This was one of my childhood dreams a finally realized :-)! But if you can do it without stopping on the way (from Moscow to Vladivostok, 6 full days in the train) I chose to stop in several cities and to finish the Trans-Siberian way in Ulan-Ude to then take the Trans-Mongol train to go to Mongolia. Here is the way I did.
Moscow (Russia) - Nijni Novgorod (Russia) 24th of May 2018 Daily number of km by train: 459km Travel time: 5h00 Nijni Novgorod (Russia) - Kazan (Russia) 25th of May 2018 Daily number of km by train: 512km Travel time: 8h40 Kazan (Russia) - Yekaterinburg (Russia) 28th of May 2018 Daily number of km by train: 875km Travel time: 14h14 Yekaterinburg (Russia) - Novosibirsk (Russia) 1st of June 2018 Daily number of km by train: 1525km Travel time: 21h30 Novosibirsk (Russia) - Irkutsk (Russia) 2nd of June 2018 Daily number of km by train: 1892km Travel time: 32h38 Irkutsk (Russia) - Ulan-Ude (Russia) 9th of June 2018 Daily number of km by train: 230km Travel time: 8h27 Total travel time: 90h30 Total number of km by train on the trip: 9,708km Total number of km on the trip: 10,108km
The Trans-Siberian train
The “real” Trans-Siberian train is the direct train going from Moscow to Vladivostok. It takes you about 6 full days to cross the country. However there are lots of other Russian night trains doing smallest distances on the same road. That means you can take the Trans-Siberian railway route without being in the “real” Trans-Siberian train. Moreover coaches are exactly the same and prices too. So you can really organize your trip, as you want to, still being on the real Trans-Siberian road. To learn more on how to organize yourself your trip, just visit the page “how to buy tickets for the Trans-Siberian without tour operators?”.
I organized my journey with 6 stops in the cities of Nijny-Novgorod, Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude. It took me around 15 days to do this trip, including a 4 days stop on the lake Baikal. Generally I took the train for only one night, which I enjoy because after a one-night train I was happy to go out of the train to sleep in a real bed and wash myself :-).
Life in the Trans-Siberian train (and all other night trains in Russia)
Night trains in Russia are basically all the same. Some are more recent and a little bit more comfortable (air conditioning and chemical toilets), but at least will find:
- Two toilets per coach which are cleanup regularly by the staff (some are older than others),
- Free hot water (around 80°C) you can use for tea, coffee or food (the most famous dish in Russian trains is the instantaneous Chinese noodles),
- Clean sheets for your bed and a towel (it is including in the price of the ticket but you can ask not to pay for it, but I really recommend you to take them, they are not expensive, really clean (in a plastic bag) and all the Russians use them.
In the 3rd class (called Platskartny) there is no compartment, which I liked, because when you travel alone and you are in a “bad compartment” you cannot escape. But in 3rd class you can walk, see other neighbors, talk and play with Russians and kids…
If you take the lower bed, you will have to share it during the day with people that sleep in upper beds and want to seat. That is why I chose to always sleep in upper bed (you can rest went you want during the day, no one will sleep in your bed) but it is a little bit complicated to go there :-). Last but not least, they are cheaper.
When you enter the train, the staff will give you your sheets and you can make your bed. Then you are ready for the night!
Cities on the Trans-Siberian road
The first city I stopped was Nijni-Novgorod. Closed to foreigners until 1991 because it was an industrial city that was producing lot of weapons, the city still looks like to an old soviet-union industrial city. If you like old buildings from the 19th century, when you will go out of the train station, you will be a little bit shocked. But if you are interested in Soviet-style buildings, it is probably one of the best cities to go.
However, the city center was not destroyed by the soviet-union and there you can find a really beautiful Kremlin with an incredible view on the Volga River. For me it was probably the best part of Nijni-Novogorod. You can stay one full day in the city to also walk in the city center where you can find old houses and monuments.
Kazan is the capital of Tatarstan, on of the states of the Russian Federation. Native people from Tatastan, called Tatars, are today half of the Tatarstan population. The other part is mainly Russian people. If Russians are usually orthodoxies, Tatars are usually Muslims, so you can find almost as many churches in Kazan as mosques, which make the city really unique in Russia. Kazan is also known for being the place where Lenin studied at the university.
The main mosque (Qolşärif Mosque) was built in 2005 inside the old Kremlin, next to the main church.
Probably due to its multicultural roots, there are also a lot of artist in Kazan, giving the city an underground culture that looks like to the Berlin one. I went to a concert and to a theater piece (in Tatar :-), but it was still cool :-)).
A one-day stop is a good option, but I really recommend a 2-days or more stop.
Yekaterinburg is a modern city, place of birth of Boris Yeltsin, which was the first president of the Russian federation. Yekaterinburg is also sadly famous for being the place where the Romanov family was assassinated in 1918. After the end of the soviet-union, a church (The Church on Blood in Honor of All Saints Resplendent in the Russian Land) was built on the place where they were killed. You can visit this church. Under the church a small free museum (all in Russian but with lot of pictures) traces the family history.
There are not a lot of famous monuments in Yekaterinburg, but you can visit the QWERTY keyboard monument made by Anatoly Viatkine in 2005.
You can also enjoy a night in the Ural Theater and Ballet with its really good opera and ballet troupe. Paquita was played the day I was there with a really good and surprising mise-en-scène. The first act was very classic, the second act like in a black and white movie and the third act in a current life with TV :-). It was my first time seeing such a mise-en-scène and I really enjoyed it.
As Nijni-Novogorod, Novosibirsk is mainly a modern soviet-union city. If you are looking for old monuments it is probably not the best place to stop. However the architecture of the Opera and Ballet Theater, which is the biggest one in Russia, is really interesting. Really different from the classical theater, is looks like to a roman amphitheater. The opera and ballet troupe is also a really good one and I could enjoy Swan Lake in its original version.
Irkutsk is usually a stop on the Trans-Siberian road to go to the lake Baikal. If you can quickly escape the city to go to the lake, I however recommend you a small walk in the city center. Indeed Irkutsk use to be the place where Russian intellectual people were deported during the soviet-union. As they wanted to live like in Saint Petersburg or Moscow they built a lot of monuments that make the city a little Saint Petersburg. It is also the Russian city where most of the old wooden houses are still not destroyed, which give it another atmosphere I really enjoyed.
From there you can take a train to go to Listvyanka, the nearest city on the lake (from there you can hike around the lake) or take a bus to go to the Olkhon Island which I did. You can read the post “The Baikal Lake and the Olkhon Island (Russia)” to learn more about the lake and the Olkhon Island.
My last stop on the Trans-Siberian railway road was Ulan-Ude. Indeed I wanted to enter Mongolia and chose to change to the Trans-Mongol railway road to take the train from Ulan-Ude (Russia) to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia). If there is not a lot to do in Ulan-Ude (except if you want to see the biggest Lenin’s head :-)), the railway road between Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude is really amazing. Indeed during 5 or 6 hours you ride along the coast of Baikal lake with a beautiful view on it.
Next: the Trans-Mongol railway road. Read post.