Real Russia Blog

Win a copy of Matthew Woodward’s new book, ‘The Railway to Heaven’
12
October
2019

Win a copy of Matthew Woodward’s new book, ‘The Railway to Heaven’

Share your Trans-Siberian stories with us for a chance to win a free copy of expert travel writer, Matthew Woodward’s book, ‘The Railway to Heaven’

Have you been on the Trans-Siberian and have an interesting story to tell? If so, we want to hear from you!

From now until the end of November we will be running a competition for past travellers of the Trans-Siberian for a chance to win a copy of travel expert, Matthew Woodward’s new book ‘The Railway to Heaven’.

To enter the competition, we will need:

  • 2 photos taken from your Trans-Siberian journey with one of these featuring you in it. (If you have a video from your journey or would like to send a video entry instead, we are happy to accept this).
  • A minimum of 300 words describing your Trans-Siberian experience (you are more than welcome to write more!).
  • One word or sentence that sums up your experience.

Where to submit your entry

All entries should be sent by email to marketing@realrussia.co.uk by 30th November 2019, any stories we receive after this date will not be entered. Once we have received your entry, we will send an email response confirming that we have received this.

Please note: We may feature some of the stories sent to us in blog posts leading up to the winner being announced, therefore by sending your story and photos to us you will be accepting that this information can be used on our website and social channels.

We cannot guarantee that all stories sent to us will be featured.

Announcing the winner

The winner of the competition will be announced a week or so after the deadline, no later than the 13th December.

If you have any questions about the competition, please feel free to contact us directly at marketing@realrussia.co.uk.

Best of luck!

Real Russia Blog

An interview with seasoned Trans-Siberian travel writer Matthew Woodward
10
October
2019

An interview with seasoned Trans-Siberian travel writer Matthew Woodward

Learn more about Trans-Siberian rail travel through our quick Q&A session with Matthew Woodward where he will introduce his new book ‘The Railway to Heaven’.

For many rail enthusiasts, the Trans-Siberian is considered the pinnacle of train travel. Hailed as the longest railway line in the world connecting Moscow with Vladivostok in the far east, this railway line has since expanded to connect Mongolia (Trans-Mongolian) and China (Trans-Manchurian) and continues to expand at pace.

We always have plenty to talk about when it comes to the Trans-Siberian, however, nothing quite beats the first-hand experience from a fellow traveller. Speaking about his adventures to Tibet via the Trans-Manchurian Railway, seasoned Trans-Siberian travel expert and long-standing friend of Real Russia, Matthew Woodward sits down with our team for a quick Q&A session to discuss all things trains, along with the release of his upcoming book ‘The Railway to Heaven’.

Interview:

What’s your earliest memory of ‘trains’?

I wasn’t ever a trainspotter, but I did travel quite a bit by train when I was a small boy. I was a latch key kid and used to spend most of my pocket money travelling to places that seemed far away and exotic like Kentish Town and Bedford Midland. I was given the Hornby mixed freight OO gauge railway set for my tenth birthday and got quite excited whenever visiting the nearest model shop in Mill Hill – by train of course.

Do you have a favourite rail journey?

It’s hard to beat a modern Russian train in the middle of the Siberian winter, but I have been lucky enough to travel on so many amazing journeys. I loved travelling on the International Express that used to connect Bangkok and Butterworth, and also some of the Amtrak routes, the Southwest Chief and the Coast Starlight in particular.

Is there an explorer that inspires your adventures (living or not)?

I was lucky enough to meet Sir Ran Fiennes at the RGS a few years ago. We only spoke very briefly, but his penetrating eyes, firm handshake and lovely way of speaking totally captivated me. Of course, I don’t think of myself as an explorer in the carrying an ice axe sense, but more in that one job of an explorer is to bring back news from a distant place, and I do try to do that. I wrote a bit about Sir Ernest Shackleton in my new book, and I have always imagined it would have been truly inspirational to meet him. Instead, I used to plan my adventures in the front room of his Edinburgh home. More practically I have always loved reading about the adventures of Robert Twigger. Some of his journeys have been absolutely awesome, and when we met at the Edinburgh Book Festival, I found him to be something of a kindred spirit.

You worked in marketing before you started dedicating your life to be a professional rail adventurer, what made you throw the towel in on corporate life and follow your dreams?

It didn’t happen in one single moment, but looking back, like many I was in a bit of a comfort bubble when I used to wear a suit and sit behind a desk. Once I had left this world, I started to really challenge myself on what I wanted from life, and to begin with, it wasn’t easy to find the right answer. I had always travelled a lot, and as I had more time I started to blog and write articles. The first book came at the suggestion of a good friend, and I wrote it for personal satisfaction rather than for commercial success. Since then my travels have been very rail focussed, and this has become the niche that I now love writing about.

Do you take lots of photos on your travels?

I try to take fewer photographs, but better photographs these days. I carry compact mirrorless cameras that are great to use and allow me to capture the essence of my journey without standing out too much as a traveller or photographer. I like to get into a routine each day of reviewing them and transferring only the very best ones to a portable hard drive that I back up in the cloud.

Night owl or early bird?

Night owl unless forced to be an early bird by work and travel plans. I go out my way to avoid early starts having survived the experience of years’ worth of red-eye flights when I was living the corporate existence.

Do you save all your tickets?

I have a series of thick files with all the tickets and paperwork from each of my adventures. It is helpful to keep them as I often find myself wanting to find out the detail of which carriage I was in or the exact time and date I travelled on a particular train.

Matthew With Assortment of Asian Food

What do you never leave home without on a rail adventure?

