals in the restaurant car.
What daily life is like on the Trans-Siberian
If you want to see what life is like when riding the Trans-Siberian Railway, I highly recommend watching a few of our videos. We documented almost every day of our 11 day journey. Click the play button below to binge-watch the series.
Thanks for a great write up on getting the Russian visa. Really helpful
Peter Johnkop says
I am very glad for this guide, thanks!
Gustavo Rodrigues says
Awesome!!! That’s brilliant.
Great job! Thank you very much for the guide. 🙂
Roy Houseman says
I did binge watch all your video’s and found them great! I have wanted to go on the Trans Siberian railroad for most of my life and you two have given me a good idea what to expect. I am planning of going in two years and a fall trip sounds perfect. I have studied Russian History and speak, read and write Russian,so I am ready for the challenge. Now all I need is to do is to find a friend to share the adventure.
Amy Alton says
Wow, guys, really interesting and detailed guide. This seems like a super interesting way to see Russia, and I am super impressed that you guys did it!
very nice work
job well done will help a lot thx for educating me
Pawan K A says
Amazing brother,,,your tips are really worthy,,,,
I also recommend checking out Krasnoyarsk. (it might be a bias opinion because that’s where I grew up) but there’s a national park, called Stolby, and it is absolutely amazing. Also taking a trip along the Enisey River to Divnogorsk is spectacular. Krasnoyarsk has a great food scene and a very hip (for lack of a better word) city with a bunch of cool coffee shops. BUT Stolby is defensively a must-see!!! Safe travels
Jim Green says
Valerie, your comments are very good, but may I point out something? Although (assuming you’re Russian) the Cyrillic ‘E’ is pronounced ‘yeh’, although the English ‘E’ has many sounds, one it doesn’t have is ‘yeh’. So, in English we spell the river ‘Yenisey’.
Robert (Chicago) says
Thank you so much for this guide!! I’ve always wanted to take this train, and I really appreciate your insight. I’ve also heard Kazan is interesting, and that Vladivostok is better than what people expect.
Maybe I will be able to visit Russia for the World Cup 2018. Hmm …
Its one thing to enjoy such trips but takes much more effort to put together the stuff you guys have done. Thank you! I do not plan to make a Trans Siberian journey in the foreseeable future, but could not help appreciating the wonderful effort you guys have put in. Cheers. Anish
Thank you for the information. One bit some might need to know is that you cannot book tickets from Moscow to Beijing on the Russian Rail website. (It is possible to book from Beijing to Moscow. on the Chinese rail site.) We are traveling the Mongolian route from Moscow in late-January. We will gamble a bit and purchase tickets in Moscow when we arrive. (Fingers crossed) Plan B, if tickets prove elusive, is to fly down the line and catch something into Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, then into Beijing. Plan C is to spend a few extra days in Moscow then fly into Beijing.
We are a group of four sexagenarians – our ultimate goal is to complete an orbit around the world. Maybe we’ll cross paths along the way. Have fun and stay safe!
We would also really like to do the Trans Mongolian one day. I’d prefer winter as well, but since my husband is a teacher he only gets 2 weeks of at Christmas, and I don’t know if that will be enough time if we want to do the railway, see Moscow, Bejing and stop along the way as well. And we’d also miss Christmas with our families :-/…
I was also wondering, I would not mind eating instant foods, but were there any vegetarian options available in Russia? Like vegetable noodles/mashed potatoes? Does anyone know?
Great article – and of course videos! Love them all!
Could you tell me how much did you pay for a train ticket?
I read the whole article but I think this information is missing.
Could you share with me the name of the local website? The one where you bought the ticket.
Hugs from Warsaw, Poland!
It is available, but you may not be sure you will be able to find it at small shops on station.
There is another option for you. Here in Russia we have a lot of preserved veggie spreads. For example eggplant and zucchini ones are the national dish. Also there are such things as pickled cabbage, cucumbers and mushrooms the is also a part of national food traditions and which can survive long transportation.
