Favorite Places Along the Trans-Siberian Railway
While the Trans-Siberian Railway travels through some sparsely populated parts of Russia and Siberia, stops along the way reveal a cavalcade of history, from Cossack fur traders to Soviet gulag prisoners. Here you can find stories of pioneering spirit, cloak-and-dagger intrigue, unbelievable suffering and radiant hope. Here are a few favorite places along the way:
Flowers spell out “Moscow” at Victory Park
Photo credit: Charity Shaller
MoscowThe start or end of most Trans-Siberian journeys is brilliant, booming Moscow, where a person can flag down a taxi next to an 800-year-old building. It’s a wonder of the world. World-class museums, a fabulous Metro system and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Kremlin and Red Square, with dazzling St. Basil’s Cathedral, greet the traveler to Russia’s capital city.
Many travelers’ first stop in Russia is Moscow’s iconic Red Square,with its St. Basil’s Cathedral
Photo credit: Jim Beers
KazanKazan, capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, is an old city on the Volga River with a fascinating multiethnic history. When Ivan the Terrible won Kazan from the khans in 1552, making the Volga a Russian river, he brought with him Orthodox Christianity. Today a Russian kremlin wall surrounds the old town, and both Orthodox churches and mosques are found in the city. The entire ensemble is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Recently rebuilt, Kazan’s Qol Sharif Mosque dome is topped with a “Kazan cap,” once worn by Tatar khans
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes
EkaterinburgEkaterinburg, founded in 1721, is best known as the place where the last czar, Nicholas II, and his family were imprisoned and executed by the Bolsheviks. Today, the Church on the Blood stands over the spot where Czar Nicholas II and his family were killed in 1918.
The Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg marks where Russia’s last czar and his family were murdered
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta
NovosibirskBurgeoning Novosibirsk, with a population of 1.6 million, is the largest city in Siberia, and its industrial center. Novosibirsk did not exist before the Trans-Siberian railway was built, growing up around the place chosen for the rail line’s Ob River crossing. The city is home to the massive Opera House, the largest in Russia. About 20 km from Novosibirsk a special town was built in the 1950s expressly for scientific research, called Academgorodok, or Academy City. Novosibirsk State University is located here.
Novosibirsk is home to Russia’s largest opera house
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes
IrkutskThe Irkutsk area has been a place of exile since Genghis Khan offered it to captives as an alternative to death. Czarist and Bolshevik political exiles from the 18th through the 20th centuries ended up bringing culture and education to Irkutsk after their terms of slave labor ended. A lovely little city, Irkutsk still embraces examples of the old wooden houses with the intricate fretwork and shutters typical of Siberian architecture.
Irkutsk’s old town abounds with wooden houses, adorned with carved shutters and doors
Photo credit: Bruce Malashevich
Lake BaikalAncient Lake Baikal, whose clear waters fill the deepest rift on the earth’s surface, is known by the Buryat people as the Sacred Sea. A UNESCO World Heritage Site easily accessible from Irkutsk, Baikal has a diversity of species unparalleled in the world, and holds over 20% of the earth’s unfrozen fresh water.
A lake of superlatives: Baikal is the oldest and deepest freshwater lake in the world
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta
Ulan UdeUlan Ude was founded in 1666 by Cossacks as a winter encampment on the Selenga River. Today it is the center of Russian Buddhism and the location of one of the only datsans, or monasteries, to survive Soviet times. The indigenous people of the area, the Buryats, are closely related to their Mongolian neighbors, sharing their Tibetan Buddhism and earlier shamanism.
Ivolginsk Datsan near Ulan Ude is the center of Buddhism in Russia
Photo credit: Meaghan Samuels
VladivostokMeaning “Ruler of the East,” Vladivostok was born in 1859, when the Governor-General of Eastern Siberia explored the coastline in the steamer Amerika, and chose Golden Horn Bay to be Russia’s new Pacific port. Although it has far outgrown its military origins and taken its place as a significant Pacific Rim city, Vladivostok remains the headquarters of the Pacific Fleet.
The Golden Eagle private train arriving into Vladivostok, Russia
UlaanbaatarCapital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar was established only 350 years ago when the trade routes between St. Petersburg and Beijing made it an important commercial center. At one time, over 90% of native Mongolians were nomadic; today over half of the population lives in the capital. A stop in the city highlights visits to the Gandan Monastery, the National History Museum, and the gigantic stainless steel Genghis Khan equestrian statue – easy there, big fella!
Visible from miles away, this stainless steel Genghis Khan statue near UlaanBaatar tops 131 feet
Photo credit: Olivia Durham
Naadam FestivalThe annual Naadam Festival is Mongolia’s favorite festival, showcasing Mongolia’s best in wrestling, horse racing and archery as well as uniquely Mongolian sports such as “ankle-bone shooting.” It originated many centuries ago, but in the 20th century this celebration of courage, strength, dexterity and marksmanship acquired new content and became more national in character. The festival now commemorates July 11th, the anniversary of Mongolia’s independence from China.
From generation to generation, the art of archery is passed down at Mongolia’s Naadam Festival
Photo credit: Helge Pedersen
BeijingMulti-faceted Beijing, modern capital of China, is the country’s most important city and its political and historical center. Beijing’s numerous landmarks, ranging from the Temple of Heaven, site of Imperial prayer in the long-past Ming and Qing dynasties, to Tiananmen Square with its Great Hall of the People and mausoleum of Mao Zedong, tell the long history of China, as well as the short history of the People’s Republic.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China
Photo credit: China National Tourist Office
Travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway with MIR
MIR has 30 years travel experience to Russia, with affiliate offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Irkutsk and Ulan Ude offering on-the-ground support. MIR’s full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”
You can visit along the Trans-Siberian Railway with MIR a number of ways, from a deluxe or luxury rail journey by private train, to an adventurous small group tour or an independent trip put together just the way you want it.
Top photo: The Golden Eagle rounds the bend on the shore of Lake Baikal
PUBLISHED: November 30, 2015