12 trains, 115 hours, and 14,645km. This Trans-Siberian Railway journey took us 27 days. What an incredible experience, and it all went by in a flash. I could have easily double the time for this trip, and dig deeper into each of the places that we visit.
If this trip has been on your bucket list, I encourage you to find a way to make it happen. You won’t regret it (does anyone ever regret going on a trip?)! Most questions that we’ve received have been around cost and planning. I’ve gathered all of the blog posts that I’ve written for this voyage and shared the train and lodging costs. Hopefully, you find the information helpful, and will be inspired to make this dream a reality!
This grand voyage, consists of 12 different train rides from Shanghai to Strasbourg, became our goodbye tour as we bid farewell to our life in Shanghai.
We needed to be in France by the end of July, and our visas allowed us to stay in China until the end of June. This left us with an one-month time frame to complete this trip.
Determine the Stops Along the Trans-Siberian Railway
The first part of Trans-Siberian railway planning was deciding where want to stop. A quick search online returns a plethora of possibilities. We decided to take the Trans-Mongolian route and have our first stop after Beijing in Ulaanbaatar.
From there, we knew we wanted to stop in Irkutsk to check out Lake Baikal, then towards the European side, Kazan, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. We didn’t want to be in the train for much longer than 48 hours, so for the journey between Irkutsk and Kazan, we took a stop in Yekaterinburg.
From Russia back to France, we had to creatively map the route through Ukraine in order to avoid Belarus, where the visa would’ve been too difficult to obtain from China. With the help of Rome2Rio, and lots of Google searches, we decided to go through Kyiv, Warsaw, Berlin, and finally reaching Strasbourg.
Lodging Along the Trans-Siberian Railway
Halfway through planning back in March, I realized we would be traveling through right at the end of World Cup, which unfortunately meant increased costs for lodging! Fortunately, we have family in Moscow, and for the rest of the stops in Russia, we went for budget options.
I booked most of our lodgings via Bookings.com, since they often have free cancellation flexibilities. In St. Petersburg and Warsaw, we are staying at AirBnBs. Once reaching Europe, I cashed in hotel reward points in Kyiv and Berlin to reward ourselves after the long journey!
Plan & Book Tran-Siberian Railway Tickets
Unfortunately, the Trans-Siberian railway journey is not a hop-on, hop-off deal. With each stop comes a separate ticket and lodging. In total, I booked 12 train tickets and 11 lodging options.
To keep everything organised, I discovered Travefy, a drag-and-drop itinerary planner that allows me to input all the information and have at-a-glance view. Prior to this trip, I just used Excel files to plan, but this trip required something a bit more.
Prior to booking anything, I mapped out our entire trip on Travefy, so I can triple-check that all the dates are absolutely correct. Any one missed step would have domino effect on the rest of the trip.
For information about obtaining Mongolia and Russian visa for this journey from China, read the visa prep post!
Below is where and how I planned and booked each leg of the trip:
Shanghai to Beijing
High-speed train from Shanghai to Beijing. I’d been on this train many times, but feels bittersweet for it to be the farewell ride. Not much planning was involved in this leg of the journey. Bought tickets on Ctrip.com two weeks prior (that’s when train tickets are released in China), and picked up the tickets at the station. The trains between the two cities are really frequent, so I didn’t worry much.
Beijing to Ulaanbatar
Our first overnight train turned out to be the nicest! For this 31-hour ride, we splurged for a private room on the K23 train. On the way, we encountered an epic sand storm!
I reserved tickets with Travel China Guide. They collect a small fee, but could provide a confirmation, which was useful when applying for Mongolia visa. Once the ticket is purchased, they will send the tickets to you. The K23 train only runs once a week, so our journey had to be mapped to start with this leg.
- Trans-Siberian Railway Part 2: Beijing to Ulaanbaatar
- Trans-Siberian Railway Part 3: 24 hours in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Ulaanbaatar to Irkutsk
For tickets in and out of Russia, I booked with Real Russia. The fees are quite a bit higher than when you book by yourself with Russian Railway, but the agency can provide visa invitation letter, and also reservation confirmation letter well in advance for visa purposes.
Once arrived in Ulaanbaatar, we needed to go pick up the physical ticket at Solid Ways Travel Agency, a local partner for Real Russia. The location is difficult to find. But just follow Google Maps, and you’ll see the hidden building in a neighbourhood behind the State Hospital.
- Trans-Siberian Railway Part 4: Ulaanbaatar to Irkutsk
- Trans-Siberian Railway Part 5 – 4 days in Irkutsk & Lake Baikal
Irkutsk – Yekaterinburg – Kazan – St.Petersburg – Moscow
Our favourite stop on the Trans-Siberian journey was in Irkutsk. The town was the perfect Eurasia fusion, and Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world, was awe-inspiring.
I used Real Russia’s itinerary planner for tickets within Russia, then book it on the official Russian Railway website. Not all the trains have first class, and not all trains run everyday. I wanted us to have private comfort for the 48hr ride between Irkutsk and Yekaterinburg, so I added in an extra day in order to catch the Rossija train.