Also we have a lot of bread here in Russia, for example a lot of different Rye bread with cereals which is really good for trips.
Please notice that at small cities some people will not understand what is vegetarian good enough and some dishes that seem to be vegeterian are not. Most of vegitable soups contain meet broth, and instant food may contain some eggs or milk which is not a vegan option.
So it is possible to find vegetarian food but that may need some extra research.
Hi there, I just bought the tickets online via rzd.ru for 58926 roble., 1st class 2 pax. will be travelling on early February Moscow to Irkutsk.
And thanks Nate for the videos and info for the trip.
The foreign passport option at RZD website is not suitable because it is about Russian foreign passport (here in Russia we have separate documents to be used locally and for travelling).
Павел Щёголев / Pavel Shchogolev says
So nice and very detailed guide!
I caught out your playlist while random YouYube surfing and it was very satisfying! It was a very interesting (and detailed!) guide for me, a fresh look on various circumstances of visiting my native country from a foreign tourist POV.
IMHO couple of tips from a russian speaker may be quite helpful for such adequate and good-planning their journey travellers (may be common for visiting countries with foreign to you language).
B4 visiting a foreing to you country try out some of these:
a. If that kind of event is held in a target country embassy in your country, try out to get on an “open-door day” there. You may get some more info about historical part, sightseeings, native mindset, climite, ect.
b. Language school or exchange programms (mostly for students and schoolars, but nvm). If you are a little deeper involved (Di Caprio meme) in visiting a country, try to get couple of classes or contact people from these organisations to gather more info or/and learn some basic words, “banned” words (like the “n”-word for a russian tourist whilе visiting U.S.A. may cause troubles), basic rules of transcription and pronunciation.
с. Little bit of more using techical gadgets you already have. E.G. i rememder when Kara was trying to buy an instant ramen on a station that was standing on a back window. And it was a bit awkwar for her. Simply make a photo on your cell and show it to a seller. Also you may download a translator like Google translator (cause there are a lot of places in Russia without 3G, LTE, Wi-Fi) to make this translator “speak” to ease communicating with natives.
d. From a. and b. or from other source try to find out what is the local media agregator. For e.g. in Russia its https://yandex.ru/ (like russian google). This service can give you more precise info about routes, actual road traffic (if you booked a car), and a lot of useful info. In China (if i’m not mistaken) its http://www.baidu.com/
Hope you will continue your journeys save and healthy and share your experience with people through Internet. Farewell and godspeed!
P.S. Sry for my not so good English language and numerous mistakes, i used to learn it “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” i.e. in school.
P.P.S. Feel free to contact me via email, maybe i can remember something else, that i haven’t mentioned yet.
Wow I really like the way you wrote and explained all those things! I feel like there’s a lot of your personalities there and I enjoy read the whole article without getting bored, at all! I really wish you guys all the best and keep up the great work!
Lots of love from your loyal subscriber here from Bali:)
Did you travelled on train 002 Rossiya ? Will be going for a ride on 002 Rossiya in Feb. Is there power supply in the 1st class cabin? all day or only certain time of the day? Thanks!
Tarry L Yikwa says
hai Kara and nate,
I’ve been watching on your Youtube Videos page,
I would be curious to feel the sensation of exploration of a long journey by train, as you two do.
seems to be challenging for me to do it, but I beg you to help me with more information about it.
what good season to travel, which country to choose, rail conditions and comfort, price and route tour.
you kindly reply email to me to: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
thanks Kara and nate,
Raja Ampat Island, West Papua
Nate didn’t know (or forget to tell) that near the most of railway stations (in the any kind of cities) there is a grocery stores. They kan be located inside the railway station or outside, on the way to the city.
So, if the train stop time is large enough – you can go to the normal grocery with normal prices. Do not forget, that in Russia you can use only russian roubles.
