Here comes the second part of our Trans-Siberian railway tours review. Last time we covered what to expect from Russian trains, as well as some general points you should consider before embarking on this lengthy train journey. Now we will concentrate on the places you would visit on your tour and the experience you should aim to be after while traveling there.
The classic Trans-Siberian tour starts in the capital of Russia, vibrant Moscow.
Being a typical megapolis with an extensive cultural and historical background, Moscow has plenty to offer regardless of one's tastes and preferences. If you are a first-comer, you should start by visiting all major highlights, including the Kremlin, the Red Square along with the gorgeous St. Basil's Cathedral, the treasury of Russian fine art, the Tretyakov Gallery, and the spectacular Cathedral of Christ the Savior which is the tallest Orthodox Christian church in the world.
However, if this is not your first time or you are up for some off-the-beaten-path experience, here are a few suggestions for your Moscow itinerary. With the last decade's rising interest towards Soviet heritage, Russia, and Moscow, in particular, is a treasure trove of the epocha's artifacts.
The easiest to find and the most practical to explore, Moscow Subway is a must-see for every traveler. Unlike the subways in many other cities, Moscow Metro is a true masterpiece and does not carry solely transportation purposes.
Rather, every station tells you a story expressed through frescos, mosaics, or sculptures. Plus, the Moscow Subway is also a high-security facility.
Built as a hideaway from the US atomic bombs back in 1953 and later used as a storage place for Russian nuclear weapon, Bunker 42 is currently a museum of the Cold War era.
Set 65 m under the ground, the museum is a find for anyone who wants to learn more about the challenges of this historical period.
Another distinctive sight in Moscow is Muzeon Park of Arts (or Fallen Monument Park), the largest open-air sculpture park in Russia which comprises more than 700 artworks by Soviet sculptors.
If your hunger for Soviet things is not satisfied by now, there is also the Russian State Library, Khlebozavod 9, and a few other definitive places. Art-lovers would be glad to find a great deal of unusual modern art galleries like MARS Center, as well as more traditional spaces like the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts or the Bolshoi Theater.
Also, if you have time, visit the Victory Park which is a park and an exposition of the World War II weapon in one place.
Your next destination is Kazan which is only one night away from Moscow. However, when you arrive there, you will see how different it is from the capital. Being the center of Tartar culture, this city is a unique melting pot of Muslim and Christian traditions. We would suggest you start your exploration with the three main highlights: the Kremlin, the Kul Sharif Mosque, and the Temple of All Religions. You won't be disappointed!
If you are a sports lover, you should know that Kazan is considered a sports capital of Russia and is home to one of its most impressive arenas, the Kazan Arena. If you get a chance, catch a match there!
To immerse in the local culture, stop by the Central Market during the day and taste some fresh local produce straight from the garden. Then spend some quality time in Bauman Street, the pedestrian bit of the city flourishing with cafes, bars, and restaurants. It is also one of the oldest streets in Kazan with multiple hallmarks, so it is worth visiting in any case.
Kazan has also gained the title of a Foodie's Heaven for its fusion cuisine based on the mix of traditional Russian and Asian flavors. One of the famous dishes is chak-chak, a traditional Tartar pastry sweet with honey. Don't leave before you try it!
If you board the Trans-Siberian train in Kazan in the morning, you will reach Ekaterinburg by the evening of the same day. The first thing worth mentioning about Ekaterinburg is that it lays on the actual border between Europe and Asia on the footstep the Ural Mountains. This city is also the place of execution of the Romanovs, Russia's last Royal family, and ironically the birthplace of the country's first president, Boris Yeltsin.
So once in Ekaterinburg, begin your discovery by going on a panoramic guided city tour. To provide the most value to our travelers, we usually arrange a full day tour.
The first part of it is devoted to the general highlights, while the second part is all about the Romanovs, their death, and the Bolsheviks movement in Russia that eventually started the whole new era in the world's history.
For extra fun, reserve some time for visiting Vysotsky platform. The views are genuinely amazing! Also, take a short trip to the Europe-Asia monument and become one of the few people that have been to the two continents at the same time.
We are now on the longest train ride during your Trans-Siberian adventure, namely, the one from Ekaterinburg to Irkutsk, and it takes two full days. Upon arrival, there are two places you have to visit which is Irkutsk itself and the majestic Lake Baikal.
Irkutsk is a traditional Russian city with a considerable number of Orthodox churches and only one Catholic cathedral. Normally, we reserve one day for our travelers to discover Irkutsk and two days for the surrounding areas including Lake Baikal and Taltsy Village.
Apart from the historic center of Irkutsk, there are a couple of other monuments to discover.
If you have never been to Murmansk and seen the famous Lenin Icebreaker, we would highly recommend visiting the Angara Icebreaker once in Irkutsk. You will also find the Angara Dam in the area, which is not an attraction, but rather the "influencer," not in a good way though. Built back in 1956, it caused actual environmental problems on Lake Baikal, raising the water levels up to 1 meter. (Fun fact, back in the days, Soviet scientists and engineers also worked on the project of changing the direction of river flows in Siberia, which was partially executed, but suspended for environmental reasons.)
Then spend a couple of days on Lake Baikal, which is a truly spiritual experience. While there, take a relaxing cruise or swim in the lake's pure water if the weather allows. Then enjoy a guided tour of a wooden masterpiece, Listvyanka village, and the Baikal Museum representing the lake's unique flora and fauna. We always arrange the accommodation for our travelers right by the lake rather than in Irkutsk, which makes it convenient to relish the surrounding beauty and avoid exhausting drives to and from the hotel.
This is the point where the Trans-Siberian railway becomes Trans-Mongolian. One more day on a train and you arrive in mysterious Mongolia. The country is famous for its sceneries and, of course, for being home to the last nomads. The good thing is that you can experience nomadic lifestyle by staying in a traditional Ger Camp.
Despite accommodating tourists, the camp is actually run by a nomadic family, and it does provide an authentic experience. You can also enjoy horseback riding there, as well as do some hiking.
Do not miss the legendary 40-meters tall Genghis Khan Statue, before you move to the city of Ulan Bator.
During the city tour of Ulan-Bator, our travelers visit the National Museum of Mongolia and see the city's major attractions, including the Parliament building and the Sukhbaatar Square. If you have time, stop by Choijin Lama Temple Museum and see with your own eyes how the country worked during the feudal days in the East.
Another suggestion: attend a Mongolian folk show.
The valuable thing about the Trans-Siberian route is that it allows travelers to experience and see 1/3 of the world in all its variety and diversity. This journey is also the way to collect and understand the important parts of Russian history and to finally see the image hidden in the puzzle.
Just as the locals, we are dedicated to expanding the knowledge about Russia by providing the best possible travel experience for our clients. In the final part of this review, we will elaborate on your actual travel options, including small group Trans-Siberian tours, private tours, as well as DIY itineraries, and how to make each of them work.