You’re thinking of booking tickets for the Trans-Siberian railway. But you’re not sure how to make the most of your journey? Jessica from How Dare She shares some tips as to how you can ensure an amazing Trans-Siberian experience.
So, you’re doing it. You’re taking the time to do the iconic Trans-Siberian railway. You’ve decided. Now how do you make the most of it?
Summer is a great time to go
To be clear, I mean June and July. When I was prepping, all I could find about the best time of year to go was that it should be summer. But as the desert dweller that I am, I wanted to be sure that I was on the same page as everyone else as to the definition of summer. May through August is ideal, but it was getting cold and rainy already in July, so if you’re averse to cold weather like me, June is your month.
Get ready to be social
As a solo traveller, my time spent in transit is usually the least social I ever am. Not on the Trans-Siberian. That’s the beauty of this journey. You will share space with other travellers and locals, and it is a very social environment. Go into it with that attitude and you will make a lot of friends. Go into it with vodka, cookies or candies to share and you will make a lot of friends. Most passengers seemed to have some type of shareable treat with them.
But if you don’t speak Russian, make sure you are prepared by having a translation app (Google Translate has an offline package for Russian) or a phrasebook so you feel like you can communicate.
Make enough stops and spend enough time in each city
I was floored at how many people were starting in Mongolia, stopping in Irkutsk and then booking it straight to Moscow. I get it, you probably have limited time. But you are already going through multiple cities – you might as well stop in a few, if even for a few days. All the stations that I stopped in had a luggage check, so if you want to cut things tight, you can take the train overnight, check your bags at the station, go explore a city and get back on the train that evening
Beijing: I started from China and had already spent over a week in Beijing; conveniently some of the most well-known sites to visit in China are in easy reach of Beijing (Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City), so if you are only going to visit one city in China, you get a lot of bang for your buck.
Ulan Bator: Mongolia is absolutely stunning, but you really need to give yourself enough time to get out in the desert. Personally, I spent 8 days exploring, and could easily have spent months. If you can’t give it a minimum of 3-4 days, you might want to save it for next time.
Crossing the border in Mongolia
Irkutsk: Give yourself enough time to enjoy Lake Baikal. It is enormous (20% of the entire world’s freshwater supply), and deserves more than a day trip (slaps self on wrist). And don’t skip Irkutsk itself; you can give yourself a self-guided walking tour by following the green line painted on the ground, which will get you to all the main sites.
Novosibirsk: Known for its opera house and zoo, you can cover a lot of ground in the city in a day if you are up for it. Good news is you can rest your feet on the train afterwards.
Opera House, Novosibirsk
Omsk, Perm and Yekaterinburg: These three cities are in the middle of the country and are each unique and have their own charm. I spent about 1.5 days in each, but if I did it again, I would use all that time in one so that I could use it as a base to explore outside the city too.
Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God, Omsk
Moscow: The main event for almost everyone taking the Trans-Siberian. Give yourself enough time to properly marvel at St. Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square and the surrounding area. The city is huge, so you’ll want to have a plan of attack ahead of time for everything you want to see, or you will get distracted by its beauty and not get everywhere.
Red Square, Moscow
Saint Petersburg: I thought Saint Petersburg was just a sound logistical decision for me, but it was much more. The city can be explored by foot or by boat and is, like Moscow, a lot to take in. I highly recommend a local folk show - I was worried it was going to be a cheesy tourist thing, but I had a great time. Russians have a great appreciation for the arts, so it is more than worth it when you can make time to see shows, musicians and operas.
Nevskiy River, St. Petersburg
Don’t stress over the itinerary
Russia and the Trans-Siberian are massive undertakings. So most importantly, don’t feel like you need to do it all in one go if you don’t have the time to. Citizens of many countries are even eligible for multi-entry three year visas, so you can make it an annual affair!
Thank you, Jessica for your insights into making the most of the Trans-Siberian.
Jessica has travelled to 95 countries so far, and is visiting more all the time. She kindly agreed to answer our questions about her incredible adventures; read the interview with Jessica and find out what was her favourite travel experience.
Make sure to follow her inspiring adventures on her travel blog How Dare She, and her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram jess_ismore
Home: Trans-Siberian guides