Travelling the Trans-Siberian Railway is on many travellers’ bucket list, but Russia can seem quite inaccessible when it comes to independent travelling. However, there are ways to avoid being ripped off by tour agencies! Here we will share how we managed to buy tickets for the trains in Russia independently and at a much lower price than what tour agencies offer.
Need to know
Time tables for all long-distance trains are shown in Moscow time, no matter what time zone you depart from or arrive in. The same applies to clocks at the train stations, information boards on train stations, and even the clocks on the train.
There are three different types of coaches; 1st class, 2nd class (kupe), and 3rd class (platzkartny). 2nd class is a carriage with a number of coupes with 4 beds in each and an aisle with windows. 3rd class/platzkartny is an open carriage with nine open “coupe’s” with 4 berths without a wall to the aisle, and another two berths across the aisle. We have only travelled 3rd class – and for us it was a great experience to meet the locals and would definitely recommend this, as you can often save quite some money. No matter the class you will have a bed/berth to sleep in.
On the train you have free access to boiling water, and usually the provodnitsa (the lady taking care of the carriage) have a small sell out of cup noodles, biscuits, tea, and the like. Also, you can buy standard supplies at the stations during the longer stops. We preferred to bring most food and use the stops as a convenient option to buy some snacks. There is also a restaurant car on the train, but the food is nothing special and quite expensive for Russian standards. Although we got some great bread with sausage from the lady walking through the train selling snacks from the restaurant car. Expect to pay 60-120 RUB for a piece of bread with sausage/minced meat etc. depending on its size.
The best way to get the tickets at their real (and thereby lowest) price is to buy them directly from the Russian Railway company. Their website is www.rzd.ru – hit the British flag and the website is (almost) in English 🙂 You can find the booking module in English here.
When we booked, we would have liked to know the following:
- You can buy tickets only 45 days ahead.
- For some of the trains you can buy e-tickets which you can show on your mobile device and do not need to print nor pickup printed tickets on the train station. You can find information in English here.
- You need to register as a user to book tickets online.
For the booking itself:
- You can find the booking module in English here.
- When you navigate around the booking module you can choose your seat in a specific wagon. You will encounter an animal symbol (a paw) – do not fear goats and cattle. It is more like cats in a small transportation cage and the like. If you don’t like cats just find a coach without the paw symbol.
- When you have found the seats you like (and the best price matching your requirements), you need to login with your user account and type in all information on all passengers in the group (including passport information). Notice that if your passport is not Russian you should choose the “foreign document” option when stating your document type (as opposed to the “international passport” option). Also, you can tick off that you want to pay for linen. If you do so you will be handed out linen for the mattress and pillow, and a face towel. If you do not tick off and pay it seems like you will get it anyway, but we do not know if that was a mistake 🙂
- When done entering passenger information you finish your booking by paying. We used VISA without problems.
Convenience considerations about what seats to choose are (on 3rd class):
- Seats close to the toilets can be a little stressful: Many people are passing by to get to the toilet, the trash bin, other wagon’s and the like.
- Upper berths are tight – you cannot sit upright. It is customary that the person in the lower berth share his/her berth as a bench during daytime.
- Seats in the small compartments are generally more spacious and quiet than those lateral on the other side of the aisle.
Boarding the train
On the day of departure you turn up at the train station, find the right track and the right wagon, and board the train. The e-tickets are both in English and Russian, so it is easy to figure the details. On the printed Russian versions try to see whether Google can find an example for you on how to read the ticket 😉 Usually, the provodnitsa will check your ticket and passport when boarding the train, and soon after departure she will come through the coach and check it again.
Remember to throw your best Russian greetings at the nearest co-passengers, and try ask where they are going. They may accompany you for the next 48 hours, and it just becomes awkward if you do not get to know each other 🙂
That is pretty much it! We hope you will have some great adventures on the Trans-Siberian Railway!