And don’t forget think about time – train wouldn’t wait you 🙂
Also at some stations can be ATM’s of russian banks. It’s securely to use them.
Something to consider for the trip if one has dietary issues, or to just save some money, take a look at freeze-dried meals, readily available in outdoors/camping stores, such as REI, Cabela’s or even Walmart. While the stores have some available shelf stock, using their online stores generally offers a wider variety. All one does is add hot water to the re-sealable pouch, wait a few minutes, and enjoy a substantial, not-bad meal. Beats high-sodium ramen noodles and such at a reasonable price ($4.62 at Walmart). The packets are also very light and easy to pack.
Very good the presentation that you did.
I am planning to travel with transiberian train during the summer of 2018 and I think you saved me a lot of headache.
I have one question. What about the plane trip before and after the transiberian journey? How did you arranged it?
Really enjoyed the videos and the advise on all subjects. Will definitely make planning and enjoying the trip better when we go!
Thanks for writing up such a comprehensive guide Will use it when I eventually make the trip and videos are brilliant many thanks again
Cheryl Semrau says
What was the place you stayed in Ulan-Ude? Also have you been to Canada and Israel? Thank-you!
I read a warning on the State Dept’s website about a lot of anti-American sentiment in Russia, and a few instances of American’s being hassled or outright assaulted for just speaking English. What was your experience with everyday Russians and the authorities like?
Please don’t blindly believe whatever your government says. Both US and Russian media (as a reader of many examples of both) are biased against each other and sprout propaganda, obviously, a government agency does that as well. No offense to Americans, but the difference is that in Russia most young people understand this and use third sources, i. e. trusted internet and overseas (most common – Medusa, they have an English version as well!) sources.
Anyways, no, nobody assaults people for speaking English – I would say the opposite, most enjoy meeting a foreigner and practicing English (the last applies to major cities). We may look grumpy, but we aren’t – in Russia you don’t smile naturally, you only do it if you have a reason. I guess you could say our nation has a serious case of resing bi*** face 🙂 If you ask nicely (or even simply look confused) we will be happy to help! Especially now, on the verge of the FIFA World Cup ‘hospitality’ is a big thing. Also, now all major cities hosting the World Cup have signs in English (as a FIFA requirement), which they didn’t when Kara and Nate visited.
People are only rude if you do something disrespectful. For example, if you didn’t give up your seat on public transportation for a child – little things, I recommend you read one of the many articles on the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of Russia. Also, it’s always best to approach younger people – we more likely speak English 🙂
Btw, one thing Nate didn’t mention – St. Petersburg! It’s an amazing city and one night’s train journey from Moscow. Maybe arrive there, spend a few days and then return to Moscow to start your Trans-Siberian journey? Anyways, good luck and I hope you enjoy Russia!
Ho Nguyen says
Thank you for your reply to Max. I agree with your sentiments completely. I’m from Viet Nam originally, in my mid 70s, and have been to roughly 50 countries, including Russia. I’ve never encountered any hostility in my travels (except 51 years ago in then West Germany – but the contemporary Germans are very different now!) A smile is a universal language and it will erase many differences immediately. An open mind, sensitivity to local customs and embracing differences will also go a long way to being accepted and making one’s travel much more enjoyable.
I truly appreciate Nate’s blog. It saves me plenty of research and ease my anxiety in preparing for this trip with my wife this coming autumn. Your recommendation of including St. Petersburg is excellent and I will include that city in my itinerary.
Hi Kara & Nate,
Great sharing, just what I need for my planning during summer.
May I know what was your itinerary during your 2 nights stay in Irkutsk? Did you get to visit Lake Baikal? Is it convenient to get around the city & Lake Baikal by public transport? Otherwise, what are the transport options?
Your advice is much appreciated.
Goh ftom Malaysia
В Иркутске есть общественный транспорт: автобус, троллейбус и мини-автобусы (маршрутные такси).