Tickets only become available 60 days before travel. The English site for Russian Railway isn’t the most straight forward, but with some patience, I was able to manage. A note on the payment: I had Apple Pay set up, and it was a breeze! The tickets for within Russian travel have e-tickets available.
Irkutsk to Yekaterinburg
This 48-hour leg was our longest train ride. There is something rather poetic and calming about being confined to a train compartment for that long. Yekaterinburg is the one city I wish we had spent more time to explore on our Trans-Siberian journey. The city has such great energy, great architecture, and fascinating history!
- Trans-Siberian Railway Part 6 – Irkutsk to Yekaterinburg
- Trans-Siberian Railway Part 7 – 24 hours in Yekaterinburg
Yekaterinburg to Kazan
Kazan was one of our longer stops along the Trans-Siberian journey. We arrived just before an important World Cup game, so the city was a-buzzing. The melting pot of cultures was fascinating, and the Kazan Kremlin was truly impressive.
Kazan to St. Petersburg
Kazan to St. Petersburg Train: 133ГА – rzd.ru $108/person
Lodging in St. Petersburg: AirBnB $65/person
When we arrived in St. Petersburg, we’ve officially arrived in Europe. Cosmopolitan city with great coffee and architecture! The grandiose building nearly puts Paris to shame.
St. Petersburg to Moscow
St. Petersburg to Moscow Train: 767A Sapsan – rzd.ru $45/person
Lodging in Moscow: Family $0/person
Moscow wasn’t what I had imagined. Red Square felt smaller. We were hosted by our muscovite family, giving a much-welcomed reprieve on our Trans-Siberian journey.
Moscow to Kyiv
Kyiv was our first stop outside of Russia. We extended our Trans-Siberian train ride all the way to France. A fascinating city with a complex history. Ukraine is certainly a country I would like to spend more time exploring!
For the train tickets, I planned & booked with Real Russia. A digital voucher was provided that we needed to exchange for a physical ticket at the station.
Kyiv to Warsaw
Planned and booked with Polrail, they are also a ticket agent, and I requested to have the tickets sent to our hotel in Kyiv.
Warsaw is an underrated city with an impressive history. The city has made an incredible recovery post-WWII, and it’s a splendid mix of culture, history, and modernity.
Kyiv to Warsaw Train: D67 Kyiv Express – Polrail.com $95/person
Lodging in Warsaw: AirBnB $113/person
Warsaw to Berlin
Planned and booked on Bahn.de, but for this leg, a physical ticket is also needed. Again, I requested for tickets to be sent to Kyiv. (Side note: I redeemed Starwood points for Mirrors 11 Design Hotel in Kyiv, and I knew the service would be top-notch and able to receive tickets for us. A place to send the tickets was an important decision point on where we’d stay.)
The night that we were in Berlin happened to be the World Cup Final. Had a great time watching the game at the Brandenburg Gates, and witness the city in a relaxing summer mood.
Berlin to Strasbourg
This short ride turns out to be one of the more expensive trips. Thanks, TGV… The process is easy enough – booked on Bahn.de again, and it has electronic tickets.
Total Trip Cost
For most of the train journeys, we opted for the second class. I splurged on first class for the two journeys that stretched beyond 24 hours (Beijing – Ulaanbaatar & Irkutsk – Yekaterinburg). The overnight trains offset lodging costs that is a mix of hostels, AirBnBs and hotels.
The total cost for train tickets were $1,489 per person, and $400 per person for lodging. This comes to $70 per day for 27 days of travel. You can definitely do this trip much cheaper or go much more luxe, but this is the price point that made sense for us.
Due to our time constraints, we are on the move a lot. As with any travel, the longer you stay in one place, the cheaper it becomes per day. The same applies to trains, the more stops you make, the higher the cost.
Packing for the Trans-Siberian Railway
Since we were packing up our lives to travel, we have more stuff than if we were purely just going on this journey. We had seen other travelers who had taken the journey drinking very sad coffee and eating ramen for days, so we prioritized food. True to Xav’s French ways, we stocked up on dry sausages, cheese, bread, chocolate, and dry fruit. We only carry what we would eat in on the journey, everywhere in the world has markets and grocery stores, so no need to stock up for 30 days!
I recommend packing a small kit for toiletries, chargers, entertainment, and anything you’d need on the journey for easy access. This way you avoid the need to open up all of your stuff to find that one hair pin! We brought a power strip that has proven to be mega useful not just to us, but also fellow travellers on the train.
A portable Bluetooth speaker is something I always travel with; it provides some ambiance when you get the cabin to yourselves. Finally, dress comfortably. Since we are traveling in the summer season, I always have shorts and tank-top packed in the bag to change into. Cabins tend to get pretty stuffy and hot!
Hopefully, this is helpful to you! Please let me know if there are other aspects of the trip that you’d like to know. I’d be more than happy to share!
- The Ultimate Guide to Riding the Trans-Siberian Railway | Kara and Nate
- How to Travel to China or Japan by Trans-Siberian Railway | Seat 61
- The 10 Most Beautiful Spots on the Trans-Siberian Railway | Culture Trip
- Trans-Siberian Journey Planner | Real Russia
- Travelling to Ukraine from France by Train | Independent People