Stops Along the Trans Siberian Railway
In Part One of this two-part series about traveling the Trans Siberian Railway with kids, I talked about where this train travels, how to book tickets, safety information, and what to expect on board. In Part Two, I’ll tell you all about the most popular stops along the Trans Siberian Railway and give a few suggestions on activities that your family can enjoy in each place!
Moscow, Russia’s capital, is likely where you’ll begin your Trans Siberian adventure. Before you hop on the train, be sure to spend a few days taking in everything that this city has to offer. You’ll of course need to visit the Red Square (Moscow’s city center and home of Saint Basil’s Cathedral) and the Kremlin (the current official residence of Russia’s president and former royal residence). Consider taking walking tours of both as they are UNESCO World Heritage sites and have fascinating histories! Here are a few other places to check out:
- Nikulin Circus: One of the oldest circuses in Russia, Nikulin Circus is the home of the world-famous Moscow State Circus. You’ll definitely appreciate the circus artistry involved in the show!
- Kolomenskoe Park: Kolomenskoe Park is a great place to visit with your family! Tour the park on horseback or enjoy some traditional Russian games. Throughout the year, the park also hosts numerous festivals and Russian folk celebrations.
- Moscow Cats Theater: This is exactly as it sounds! Acrobatic cats perform various stunts for your viewing pleasure!
- Museum of Soviet Arcade Games: This museum has about 40 different arcade games that children played in the Soviet era. There are even a few that you can play!
- Bunker 42: Sixty-five meters beneath the streets of Moscow lies an anti-nuclear bunker. Head underground to take a tour and learn about the history of the Cold War era. The facility also includes a Cold War Interactive Museum. Tours are available for ages 8+.
About 32 hours from Moscow, Yekaterinburg is the first of many stops along the Trans Siberian Railway. Located right on the border of Europe and Asia, you can stand with a foot in each continent! If you need an active break after being cooped up on the train, look into dog sledding or hiking through the taiga forests. Yekaterinburg also is commonly called the “City of the Romanovs,” as the Romanovs (Russia’s last royal family) were killed here in 1918. Here are a few highlights that your family should check out:
- Cathedral on the Blood: This Byzantine style church is the site where the Romanovs were shot and killed during the Russian Civil War. If you don’t speak Russian, consider getting a guide to tell you about the history of the Romanovs.
- Ganina Yama Monestary: This beautiful spot honors the last Czar of Russia and his family. Seven chapels have been constructed on the site, one for each member of the royal family. It would be good to visit Cathedral on the Blood prior to coming here. There are no signs in English, so it would be helpful to brush up on the history of the spot prior to your visit.
- Ekaterinburg Puppet Theatre: Puppet theater is rather popular in Russian culture, and this theater has a reputation for being one of the “best theaters of Russian dolls.” With shows for all ages, you’ll be able to find one for the whole family!
- Ural 20th Century Literary Life Museum: Children tour through magical rooms that are based on stories and legend by local authors. Fly on a magic carpet or take a trip on a space ship through stories or to visit mythical characters.
Four days from Moscow and two days from Beijing or Vladivostok, Irkutsk is definitely one of the worthwhile stops along the Trans Siberian Railway. Known for its unique architecture, Irkutsk’s wooden buildings were part of a preliminary list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. Many of these buildings have been turned into museums that are open for the public to tour and learn about the history of the area. Irkutsk was a central stopping point on tea, silk, and fur trading routes to China, India and Mongolia, and prior to that, early explorers left from here to explore the northern and eastern parts of Siberia. Irkutsk is also a city where many Russian revolutionaries, called Decembrists, came to settle. While the Decembrists who weren’t killed went to serve in labor camps near the Chinese border, their families settled in Irkutsk and were joined by the revolutionaries at the end of their sentence. Here are a few places to visit:
The Volkonsky House (Irkutsk Regional Memorial Decembrists Museum): This museum is a step back into “high society” exile in the 1800s. Complete with furnishings from the time period, you’ll learn all about the history of the Decembrists. The Volkonsky House also hosts open-air movies during the summer.
Nerpinary Irkutsk: This small aquarium is home to many rare Baikal seals, the only seal known to live in fresh-water. The seals here are trained, and put on a show that includes dancing, singing, and playing with a ball!
Lake Baikal: About 90 minutes from Irkutsk is one the deepest lake in the world, Lake Baikal. On the shore of the lake is a charming village called Listvyanka. If you visit during the summer, you’ll be able to swim, sail, and hike around the lake. If you are there during the winter, try out ice-fishing or go dog sledding on the frozen waters.
