Trans-Siberian Route

The Trans-Siberian Route The Trans-Siberian line originates - as most things in Russia do - at Moscow, centre of the known Russian Universe, and heads east through the 'Golden Ring' town of Vladimir. It passes through the birthplace of writer Maxim Gorky, now renamed Nizhny Novgorod, at which point the line branches, going via either the manufacturing hub of Perm or the more colourful capital of the Tatar Republic, Kazan.

The branches meet again at the vibrant and progressive Ural city of Yekaterinburg, and the route passes within a couple of hundred miles of Kazakhstan before officially crossing into Siberia and stopping at the administrative giants of Omsk, Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk.

At approximately halfway, the mainline reaches Irkutsk and meets the stunning Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world, curving around its beautiful southern shore and peeling away into the Buryat region to its capital Ulan Ude.

Hugging the Chinese border, the final section of line passes through the sparse and mountainous region of Eastern Siberia before rejoining civilisation again at Kharbarovsk and turning south on the home stretch to arrive at Vladivostok, a buzzing port town overlooking the immense Pacific... nearly ten thousand kilometres from Moscow, or eight days of non-stop train travel!

The Trans-Siberian is just one of a number of lines that run through the huge landmass of Eurasia. Another major line is the Trans-Mongolian, which follows the route described above up until Ulan Ude, at which point it breaks southward into Mongolia, passing through the Mongolian capital of Ulanbaatar before heading into China, ending up at the Chinese centre of the Universe, Beijing. A third (and less well-known) line, called the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM), breaks from the Trans-Siberian route a few hundred miles East of Krasnoyarsk, brushing the northern tip of Lake Baikal before plunging into the Wild Wild East of Siberia, ending up at remote Sakhalin Island, just North of Hokkaido, Japan. Note that at present this website only covers the mainline Trans-Siberian Railway, but the other routes are mentioned here for completeness.


So... eight days of train travel! Travellers can tackle the Trans-Siberian Railway in a number of different ways. Three of these are detailed below.

The Full Monty

Also known as: eight days on a train from Moscow to Vladivostok - non-stop! It sounds insane, but a number of travellers tackle the Trans-Siberian in this manner. Armed with a healthy stash of supplies and a stack of books, 'Full Monty' travellers argue a non-stop journey is an excellent way to strike up lasting friendships with fellow Russian passengers who may also be spending several days on the train. It's an easy, hassle-free way to approach Russia, and it also gets you across the country in the minimum possible amount of time by train, if time is tight - but allows you to relax completely along the way as you watch the trees go by at forty miles an hour. The downside? You don't get to see any of the fascinating country sandwiched between Moscow and Vladivostok, apart from a few brief stops at station platforms. And eight days in bed sounds quite nice on paper, but don't attempt this if you think it might drive you crazy. And anyone who has ever been to a music festival will know that four or five days is long enough without a shower, but eight..?

The Half Nelson

Half Nelson travellers sensibly split a journey of eight days into two four-day stints, most breaking their journey at the drop-dead gorgeous Lake Baikal for some wood-hutted relaxation beside the lake. This makes the trip far more manageable, and you actually get to see a bit of the country you're passing through as well. The Half Nelson is probably the most popular itinerary option for Trans-Siberian travellers, and for good reason. However, you're still bypassing a number of fascinating destinations by settling for this itinerary.

Ho-Ho: Hop-On, Hop-Off

Ho-Ho travellers - of which I was one - try their best to fit in as many Russian locations as possible into their 30 days of Russian visa time. The Ho-Ho itinerary offers the best chance to see plenty of Russia. The idea is to use individual overnight trains to hop between destinations, allowing you to explore a city by day and then travel to your next destination by night. This allows you to use the shower facilities at stations, and gives you the option to take a break from the train and stay at a local hotel if you want to spend longer in a place or just fancy a bed that doesn't violently lurch to a stop in the middle of the night. Ho-Ho travel, however, does take some forethought and planning. Tickets need to be bought individually for each leg and come at a premium; hopping on and off between Moscow and Vladivostok may cost you as much as 50% more than just riding a single train all the way.

Choosing your Itinerary

There's no right or wrong way to travel the Trans-Siberian; it's purely down to personal preference. But before you start the visa application process it's important to have a rough idea of an itinerary, as you need to state it when applying. The first decision you'll need to make is: which direction to travel in? The above itineraries assume you will be travelling from West to East. This makes sense if you are starting out from Europe and using the Trans-Siberian as a means to getting to Asia and beyond. But if your circumstances allow, how about taking the journey in reverse? You'll meet far fewer travellers on westbound trains.

Once you've decided on the direction, you need to identify which cities on your route you intend to stay more than three days in. These are likely to be St. Petersburg, Moscow, possibly Irkutsk, and Vladivostok, but may vary. It's advisable to put down these long-stay cities as the itinerary for your visa application form. Why the "more than three days" limit? Well, the current Russian visa regulations state that any tourist staying longer than three days in a place in Russia must get their visa registered with the local immigration office. Failure to do so can lead to you being fined (and Russian police are all too eager to stop you and check your papers for any discrepancies and collect their bribe fine). So whilst the itinerary on your application form doesn't strictly have to match the itinerary you actually take when you arrive, the more they resemble each other, the better.

Once you've got to that stage, you're ready to enter the wonderful world of Russian bureaucracy and start the Russian visa application process.

  © Freelance web designer