I’m guilty of carrying far too much kit, and each time I set off on a new adventure I try to lighten the load. There are some things that I would never set off without – my portable espresso machine, my lucky Flying Scotsman thermos flask and an industrial supply of Jelly Babies. Oh, and the secret key that seems to open all doors and windows on Russian trains.

If you could only take 5 things with you on your Trans-Siberian journey, what would they be and why?

I never travel without a portable espresso maker! Other than that, a good supply of music and books on my Kindle, plus plenty of jelly babies and I’m happy. A head torch, a good penknife and a roll of duct tape will solve most problems on board. I used to take far too much kit, but I’m getting better at carrying less now.

What has changed from your first Tran-Siberian journey to your latest one?

My first two trips were on the Trans-Mongolian. Whilst it's very comfy, it’s not as nice on board as the modern Russian carriages like on the Vostok and the Rossiya. The timekeeping has changed too. Until recently trains kept Moscow time which was a complication.

So, would you say that the Tran-Siberian has got easier since your first trip?

Well, it’s always been easy once I learned to let Real Russia worry about getting the tickets. Every journey presents a few challenges, but the only thing that has changed is that I am more used to how things work. In a way that’s not as much fun as your first trip, when it’s all so new.

On your latest journey, you mention that you went as far as Tibet, how easy was it to get the permit needed to travel to Tibet?

Well its actually quite complex, but I used Real Russia to handle all my tickets and visas. The advantage of this was that the paperwork was tied up together. A ticket on the train is no good without a permit for the same dates, and you also need the services of an official guide. Knowing that the same people in the visa and ticketing team were dealing with this gave me a lot of confidence in my plan. You need a Chinese visa before you can even approach applying for a permit too.

You have been on the Trans-Siberian quite a few times now – what makes you keep going back?

With three major routes and several branch lines, there are lots of places to explore. For overland adventurers, it is also the easiest way to reach Central and South East Asia. It was the perfect way to reach Beijing to connect with the train to Lhasa on my last trip. I have been as far as Singapore by train too, using the Trans-Sib as part of the route.

When looking back across all your Tran-Siberian experiences, is there one thing in particular that really stands out for you?

Perhaps that first moment when you sit back in a cosy compartment on your first ever trip to Siberia in the winter. The smell of coal burning to heat the samovar, and the view outside of everything working normally in such a hostile environment. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Who would you recommend the Trans-Siberian to?

Almost everyone. As long as you do not expect to be on board the Orient Express, it’s fun for all. It is very social, very relaxed and pretty safe. People often ask me what you do to fill the time, but it rushes by.

Looking back across all your trips, what would be your most important piece of advice for travellers looking to do the Trans-Siberian?

Talk to everyone. There are so many interesting people on a train like this. Make friends with the staff and they will go out of their way to look after you.

Do you ever take a more conventional holiday? Will we find you lazing on a sun-lounger sipping cocktails by the pool for example?

I have tried. I like to treat myself to a few nights somewhere at the end of a big trip, but if I hadn’t done the trip I would not be able to settle down. I wrote much of my second book in a lovely hotel in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand.

What’s the dream rail journey…your bucket list?

That’s really tough to answer as there are so many. I have never been on a private train like the Venice Simplon Orient Express or the Golden Eagle, and I like the idea of dressing for dinner. The Mauritania iron ore train is on the other end of the spectrum, and I will finally be ticking it off soon. I’d love to do the full length of both the Indian Pacific and the Ghan. I did a night on the Ghan a few years back and loved the atmosphere (and the good quality wine) on board. But Europe offers so many possibilities closer to home. Steam trains in the Hartz Mountains, the Glacier Express in Switzerland, and the Arctic train in Scandinavia.

The Railway to Heaven by Matthew Woodward

So let’s talk about your upcoming book, ‘The Railway to Heaven’. Writing a book of any kind takes a lot of dedication and perseverance; how long did it take to write?

It took close to a year, but I did move from my home in Edinburgh to West Sussex at the same time. The Engine Shed had no roof on earlier this year, and I had an army or builders around me demanding tea and biscuits. I think this could take just 3 or 4 months if I were more disciplined. I should learn from Enid Blyton. She wrote a 60000-word book, The River of Adventure, in just five days!

How do you prepare yourself for a writing session, presumably with your love of coffee it starts with a flask of a strong brew?

I often find that I have my greatest breakthroughs in how to describe my journeys in the darkness of the night or even first thing in the shower. I like to get an outline of these thoughts down on paper as placeholders in the draft before I lose them. Although social media can be a huge distraction, I need the internet to fact check everything as I go along. Coffee is both my saviour and my biggest enemy. I like to kick off with a cup of something quite strong and exotic, but then make frequent trips to my trusty espresso machine, often resulting in procrastination from writing.

When sitting down to pen a chapter or two how long do you write for, usually?

I can’t keep my focus for more than a couple of hours. I like to write in the mornings, but sometimes dabble with a glass of wine in the evening, which some say to be a dangerous pursuit. I can always change it the next morning though.

This is the third book about your rail adventures, does it get easier with each one to tell your tales of train travel?

It gets easier in some ways and harder in others. I have had to grow into my writing style, and whilst I feel more confident in my writing ‘voice’ now, I really fuss over the detail. After several redrafts of my latest book, I have occasional moments of self-doubt that it isn’t fluid enough or interesting enough, then I reread, and it seems fine. You can just get too close to it at times.

What’s your personal style…are you an avid notetaker or does it all come flooding back to you when you put pen to paper?

I do have very vivid memories of all my journeys, but I take lots of notes and keep a diary as a travelogue. I feel I owe it to my readers to have layers of detail so that if they were to take the same train they would recognise it from my description. Possibly even the staff.

The book shows your humorous side…is this a natural part of your personality? Do you see the funny side in yourself and situations?

