Trans-Siberian Spotlight: Our Favorite UNESCO-listed Experiences on the Rails

Trans-Siberian Spotlight: Our Favorite UNESCO-listed Experiences on the Rails

Few names conjure up more romance and intrigue than the Trans-Siberian Railway. It’s one of the most storied rail lines in the world, depicted in countless books and films, including the quintessentially Russian novel, Dr. Zhivago.

Traveling on such a legendary route is an unforgettable way to get an in-depth look at some of the world’s most remarkable countriesRussia, Mongolia, and, on some tours, China. Few other journeys allow travelers to tick off dozens of the planet’s greatest sights in a single trip, including those which have been recognized by UNESCO for their incomparable historical and cultural value.

Many of MIR’s Trans-Siberian small group tours and rail journeys by private train give travelers unparalleled access to UNESCO-listed treasures and traditions that can be found nowhere else in the world.

On this epic railway, travelers can make off-train excursions to admire the ancient architecture of some of the world’s best-known capitals; marvel at the vastness and beauty of the oldest and deepest lake in the world, Baikal; or experience age-old nomadic customs at Mongolia’s Naadam Festival.

Take a deeper look at the UNESCO-listed experiences you can enjoy along one of the world’s greatest train routes:


Marvel at the Magnificent Moscow Kremlin
Moscow Kremlin, Russia

Moscow River view of the Kremlin Palace and cathedrals

The Moscow Kremlin reminds modern-day Russia of its medieval past. Built on the site of Prince Yuri’s hunting lodge, the Kremlin overlooks the Moskva and Neglina rivers. In the mid-14th century, the Russian princes, ruling from the Kremlin, became so powerful that Moscow was named the center of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Today, the Kremlin remains the center of Moscow and Russian politics. Inside the fortress walls are palaces, cathedrals, government buildings, and the Armory Museum. Built in the 16th century as a warehouse for the Kremlin’s weaponry, the Armory was transformed into an exhibition hall and museum in 1814. It now houses Russia’s national treasures, such as religious icons, Fabergé eggs, a bejeweled chalice belonging to Prince Yuri, and Catherine the Great’s ball gowns and shoes.

State Historical Museum, Moscow, Russia. Photo: Marina Karptsova

Wedged next to the Kremlin walls, the State Historical Museum on Red Square houses exhibits on the history of Moscow’s Kremlin
Photo credit: Marina Karptsova

Travel Suggestions:

Marvel at Moscow’s magnificent Kremlin on one of these small group tours or rail journeys by private train:

Discover Cosmopolitan Kazan’s Kremlin
Kazan, Russia

Kazan’s Kremlin houses the pristine white Qol Sharif Mosque, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

The Kazan Kremlin was originally a fortress of the Golden Horde during the time of the Kazan Khanate. While little original remains from this time, it is considered by UNESCO to be the only surviving Tatar fortress in Russia. Ivan the Terrible conquered Kazan in 1552 and built new walls on top of the older ones, adding the Annunciation Cathedral and razing the original Qol Sharif Mosque. The entire ensemble shows the synthesis of the Tatar and Russian cultures.

Travel Suggestions:

Admire the Kazan Kremlin on one of these rail journeys by private train:

Explore the Shore of Spectacular Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal, Russia

Curving around the bends on Lake Baikal

Called the “Sacred Sea” by the indigenous people who have lived along its shores, Baikal is the most ancient lake in the world. Formed in a rift in the earth’s surface over 25 million years ago, the lake basin is almost a mile deep in places, and holds about 20 percent of the world’s unfrozen fresh water. Baikal’s great age and isolation have produced one of the richest and most unusual ecosystems on earth. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lake Baikal is home to over 1,500 species of aquatic life, and its endemic zooplankton filter the water to near-transparency.

On rail journeys by private train, Lake Baikal makes the picture-perfect stop for an outdoor picnic, with food prepared by the on-board chefs. If you’re feeling up to it, don’t miss the chance to take a dip in the lake’s crystal clear – but very chilly – waters.

Travel Suggestions:

Explore lush Lake Baikal on one of these small group tours or rail journeys by private train:

Visit a Russian Old Believer’s Village
Old Believers in Ulan Ude, Russia. Photo credit: Vlad Kvashnin

Old Believers in Ulan Ude, Russia
Photo credit: Vlad Kvashnin

Many travelers who ride the Trans-Siberian Railway say that visiting with Siberia’s Old Believers is a top highlight of their journey. Rebelling against Patriarch Nikon’s 1652 reforms of the Orthodox liturgy and ritual, the Old Believers fled or were exiled to Eastern Europe and then to Siberia. 

