April 06, 2016

8 Perfect Pitstops Along the Trans-Siberian Railway

8 Perfect Pitstops Along the Trans-Siberian Railway

In honor of the centennial anniversary of the Trans-Siberian Railway’s completion, MIR Corporation has compiled a list of 8 fantastic things to do along the world's longest railway line. MIR Corporation, an award-winning tour company based in Seattle, WA, has been specializing in creative, culturally immersive small group, custom, and private journeys to Russia and beyond – including along the Trans-Siberian Railway – since 1986. This article originally appeared on their blog

Adventure. History. Old-world romance. These are just a few of the reasons that intrepid travelers choose to hop aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway. Spanning nearly 6,000 miles and crossing 7 time zones, this epic journey allows passengers to experience remote destinations and see the most of what this vast and variegated region has to offer in the least amount of time.

You could easily finish the entire route in as little as six days. But many opt to spend more time along the Trans-Siberian, breaking up the journey at fascinating points along the line. Past travelers often say that these off-train excursions are what make the trip so satisfying.

Here’s just a sampling of our favorite things to do along one of the world’s greatest train routes.


1. Take in the Classic Sights of Moscow’s Red Square

A birds-eye-view of the Historical Museum in beautiful Red Square. Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

A birds-eye-view of the Historical Museum in beautiful Red Square
Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Russia’s 850-year-old capital city makes a grand first impression on travelers. A booming metropolis, Moscow is dignified yet dynamic, and ancient churches stand shoulder to shoulder with 21st-century high-rises. Some of the most recognizable symbols of Russia can be found in UNESCO-listed Red Square, including iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral with its brilliantly patterned domes and the Moscow Kremlin with its venerable medieval palaces.

Once inside the Kremlin’s fortress walls, be sure to visit the Armory Museum. A former warehouse for the Kremlin’s weaponry, it now houses Russia’s national treasures, such as religious icons, Fabergé eggs, and Catherine the Great’s ball gowns and shoes.

2. Discover Kazan’s Rich Cultural Diversity

Kazan, Russia

Qol Sharif Mosque in Kazan, Russia
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

Laid out along the banks of the Volga River, Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, has a fascinating multiethnic history. While the Tatars, an ethnic group of Turkic Muslims, make up the majority here, you’ll find Orthodox Christians and Muslims coexisting peacefully side-by-side.

The highlight of this multi-cultural city is the Kazan Kremlin, containing the recently rebuilt Qol Sharif Mosque. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s considered the only surviving Tatar fortress in Russia.

3. Listen to a Private Concert in Irkutsk

A private concert in Irkutsk's Decembrist Museum, still much the same as it was over a century ago.Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

A private concert in Irkutsk’s Decembrist Museum, still much the same as it was over a century ago
Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Founded in 1661, Irkutsk was once associated with exile and abandon, offered to captives of Genghis Khan as an alternative to death. The 18th through 20th centuries saw a period of revival and growth, when Czarist and Bolshevik exiles brought culture and education to the city after their terms of slave labor ended, gracing Irkutsk with beautiful neoclassical churches, universities and homes.

A particular favorite is the Decembrist House Museum, the former home of Prince Sergei Volkonsky, a principal actor in the failed 1825 Decembrist uprising against Czar Nicholas I. Exiled to Siberia, he and his wife, Maria, eventually settled in Irkutsk, where their comfortable home famously served as a salon frequented by the city’s intellectual elite. Today, talented singers and musicians from Irkutsk often perform for guests in the elegant Volkonsky drawing room, offering a taste of 19th-century life in this cultured little city.

4. Picnic on the Shores of Lake Baikal

Celebration on the shores of Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin

Celebration on the shores of Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia
Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin

A natural wonder of the world, UNESCO-listed Lake Baikal is the world’s deepest and oldest freshwater lake. Spectacular views and one of the richest and most unusual ecosystems on earth make this an essential stop on any Trans-Siberian journey.

On rail journeys by private train, Lake Baikal makes the picture-perfect stop for an outdoor picnic, with food prepared by the onboard chefs and a chance to dip your feet in the lake’s crystal clear – and chilly – waters.

If you're the wintry type, frozen Lake Baikal is the perfect location to experience the thrill of an ice ride, or to join in on ice-fishing or dogsledding with the locals. You can also visit the shoreside Ice Festival to admire the elaborate ice sculptures.

5. Witness Centuries-old Traditions in Ulan Ude

Ivolginsk Datsan near Ulan Ude is Russia's center for Buddhism, one of several religions practiced in Siberia.Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin

Ivolginsk Datsan near Ulan Ude is Russia’s center for Buddhism, one of several religions practiced in Siberia
Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin

Founded in 1666, Ulan Ude is home to the Buryats, an indigenous people closely related to their Mongolian neighbors to the south, sharing their Tibetan Buddhist and shamanist traditions. Staunchly proud of their heritage, the Buryats have kept these old customs alive, despite hardship under Soviet rule. Today, Siberia's Ulan Ude is considered the center of Buddhism in Russia and the location of one of the only monasteries to survive Soviet times, the Ivolginsk Datsan.