I don’t think of myself as a funny person, but I guess I’m not afraid to share my experiences when I get it horribly wrong. Travelling solo I can get quite introspective and self-deprecating. Maybe I get therapeutic benefit from being totally honest with the reader about my experiences. I’m not trying to big myself up as an adventurer, more to prove that I’m a human being and anyone could do what I’m doing.

Do you believe in writer’s block?

I believe that there are days when things don’t come easy, but as I’m writing about a real adventure, not fiction, I don’t have to worry about the story or the narrative structure. By far, my biggest problem is staying motivated to start writing at all. There are so many distractions at The Engine Shed, the place where I now write in my little corner of rural West Sussex.

Before your book goes to print, aside from your publisher and editor, do you read any to family or friends?

I have tried reading it to some close friends, but they seem to end up laughing too much for me to concentrate. I’m not sure if it’s the subject matter or the reading style. Maybe I should release an audiobook next time.

What does literary success look like to you?

I think I was lucky to set out without any hard goals, as I have not had to pressure myself to write in a certain way or to a certain timescale. At the moment success is when readers tell me to keep writing as they enjoy my books. The next stage will be for the popularity of my books to allow me to fund increasingly complex new journeys.

What’s next on the horizon…more rail adventures?

I have started researching and planning for the journey that will hopefully become my next book, but before then I’m off to the Sahara to take the iron ore train in Mauritania.

We would like to thank Matthew for his detailed responses to our questions! For more information about Matthew Woodward and his adventures, visit his website www.matthew-woodward.com, or visit Amazon to get a copy of his new book. Alternatively, take a look at our interview with Matthew from 2016, as part of the launch of our Trans-Siberian Guides, and find out what his funniest Trans-Siberian experience was!

Couple Taking the Trans-Manchurian

If Matthew’s experience has inspired you to create your own Trans-Siberian journey, then please contact us directly or use our custom-made Trans-Siberian travel planner to begin your adventure!

Real Russia Blog

A beginner’s guide to Russian train travel
4
October
2019

A beginner’s guide to Russian train travel

An essential guide answering the most common questions regarding Russian train travel

Train travel is one of the simplest ways to navigate the vast expanse that is Russia, from speedy domestic trains connecting major cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg to international sleeper trains operating on the Trans-Siberian train route.

In this post, we will equip you with the essential facts you need to know about Russian train travel from planning, booking and understanding your train ticket to what you need to take with you.

Are Russian trains reliable?

Perhaps the most frequent question we get asked is, ‘are Russian trains reliable?’. Simply put, yes. Russian trains are often on time so you should always aim to get to your platform a good 10-15 minutes before you need to leave.

What types of Russian trains are there?

Russia has a variety of trains in operation including high-speed, firmeny, skory, Elektricha, passenger and more. Therefore, it can be useful to read up on the different types of trains available before planning your journey.

You can find a comprehensive list of Russian trains and some information about these on our website.

How do I understand Russian train classes?

Russian train classes can be quite tricky to understand, moreover, you may even find that some facilities differ depending on the age of the train.

View our ‘Classes of Russian Trains’ poster below for a brief overview of Russian train classes and what to expect. For a downloadable version, please click on the image below.

Russian Train Classes Poster
Classes of Russian train carriages

Onboard . . .

Since we provide train tickets for Russia ourselves, we often get asked questions that are not concerned with the usual booking procedure and understanding of train classes. With this in mind, our train experts have picked out some of the most common questions which should help alleviate some of that pre-travel angst.

Russian Train Interior Seating
Seating on a Russian train

Is it possible to pay with card on trains?

This largely depends on the type of train you take. Newer domestic trains may now take card payments for products or food purchased on the train; however, most older commuter trains may not have card payment facilities. When taking Trans-Siberian trains from Russia, it is important to note that other countries such as Mongolia, have a currency that often cannot be acquired easily prior to entering the country and may not have card facilities. Therefore, you should adequately prepare yourself with supplies for this leg of your journey.

Are showers available on the trains?

This depends on the type of train and class you choose. Some privately-run trains that operate between Moscow and St. Petersburg may have showers provided in certain classes. First-class cabins may have a shower shared between two cabins although these are usually shower heads connected to a tap on the wall rather than conventional showers. Luxury trains such as the Golden Eagle offer private en-suite bathrooms with a power shower.

Which power sockets are used in Russia?

Russia operates on a 220V supply voltage and 50Hz; they have two plug types which are the C and F. Both plug types use two round pins as standard in Europe.

For Trans-Siberian travellers passing through different countries, we recommend packing a multi-adapter as the power mains may change if you need to swap trains in a different country. UK travellers will need an EU converter plug to convert the 3 square prongs into the standard EU two prongs.

Is vegetarian food available on Russian trains?

Vegetarians shouldn’t have too many problems finding things to eat on the train. Vegetarian dishes are available on most menus and bread, fruit and vegetables can be purchased on many train station platforms. Trans-Siberian travellers may find themselves restricted for choice if visiting countries such as Mongolia which are prolific meat-eating countries, although you should still be able to find something.

Bar and Snacks on Russian Train
Bar on a Russian train

Are there disabled facilities on Russian trains or stations?

It is possible to find disabled facilities on certain trains, such as the Sapsan, that travels between Moscow and St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, disabled facilities are not widespread yet, however, newer trains are starting to challenge this. It is possible to find a lift at the carriage entrance on these trains to aid wheelchair-bound passengers on these trains and the cabins will have wider corridors and cabins. Plug sockets, call buttons and switches will have braille instructions for passengers with visual impairments.

Most train stations have facilities for disabled passengers including toilets and wheelchair ramps.

Are pets allowed on Russian trains?