Самое дешёвое такси “Максим” (12 рублей 1 км), но автомобиль может приехать и старый, и грязный, и с плохим сервисом – как повезёт. Поэтому лучше пользоваться легальным государственным такси.
Заказать городское такси можно прямо к вагону поезда: называете номер своего поезда, номер вагона и время прибытия – водитель встретит вас у вагона, проводит до такси и отвезёт куда скажете.
До Байкала лучше всего отправляться от автовокзала (улица Октябрьской Революции, 11).
Билет можно забронировать на сайте. https://avtovokzal-on-line.ru или купить в кассах (время работы кассы: 06:45 – 19:15 ежедневно).
Вот некоторые маршруты из Иркутска:
Иркутск – Хужир (Хужир – областной центр острова Ольхон (olkhon), Иркутск – Уть_Кут (станция “Лена”)
Иркутск – Аршан,
Иркутск – Листвянка,
Иркутск – Железногорск.
Через дорогу от автовокзала остановка частных маршрутов до Байкала. Они дороже государственных, грязнее и с плохим сервисом. Не советую.
На острове Ольхон полное бездорожье и экстремальная езда. Цены высокие на всё, но еда экологически чистая и красота природы вокруг неописуемая!
Если будете жить на острове Ольхон, купите одно путешествие по суше с заездом в самые красивые места острова; и одно по озеру на катере с остановками на малых островах. Во время путешествий вас угостят домашним супом из байкальской рыбки (омуль и хариус), (fish soup – УХА) и покажут много интересного.
Dale H says
I always find the Man in Seat 61 worldwide train website useful when planning long-distance rail trips.
Also, for schedules, the German rail website bahn.de is amazing. For example, in your second Trans Siberian Express video, you found the schedule – but bahn.de has them all electronically and break it down on a station-by-station level, telling you when you arrive and leave.
Romana Leko says
Hi Kara and Nate,
Thanks a lot for the tons of information you gave us in your videos and in this guide! Well done! You are our benefactors <3.
Thanks also for encouraging me to buy tickets directly from the official railway website.
I saw all your videos, so I know that you mostly travelled in the first class and only a fraction of the journey in the third class and I'd like to know how much it had cost you altogether (only the tickets).
Romana from Croatia
That was a great insight from foreigners to visit to my home country. Just one tip from a local resident about the weather. I definitely wouldn’t recommend to postpone your journey further in Autumn than September, because it is Siberia, and temperature drops down really quickly. In October it might be quite chilling and even sleeting! To the Nate’s comments about possible winter trip – true, that’s beautiful, a lot of snow (huge snowdrifts!!!) But the weather is normally way too cold. Minus 25-30 C is a norm! Early spring though might be a better option. In 2nd half of March it is still winter in Siberia with snow but not that cold. Hope that was helpful.
Evelyn Thompson says
Excellence Shows..Your Talent For Sharing..Thank You
You have an interesting blog and a YouTube channel. However, while watching your videos, I was surprised with the activities you chose to do while in Russia. For example, as a native of Irkutsk (though living in North America for almost 20 years now) I was very surprised that you have not really seen either Irkutsk or Baikal! I do realize that with 100 countries on your to-do-list you cannot stay a week at every destination, but even during those 2 days that you devoted to Irkutsk and Baikal you could have done something else with your resources. I know you mentioned that you were not “big on Russian history” before you went to Russia, so there is no surprise that you missed all the Decembrists’ heritage in the city (which makes the city to a large extent), the traditional Russian architecture right downtown, and even the aisle of Korean salads at the market while you were already there (and no, it’s not strange to have Korean food on a restaurant menu in Irkutsk). And in Moscow – a simple two-hour boat tour could have been the highlight of your visit (and gave you lots of gorgeous footage of the Kremlin and its churches). Or just a stroll along the Moscow River.
