Traveling the Trans Siberian Railway with Kids
Is your family game for a travel adventure across Siberia? This post is the first of a two-post series on traveling the Trans Siberian Railway with kids! In this post, I’ll tell you where this train travels, how to book tickets, and what to expect on board the train. In Part Two, I’ll let you know all about the most popular stops along the Trans Siberian Railway and give a few suggestions on activities that the kiddos will enjoy in each place!
Built in the late 19th century as a way to connect Moscow and St. Petersburg with Vladivostok on Russia’s Pacific coast, the Trans Siberian Railway is now a massive network of railways that begin as far west as London and can take you through to Japan, Korea, or even Vietnam! Most Westerners tend to head eastbound and leave from Moscow. You could definitely travel westbound as well, though you’re less likely to run in to other westerners is you choose to do so. If you’re heading eastbound, most people will begin their Trans Siberian adventure in Moscow. There are three routes you can take from here:
- The traditional Trans-Siberian route begins in Moscow and ends in Vladivostok.
- The Trans-Mongolian route is extremely popular, beginning in Moscow and ending in Beijing, and going through Mongolia.
- The Trans-Manchurian route will also begin in Moscow and end in Beijing, but will bypass Mongolia and instead stop in Harbin, China (a great option if you only want to get 2 visas).
Each route takes about a week to complete if you don’t stop at all along the route. Most people choose to take the Trans-Mongolian route and end their journey in Beijing, as there isn’t as much to see in Vladivostok unless you plan to continue your trip into Japan and further south.
Is Traveling the Trans Siberian Railway with Kids Really Recommended?
Traveling the Trans Siberian Railway with kids is generally considered to be safe. After all, this is how many Russian families travel! That said, the Trans Siberian Railway has no special amenities to entertain children. You won’t find reading material in English or English programs on the television, so the trip may be better for older children who are able to entertain themselves for periods of time. You’ll want to bring plenty of entertainment for everyone- books, tablets filled with games and movies, magnetic chess or checkers, and card games are recommended!
Personally, I would break up the trip and make several stops along the way. Seven days straight on a railway might make everyone a bit stir-crazy! Stops along the route would be great for kids with an interest in hiking, history, and local cultures. Be sure to bring photos or small treats from home to share with local children that you encounter along the way!
How to Book Your Tickets
It’s wise to book your tickets in advance, especially if you plan to travel during the summer months when tickets can sell out. If you’re planning to make stops along the way, you’ll need to book tickets for each individual train, as different numbered trains stop in different locations. It’s a bit more expensive to book different trains, but worthwhile if you want to experience the various cities along the route.
If you purchase tickets ahead of time through a reputable Russian agency (Real Russia is supposed to be great), you’ll likely find a better deal on your tickets than if you book through a western travel agency. Russian Railways sells train tickets to travel agencies prior to opening bookings to the public. The travel agencies can basically mark them up as they see fit, so you’ll find a wide range of prices as you research. You’ll need to shop around, and be very specific when requesting quotes from different agencies. Be sure to ask about the following things:
- The type of train you want. Do you want the better-quality firmeny train or are you fine with traveling via a lower-quality, slower train? In general, the better quality trains have a lower train number and the lesser-quality trains have three-digit train number. When you’re getting a quote, be sure to know the train numbers!
- The type of room that you’d like to book. There is a big price difference between booking a first class cabin and a second class cabin! Read below for more info.
- Ask about delivery charges and credit card fees. These extra fees can be hidden in the fine print and add quite a bit to your ticket.
- Find out exactly what is included. Some packages may include all meals, some may provide only a few meals, and others provide none. All-inclusive packages are obviously going to be more expensive.
- Check in to child prices for fares!
If you have flexibility in your schedule, you could wait to purchase your tickets at the train station. This would probably be the cheapest option, but not great for those who need a bit more certainty in their lives! I’ve found that The Man in Seat 61 is an awesome resource for anyone looking to take this Trans Siberian adventure!
When to Go
The Trans Siberian Railway operates year-round. During the summer, from May- September, you’ll experience the longest days and warmest weather. Winter can be quite picturesque.
Getting Appropriate Visas
You’ll need to be sure to obtain a visa for each country that you plan to pass through. If you’re taking the Trans-Mongolian route and don’t plan to stop in Mongolia, you will still need to get a transit visa. Rules for getting a visa will vary based on your nationality, and I’d recommend looking in to requirements several months in advance to make sure you don’t encounter any last minute surprises! Here are some links for any U.S. citizen who plans to travel the Trans Siberian Railway with kids!
Aboard the Train
- First Class (SV): The first class cabins are definitely the most expensive. Booking here can easily double the cost of your trip, but you will be more comfortable! Each cabin has two sofas that convert into beds (called a 2-berth sleeper). On some trains, the first class cabins also have their own private bathroom!
- Second Class (Kupé): The second class cabins are the most common choice for Westerners (pictured above), and each compartment contains 4 beds (a 4-perth sleeper). You’ll have two sofas against the wall that are used as beds, and an additional two beds above the sofas that fold out when you need them. This is probably the best option for traveling the Tran Siberian Railway with kids!
- Third Class (Platzkart): A similar type of “bunk bed” style to the second class, but without any door separating you from your neighbor across the hall. Picture a train car with beds lining the walls the whole length of the car. This is bar far the cheapest option, but allows for no privacy.
There can be a bit of variation between the classes depending on whether the train is Russian or Chinese, so when you’re inquiring, be sure to ask exactly what you are getting! Please note that when booking, you are paying for the bed, not the cabin! If there are only two of you traveling in a 4-perth sleeper, don’t be surprised if you are paired with an additional two people.
A toilet will be located on each end of your carriage, but they will be locked shortly before, during, and after most train station stops. Also, shower facilities may not always be available, even in first class.
Many trains will have dining cars, but expect food and drink to be rather pricey. Carriage attendants will sell drinks and snacks, but selection is limited, and again, expect it to be pricey. Every 3-4 hours, the train will stop for about 20-30 minutes, giving you the opportunity to get some fresh air and some fresh food to eat. Food at the train platforms will be expensive as well. During longer stops, you should have plenty of time to grab something quickly at a shop outside of the train station. Also, every carriage has a hot water dispenser (samovar), so consider bringing your own cup of noodles, oatmeal, tea, and instant coffee. Attendants will have drinkable water available, so bring your own refillable water bottle as well!
So above are all of the basics that you need to know about climbing on board the Trans Siberian Railway with kids! The next post in this series will cover some of the most popular stops along the way! Stay tuned!Learn all about traveling the Trans Siberian Railway with kids!Click To Tweet