Trans-Siberian: a hostel guide to the ultimate train journey

Everything you need to know about booking a trip on the Trans-Siberian railway

“Have you done the Trans-Siberian?" It's a question that's thrown up in hostel bars across the world. It’s a trip nearly everyone wants to do, perhaps because it’s the longest you can make on a single journey: the longest of the three trans-Siberian routes, between Moscow and Vladivostok, cover 6,152 miles and takes seven days.

Travelling across a land means no jet-lag or airport queues, and it’s also a far more relaxing way to travel. You can visualise your journey in a geographical context when you go by train. You’re also guaranteed to meet plenty of locals if you take the trip.

The Trans-Siberian is a local train for local people, and travellers often find themselves necking vodka with Russian soldiers or playing board games with Silk Road traders from Mongolia.

There are three routes:

Trans-Siberian map

1) Moscow to Vladivostok (6,152 miles) - it takes seven nights and runs every other day.

2) Moscow to Beijing via Harbin, Manchuria (5,623 miles). The route is served by one train a week taking six nights, using Russian first- and second-class coaches.

3) Moscow to Beijing via Mongolia (4,735 miles) takes six nights. On leaving Siberia, the Chinese train crosses Mongolia via the Gobi Desert to enter China.

What’s it like on board?

On board

Image by Mark W (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Or second-class coaches, each sleeping-carriage has at least two standard toilets and a bathroom with sinks. The Trans-Mongolian Moscow–Beijing is the only public train with showers and has a basic washing facility in the small shared bathroom area.

Visiting places along the way

You can’t buy a hop on/off ticket on the Trans-Siberian, but you can purchase a series of singles tickets if you wish to stay in Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and Irkutsk before eventually arriving in Beijing, Shanghai or Vladivostok.

Most available hostels in these places are located close to their respective railway stations and will be significantly cheaper than hotels.

How much will it cost?

The lowest price for a Moscow-Beijing 2nd class train ticket starts at around €500 (including food).

Booking your trip

Getting a Russian tourist visa (valid for 30 days) can be tricky in the current climate, but respected travel agents and booking companies will be able to assist you with this process.

*Header image by Boccaccio1 (Flickr/Creative Commons)