The project was first announced by Tsar Alexander III in 1891 and completed in 1916, assisting the settlement and development of western Siberia and expanding Russia’s imperial ambitions in the Far East. The original train boasted grand, marble-tiled bathrooms, a music room and dining room in its first class carriages, whilst peasants were crammed into third class cargoes. Because the lines were built too quickly, passengers faced frequent delays, and the journey that now takes around seven days took around four weeks.
Flickr | Valery Chernodedov
Today, the Trans-Siberian is considered one of the greatest railway journeys in the world, and is a must-do for travelers wanting to explore the vastness of the Russian and Central Asian landscape. The line remains one of Russia’s most important transport lines, with 30% of its exports traveling on the line – and while of course it has become a popular tourist activity, it is also simply a commuter train for locals. The traditional Trans-Siberian Railway route stretches an astounding 9,288 kilometers between Moscow and Vladivostok. However, there are also two other variations, namely the Trans-Mongolian which links Moscow and Beijing via Mongolia, or the Trans-Manchurian, which bypasses Mongolia. Each route takes around 7 days when traveling non-stop.
While the most popular route is to board the train in Moscow and head East, if you’re looking to take a less tourist-heavy route, boarding in Vladivostok and heading West will allow you to mingle with more locals, taking the train as a means of transportation rather than a travel adventure. The Trans-Mongolian route offers perhaps the most varied landscape, crossing Mongolia via the Gobi Desert – making for some breathtaking views of silent, sweeping dunes. While traversing the Ural Mountains, the train passes a white obelisk at kilometer post 1777, marking the boundary between Europe and Asia.
Flickr | Martha de Jong-Lantink
Looking out of the window on the Trans-Siberian is unlike any other railway experience – from stations inscribed with unpronounceable names like Uyarspasopreobrazhenskoye to brightly-thatched houses amongst a wintery landscape, the hypnotic images that rush past are vastly superior to the views of any daily commute.
For a shot at good weather and longer days, it’s best to go between May and September, although prices during the winter tend to be cheaper (and despite the blistering cold, this is when Siberia is at its most picturesque.) Naturally, it seems a shame to travel across such a varied landscape and not take time to have a look around. Covering such a vast expanse, the Trans-Siberian is a great opportunity to discover the immensity of the surrounding landscapes and the hidden gems they harbor. Some of the highlights include Yeakterinburg, best known as the site where the Russian royal family was murdered but also a beautiful architectural feat steeped in dark history; Kazan in the Republic of Tatarstan, whose Kremlin is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; and Ulan Ude, home to the indigenous people Buryats and the centre of Russian Buddhism – the list goes on.
The Trans-Siberian truly offers a journey of a lifetime - spectacular views, diverse cultures and the chance to meet interesting people are all a testament to it's legendary status!