Once we started to think about traveling to Russia we knew – we will be traveling by train there. There were no questions about it. After hearing and reading so much about Trans Siberian Railway, a network of railways going all the way across Russia for almost 10 000 kilometers, we just had to do it. To go and travel at least some part of it.
Only thing we had to decide was our itinerary. Being largest country in the world by its territory Russia is really big country. Traveling from Moscow, in the West, to Vladivostok, in far East, takes about 7 days of continuous journey. And it doesn’t really include stops along the way. Yes, train does stop at train stations every few hours or so, but these are short stops, mostly 2-5 minutes long in smaller towns and cities and 30 – 45 minutes long in bigger cities. But nothing long enough to see something more than just a train station.
So it means that when traveling by train in Russia you need one week just to cross the country in one direction. And then you still need to get back in some way. And most probably you will want to do some sightseeing along the way as well. So don’t forget to count it all in!
Buying train tickets in Russia
Like in India (read about traveling by train in India), train in Russia is the most popular form of transportation for long distance journeys within a country. And it’s not because of the price. Traveling by bus in Russia you can do it even cheaper. Though, traveling by train in Russia isn’t too expensive either. What plays the biggest role here is the comfort you get when traveling by train. There is more space on the train, both for you and your luggage. You have a bed where to lay down and sleep. There is a toilet. Boiled water is available for free. And you can buy food on train, too.
Knowing it you will not be surprised that tickets sell out fast. Especially in summer, when a lot of people in Russia are having vacation. So be smart – buy train tickets for your Russian adventure in advance. For journeys withing Russia it is possible to buy train tickets up to 45 days in advance.
Buy train tickets online from the website of Russian Railways.
- To buy a ticket from the website of Russian Railways you need to register on it. It’s easy. All you need to do is enter your name, surname, username, date of birth, email, password, choose a secret question and write an answer. After that you are all set and ready to buy a ticket for yourself and others.
- When buying a ticket, you will need to enter following information about all the passengers – name, surname, passport number, country of residence and date of birth.
- Electronic registration is necessary to obtain an e-ticket (boarding pass). It’s something like online check in for flight. On some routes electronic registration isn’t available. In this situation you will need to go to train station to get a ticket.
- Don’t forget to bring a passport with you in order to travel by train in Russia. Otherwise you will not be allowed to board a train.
When buying a ticket for train journey you will have an option to choose if you want a bedding set. Set includes two sheets, pillow case and towel. Everything’s clean and packed in a plastic packaging. On the train there are mattresses, pillows and blankets, at least one for every passenger.
If you forget to select it when buying a ticket, there is an option to buy the same set on the train. In summer of 2016 it cost us 133 Rubles each (about 2 EUR/ 2,2 USD).
Traveling by train in Russia – our experience in summer of 2016
Our route was as following: Moscow – Kungur – Omsk – Novosibirsk – Irkutsk – Krasnoyarsk – Novosibirsk. In total on trains we spent about 90 hours. Counting in time spent in buses and minibuses (marshrutka) we were on the road for almost 5 days out of 29. Two times we were traveling for about 30 hours straight, spending on the train 2 nights and 1 full day. Rest of the journeys were shorter.
We chose cheapest sleeper class, called plackarta (плацкарта). You have your own bed, but there are no curtains or walls. We felt perfectly fine, nevertheless. Already next class provides you with much more privacy, as there are only 4 of you in one “room” not 50. But at the same time if you have some problems with any of your fellow passengers it could be not too nice. And ticket in this case also costs about 2x or 3x more.
Right from the very first trip, 30 hour journey from Moscow to Kungur, we realized how wrong were our assumptions about how traveling by train in Russia looks like.
We were thinking that everyone will be drinking vodka and that there will be quite a lot of drunk people. And we were wrong. In all our 6 long distance train journeys in Russia we saw only 1 drunk man. We were thinking that it will be loud on the train and that it will not be possible to have a proper sleep. And we were wrong. People there respect each other and as a result all our journeys were pleasant experience. Most of people we saw were sleeping like us, until 8 – 9 AM, so there were no problems with it either.
And the best part is that it wasn’t that tiring as we thought it will be. At the end 12 hour train journey for us seemed like just a short ride.
We had our own food with us all the time. Like 95% of others. Our usual breakfast was instant oat porridge. Free hot water, as I mentioned earlier, is available on all long distance trains in Russia. There is one water boiler in every train carriage, near train attendants room. Our lunch and dinner consisted of instant noodles, instant mashed potatoes, vegetables and cookies.
When train stops for 30 – 45 minutes you have enough time to go to the train station and buy some food. Inside the train station building it usually costs less than outside. During the journey it is possible to buy some snacks and Russian pies (Russian pirogi). There is also a dining car, where you can have a proper meal. Only, as I have read but never checked out myself, it’s quite pricey and not too good quality when compared to what you can get in normal cafe or restaurant on the street. But it’s a train not restaurant after all.
There are 2 toilets on every train carriage. But there are no showers. What we weren’t ready for is that not always toilets are open. Train attendant closes toilets when the train is approaching some of the biggest cities. Then usually it’s closed for some 30 or 45 minutes before arrival to train station and 30 – 45 minutes after leaving that station. That’s because all the sh** from toilet goes out onto the tracks.
As we saw, a lot of people had a change of clothes with them. Something comfy.
Yes – we loved traveling by train in Russia. And some day we will do it again for sure.
If you have any questions about traveling in Russia (by train or not), contact us!
Author: Kaspars Misins
Kaspars is a long term traveler and travel blogger from Latvia. He loves going on long walks, reading non fiction books and spending time outdoors. Together with his girlfriend Una they are traveling – volunteering – working abroad since 2013. On WeAreFromLatvia.com they share their experience and things learned along the way.