So, to conclude this monologue, I would advise you guy (and your readers) to plan activities using sources other than TripAdvisor (which is good for hotel reviews but not for “top activities”). For the most part these activities are rated by other fairly clueless tourists, so in a sense you end up making the same mistakes as them. There are lots of travel forums, including those in Russian, which can be translated using Google, and provided you with better information coming from the locals. (Regarding Google – what’s up with all that “I don’t speak Russian” stuff, when you have the Google Translate on your phones which can even translate signs and menus, and assist in conversations! :)) )
One final (I promise) note of advice: you could have bought a sim card upon your arrival at the airport. Unlimited calling and 10 gigs of data would have cost you somewhere between 300 and 500 rubles (prices of 2016-2017). It’s true that while you’re in Moscow, you have wi-fi everywhere but once you’re on the road it’s really helpful to be connected.
Cheers and lots of fun travels to come!
Michelle Dorothy says
I’m setting off shortly on the train (Moscow to Beijing) and this was a terrific series of entertaining videos to help me know what to expect. Thank you!
It’s very interesting guide. I really like your videos, especially about my hometown Ulan- Ude. Also you could go to see Lake Baikal from Ulan- Ude, it takes 2 hours, there is small town Goryachinsk near Lake. And in Buryatia so many interesting places to see. I hope you enjoyed everything in Russia.
My best wishes to you.
Thank you, Kara and Nate, for an amazing guide. I’d love to go by train through Russia, and since I’m from Sweden it’s easy to just take the boat from Stockholm to Helsinki and then continue to Moscow by train to catch the Trans-Siberian. I watched all of your vlogs and I thought they were super helpful. I have also seen when you visited Stockholm, my hometown. I went on an Interrail trip in 2017 (what’s called Eurail in the US) through Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France and Spain (the last three by high speed trains). I really recommend you to do that, if you have the opportunity. You’re always inspiring me in my language studies, to work hard so that I’ll get the chance to travel more in the future.
Hälsningar från (‘Greetings from’ in Swedish)
I’m planning to travel across the Russian Wonderland however 30 days Visa may not be enough for me to spend more time in cities.
Regards from Australia.
Maple Dude says
This is a great guide guys, super detailed. Thank you for your work!
Eric Wilson says
Nice Guide for train journey.
This webpage is a great tool for how to plan the trip. I’m planning to take the trip this fall or at the latest the next spring . Thank you for your help!
Hi! 🙂 I have an unusual question about the Transsiberian. When provodnitsya collects your tickets, does she give them back to you before you get off? I’m planning to go from Vladivostok to my home town in Eastern Poland making quite many stops on the way and as a souvenir I’d love to have all the tickets put in a frame together.
Hi K & N good job you gave me very detailed information
i love you guys
>>Step 3: Registering your visa
This is not accurate, you cannot register your visa. You have to be registered at the place you stay if you stay there more than 7 days. Even if you don’t need a visa
ROLDAN Rosas says
Thank you for a full accurate blogging it help us a . We are planning the Trans Mongolian in 2021.
Great guide. There is another direct train from Moscow to Beijing: ‘The Trans Manchurian’ . It avoids Mongolia, and therefore one less visa.
Because you cannot buy through tickets to Beijing (either Trans Mongolian or Trans Manchurian) on the RZD website, you can book to the nearest Russian station to the Chinese border, then get a local bus or taxi across the border and then get a Chinese train from there to Beijing. It takes a bit of figuring out but can be done. Best not to get a train just for a short trip across the border because there is a change of gauge which means the bogies have to be changed. That takes a long time in comparison to the short distance. But it may be possible to get a train from the Russian side to a station well inside China or even all the way to Beijing. The only thing is that you will have to buy the ticket at the station, so you need to be flexible in case your chosen train is full.
Ho Nguyen says
Thank you Nate for taking the time to share your experience and providing the much needed information on all aspects of the trip. I’m planning to do the Trans Mongolian this autumn (2020) and your information is invaluable. I just hope that things have not changed much since your post.
May the wind be on your back, the road be smooth and the sun shi ning on yours and Kara’s faces.