Russia: life on board the trans siberian train

Travelling on the Trans Siberian train through Russia was always a life long ambition of ours. We began our big trip in Asia on this long journey.

The Trans Siberian in full from Moscow to Vladivostok takes 8 days, covering 5,772 miles. You can of course break this up by stopping over at the different cities along the way. Most travellers, like us, branch off when the train reaches the very scenic Lake Baikal and take the journey through Mongolia to Beijing.

Our Trans Siberian adventure started at Moscow's Kazanskaia train station on 17th June 2014 at 13:10. Timing is important because this mammoth journey spans 7 time zones, so to avoid any confusion, all train times are calculated from Moscow's time.

The first leg of our Trans Siberian adventure was from Moscow to Yekaterinburg (26 hours).  After two nights stop over in Yekaterinburg, we took the train to Irkutsk (57 hours).

This is our photo summary of our Trans Siberian adventures in June 2014 from Moscow to Irkutsk.

Waiting to board the Trans Siberian

At Moscow's Kazanskaia train platform we waited along with the other Russians to board the train and make the long trek:

Babushkas on the platform waiting to board
Babushkas on the platform waiting to board
Seb waiting patiently at Moscow's platform to board the train
Seb waiting patiently at Moscow's platform to board the train

Each carriage has its own assigned Provodnitsa who is responsible for everyone in their assigned carriage.

The provodnitsas will check tickets, make sure the carriage is kept clean and cheekily sell you vodka (drinking on board is theoretically illegal).

These ladies are fierce and not to be messed with!

The Provodnitsa
The Provodnitsa

Life on board the train

We travelled in 3rd class (“platzkart”), which is like staying in a large 50 bed dorm room:

Third class "platzcart" - like being in a 54 bed dorm
Third class “platzcart” – like being in a 50 bed dorm

Second class (“kupe”) carriages consist of around eight 4-berth compartments. The far more expensive first class compartments are similar except each compartment is made for just two people.

We found 3rd class to be the more sociable option as well as better for our budgets.

Socialising in 3rd class with this group of fellow French and Finnish travellers
Socialising in 3rd class with this group of fellow French and Finnish travellers

Third class also meant we were travelling with mainly locals:

Russians on board the Trans Siberian
Russians on board the Trans Siberian

However, our fellow Russian travellers spoke little or no English and our Russian is extremely limited.  This language barrier made it a little difficult to communicate with most of our fellow travellers.

Seb and our fellow travellers
Seb and our fellow travellers

At each end of the carriage there is a samovar of endless hot water.

We quickly learnt from other savvy travellers that bringing on board your own sachets of porridge, soups, coffee and teas made the journey much smoother.

Stefan with the samovar
Stefan using the samovar

We avoided the awful and unhealthy instant noodles (very popular on board) and instead pre-bought lots of fruits, nuts, bread, and for salads: tomatoes, cucumbers, salt, pepper, olive oil, and prepared around x12 boiled eggs for a protein source.

On board you are immobile for a few days so your body's food requirement is less than it would be, so we were conscious to keep our meals as healthy as possible.

Dinner (or is it lunch?) time!
Dinner (or is it lunch?) time!

Travelling in 3rd class did take its toll on us after a while.

The lack of air conditioning in a carriage where people had not washed for days and refused to open the window (despite it being 30 degrees celsius outside) meant that it STANK!

Seb enjoying 3rd class ("platzcart") on the Trans Siberian
Seb enjoying 3rd class (“platzcart”) on the Trans Siberian

Stop overs from the long journey

Most travellers on the Trans Siberian made a few stops along the way to cut the long journey up.

We made two stop overs, the first at Yekaterinburg for two nights, the second at Irkutsk for a visit to the beautiful Lake Baikal for a week.

Our longest stretch on the train was from Yekaterinburg to Irkutsk, totalling: 56 hours.

Other shorter stops made for fun quick walkabouts around the train platforms, in particular at Omsk station:

Seb posing at Omsk platform
Seb posing at Omsk platform

Looking dishevelled after 3 days without a shower or a proper night's sleep:

Our selfie at Omsk platform
Our selfie at Omsk platform

Fellow passengers on board the Trans Siberian

We met some interesting characters along the way:

Bathing in the heat at Krasnoyarsk platform
Bathing in the heat at Krasnoyarsk platform
This guy STANK! He was the worst of the lot
This guy STANK! He was the worst of the lot
Lady travelling with dog
Lady travelling with dog

At each platform there would commonly be a swarm of local babushkas selling their home made produce:

Babushkas selling home made produce at most stops
Babushkas selling home made produce at most stops

The Siberian Landscape

The Siberian landscape is mainly a vast never ending stretch of taiga going on for days and days:

View of Siberia for most of the journey
View of Siberia for most of the journey

We were however fortunate to see some beautiful sunset including this one:

Sunset over Siberia
Sunset over Siberia

After our stop over at Irkutsk for Lake Baikal for a week, the landscape started to dramatically change:

Change in scenery as train journeyed along Lake Baikal
Change in scenery as train journeyed along Lake Baikal

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Read more about our adventures in the gorgeous Lake Baikal. We put together our guide of the costs to travel on the Trans Siberian. Also check out our fascinating article on whether Russia is safe for gay travellers.

About the author

Hi there! We are Stefan and Sebastien, Greek/French couple behind the travel blog Nomadic Boys. Since we met in 2009, we have been travelling all around the world together, visiting over 100 countries.

Our mission is to inspire you, the gay traveller, and show you that you can visit more places in the world than you thought possible, by providing a first-hand account of our travel adventures, to help you plan a fun and safe trip.

To find out more about us

11 thoughts on “Russia: life on board the trans siberian train”

  1. As a kid I’ve travelled several times with the Transsiberian train with my parents towards my grandma. To me it was evey time exciting because I’ve seen places someone would never get there. But of course, to travel in this train is an aventure 🙂

  2. I will be doing this August – September 2016 but it’s the other way around. China-Mongolia- to Moscow.
    Will it be any different? Thanks for the info here!

    • Nope- will be same same but only advice I would give is to try to be in Mongolia in July time if possible for their annual Nadaam festival.

  3. Great post!
    I was actually on the Trans-Siberian on June 2014 as well. I was in 2nd class and didn’t meet another English speaker for nearly 5 days.

    Quite an experience!!

    • Ha ha ha our exact same experience. Interestingly though, if ever we did meet a non Russian, they were almost always French!

      • My train through Russia seemed to be much more local than travellers. I met an American guy on my leg from Ulan Ude to Ulaanbaatar, and from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing met a group of travellers who were a lot of fun, and I continued to travel with them for a while in China.

  4. The scenery looks amazing and you definitely can’t make up some of those crazy characters, but I don’t know how well I’d do for three days in what’s essentially a 50-dorm room! Do you have to sit on your bed all day or are there other places to ‘hang out’?!

    • You can book 2nd or 1st class for more privacy but more expensive.

      We went to the restaurant cart for a respite from the cattle herd class where we enjoyed Russian champagne 🙂

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