In their isolated Siberian villages, these groups were able to preserve their 16th and 17th century traditions, clothing, architecture, language and style of singing. In 2001, UNESCO inscribed the cultural legacy of the Trans-Baikal Semeiskie – as they are called in Siberia – on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Unforgettable MIR Signature Experience: listening to Old Believers singing, and joining them for dinner Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

An unforgettable MIR Signature Experience is listening to Siberian Old Believers sing, and joining them for dinner
Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Along the Trans-Siberian, travelers passing through Ulan Ude are treated to a home-cooked meal and concert featuring local singers and musicians from the Old Believer community.

Travel Suggestions:

Visit with Russia’s Old Believers on one of these small group tours or rail journeys by private train:

Step Inside a Mongolian Nomad’s Home
Mongolian ger

Nomadic gers in Gorkhi Terelj National Park

MIR tours are known for the inclusion of serendipitous meetings, visits, and opportunities to interact with the people of our favorite countries. For Trans-Siberian travelers stopping in Ulaanbaatar, a visit to a Mongolian ger is a perfect opportunity to gain an appreciation for the pastoral lifestyles and traditions of Mongolia’s nomads

Interior Mongolian ger

Handcrafted woodwork abounds inside this traditional Mongolian ger

Most Mongolian ger camps are small, rustic encampments of a number of round, yurt-like homes. The original design of these tented dwellings ensured an easily collapsible and transportable structure so nomadic people could follow their herds seeking new pastures. Though today’s gers tend to incorporate more modern materials in the construction, they still adhere to the canons of traditional Mongolian craftsmanship and design.

Sipping tea with a nomadic steppe family in their ger. Photo credit: Kelly Tissier

Travelers sip tea with a nomadic steppe family in their ger
Photo credit: Kelly Tissier

Gers continue to play an important social and cultural role for nomadic families throughout Mongolia. In fact, they are so highly valued that UNESCO added the “Traditional Craftsmanship of the Mongol Ger” to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013 to help preserve the tradition for years to come.

Travel Suggestions:

Step inside a traditional Mongolian ger on one of these small group tours or rail journeys by private train:

Take in a Traditional Mongolian Throat-Singing Performance
Mongolian throat-singer Photo credit: Michel Behar

Mongolian throat-singer at work
Photo credit: Michel Behar

You shouldn’t visit Mongolia without attending a performance of the buzzing, hypnotic tones of throat-singing. An art practiced only by singers in Mongolia, TuvaBuryatia, and Karakalpakstan, this unique musical technique is more than an exotic novelty; it is part of a rich tradition. It is believed throat-singing evolved from human efforts to duplicate natural sounds such as a breeze blowing across the steppe or a rushing river.

Explaining how to throat-sing in Tuva, Russia Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

A MIR traveler gets a first-hand demonstration on the ancient art of throat-singing
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

In throat-singing, a single vocalist produces two, and sometimes three distinct tones, or overtones, simultaneously. There are several styles of throat-singing, including sygyt, the brightest style in which the highest register of the voice is used; khoomei, which is a softer style with the tones slightly muffled; and the kargyraa style, which produces a very low, growling sound. In many cases, the singer is accompanied on a horsehead fiddle, such as in the following video:

In everyday life, throat-singers are herders taking a rest and amusing themselves. The singing can be heard from afar, and the singer may be sending greetings to his people who are living in a yurt far from the pasture.

Travel Suggestions:

Thrill to the eerie sounds of Mongolian throat-singing on MIR’s Mongolia to Moscow: A Trans-Siberian Railway Adventure small group tour.

Experience Mongolia’s Thrilling Naadam Festival
Naadam Festival

The Naadam opening ceremonies in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

More than just another colorful folk festival, Naadam is Mongolia’s celebration of the country’s best athletes, as well as a point of national pride. Originating centuries ago, this annual event showcases the country’s best in wrestling, horse racing and archery, as well as uniquely Mongolian sports such as “ankle-bone shooting.”

While its traditions and spiritual significance were lost during Soviet times, the Naadam Festival has since been revived, and the festival now commemorates July 11th, the anniversary of Mongolia’s independence from China. Naadam is so important to Mongolia that it’s been designated a part of UNESCO’s “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” 

Naadam Festival, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Photo: Helge Pedersen

Authentic costumes on display at the Naadam Festival
Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Travel Suggestions:

Experience the incredible Naadam Festival on one of these small group tours or rail journeys by private train:

Stroll the Serene Temple of Heaven
Beijing's Temple of Heaven

One of the highlights of the Temple of Heaven complex, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests was where China’s ancient emperors came to pray for prosperity and divine atonement
Photo credit: China National Tourist Office

The Temple of Heaven was built in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty as a place of prayer and sacrificial offerings. Each year at the Winter Solstice, the emperors, known as the “Sons of Heaven,” would offer sacrifices and prayers of thanks, and at other special times would send petitions for good harvests. The ceremonial temple grounds and the buildings have symbolic meanings sacred to the early Chinese. A five-hundred-year-old cypress tree still grows here.

