A journey on the Trans Siberian Railway should be on everyone’s bucket list. It is one of the greatest train adventures in the world.
Our experience is amazing, especially since we travel in ‘spring’ and see Siberia with snow! Before stepping on the train, we dive into the internet to find out everything about this magical train ride.
We have read many blogs and tips and scrolled through LOTS of information. After traveling the train ride ourselves, we made a list of the 17 ultimate tips, and trust us: this is all the information you need!
Booking your tickets
- Book your train tickets on your own, not through an agency
It will be a lot cheaper if you buy the tickets yourself directly from the Russian Railway website. The first time booking a ticket takes us a little longer due to language (the website is half English half Russian), and our credit card payment gets rejected a couple of times.
But once you get the hang of it, it is the best way to get the cheapest tickets. You can also buy tickets on the go for the same price.
Nonetheless buying tickets at the train station with no English-speaking Russians seems too hard for us at first.
Eventually, we do make it happen one time though! As you can only buy tickets for trains in Russia on the website, we have to go to a train station for our ticket to China.
We have to admit we have booked our ticket into Mongolia through an agency (we recommend Real Russia), as we need the certainty for our Mongolian visa.
- Go on multiple train rides and visit some cities
If you have time, go out and see places instead of staying on the train for a week. Staying on the train is awesome, but you will miss out on a lot of the culture.
In addition, staying on only one train can be boring. We meet an Irish guy who travels the Trans Mongolian Express at once, so he has booked a ticket on an international train.
That resulted in him being all alone in the compartment during the ride (locals are not traveling by expensive international trains) and most of the stops take place at very inconvenient night times (because it goes in one go).
- Book trains with different numbers (if you go on multiple rides)
There are many different train numbers riding (parts of) the Trans Siberian/Mongolian track. Beforehand we read the quality varies greatly between lower (great, classy, international trains) and higher numbers (less quality, but cheaper).
In our experience, the higher numbers we take, the more authentic the train feels. We take a very fancy and expensive 002ЙА, but enjoy the rides on the more cozy trains 082ИА, 140HA, 008HA, 012УА, 362 (into Mongolia), and the 004 (into China) even better!
- Book different classes (if you go on multiple rides)
On most trains, there are 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class wagons, and even two options for the second class (with or without food). We travel in second class mostly. That means you travel in a closed 4-bed coupé.
One train ride, we travel third class, which is an amazing experience. In the third class, there are bunk beds, the big difference with the third class is that there are no doors.
This makes it look and feel like a 45-bed dormitory! People even say traveling third class is safer because of social surveillance.
Preparing for the ride
- Learn some basics words
Download offline dictionaries & download Russian/Chinese keyboards on your phone. You are traveling in countries where the English level is low, if they speak English at all.
Traveling by train also means meeting (local) people and – believe us – you want to become friends. If only because they can help you when you have problems.
So we recommend that you learn at least the Russian words for thank you, some things like hello, goodbye, and nice to meet you.
Knowing some words guarantees a smile on locals’ faces – even on the harsh-looking Russian faces!
Luckily you do not need to follow an entire language course beforehand since there are many handy apps (Google translate offline!) to help you with your conversations.
- Charge your electronics
On most trains, there are some outlets in the hallway and on the toilet. Only one time (the fancy train ride) did we have an outlet in our coupe. It is best to just charge all your devices beforehand.
- Pack light clothing
Packing light clothes for Siberia? Yeah! During winter and spring, the heating on the train is working overtime; it gets really hot.
And with the sun burning through the train windows – that can not always open – it is highly recommended to bring light clothing.
So do bring your shorts, tank top, and some flip-flops – you’ll need it. We even saw people cool off in their summer clothing at the stations with an outside temperature around -9 degrees Celsius.
- Bring tea, noodles, instant coffee, and optional: some beef cubes
There is free hot water on the train! So bring a cup and bowl/lunch box with you and enjoy your warm drinks and meals.
Bring enough food, because the restaurant wagon is expensive. And while some people tell us there are cute old women selling stuff at all stations, we have not seen any (might be the wrong time of the year).
- Take cleansing wipes and toilet paper with you
There are toilets, but not always toilet paper, and there is water on the train. However, you will not stay fresh forever, so bring some cleansing wipes and toilet paper.
- Pack earbuds
Always a good idea to bring earbuds when sharing a coupe with strangers. We are happy we have them when we share the small space with a snoring drunk Russian guy and a mum with a crying baby.
- Bring some things to share with you
You can bring drinks like vodka or beers, snacks, card games, or just an open attitude. Anything you can share will give you the most memorable moments in return!
We do have to mention we are happy we do not bring vodka because we only meet Russians who don’t drink vodka!