Pets are allowed on Trans-Siberian trains although you must buy a specific ticket that allows a pet to accompany you. Any pets you take must be small and need to be kept in a cage or carrier of some kind that will easily fit in the spaces provided for regular luggage. Exceptions are made for guide dogs who are allowed anywhere onboard free of charge.

If you have any other questions regarding Russian train travel, please see our Russian trains FAQs.

Booking made simple with Real Russia!

If you plan to travel by train around Russia or on the Trans-Siberian, our website can help! We show live train schedules, average ticket prices and have our own simple and straightforward booking process should you wish to book your train tickets with us. If you are unsure about the type of ticket you need or have any questions, please contact our dedicated train travel experts.

Planning a whole Trans-Siberian journey? Use our Trans-Siberian planner to help align your train journeys side-by-side!

Real Russia Blog

Russian transport: What you need to know when booking transfers
13
September
2019

Russian transport: What you need to know when booking transfers

An essential checklist of what you need to know when booking taxis and airport transfers in Russia

You’ve planned your trip, booked your train tickets and hotels, but have you arranged your transfers? Often forgotten, transfers are crucial for getting you from A to B with minimal stress. While some travellers battle for taxis among the never-ending queues of tourists, wouldn’t it be much easier to just arrange your transport ahead of time? In this post we shall go through all you need to know when booking a transfer from the airport or train station in some of Russia’s busiest cities.

Are Russian taxis safe?

As a rule, we do not recommend using unofficial or “independent” taxi companies. While, you may find one you use regularly that you can trust, there are plenty out there that are unlicensed. Moreover, independents may charge you more since they are not confined by fixed city or company rates.

Inside a Private Russian Taxi

Are Russian taxis reliable?

The reliability of Russian taxis can vary depending on the and whether you choose an independent taxi or go with an established taxi company. Usually taxi companies in Russia are pretty reliable, but we do recommend doing the usual checks such as checking company reviews online to make sure. Private taxi companies and companies specialising in airport and train station are often the most reliable albeit more expensive.

Important! If you do plan to use an independent taxi make sure that you agree a price before getting into the taxi as you may find that drivers’ inflate the price.

Should I book my airport transfer in advance?

We would always recommend booking your transfers in advance to ensure that you can get a vehicle that meets your requirements, this is particularly the case for larger groups of travellers. It is often easier to do this once you have booked your flights and hotels.

How much does it cost to hire a private taxi in Russia?

Private Taxi Inside

The cost of hiring a private taxi in Russia will vary from company to company and will also depend on the type of vehicle you need and how far away your destination is from the airport or train station. Once you know your destination and number of people you should be able to obtain a quote to get a more accurate price.

Can’t I just get a taxi from the airport / train station?

Airport Transfer Car

Yes, it is possible to get a taxi from the airport or train station, but there are a couple of things to bear in mind when choosing this option:

  1. Cost – Getting a taxi at the airport / train station can be more expensive than if you book them in advance, especially if you use an independent taxi driver.
  2. Queues – Airports and train stations are busy places and many tourists and workers use public transport to travel between city centres and these places. Queues for taxis can be quite long if you arrive at the station at peak times.

Why you should book a private transport instead

  1. Safe and secure – When booking a private transfer with a reputable transfer company you can be assured that you will be safe and secure, allowing you to enjoy your commute without the stress.
  2. Possibility of hiring a trusted driver – If you decide you want to explore the city securely, you may have the option to hire a driver for a full day.
  3. Payment is risk-free– Most private taxis are booked online in advance at a set price, once paid there will be no additional charges to pay. The price advertised is the price you pay.
  4. Accountability and guarantees – Most professional transfer companies have an established reputation and will have guarantees and grievance processes in place, if your journey does not go as planned.

Book your hotel and airport transfers with us

Novosibirsk Private Transfer

We have negotiated “bulk rates” with many professional transfer companies and can offer you transfers from multiple cities and locations. We can also arrange private car transfers from Moscow airport for individuals and couples to city-liner buses for large groups of up to 50 people at discounted prices.

To learn more about the transfers and taxi services we offer, please see our designated transfers page, fill in the necessary details and click the request button.

Real Russia Blog

Eurasian City-Breaks: A Guide to St. Petersburg, Russia
5
September
2019

Eurasian City-Breaks: A Guide to St. Petersburg, Russia

Part 1 of our 6 part spectacular Eurasian city-break series takes us to the enigmatic St. Petersburg, Russia`s second largest city.

Eurasia is a vast continent with a rich and vibrant history, a melting pot of cultures woven together by a system of arterial routes both old and new.

In this 6-part series, we share our thoughts on what makes the perfect Eurasian city-break from the places you stay and food you eat, to the things you experience. Our journey will take you through some of the most enigmatic cities across Northern Europe, Siberia and the northernmost parts of Asia, spanning the cultural capital of the Tsars, the land of blue skies, and the home of imperial China, Beijing. Today, we shall scratch the surface of Russia’s second largest city, St. Petersburg.

Why visit St. Petersburg?

'I've been there about 20 times and it's never enough.' – Eugene, Operations Director
‘The overall experience is great; I can recommend it to all who wish to see Russia. It's a former capital of the country and there are many places to visit that are different from those you can see in Western and Eastern Europe.’ – Uliana, Bookkeeper

St. Petersburg is the former capital of the Russian federation and has stood as Russia’s cultural center for over a century. Founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, the city has enjoyed a tumultuous history as a rival capital to Moscow and has seen many name changes from Petrograd (during World War 1) to Leningrad (after the death of Lenin), and back to its original name of St. Petersburg. Aside from its rich history, the city has a vibrant energy and truly caters to all with its own architectural marvels, huge open markets, traditional local cuisine and thriving art scene.