Ulan Ude is about 4.5 days from Moscow, only 8 hours from Irkutsk, and close to the Mongolian border. If you’re traveling east, you’ll notice that Ulan Ude is your first stop along the Trans Siberian Railway that feels more like Asia than Europe. Unlike other parts of Russia where Orthodox Christianity is primarily practiced, most people in this town practice Buddhism, and you’ll see Mongolian and Buddhist influences throughout the city. During the 17th century, Ulan Ude was settled by Buryat Mongols, Russia’s largest indigenous people. This city is also home to the world’s largest Lenin head (in case you were looking!). While you’re there, check out:
Open-Air Ethnographic Museum: The local openair ethnographic museum tells an interesting story about the life and traditions of native Siberians and colonizers. The museum also has expositions on the history of the various ethnic groups living in the region.
Ivolginsky Datsan: The Datsan is a restored Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the hills just outside of Ulan Ude, and is the center of Buddhist culture in Russia. Each morning there is a ceremony (in the Tibetan language) at 9:00 AM that is open to the public. If you visit the monastary between 9-11:00 AM, you are likely to see the monks performing their morning prayers.
Ulaanbaatar & Terelj National Park
A six-day journey from Moscow, Ulaanbaatar is the capital of Mongolia. The country’s biggest city by far, about 45% of Mongolia’s population resides here. Here are a few highlights:
Nadaam Festival: This two-day festival takes place in mid-July and is one of the biggest events of the year in Mongolia. Go watch local men compete in wrestling, horse racing, and archery- feats of skill and strength. You’ll get a great glimpse of Mongolian culture as many locals will wear traditional clothing and traditional foods will be prepared.
Gandantegchenling Monastery: The name of this monastery translates to “the great place of complete joy.” This is Mongolia’s largest Tibetan-style Buddhist monastery, and home to about 150 monks. Many of the temples are open to visitors, but there will be several that you can’t enter.
Gorkhi-Terelj National Park: About a 2-hour drive from Ulaanbaatar is Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, and you can see this national park on foot, horseback or camel back. You can easily get to rock formations called Turtle Rock and Praying Lama Rock. For a longer trek, head to Ariyabal, a small and secluded Buddhist temple in the mountainside. A day trip can easily be arranged from many hotels in Ulaanbaatar, but there are accommodations at the park as well. Hotels are available, but you can rent a traditional Mongolian ger (yurt) to get a better taste of Mongolian culture.
If you decide to ride the Trans-Mongolian or Trans-Manchurian train, Beijing is your final destination! Take time to learn about China’s history at the Forbidden City and be sure to visit the Temple of Heaven (a UNESCO site comprised of religious buildings built in medieval times). Here are a few other family-friendly activities:
Great Wall of China: With sections of the wall just 1.5-2 hours away from Beijing, this World Wonder is a must-see! Constructed over a period of 2,000 years and stretching over 21,000 kilometers (13,000 miles), the Great Wall of China is the longest man-made structure in the world. Each section has something different to offer, so learn here’s a guide to help you determine which section you want to see!
Red Theater: If your kiddos are at all interested in Kung Fu, check out the Legend of Kung Fu Show at Beijing’s Red Theater. The story tells of a young boy who trains to become a Kung Fu master. Kids will enjoy watching all of the acrobatics along the way!
Beijing Cooking School: Take a wok or pastry class at the Beijing Cooking School and learn to cook like locals! Tour the market to learn about local produce and spices, then head back to their kitchen to cook up some tasty dumplings!
Learn Tai Chi: Walk around Beijing long enough and you’re sure to see locals practicing Tai Chi. Hosted at the Temple of Heaven, San Feng Tai Chi Club has classes for beginners to teach basic principles and movements of Tai Chi.
If you’ve traveled on the traditional Trans Siberian Railway, you’ve reached the end! Vladivostok is a great stop for a day or two if you are planning to continue your trip to Korea or Japan, but probably doesn’t hold the same appeal as Beijing as the end of a week-long journey. Here are a few places that may be worthwhile to visit:
S-56 Submarine Museum: Tour this World War 2 submarine and get a peek of what life was like for sailors who lived on board. All signs are in Russian, but you’ll still get a decent sense of daily operations. This museum would be difficult to navigate for those in wheelchairs or strollers.
Automotive Antiques Museum: This is a great stop for any car lovers in your family, though a bit of a trip to get to. This museum features a collection of antique Soviet cars and government vehicles. Many of the cars are still in working condition and frequently participate in local parades!
From Moscow to Beijing or Vladivostok, there are plenty of stops along the Trans Siberian Railway to where you can stretch your legs and explore. Have you taken the Trans Siberian Railway? I’d love to hear where you stopped!Learn where to stop along the Trans Siberian Railway with your family!Click To Tweet