With one of the largest rail systems in the world, and one that touches almost every city and town across the vast country, it’s no surprise that rail travel is one of the most popular and often-used forms of transportation in Russia. With routes roaming from Europe to the Far East and through every corner of the country, as well as a dizzying variety of classes and trains to choose from, there is a perfect train for every sort of tourist wanting to experience Russia firsthand. That’s why a trip by Russian rail is a must-do item on any traveller’s checklist, and here are some of the country’s favorite trains as a suggestion.
The Famous Red Arrow
The first firmeny, or branded train, the Red Arrow is Russia’s oldest train – running on the Moscow – St. Petersburg route since 1931 with only a two-year interruption during the Second World War. Once the carriage of choice for the Communist Party elite, this historic train still bears the classic styling, plush carpet and red velvet curtains of yesteryear.
The Red Arrow departs from St Petersburg and Moscow each night just before midnight as the train’s “theme song” – Reinhold Ernest Glier’s “Hymn to the Great City” – plays in the station. The overnight trip between cities takes approximately 8 hours, letting you sleep away the journey and wake up in a new city (though the vintage carriages aren’t the smoothest for light sleepers!).
VIP coaches provide elegant compartments with Wifi, a private bathroom with shower, and a flatscreen TV. For the more cost-conscious, 1st class (hosting two passengers) or 2nd class (hosting four) sleeper compartments are also available.
The Ultra-Modern Sapsan
No Russian train is more the polar opposite of the Red Arrow than the Sapsan. A clean, modern bullet train (and the fastest train in Russia), the Sapsan zips between Moscow and St Petersburg in under four hours, and offers a Moscow to Nizhny Novgorod train as well for those looking to journey beyond the two capitals to the cultural city on the Volga River nicknamed “Russia’s Hollywood”.
But what it lacks in the Red Arrow’s classic style, it makes up for with modern convenience. The Economy class seats are comfortable enough, and comparable to those on an airline, but the Business and 1st Class seats are almost without compare. And a sleek conference room (for up to four travellers) makes the Sapsan ideal for business trips. Unlike on the Red Arrow, Wifi on the Sapsan isn’t reserved only to the VIP class, and 1st Class seats have personal TV’s and audio modules (Economy and Business have individual audio modules as well, but only four common TV’s per carriage). The Sapsan’s dining car bistro also offers hot meals for your trip.
The Efficient Allegro
While as sleek and modern as the Sapsan train, the Allegro sets itself apart with its dazzling efficiency. Whisking travelers between St Petersburg and the Finnish capital of Helsinki in just three hours, the Allegro streamlines the border crossing with passport control and even currency exchange handled entirely onboard, making life easy for those that want to mix up their Russian vacation with a little time in Finland.
The Allegro has only seven cars – 1 Business class, 6 Economy class – carrying up to almost 340 passengers, and runs four times a day. The train offers amenities like free Wifi and a playroom for children, as well as a delicious food options from the dining car – however, the best part of the ride may be the views of the vast forested wilderness rolling by for much of journey on both sides of the border as you make your way from St. Petersburg to Helsinki, as well as the historic castle-city of Vyborg.
The Romantic Trans-Siberian Rossiya
Russia boasts the longest train route on earth – the six-day journey from Moscow to the distant port city of Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan. The train departs daily from Moscow and Vladivostok, and stops at over 140 cities on its cross-country route. While it lacks both the classic elegance of the Red Arrow and the sleek, modern speed and comfort of the Sapsan and the Allegro train, the Rossiya train offers an unforgettable romantic journey across the breadth of Russia that few tourism experiences can match. The Trans-Siberian route offers views of every facet of Russia, from forests to rolling hills to the Siberian taiga, not to mention scenic bridge crossings of several large rivers like the Volga and the Ob, and views of the spectacular Lake Baikal near the journey’s end. If covering the entire length of the Trans-Siberian seems too much, you can take the Rossiya Moscow to Yekaterinburg train.
Ride in style in the 1st Class car, or take the more economical 2nd Class (2 travellers per compartment) or the even more affordable 3rd Class (“Platzkart”, an open area of over 50 bunks in a kind of railway hostel).
No matter what kind of experience you seek in Russia, there is a train for you.