Travel Suggestions:

Head to the Temple of Heaven on the Trans-Siberian Express Between Beijing & Moscow (Eastbound / Westbound).

Feel the Grandeur of Imperial Beijing at the Forbidden City
Forbidden City, Beijing, China

The Forbidden City, or Palace Museum, exceeds 250 acres, making it the largest palace complex in the world

The Forbidden City, or Palace Museum, exceeds 250 acres, making it the largest palace complex in the world. This is where the emperors, as “Sons of Heaven,” would communicate with the gods. Built by the third Ming Emperor, Yongle, the Forbidden City includes hundreds of buildings, reception halls, gates, private apartments, and gardens.

Travel Suggestions:

Wander Beijing’s fantastic Forbidden City on the Trans-Siberian Express Between Beijing & Moscow (Eastbound / Westbound).

Discover Beijing’s Historic Ming Tombs
Ming Tombs, Beijing, China. Photo: Kelly Tissier

The Ming Tombs are the final resting place of 13 of China’s emperors from the Ming dynasty
Photo credit: Kelly Tissier

The Ming Tombs, constructed over nearly 80 years of the Ming dynasty in a valley protected on three sides by mountains, shelter the earthly remains of 13 Ming emperors. The tombs of Zhu Li and Wan Li are open to the public, one an extensive aboveground complex, and the other an underground mausoleum.

Travel Suggestions:

Meander through the Ming Tombs on the Trans-Siberian Express Between Beijing & Moscow (Eastbound / Westbound).

View a Masterpiece of Medieval Russia at the Cathedral of the Assumption
Cathedral of the Assumption, Vladimir, Russia. Photo: John Seckel

Vladimir’s graceful Cathedral of the Assumption was built in the 12th century
Photo credit: John Seckel

Part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Site “White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal,” the 12th century Cathedral of the Assumption (Uspensky Cathedral) rises gracefully from the surrounding countryside. Its six pillars and five gilded domes made it one of Russia’s largest churches for over 300 years. Having survived the great devastation of the Mongol hordes in 1239, the cathedral served as an important model for numerous other churches built in the following decades in medieval Russia, including Moscow’s Dormition Cathedral.

Travel Suggestions:

Venture to Vladimir’s Cathedral of the Assumption on the Trans-Siberian Winter Wonderland Route (Eastbound / Westbound).

Savor the Stunning Frescoes of the Savior Monastery of St. Euthymius
Savior Monastery of St Euthymius, Suzdal, Russia

The largest monastery in Suzdal, the Savior Monastery of St. Euthymius was originally built to protect the town’s northern entrance

Suzdal’s biggest monastery, UNESCO-listed Savior Monastery of St. Euthymius, or Spaso-Yevfimiev Monastyr, was founded in 1352, and its protective brick walls and towers date from the 17th century. Inside the walls stands the five-domed Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Savior, whose interior was frescoed by Gury Nikitin in the late 17th century. The monastery’s 16th century bell tower chimes every hour.

Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Savior, Savior Monastery of St Euthymius, Suzdal, Russia. Photo: Jonathan Irish

The Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Savior, part of the Savior Monastery of St. Euthymius, was frescoed by Russian master artist Gury Nikitin
Photo credit: Jonathan Irish

Travel Suggestions:

Stroll through the Savior Monastery of St. Euthymius on one of the Trans-Siberian Winter Wonderland Route (Eastbound / Westbound).

Travel on the Trans-Siberian with MIR
Lake Baikal, Trans-Siberian Railway, Russia

A Trans-Siberian train ride reveals breathtaking Lake Baikal views

MIR has over 30 years of Trans-Siberian Railway travel experience, with affiliate offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Irkutsk and Ulan Ude offering on-the-ground support. 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 discover the Trans-Siberian Railway with MIR in 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.

Our menu of rail journeys by private train also extends far beyond the Trans-Siberian Railway. We offer an array of classic rail journeys along the Silk Route, 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: Riding the famous Trans-Siberian Railway along the shore of Lake Baikal.)

PUBLISHED: January 5, 2018

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2 thoughts on “Trans-Siberian Spotlight: Our Favorite UNESCO-listed Experiences on the Rails

  • king Wonderful

    I Have done the trip before. Fun. Everything is on Moscow time. If its 6 pm in Moscow and you are in Siberia… Dinner is served. A must do trip if you are a serious traveler. Mir… excells in all its trips. Enjoy the train. Jim Delmonte Honolulu Hawaii 96825 po 25777

  • king Wonderful