Experience one of the most legendary bucket-list journeys ever in the magic of the Russian winter. A sobering but essential excursion to the Romanov family resting place shines light on one of the Russian Revolution’s major tragedies. Encounter a way of life that has changed little since the 18th century on a visit to the Old Believers Village near Ulan Ude. Lake Baikal is astounding at any time of year, but in winter it’s next-level. Marvel at its sheer size (like sea) and enjoy the tranquility of the lake under winter sunshine.
Tibet may have the highest, and Australia and Switzerland the steepest, but Russia most certainly takes the prize when it comes to sheer depth of history and legend in a train trip. Embark on a beautiful winter adventure on the great Trans-Siberian Railway, one of the great journeys of modern times. Travelling in winter adds a dramatic dimension to Russia’s vast landscapes, as Lake Baikal shimmers with a deep speckled blue, the wooden Romanov monasteries outside Yekaterinburg take on a sombre, snowy profile, and the time-capsule scenes of the Old Believers village near Ulan Ude are given a fairy-tale dusting. With the must-see historical sites of Moscow revealed before you set off, and the spirit of the new year alive throughout, this Tran-Siberian itinerary pulls out all the stops for an unforgettable expedition.
Zdrastvutye! Welcome to Russia. The journey begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm, where your insurance and next of kin details will be collected. Please also have two copies of your passport, visa and migration cards ready. Your leader will collect one; the other is for you to keep on you at all times whilst on the trip. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where the meeting will take place. If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. After the meeting, join your leader for a short orientation walk to get your bearings. If you arrive early and have time, there's plenty to see and do. Perhaps check out Victory Park, the Tretyakov Gallery, the Izmailovo Markets, or get a sneak peek of Red Square ahead of tomorrow's explorations.
Accompanied by a local guide, head across the cobblestones of Red Square, where ornate Christmas trees loom next to the colourful domes of St Basil’s Cathedral, the fairytale-like State Historical Museum, and the dramatic walls of the Kremlin. This square has been a key part of Russian history since the era of Ivan the Terrible and through the Cold War period. Catch a glimpse of Lenin, the revered revolutionary, at his resting place before heading into the spirital nebula of Russia – the Kremlin. Walk through the towers and cathedrals and continue to the Armoury Museum, where an impressive former royal collection is displayed – ambassadorial gifts, Faberge eggs, coronation robes and opulent jewels. Later you can ride the metro to see the 'palaces of the people' – the lavishly designed train stations. Before you board your midnight train to Yekaterinburg, your afternoon and evening are free.
Settle in for the journey to Yekaterinburg (approximately 33 hours). From Moscow, we'll be travelling 1816 km west. You'll get a real sense of how vast this country is by travelling on the train. The route goes via Moscow, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Galich, Kirov, Balezino, and Perm, with stops of up to 40 minutes in duration.
After arriving in Yekaterinburg mid morning, board a private bus at the train station and make your way to the hotel (approximately 30 minutes). In the afternoon, explore the city on a guided walking tour (approximately 3 hours). Yekaterinburg is fourth largest city in Russia, was founded in 1723 and named after Peter the Great's wife, Yekaterina. Located on the border between Europe and Asia, the city has been the anchor point for the development in the Urals and Siberia and was once called 'windows on Asia'. Your walking tour shines a light on the city's history and development, visiting the Vysotsky skyscraper lookout, memorial sites for soldiers killed in different wars, and also site related to the Romanovs, the Church of All Saints, which was built on the site where the Tsar's family (the Romanovs) were executed by the Bolsheviks in early 1918.
In the morning, jump on a bus and head 15 km north of town to explore Ganina Yama with a guide. This is where the Romanov family were secretly buried after their execution following the 1917 revolution. The existence of this site was not publicly known until 1989. Explaining some of the history along the way, your guide will show you around Monastery of the Holy Martyrs, a complex of seven beautiful wooden monasteries, each one dedicated to a different Romanov family member. Afterwards, the afternoon is yours to spend as you please. In the evening, we board our Trans-Siberian train to Ulan Ude.