Where to stay in St. Petersburg

‘Plan a minimum of three full days if you can and to stay in central hotels no more than 600m to the Palace Square as it is so nice to walk there, you get to see all the little bridges, people-watch and shop.’ – Natasha, Business Account Manager

Riverside with View of the Church Saviour

Choosing the right hotel is an essential part of any city-break whether you are there for 2 weeks or two days, and we always recommend sitting down and weighing up your options before you begin your journey. St. Petersburg offers plenty of choice from functional hostels to 5-star luxury hotels, we have compiled a list of some of our top recommended places to stay St. Petersburg below – For a full list of hotels in St. Petersburg, please see our hotels and accomodations page.

Pushka Inn Hotel

Conveniently located on the bank of the Moyka River, the Pushka Inn is one of the best hotels in St. Petersburg if you plan to visit the many museums and art galleries the city has to offer. The hotel itself is housed in a mansion built in 1860 by the Pushchins, and old noble family dating back to the 15th century. While the hotel has evolved over the years to accommodate a more modern clientele, the property retains many of the period features within its décor.

Cuba Hostel

A great value hostel situated in the very heart of St. Petersburg’s cultural district; the Cuba hostel is the perfect place to stay when travelling on a budget. The hostel offers a range of utilities and services including storage lockers, luggage stores, laundry areas, kitchen and common room. The front desk is open 24-hours 7 days a week.

Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace St. Petersburg

Four Seasons Lion Palace St. Petersburg

A luxury 5-star hotel located within the prestigious Admiralteysky district, The Four Seasons Lion Palace is the epitome of Russian decadence and is well positioned to take in all St. Petersburg has to offer. The hotel rests within the walls of a 19th century royal palace and really brings the opulence of imperial Russia to the forefront. Aside from its enviable location in the heart of the city, the Lions Palace goes all out with an exceptional variety of features including several bars and lounges, a fitness centre and spa facilities.

What to do in St. Petersburg

‘The Peterhof is a must between May and October, Saint Isaac's Cathedral, during summer – opening bridges during white nights, the Winter Palace, Voronts’ – Uliana, Bookkeeper

When it comes to things to do, the Venice of the North never fails to disappoint. While St. Petersburg’s many canals and vibrant streets embellished with architectural flair are enough to charm most visitors, the city’s prominence as a place of rich history and artistic endeavour cannot be overstated. See our brief list of must-see attractions when visiting St. Petersburg below – To see all the tours we offer in St. Petersburg, please take a look at our St. Petersburg excursions for more information.

Peterhof

Ideal for Russian royal history buffs

The Peterhof Palace St. Petersburg

The crown jewel of St. Petersburg, the Peterhof is an 18th century complex commissioned by Peter the Great with astounding gardens and a royal palace built in the Petrine Baroque style. The palace is heavily influenced by Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles and is often referred to as ‘The Russian Versailles’. No trip to St. Petersburg is complete without a tour of this splendid household. Ideal for those wanting to know more about the history of Russian royalty.

Absorb the astonishing architectural visions of Peter the Great with one of our guided Peterhof tours.

Mirinski Theatre

Unmissable for lovers of ballet, opera and the arts

The centre of the arts in St. Petersburg, the 18th century Mirinski theatre has unveiled some of the world's top performers ranging from professional ballet dancers such as Anna Pavlova, Rudolf Nureyev and Matilda Kshesinskaya to outstanding singers including the likes of Fedor Chaliapin, Ivan Ershov and Medea. Sit back, relax and take in the ambience of this magnificent concert hall with its opulent interior and outstanding acoustics.

White Nights Festival

All-encompassing experience for music lovers, families and more!

White Nights Festival Scarlet Sails St Petersburg
Courtesy of Spbkinoforum CC BY 3.0

The White Nights Festival is an annual event that takes place in St. Petersburg to mark its near-midnight sun phenomena. Each year between the 21st April and 21st August, the skies above St. Petersburg only ever reach twilight and never go completely dark. To celebrate this natural phenomena, St. Petersburg erupts into a series of festivities starting with the ‘Stars of the White Nights’ ballet and opera performance, and the famous ‘Scarlet Sails’ (known as Alye Parusa in Russian).

Over the past few decades, this festival has evolved to include international music performances from The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and more as well as renowned carnivals; the best of which is in the Peterhof suburb where actors dressed in period costumes from the time of Peter and Catherine the Great give performances that reproduce past historic events. You can even take a ride in a period carriage around Catherine park.

Kronshtadt

The go-to place for Russian naval history

Kronshtadt is a Russian naval base located on Kotlin island, west of St. Petersburg. This little-visited location is teeming with military marvels including the offshore man-made island, Fort Alexander, Anchor Square with its numerous war memorials and the Kronstadt History Museum which houses a selection of regional artefacts. Most notably, the island is home to a 20th Byzantine-style orthodox naval cathedral, with its spectacular ornate interior. Boat trips run regularly to and from the Island and are a great way to get around.

Erarta Contemporary Art Museum

Perfect for modern art enthusiasts

Erarta Modern Art Museum St. Petersburg
Courtesy of Erarta Museum and Galleries of Contemporary Art CC BY 3.0

Constructed in 2010, the Erarta museum is the first modern art museum in St. Petersburg and boasts that largest collection of private modern art in the whole of Russia. The museum’s aim is to locate, collect and popularise the work of talented modern artists in Russia and currently houses 2800 storage units of paintings, graphics, sculptures and installations.

