Remarkable Russia: 9 Ways to Travel the Largest Country on Earth by Train
As the largest country on earth, Russia seems to have it all. Extraordinary onion-domed churches, majestic landscapes, renowned arts and crafts, and an incredible range of diverse communities make up a whole that is at once well-bred and wild, huge and intimate, formal and free-wheeling.
While Russia’s incomparable cultural riches, architectural delights, and fascinating environments are spread far and wide across thousands of miles, a well-planned rail journey makes for an easy and efficient way to tick off dozens of the country’s must-see highlights in a single trip. MIR offers an extensive array of rail journeys that travel all throughout the most distinct and remote corners of Russia, offering an unparalleled introduction to the country’s enigmatic history and people.
Whether you’re looking for adventurous immersion aboard the local trains, or comfort and even luxury aboard private trains, there are numerous ways to experience the beguiling and surprisingly multi-faceted breadth of Russian culture.
Here are 9 of our favorite ways to ride across Russia:
- 1) Embark on the classic Trans-Siberian route between magnificent Moscow and the edge of the Pacific in Vladivostok.
- 2) Ride the rails like a local on modest public trains, making stops along the way to meet, greet, and further mingle with the local people along the Trans-Siberian.
- 3) See a phenomenal cross-section of Russia and Mongolia, and witness the best of Mongolia’s unique nomadic culture at the celebrated Naadam Festival.
- 4) Travel along the remote Baikal-Amur Magistral (BAM) route before ending in Ulaanbaatar to experience Mongolia’s most famous festival, Naadam.
- 5) Hit many of the highlights of the classic Trans-Siberian route on a more compact journey.
- 6) Experience the magic of a Russian winter across seven time zones.
- 7) Travel the Trans-Siberian in a more down-to-earth setting on a three-country adventure through Russia, Mongolia, and China.
- 8) Cross the Arctic Circle, celebrating with champagne and caviar while pursuing the spectacular Northern Lights.
- 9) Discover the arresting natural beauty and spirited cultures of the North Caucasus on a rail journey powered by Soviet-era steam locomotives.
1. The Trans-Siberian Classic Route: Between Moscow and Vladivostok
Travel the Trans-Siberian Railway in the summer or fall on the iconic classic route, connecting Russia’s booming capital city to the little villages and miles of wilderness across Siberia.
- Tour the classic sights of 870-year-old Moscow, including expansive Red Square and the venerable Kremlin.
- Enjoy a private concert at the Decembrist House Museum in Irkutsk.
- Spend some time admiring UNESCO-listed Lake Baikal on the fabulous Circumbaikal Old Railway, one of the most complicated and beautiful rail routes in the world.
- Pay a visit to a village of Old Believers for a traditional meal and a concert featuring local singers and musicians.
2. Mongolia to Moscow: A Trans-Siberian Railway Adventure
Travel on regularly scheduled Trans-Siberian trains over a dramatic and variegated route that offers limitless opportunities to meet the diverse local people — Mongol, Buryat and Russian. Experience the rolling green hills and nomadic traditions of Mongolia, Siberia’s UNESCO-listed Lake Baikal and endless taiga forest on your way to the booming capital, Moscow. The July departure features Mongolia’s Naadam Festival.
- Sleep in gers as nomadic Mongolians do in alpine Gorkhi-Terelj National Park.
- Experience the sights and sounds of monastic life at the Ivolginsk Datsan, center of Buddhism in Russia.
- Discover how “breaking bread” is a quintessential part of Russian train etiquette and the best way to make new friends.
- Delight in the intricate gingerbread patterning of traditional wooden houses in the small villages of Siberia.
3. The Trans-Siberian Mongolian Route with Naadam Festival: Ulaanbaatar to Moscow
From the Moscow Kremlin to the Mongolian steppe, this rail journey celebrates three different cultures: that of the modern Muscovite, the Baikal Siberian and the Mongolian nomad. The highlight of the journey is Ulaanbaatar’s famed Naadam Festival, where you can join local crowds singing the praises of the country’s best in wrestling, archery and horse racing.
- Savor a home-cooked meal at a village of Orthodox Old Believers, and hear their marvelous chants, lyric songs, and folk prayers, transmitted intact from the 16th and 17th centuries.
- Cheer on the dignified wrestlers, young jockeys and eagle-eyed archers at the Naadam Festival.
- Enjoy lunch and a performance of otherworldly Mongolian throat-singing in a nomadic ger.
A shorter version of this rail journey without the Naadam Festival is also available: Westbound.
4. NEW! The Trans-Siberian BAM Explorer with Naadam Festival: Vladivostok to Ulaanbaatar
The seldom-traveled Baikal-Amur Magistral (BAM for short) rolls through some of the most remote, roadless taiga in the country, crossing dramatic mountains and miles of glorious, unspoiled terrain. Roll through the heart of the Siberian outback on this unusual journey, stopping at former imperial outposts and little towns assembled in the 1970s for railroad workers. Then head south to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, to celebrate the “three skills of man” – archery, horse racing and wrestling – at the country’s favorite festival, Naadam.
- Travel where Trans-Siberian passengers rarely go – through thick taiga forests, mountains and tundra in the sparsely populated region north of the classic route on the BAM (Baikal-Amur Magistral) Route.