The adventure rolls on via Tyumen, Ishim, Omsk, Barabinsk, Novosibirsk, Litvinovo, Mariinsk, Achinsk, Krasnoyarsk, Ilanskaya, Zima and Irkutsk. Before arriving in Ulan Ude, note the time zone changes: Ulan Ude is three hours ahead of Yekaterinburg, so remember add these to your clock! Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the simplicity of life on the Trans-Siberian Railway. It pretty much involves eating, drinking, talking, reading, sleeping and gazing out the window at the great icy plains that stream by.
Arrive in Ulan-Ude in the evening and transfer to your hotel, in time for an optional dinner with the group. Ulan Ude is the capital of the Republic of Buryatia and homeland of the Buryat people, a close relation of the Mongolians. After being repressed during Soviet times, Buryat traditions and religions (such as shamanism and Tibetan Buddhism) are experiencing a revival. The city is fascinating mix of Euro-Russian, Mongolian and Buryat cultures. The future of Buryatia is directly connected with development of the Lake Baikal area as a tourism zone. By coming here with our groups, respecting environmental issues and with rational use of the area's rich cultural and historic legacy, the aim is to contribute to the development of sustainable tourism in Eastern Siberia. The area surrounding the city is tremendously beautiful, with vast, wild nature, boundless steppes, and alpine and taiga forests.
Departing mid-morning, enjoy a quick tour of Ulan Ude, checking out the monument to Lenin (believed to be the biggest sculpture of Lenin's head in Siberia), town square, and the local opera house built by prisoners. Continue by bus to the Tarbagatay Old Believers village (approximately 1 hour). The Old Believers are Orthodox Christians who were exiled or fled from European Russia during the church reforms of the 17th century, and their way of life has changed little since the 18th century. Visit the local church and ethnography museum, attend a concert of folk songs and games, and enjoy a meal of timeless and tasty home-cooked dishes. Then it's off to Lake Baikal (approximately 2.5 hours). This is the deepest fresh water lake in the world and, amazingly, holds more than 20% of the world's fresh water. It's especially magical in winter, with fewer visitors and often a lovely sunny sky to match. Note that accommodation here, a comfortable local guesthouse, is on a multishare basis.
Roll up your sleeves and cook some New Year Buuz (dumplings) with your lovely hosting family. Or try out the banya – the traditional Russian sauna – and jump into the ice cold Baikal! During your time here there are also loads of other optional activities to partake in, including making snow figures, taking a ride to hot springs or sledging in the surrounding hills. Enjoy a full-board meal plan, with plenty of tasty Russian staples like salads, soups, black bread, pancakes and pies. You'll also get a chance to try the local fish from Baikal – omul – which tastes extra delicious when roasted over a camp fire on the lake shore. Come New Year's Eve, why not do as the Russians do: say goodbye to the old year with a shot of vodka and make toast to the new one with a glass of champagne!
Ulan Ude/Far Eastern Railway
At midday, take a private bus to Ulan Ude train station (approximately 4 hours). Climb aboard for the final part of your Trans-Siberian train adventure, heading for Vladivostok on the eastern end of the route.
Far Eastern Railway
The route to Vladivostok goes via Khilok, Chita, Chernysh Zab, Yer Pavlov, Belogorsk, and Khabarovsk. Settle in and enjoy yet another leg of the most legendary train journey in the world.
Disembark at the Vladivostok train station, terminus of the Trans Siberia railway, as our 9,289 km journey from Moscow concludes. Transfer to your hotel (approximately 30 minutes away) and, after a quick freshen-up, enjoy a city tour. This city is a major eastern gateway of Russia, the home port of the Russian Pacific Fleet, and the largest Russian port on the Pacific Ocean. You'll visit the Submarine C56 museum, stroll down Central Square and Svetlanskaya Street, see the impressive Nikolai Triumphal Arch, and visit Tsesarevich Embankment and Sport Harbor. Celebrate the end of your journey over a hearty optional dinner tonight.