What will the trains be like?
The quickest trains are the top of the range Firmeny trains which offer first, second and third class travel. For overnight journeys, first class 2-berth apartments are available with toilets and washrooms shared by the nine compartments in each carriage. The 2-berth compartments offer privacy for solo travellers who book a whole compartment or for couples. In second class, if you choose the 4-berth compartments you might have to travel overnight in close proximity to strangers. Second class is the most popular method of travel with tourists and backpackers and you can buy tickets that include bedding and a meal in the restaurant car.
Third class on Firmeny trains offers travel in open plan dormitory carriages where you will spend an overnight journey sharing one of 54 bunks with fellow travellers. Whichever class you travel in, your carriage should have an attendant who will check tickets and offer things such as bedding and hot water. They should also provide some assurances about security. The smaller compartments are lockable and whilst you might read some scare stories about Russian trains, security on them is usually very good.
The Moscow-St. Petersburg train is probably the most popular route for tourists, linking two of Russia’s prime attractions. You can also take direct trains into Moscow from Budapest, Cologne or Minsk. St. Petersburg links to cities in neighbouring countries including Riga and Vilnius. If you want to explore the routes available in Russia outside of the most common journeys for visitors you can use the Russian Railways website to check routes, timetable and prices, as well as booking tickets online. Another popular route for tourists entering Russia is to enter by boat from the Scandinavian and Baltic states to the north. There are many international ports in this part of Europe, attracting all kinds of vessels from tiny passenger ferries to the most luxurious cruise-liners. Try a night or two in Helskinki before sailing across to Tallin, the capital of Estonia,one of the old Soviet Baltic states. From there you can take a train direct to Moscow or break your journey with a visit to beautiful St. Petersburg. The Helsinki to Tallinn ferry is an experience at weekends with party-loving Finns taking the three hour journey to enjoy the cheap drinks and lively nightlife in Tallinn.
You can buy tickets at your departure point if you are heading into Russia on an inter-city train from abroad or via travel agents that specialise in European rail travel. Another useful resource for online booking is Real Russia which will deliver tickets to you before you travel to Russia, provide e-tickets or arrange for you to collect tickets at train stations in Russia. The site will also guide you through the visa application process for travel to Russia. You can book single or multiple journeys within Russia or if you are travelling to neighbouring countries and also arrange for travel on famous routes such as the Trans-Siberian Express
The Trans-Siberian Express
If anything epitomises travel by train in Russia it is this classic journey. Made famous in both literature and film, it is an adventure that crosses time zones and climates and delivers you to exotic destinations such as Beijing and Mongolia. The original route stretched from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok in the far east of Russia but a number of routes come under the umbrella of the Trans-Siberian express these days and travellers can choose between the entire route or, if pushed for time, just travelling on sections of the route. As with the other routes in Russia, the standard of accommodation varies according to cost and you can either choose to travel in style or do the spectacular journey on a budget.