Where to eat in St. Petersburg

It is no exaggeration when we say that you can get just about anything you want to eat in St. Petersburg. Its bustling streets are filled with tavernas where you can experience local cuisine as intended. While for more modern tastes, there is a plethora of Japanese restaurants, Pizzerias and innovative chefs experimenting with a new take on traditional Russian cuisine. We have cherry-picked a few restaurants we feel you simply must try:

Mamaliga

Explore an authentic Caucasus cuisine in St. Petersburg

Mamaliga’s main aim is to introduce its guests to the wonders of authentic Caucasian cuisine, harmoniously blending Georgian, Imereti, Armenian, Svan, Adjarian, Gurian and Megrelian culinary traditions. The restaurant offers a regular menu where you can find dishes including phali, basturma, satsivi, dolma and more. House specials include stewed Canahi, chocolate Zgapari and spicy kuchmachi. Of course, no Caucasian restaurant would be complete without a barbecue!

Betkizer

Discover St. Petersburg’s finest Israeli and Mediterranean street food

Betkizer is well known in St. Petersburg as the go-to place for Israeli and Mediterranean street food. The bar area has been paired down to create a cosy and contemporary space for travellers that want to escape the tourist-packed areas and try something a bit different. Betkizer regularly hosts live music and offers an in-expensive alternative that is ideal for backpackers.

Tsar

Experience the best of traditional Russian cuisine

Tsar is considered the epitome of traditional Russian cuisine in St. Petersburg. This high-class restaurant was designed by Sergei Tretyak with the intent of ‘reviving forgotten traditions’ and is host to an extensive collection of antiques and a royal throne. Aside from offering some of the best seafood and several varieties of caviar, the restaurant also compliments their main dishes with an extensive vodka menu.

KoKoKo

Enjoy the best of contemporary Russian cuisine

KoKoKo has gained international acclaim as the brainchild of ballet patron and celebrity style icon, Matilda Shnurova. The restaurant offers a contemporary twist to classic Russian favourites experimenting with flavour and presentation to create bright, bold and exciting dishes that always tell a story.

Top tips from our team when visiting St. Petersburg:

‘Plan your time more realistically, it is like any major city, even if you are there for a week you can't see it all; use a city tour for your first day to orientate yourself then concentrate on two or three central experiences – you can always go back!’ – Chris, Managing Director
‘My advice is to bear in mind that from Dec to March it may be extremely cold there – so May-Oct season would be the best time to visit’ – Uliana, Bookkeeper
‘Take a city tour with an overview and by car as the city is very big’ – Natasha, Business Account Manager
‘Take a jacket whatever the season’ – Nastya, Travel Administrator

Share your experiences!

Actress in Russian Period CostumePeriod Carriage Outside the Hermitage

We really hope you enjoyed the first instalment of our Eurasian city-break series! If you have been to St. Petersburg and have any experiences of your own we would love to hear about them in the comments below. Alternatively, if you are yet to visit St. Petersburg and this post has inspired you, why not look at some of the tours we have to offer?

We separate our tours based on the level of involvement we would have with you, ranging from DIY to self-exploration to a fully guided, immersive experience with one of our expert tour guides. We can also create custom tours on request if there is something you wish to see that is not covered in one of our tour packages. Click the button below to learn more about our St. Petersburg excursions!

Real Russia Blog

3 ways to explore Russia by train
23
August
2019

3 ways to explore Russia by train

Sit back, relax, and discover Russia with these inspirational train routes.

Russia is a huge country spanning 17,125,200 square miles and consisting of approximately 1/8 of the earth’s inhabited land. From vast freshwater lakes to huge rocky mountain ranges, Russia’s unprecedented size and dramatic landscapes cannot be understated. So, how do we even begin to think about exploring a country that is almost twice the size of the rest of Europe combined? Well, by train of course!

Why travel Russia by train?

The pros and cons of Russian train travel

Travelling by train in Russia is not without its problems. For one, train stations, especially in larger cities such as Moscow or St. Petersburg, are notoriously crowded and deal with both domestic and international passengers. In rural areas, navigating trains can be difficult since timings, place names and information is mostly in Russian with very little English available. Aside from this, train travel across Russia will take you hours which is understandable for a country of its size.

Moscow Train Station Train Board

Despite these difficulties, travelling Russia by train is an enriching and albeit rewarding experience for any traveller that wants to really see what Russia is about. While planes may take you across Russia in a fraction of the time, trains allow you plenty of opportunity to really immerse yourself in Russian culture from your seat. What’s more, travelling by train has less impact on the environment than other forms of transport, so what’s not to love?

3 awe-inspiring train routes you must take when exploring Russia

Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM)

Around 2680 miles long, the Baikal-Amur mainline was built as an alternative to the Trans-Siberian railway, officially starting from Tayshet (although western travellers often join at Irkutsk) and travelling east towards the Pacific Ocean. Much of the BAM is constructed over permafrost so highly durable materials that can withstand severe terrain and weather conditions have been used as part of the track design.

The route:

  • Tayshet
  • Bratsk (crossing the Angara River)
  • Ustkut (crossing the Lena River)
  • Severobaikalsk (northern tip of Lake Baikal)
  • Tynda
  • Khani
  • Komsomolsk-on-Amur (crossing the Amur River)
  • Sovetskaya Gavan
Things to experience on the Baikal-Amur mainline

Lake Baikal – One of the most popular tourist spots in Russia, Lake Baikal is the largest and deepest freshwater lake in the world with a maximum depth of 1,632m and measuring 23,000 cubic km in size. Aside from spectacular views, the lake is home to the only freshwater seal in the world.

Lake Baikal, Russia

Kirov railway

The Kirov railway is a Russian rail network linking Murmansk with St. Petersburg. Although a relatively short railway journey (around 900 miles) compared with the Trans-Siberian, the Kirov is still a popular journey for tourists wanting to explore The Northern-most parts of Russia. The line was originally known as the Murman railway and has been of strategic military importance since Murmansk is one of the few ice-free ports on the Arctic Sea.

