Extending 9289km from Moscow to Vladivostok on the Pacific, and taking around six full days, the Trans-Siberian Railway is among the most famous of the world’s great train journeys. Rolling out of Europe and into Asia, over vast swathes of taiga, steppe and desert, the Trans-Siberian – the world’s longest single-service railway – makes all other train rides seem like once around the block with Thomas the Tank Engine.
Don’t look for the Trans-Siberian Railway on a timetable, though. The term is used generically for three main lines and the numerous trains that run on them. For the first four days of travel out of Moscow’s Yaroslavsky vokzal (station), the trans-Siberian, trans-Manchurian and trans-Mongolian routes all follow the same line, passing through Nizhny Novgorod on the way to Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains and then into Siberia.
Many travellers choose to break their journey at Irkutsk to visit Lake Baikal (we recommend you do), but otherwise, the three main services continue on round the southern tip of the lake to Ulan-Ude, another possible jumping-off point for Baikal. From here, trans-Siberian trains continue to Vladivostok, while the trans-Mongolian ones head south for the Mongolian border, Ulaanbaatar and Beijing. The trans-Manchurian service continues past Ulan-Ude to Chita, then turns southeast for Zabaikalsk on the Chinese border.
For full details about the journey, read Lonely Planet’s Trans-Siberian Railway guide.
Moscow to Vladivostok
The 1/2 Rossiya train is the premier Moscow–Vladivostok service, but tickets on it are more expensive than other services; if you're stopping off along the route, it will be cheaper to use other trains. For comparison, a kupe berth for the whole journey on the 99/100 train, which also links Moscow and Vladivostok (via Yaroslavl), costs around R21,000 compared to R37,400 on the Rossiya.
If you’d prefer to skip Moscow in favour of St Petersburg as the start or finish of a trans-Siberian journey, the 71/72 Demidovsky Express between St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg is a recommended option.
And if you’d like to speed things up a little, there are also the high-speed Strizh trains connecting Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod in around three hours and 30 minutes.
Moscow to Ulaanbaatar & Beijing
The more popular of the two options running directly between Moscow and Beijing is the weekly 3/4 trans-Mongolian service, a Chinese train that travels via Ulaanbaatar and is the only one to offer deluxe carriages with showers.
If you’re planning to stop off in Irkutsk, there’s also the less fancy 361/362 service to/from Naushki, with through-carriages to/from Ulaanbaatar.
The weekly 19/20 Vostok trans-Manchurian service is a Russian train that crosses the border into China at Zabaikalsk, and passes through Harbin before terminating in Beijing seven days after its initial departure from Moscow.
The BAM: Tayshet to Sovetskaya Gavan
The alternative trans-Sib route is the Baikal-Amur Mainline (Baikalo-Amurskaya Magistral; BAM). It begins at Tayshet, 4515km east of Moscow, curls around the top of Lake Baikal, cuts through nonstop taiga, winds around snow-splattered mountains and burrows through endless tunnels on its way east to Sovetskaya Gavan on the Tatar Strait.
The BAM's prime attraction is the incredibly remote and utterly wild scenery viewed from the train window. As well as Lake Baikal’s lovely northern lip, adventures on the BAM reach some very out-of-the-way places including Bratsk, Tynda and Komsomolsk-na-Amure.