- Breathe in the astounding beauty of UNESCO-listed Lake Baikal, a lake so vast that locals call it “the sea.”
- Cheer on the school-age jockeys, traditional wrestlers and keen-eyed archers at the Naadam Festival.
5. The Trans-Siberian Baikal Express Route
This compact version of the Trans-Siberian Classic Route allows travelers to experience many of the highlights of a full Trans-Siberian rail journey in roughly half the time. Join fellow passengers in magnificent Moscow, exploring UNESCO-listed Red Square before departing for the serene shores of Siberia’s Lake Baikal.
- Admire the synthesis of the Tatar and Russian cultures at the UNESCO-listed Kazan Kremlin, originally a fortress of the Golden Horde.
- Enter Ekaterinburg’s Church on the Blood, standing over the spot where Czar Nicholas II and his family were killed in July of 1918.
- Skirt the shore of UNESCO-listed Lake Baikal for spectacular views, and disembark for a barbecue at the lake’s edge.
6. The Trans-Siberian Winter Wonderland Route: Between Moscow and Vladivostok
In the winter, Western Russia is aglow with festive lights while Siberia is a wild and wooded place of unimaginable beauty whose cities glow with warmth. Travel the Trans-Siberian Railway on this winter exploration and choose from a variety of adventures on a frozen Lake Baikal.
- Wander the snow-dusted bricks of historic UNESCO-listed Red Square in the shadow of St. Basil’s fanciful onion domes.
- Visit UNESCO-listed Vladimir and Suzdal to admire the snow-tipped onion domes crowning some of the first churches and monasteries in Kievan Rus; then set out on an exhilarating sleigh ride.
- Board a hovercraft that crosses frozen Lake Baikal to a spot where you can join in with locals ice-fishing, smoking freshly caught fish, riding snowmobiles and running dogsleds.
7. The Trans-Siberian Express Between Moscow & Beijing
The Tsar’s Gold is a pleasant and comfortable, though not luxurious, private train that ties together two of the world’s biggest countries, China and Russia, as well as Mongolia. Glide from the metropolis of Moscow, where Red Square and St. Basil’s have become the symbols of Russia, all the way to China’s capital, Beijing. This route also operates in reverse from Beijing to Moscow.
- Enjoy a Russian tea party, with hot drinks, baked goods and zakuskie, or appetizers.
- Traverse Mongolia from the endless steppe to the Gobi Desert, stopping en route for a picnic lunch in a rural ger and a display of Mongolian horsemanship and Mongolian-style wrestling.
- Compare imperial Russia’s Kremlin with imperial China’s Forbidden City.
8. Arctic Explorer by Private Train: Quest for the Northern Lights
This festive winter excursion from St. Petersburg ventures above the Arctic Circle on a winter hunt for the spectacular Northern Lights. Heading north from beautiful St. Petersburg to the frosty twilight of the polar region, travelers will chase the aurora borealis and visit four UNESCO World Heritage Sites as they relax in comfort aboard the luxurious Golden Eagle.
- Visit the Snow Hotel, its guest rooms built of snow and adorned with snow carvings and ice sculptures.
- Search out the Northern Lights across the aurora borealis zone on two consecutive evenings, in the comfort of a cozy coach.
- Embark on a dogsled ride behind a team of eight dogs running over the frozen lakes and across the northern tundra.
9. NEW! North Caucasus & South Russia by Steam Train
Discover the arresting natural beauty and spirited cultures of the North Caucasus on this rail journey powered by Soviet-era steam locomotives. Admire mountain vistas on the scenic North Caucasus Railway, making stops in the Chechen capital of Grozny, recently rebuilt after years of conflict, and lively Vladikavkaz. Tour the famed mineral spa resorts of Mineralnye Vody, Pyatigorsk and Kislovodsk, and enjoy a rare opportunity to ride one of Russia’s few remaining narrow-gauge railways through beautiful Gaumsky Canyon.
- Explore renovated Grozny, capital of the Chechen Republic and once the “most destroyed city in the world;” today its elegant avenues are lined with high-end stores and galleries.
- Inspect Russia’s balmy Black Sea resort, Sochi, and its 2014 Winter Olympics venues, including the alpine skiing areas in nearby Krasnaya Polyana.
- Visit the immense Mother Russia monument on Mamaev Kurgan, where much of Stalingrad’s bitter battle took place.
Ride the Russian Rails with MIR
MIR has over 30 years of travel experience in Russia, with affiliate offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Siberia offering on-the-ground support, and tour managers that clients rave about. Our 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 explore the largest country on earth on one of our many rail journeys throughout Russia and along the Trans-Siberian. We offer a wide range of itineraries and rail options, from deluxe and luxury rail journeys by private train to an adventurous small group tour on regularly scheduled trains with locals.
Our menu of rail journeys by private train also extends far beyond Russia and the Trans-Siberian Railway. We offer an array of classic rail journeys along the Silk Route, into the heart of Iran, around Central and East Europe, and through the Balkans.
Chat with one of our destination specialists by email or by phone at 1-800-424-7289 to start planning your travels today.
(Top photo: Rolling ‘round the bend on the legendary Trans-Siberian route.)
PUBLISHED: November 29, 2017