The route (ARKTIKA):

  • St Petersburg
  • Saint Petersburg Ladozhski
  • Volkhov
  • Volkhovstroy 1
  • Lodeynoye Pole
  • Podporozh'ye
  • Svir’
  • Petrozavodsk
  • Kondopoga
  • Kyappesel'ga
  • Medvezh'ya Gora
  • Segezha
  • Nadvoitsy
  • Idel'
  • Belomorsk
  • Kem'
  • Kuzema
  • Engozero
  • Ambarnyy
  • Loukhi
  • Chupa
  • Knyazhaya
  • Kandalaksha
  • Polyarnyye Zori
  • Apatity 1
  • Olenegorsk
  • Kola
  • Murmansk
Things to experience on the Kirov railway

Mumansk – Murmansk is a port city located in the northwestern part of Russia close to the Norweigian border, now home to numerous naval monuments and even a museum ship, Lenin. Aside from the city’s impressive military history, Mumansk and the Kola peninsula is one of the best destinations in Russia to see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) with over 40 days of clear night skies.

Soviet Era Steam Train

Trans-Siberian

As the longest railway in the world at around 5772 miles, the Trans-Siberian is without question one of the most extraordinary engineering achievements of recent times. Renowned for its ability to connect Western and Eastern Russia (Moscow to Vladivostok), the Trans-Siberian is an icon for train enthusiasts and travellers alike. This major route works as an artery for traversing Asia and splits into three main routes, the first, official route leading to Vladivostok, the second starting from Moscow and heading to Bejing, China (Trans-Manchurian), and the third starting from Moscow and heading to Bejing via Ulaan-Baatar (Trans-Mongolian).

The route (Trans-Siberian)

  • Moscow
  • Yaroslavl
  • Kirov
  • Perm
  • Yekaterinburg
  • Tyumen
  • Omsk
  • Novosibirsk
  • Krasnoyarsk
  • Tayshet
  • Irkutsk
  • Ulan-Ude
  • Chita
  • Birobidzhan
  • Khabarovsk
  • Vladivostok
Things to experience on the Trans-Siberian

Kazan – A major tourist destination located on the banks of the Volga River, Kazan is known for its multi-ethnic history and was the capital of the Tatarstan Republic. This city boasts a multitude of cultural delights including the only surviving Tatar fortress in Russia, the Kazan Kremlin and the Qol Sharif Mosque.

Ulan Ude – Ulan Ude is a vibrant city close to the border of Mongolia, and home to the Buryats an indigenous people with a proud heritage spanning many generations. Today, the city is known for being the centre of Buddhism in Russia.

Ulan Ude Ivolginsky Datsan

Get your journey started – book your train tickets with us online today!

Why people choose us for Russian train travel

At Real Russia, we pride ourselves on being able to deliver a fast, stress-free service to our customers. Our live train schedules highlight any days that trains are departing between your selected cities and the scheduled trains section will list all trains running for your chosen month. We also offer a secure order tracking process so you can double-check your train tickets before you travel. Need help planning your journey? Our destinations page will go through some of the most popular Russian cities to visit. For more information on how to understand and book your Russian train tickets, please visit our dedicated Russian trains page or contact us directly.

If you are interested in booking any supplementary tours along the way, why not take a look at the Russian tours we have on offer? We have a range of excursions to suit any budget.

Real Russia Blog

E-tickets and 120 day booking window introduced on certain trains by Russian Railways
9
April
2019

E-tickets and 120 day booking window introduced on certain trains by Russian Railways

Russian Railways has begun to trial a 120 day booking window on certain domestic trains, meaning customers can book tickets 30 days earlier than they can with the current 90 day booking window. They will also be trialing E-tickets on a specific route.

From 1st April:

  • No 001/ 002 Red Arrow between Moscow and St Petersburg
  • No 003/ 004 Express between Moscow and St Petersburg

For the summer period, ending 31st August 2019:

  • No 101/102 Premium between Moscow and Adler
  • No 005/006 between Khabarovsk and Vladivostok
  • No 747/748 Nevsky Express between Moscow and St Petersburg
  • Sapsan trains between Moscow and St Petersburg

E-tickets will be trialed on the following trains:

  • Train 306 from Irkutsk to Ulan Baatar
  • Train 006 from Irkutsk to Ulan Baatar

The E-tickets are one way and will not be able to be used from Ulan Baatar to Irkutsk.

If you would like any further information or are ready to start planning your Moscow – St Petersburg adventure get in touch with our friendly travel team at travel@realrussia.co.uk or +4420 7100 7370

Real Russia Blog

Allegro and Tolstoi routes now on sale 90 days in advance
9
October
2018

Allegro and Tolstoi routes now on sale 90 days in advance

We have recieved news from our Russian Railways partners that from 4th October the Tolstoi and Allegro routes, travelling between Helsinki and St Petersburg, will now be available for purchase 90 days in advance! This follows Russian Railways announcement in December 2017 that domestic trains would be available to book 90 days in advance, rather than the previous 60 days.

Marketing Manager Andrew Glenister said of his own 2014 experience taking the Helsinki to St Petersburg Allegro.

‘Travelling from Helsinki into St Petersburg was a joy. Boarding in Helsinki is easy, and the train is super comfortable, with Wi-Fi and plenty o fleg room! The best part is how easyit makes the border crossing. You don't have to move from your seat, as the Finnish border guards come to you on one side, and the Russian border guards on the other! There are some great views along the way too, particularly as you pull into St Petersburg and get your first view of one of the most architecturally stunning cities in the world.’

