A journey on the legendary Trans-Siberian railway can start in Moscow, or even Berlin! Check out the many airlines flying nonstop from Schönefeld and Tegel to the Russian capital. There are connections to three Moscow airports: S7 airlines fly from TXL to the Domodedovo airport, UTair Aviation and Pobeda both fly from TXL to Vnukovo, and Aeroflot connects SXF with the Sheremetyevo airport. Arriving in Moscow, travellers are spoiled for choice. While the classic route of 9,288 kilometres takes you to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast, you can also take the Trans-Mongolian route all the way to China. Although the latter is “just” 7,622 kilometres long, it will take you behind Lake Baikal and through Mongolia and China up until the final stop, Beijing, which is just one direct flight away from Berlin with Hainan Airlines.
Taking the “train of trains” from Moscow to Beijing
Since there are so many opportunities to travel with the Transsib, the Trans-Siberian Railway’s nickname, travellers must consider a few questions beforehand. Would you prefer to travel alone or in a group? With the regular train or with the luxurious and nostalgic “Tsar’s Gold”? And do you want to pass straight through or have some stopovers?
A good mixture of nights spent in the train and stopovers in hotels guarantees a relaxing trip. However, an essential part of the “Transsiberian travel experience” is lodging with other travellers in the tight spaces of the trains’ sleeping cars. Those who would like to get to know the country and its people better should travel in the regular train in third class, at least for part of the journey. These consist of entire wagons with bunk beds, like in a dormitory. Nowhere else can you meet locals so easily. Extra players for a round of the popular Russian card game “Durak”, a common pastime during the journey are always in demand. Small sections with bunk beds for up to four travellers can be booked for the second class cars. The more luxurious sections of first class offer rooms for two or four people. For those seeking that special luxurious experience as in the days of the tsars, the “Tsar’s Gold” nostalgia train is recommended.
As a basic rule: the earlier you start planning, the more relaxed your journey will be once you’re there.
Before the train starts its Eurasian cross-continental journey from Yaroslav station, travellers should plan to stay in the Russian capital for a day or two. The Red Square with the Kremlin and Moscow’s landmark, Saint Basil’s cathedral, are must-sees for visitors. The Moscow metro is also well-known for its magnificent stations, which are a sight worth seeing.
Traveling in a time capsule
Chugchugchug… The quiet rattling of the train is a constant companion on this journey. With landscapes rolling by, living in a confined space, and the rhythm of the train – you will soon forget all sense of place and time. After a few days travelling on the Transsiberian Railway, it’s like you’re in your own time capsule. The first part of the journey with the Transsib takes you through stretches of Russia, past birch forests that never seem to end. Along the way, there’s food in the dining car, but food and snacks are also available in the cabins. A samovar in the carriage offers hot water around the clock, so if you’d like you can brew your own instant coffee, tea, or cook some instant soup.
After over 1,800 kilometres and around 24 hours of train travel, you will reach Yekaterinburg, the fourth largest city in Russia. It’s worth seeing the Church of All Saints (where the last Czar of Russia, Nikolai II, was murdered alongside his family). The next major stop, the city of Novosibirsk, offers one of its most beautiful sights on arrival. The main train station is one of the most magnificent on the entire route and looks like an east bound green train.
Siberia’s most beautiful city
On we go with the Transsib through broad steppe landscapes to Irkutsk, the most beautiful city in Siberia. Irkutsk’s rich history can also be seen in its cityscape – many historical buildings like the “White House”, the old market hall and the opera house are particularly worth seeing. However, one of the most extraordinary sights is the pretty old wooden houses from the 19th century, shaping the entire cityscape. From Irkutsk you should definitely plan a trip to Lake Baikal, both the deepest and oldest freshwater lake on the planet, and just 70 km away. You can get from Irkutsk to Listvyanka, the “Gateway to Lake Baikal”, on the old Transsib route with the “Baikal Express”. You can also stop at Lake Baikal for a few days for a relaxing stay. But even in summer, only the most hardened swimmers will take a dip – the water is rarely warmer than 10 degrees.
From nomad life to urban hustle and bustle
Shortly after Irkutsk, the Trans-Siberian railway route breaks of in the south Siberian town Ulan-Ude, from here the trip goes on to the Trans-Mongolian line. The first stop in Mongolia is the capital city, Ulaanbaatar. Here, main sights include the central Sukhbataar Square, the house of parliament and town hall. Slightly outside of the centre is the Gandan Monastery, one of the most important holy places in all of Mongolia. For those who’d like to get to know the life of Mongolian nomads, you should take an excursion from Ulaanbaatar to the Mongolian steppe. Spending a night in a yurt, the traditional housing of Mongolian nomads is quite a special experience which puts you in touch with nature. If you like, you can disembark from the train in Ulaanbaatar and fly directly back to Berlin with MIAT Mongolian Airlines. Continuing on the Transsib journey after Ulaanbaatar, you will go through the Gobi Desert all the way to the final stop, Beijing. The Chinese metropolis, with 21 million inhabitants, offers a royal end to the journey, with a few special highlights like the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, or the Temple of Heaven. Once you’re back in Berlin, the rattling noise of the train – chugchugchug – will probably stay in your head for a while.
By the way, a few Transsib experts recommend the journey in the other direction, starting in Beijing and ending in Moscow. Travelling through the various time zones, you’ll get an hour back almost every day.