- Be prepared to meet all kinds of people
If not in your coupe, you may meet them in the hallway/restaurant car/at the station.
We have had great meetings with the nicest Russian guys (who appeared much tougher than they were) and giggly tea-partying ladies, but we also encountered challenges with a drunken Russian guy and a mum with a baby.
It is all part of a great experience, but you will have to be prepared (mentally) for it.
On the train
- Clean the window
Before making your bed, check if your window is transparent enough! We had to clean it once because it was too dirty to even look through. It will ruin your view (and your pictures), so make sure it is clean!
- Make friends with the people you share the coupé with
This is the fun part; make friends! Most of the time you are on the train for a while, make yourself at home, and get to meet the people with whom you share the experience of the ride. In addition, you might need them! Almost all train employees can’t speak English.
- Know the train stops and get out for some fresh air
On every train, there is a list of all the stops and the duration of the stops. If the stop is longer than twenty minutes, go out, get some air, and buy some (local) food/drinks at the station.
- Go to the toilet in time
They almost always lock the toilet door when the train gets to a train station.
Most of the time you can go to the toilet at the train station, but sometimes they don’t let you off. This is the case when you are crossing the border, and in that case, you sometimes have to wait two to three hours!
- Pay attention to where you have to get off
After surviving the hours/days on the train, you have to make sure you don’t miss your stop! Sometimes the conductor comes to tell you it’s time, but sometimes they don’t.
We read you can ask them to tell you, but with the language barrier, we decide to figure it out ourselves.
And make sure to clean your bed when you leave; someone else might get on the train and has to sleep in your bed!
If you like our tips, please share them with someone you think should travel the Trans Siberian Railway!
And if somehow we missed something, let us know.
Thursday 15th of August 2019
Wow! That sounds really amazing.
I'm going to do it till Mongolia. How long do you think it should take me? Any tips in terms of Visa?
Many thanks! :)
Roxanne & Maartje
Friday 16th of August 2019
It really depends how many stops you make! We did one month in Russia. For the Visa, it's different for every country so I don't really know, sorry!
Monday 29th of July 2019
Hallo daar, Ik ga met mijn zoon van 11 in de kerstvakantie van Vladivostok naar Moskou. We hebben echt wel wat reiservaring maar er zijn twee dingen nog niet helemaal duidelijk. Een, hoe koud is Siberië in de winter (welke kleding is nodig?) En is het raadzaam om op de stations te eten. Of moet ik voor drie dagen eten meenemen? Omdat mijn langste rit drie dagen duurt. Gr Peter
Roxanne & Maartje
Tuesday 30th of July 2019
Hoi Peter! Wat een gaaf avontuur gaan jullie beleven! In de winter wordt het pittig koud, het kan makkelijk -11 tot -19 zijn in Novosibirsk bijvoorbeeld. Ze stoken de treinen flink heet gelukkig, dus binnen heb je aan je zwembroek en slippertjes genoeg. Dus laagjes is het handigst. Wij hadden in maart -17 in Krasnoyarsk en waren toen heel blij met thermo ondergoed, dikke winterjas en waterdichte bergschoenen. Veel treinen hebben een restaurant wagon, maar ik zou sowieso snacks en noedels meenemen (heet water is toch gratis!). Wij hebben op stations alleen een enkele keer een snackje gekocht, echt uitgebreid eten is er niet echt bij. Hopelijk helpt dit een beetje! Je mag ons ook altijd mailen op [email protected] als je meer vragen hebt.
Sunday 16th of June 2019
Hi! What a great blog! :-) I have an unusual question about the Transsiberian journey. When provodnitsya collects your tickets, does she give them back to you before you get off? I'm planning to go from Vladivostok to my home town in Eastern Poland making quite many stops on the way and as a souvenir I'd love to have all the tickets put in a frame together.
Roxanne & Maartje
Thursday 20th of June 2019
Hi Ania! That is such a good question! I believe we got the tickets back, all but the one time there was a problem with the tickets! You're going to have an amazing journey, we're excited for you ❤️
Sunday 4th of February 2018
Thank you for the great information and tips. I've just bought my plane ticket to Moscow to strat my Trans Siberian + Trans Mongolian trip to China for 40 days. I wonder if it is a good idea to buy the tickets at the train stations without booking in advance. Because I will get off the train on the way in multiple cities to spend some nights. Thank you
Roxanne & Maartje
Sunday 18th of February 2018
Hi Murat! That is amazing, you're going to love it! We really liked the easy system of booking tickets online, but it is also an option to buy it at the station. Make sure to bring your Google Translate to explain what tickets you want (and be persistent) - they do not speak any English!
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