Real Russia Blog

Seasonal Guide to Moscow: Autumn
21
May
2018

Seasonal Guide to Moscow: Autumn

Want to visit Moscow but not sure when`s the best time to make the journey? Well it all depends what you want to do while you`re there! Real Russia is here to help with our seasonal guide to Moscow so you can make the most of your time whenever you go.

Autumn beings around mid-September and while temperatures do start to drop, it's also the start of Moscow's cultural season with a rush of theatre premiers and openings after the summer hiatus.

Late eptember may bring a week or so of ‘babe leto’ which means ‘grandmother's summer’, when Moscow's parks are particularly beautiful. By October though, the temperature starts to drop dramatically and the first snows will be on their way. The autumn snows rarely settle so it's advised to bring a good pair of boots to combat the slush.

What should I do?

Join the celebrations on September 7th as Moscow celebrates the founding of the city, Moscow turns into one big part with free concerts and fireworks across the city.

The changing of the season is always a chance to see the changing landscape of a city with the park's in a blaze of colour. It's a great chance to visit the botanical gardens and perhaps some of the national parks like Losinv Ostrov.

Autumn is a great chance to enjoy the harvest and the seasonal bounty they offer. You'll find the markets filled with berries, mushrooms, and a cornucopia of fragrant fruits and vegetables. The variety of produce on offer is a gourmet dream and the vibrancy and range of the markets will appeal to those who love photography.

Best Autumn Excursions:

Traditional meal with a Russian family

Take advantage of the Autumn harvest and enjoy a traditional meal with a Russian family, it's a great chance to learn about authentic cooking dishes and methods whilst learning about Russian life from locals. It's a great chance to find out more about the city from the people who live there daily.

Kolomenskoe Park

Kolomenskoe Park is surrounded by beautiful nature and the vibrancy of the changing autumnal leaves make for a striking sight. The park introduces the unique wooden architecture of Moscow and is steeped in ancient history with archaeological traces dating back over 2,500 years. The park is right on the banks of the river making it a peaceful spot to enjoy the sights.

If you want to find out more about Moscow, and other cities throughout the seasons, you can view the rest of our seasonal guide here or view our excursions page here.

Real Russia Blog

Real Russia Travels: Volgograd to Samara on the Volga River
18
May
2018

Real Russia Travels: Volgograd to Samara on the Volga River

Real Russia Tour Operations Supervisor Igor Skorodumov tells us of his adventures along the Volga River.

What inspired this trip?

Working in the sales and operations team, I have been asked lots of questions about ships and cruise itineraries. I decided to gather as much information about cruise companies and their ships as possible, (for example, Vodohod has more than 20 ships of different levels, 3*, 4*, 5*). As I went along with my catalogue of different cruises, I learned more about cruise programs on board, ship teams, itineraries etc. I did not even notice how a desire to take such a trip grew in me. I wanted to have a cruise trip for at least a short distance.

When Tatiana, my wife, informed me about a discounted cruise tour in April on ‘Alexander Nevsky’ ship, I said ‘yes!’ without any doubts. Fortunately, we could afford a trip from Volgograd to Samara. The cruise was to go via Kamyushin, Saratov and many smaller towns.

Later, I was pleased to learn the ‘Alexander Nesvky’ ship was assigned to the Port of Volgograd. This ship stands on the pier in Volzhsky city and its captain lives in our city.

Views from the Volga River

What was your favourite part of the trip?

I cannot tell you which of the parts were my favourite; I enjoyed every minute on the ship, from the moment we got on board in Volgograd till the moment we went ashore in Samara! The atmosphere on board the cruise ship was totally different from anywhere else that I had experienced before. It is something that one cannot describe with words; it is something that one should personally experience.

What suprised you most about your trip?

As I have mentioned earlier, every moment on board was a great experience. However, one of the moments of the journey had touched me deeper than anything else. When we were approaching Samara, that was not far from the Zhiguli mountains, we were informed that the ship would not go northwards towards Kazan, after arrival in Samara it would return to Volgograd. It was due to the fact that there were still ice blocks coming from the north of the river. So, as the ship went along the beautiful banks of the river, we could see ice blocks floating by the ship. The banks of the river were flooded. There were some places where we could see no shore at all and it appeared as if the whole world was covered by water. One should really experience it to feel what it is like; there was a perfect silence, except for splashes of water and the whiff of wind as the ship went along.

Sunlight on the Volga River

What kind of traveller would enjoy this trip?

Anyone who would like to escape from the noise and hustle of the city.

I met lots of people there of different ages and from different backgrounds. However, different people on the ground became neighbours on the ship. Once on board, everyone feels not like they're on some kind of a vehicle, but on a new home, that is surrounded by water and washes away thoughts of daily issues.

There were different travellers; however, I would like to mention two people to support what I mean by different backgrounds. One of them was a miller from a plant in St. Petersburg and the other was a professor of Faculty of Law in VOLGU, Volgograd. The former one was travelling alone and the latter with his wife. They told me different stories about their lives; however, their stories about travelling on the ship were similar. I learned from them lots about different cruises. They said that whenever there is a promotional cruise they would take it and they do this on a regular basis. Everyone agrees that if a person takes a cruise once, they will long for the next time to be on board. No other type of travelling can be compared to travelling a board of a cruise ship.

There were different sorts of master classes, concerts, performances and discos. There was the ship's newspaper issued every day that stated the day's events on board. I cannot imagine a person who would not enjoy it.

Where is next on your list?

It is currently my dream, but I hope it will come true and I will be able to accomplish it in the future. I would like to take a cruise to Valaam Archipelago. The cruises starts from Rostov-On-Don, along the Volga River all the way to Moscow, then to St. Petersburg and then via the cities of the Golden Ring to Valaam.