6. Visit a Village of Old Believers

Unforgettable MIR Signature Experience: listening to Old Believers singing, and joining them for dinner Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Siberian Old Believers sing a song
Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Buryats also share their region with the Old Believers, a group of Russians that rebelled against the Orthodox Church reforms of the mid-17th century. Isolated in their Siberian villages, they’ve been able to preserve their unique traditions, clothing, architecture, language and songs.

Along the Trans-Siberian, lucky travelers passing through Ulan Ude are treated to a home-cooked meal and concert featuring local singers and musicians from the Old Believer community.

7. Experience Mongolia's Naadam Festival

Young rider at Naadam Festival in UlaanBaatar, Mongolia. Photo credit: Helge Pedersen.

Young rider at Naadam Festival in UlaanBaatar, Mongolia
Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Okay, it's not Russia. But the Mongolia part of the ride is worth stopping for, and Naadam is so important to Mongolia that it’s been designated a part of UNESCO’s “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” More than just another colorful folk festival, Naadam is Mongolia’s celebration of the country’s best athletes, as well as a point of national pride. Originating centuries ago, this annual event showcases the country’s best in wrestling, horse racing and archery, as well as uniquely Mongolian sports such as “ankle-bone shooting.”

While its traditions and spiritual significance were lost during Soviet times, the Naadam Festival has since been revived, commemorating Mongolia’s independence from China (July 11th) and a symbolic reflection of the nation’s cohesion and strength.

8. Delight in the Spectacular Scenery from the Train Window

Picturesque setting for an Old Believers' village outside of Ulan Ude. Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Picturesque setting for an Old Believers’ village outside of Ulan Ude
Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

No matter where you go along the Trans-Siberian, the scenery is bound to be beautiful, wild and different from day to day. Take a moment to lift your head up from your book or take a much-needed break after an action-packed day to admire the magnificent landscape rolling along outside your cabin window.

To plan your own trip along the Trans-Siberian Railroad, check out MIR's railway tours. See MIR's original blog post here.

Top image credit: Douglas Grimes, mircorp.com

You Might Also Like

Best Destinations of 2015
  • January 28, 2016

Best Destinations of 2015

The leading travel company shares with us their nine best Instagram photos from their fascinating destinations. 
Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

At the Circus (bilingual)

At the Circus (bilingual)

This wonderful novella by Alexander Kuprin tells the story of the wrestler Arbuzov and his battle against a renowned American wrestler. Rich in detail and characterization, At the Circus brims with excitement and life. You can smell the sawdust in the big top, see the vivid and colorful characters, sense the tension build as Arbuzov readies to face off against the American.
Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

This astonishingly gripping autobiography by the founder of the Russian Women’s Death Battallion in World War I is an eye-opening documentary of life before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution.
Murder and the Muse

Murder and the Muse

KGB Chief Andropov has tapped Matyushkin to solve a brazen jewel heist from Picasso’s wife at the posh Metropole Hotel. But when the case bleeds over into murder, machinations, and international intrigue, not everyone is eager to see where the clues might lead.
Tolstoy Bilingual

Tolstoy Bilingual

This compact, yet surprisingly broad look at the life and work of Tolstoy spans from one of his earliest stories to one of his last, looking at works that made him famous and others that made him notorious. 
Fish: A History of One Migration

Fish: A History of One Migration

This mesmerizing novel from one of Russia’s most important modern authors traces the life journey of a selfless Russian everywoman. In the wake of the Soviet breakup, inexorable forces drag Vera across the breadth of the Russian empire. Facing a relentless onslaught of human and social trials, she swims against the current of life, countering adversity and pain with compassion and hope, in many ways personifying Mother Russia’s torment and resilience amid the Soviet disintegration.
A Taste of Chekhov

A Taste of Chekhov

This compact volume is an introduction to the works of Chekhov the master storyteller, via nine stories spanning the last twenty years of his life.
The Samovar Murders

The Samovar Murders

The murder of a poet is always more than a murder. When a famous writer is brutally stabbed on the campus of Moscow’s Lumumba University, the son of a recently deposed African president confesses, and the case assumes political implications that no one wants any part of.
The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar (bilingual)

The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar (bilingual)

The fables of Ivan Krylov are rich fonts of Russian cultural wisdom and experience – reading and understanding them is vital to grasping the Russian worldview. This new edition of 62 of Krylov’s tales presents them side-by-side in English and Russian. The wonderfully lyrical translations by Lydia Razran Stone are accompanied by original, whimsical color illustrations by Katya Korobkina.
Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

The Life Stories collection is a nice introduction to contemporary Russian fiction: many of the 19 authors featured here have won major Russian literary prizes and/or become bestsellers. These are life-affirming stories of love, family, hope, rebirth, mystery and imagination, masterfully translated by some of the best Russian-English translators working today. The selections reassert the power of Russian literature to affect readers of all cultures in profound and lasting ways. Best of all, 100% of the profits from the sale of this book are going to benefit Russian hospice—not-for-profit care for fellow human beings who are nearing the end of their own life stories.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602