Travelling by train is very popular in Russia as it is significantly cheaper than flying. Hundreds of long-distance trains leave Moscow from eight railway terminals every day. There are many exciting destinations, several of which are particularly interesting.
1. Moscow - Saint-Petersburg. Thirty trains a day run between the two capitals, ticket price varies from 25 USD to 300 USD depending on the class of a coach and the train as well as demand for this date/train. Seven of those are high-speed day trains called Sapsan (4 hours) with prices strating from 50 USD.
An overnight train can be a good option too - all of those are sleeper trains, so you do not need to pay for a night in a hotel. Normally they leave Moscow at about 10 pm and arrive in Petersburg between 6 and 8 am. The average ticket price is 75 USD. The most comfortable train is Grand-Express, it has its own website.
Most of the trains depart from Leningrasky (Ленинградский) railway terminal.
2. The cities of the Golden Ring. The Golden Ring is a route connecting the oldest towns of Russia to the North-East of Moscow. One of the possible railway routes is: Moscow - Sergiev Posad (suburban train) - Rostov - Yaroslavl - Vologda - Moscow. Take a train at Yaroslavsky (Ярославский) railway terminal. Every leg of the journey will take 2-8 hours. However, the railway does not take in one of the most popular Golden Ring cities, Suzdal. To get there from Moscow by railway you should take one of numerous trains to Vladimir from Kursky - Курский - railway terminal (2-4 hours) and then a local bus or a cab (30 km). Also you can get to Suzdal from Yaroslavl by bus (twice a day, 5 hours).
3. Transsiberian Railroad. For someone from Europe, where a train ride is never longer than eight hours, there is something special about spending several days on a train. The 9300 km railroad that runs all across the country was put into operation 110 years ago. The fastest train covers the distance between Moscow and Vladivostok (a city on the Pacific ocean coast) in 6 days with the average speed of 64 km/h. It departs from Moscow every day at 1.50 pm, ticket prices vary from 300 to 800 USD. However if you plan to make stops on your way (e.g. in Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Irkutsk) you can buy tickets for every stage of the journey separately.
The Transsiberian Railroad passes 8 time zones. In spite of this the time on the train is always the same - Moscow time. All railway stations on the way also follows Moscow time. Consider it, buying a ticket. The time you see is always Moscow time, not local!
The trains depart from Yaroslavsky (Ярославский) or Kazansky (Казанский) railway terminals.
In overnight trains there are usually coaches of three classes: first, second and luxury and very rarely - seats-only coaches. The 2nd class coach (platzcart - плацкарт) have two rows of bunks on both sides of the corridor. Four bunks on one side are arranged in a booth are accompanied by two more on the other side. These ones on the side are less popular as you have very little space and are usually bought out the last. All in all there are 54 bunks in a coach and 2 toilets.
Of course, being in a car with 50 other people sharing 2 restrooms and one water-boiler cannot guarantee you a lot of comfort, but on the other hand the open space can help feel safer and even more private than staying face to face with strangers in one compartment. And if you are fond of meeting different people it is exactly what you need.
First class coach (or coupe - купе) has nine compartments for four passengers each. You can close the door to stay there on your own. If you want to travel on your own without any neighbours nothing keeps you from buying out all four tickets in one coupe. As in the 2nd class there are 2 toilets at the ends of the coach.
The most expensive luxury coach (spalny vagon - спальный вагон or СВ) have compartments for two persons each. There is a sink in every compartment.
According to Russian Railroads, the 2nd class coaches are supposed to be replaced within the next 10 years. They plan to replace them with the 1st class double-decker (двухэтажный) coaches matching the price of the 2nd class. Several of these coaches are already into operation. The downside of these new compartments - smaller coupes, lower ceiling and lack of space for the luggage. This is what this train looks like on the Russian Railroads website:
Trains themsleves can be of a different class too. There are cheaper trains as well as better ones. So-called firmenny (фирменный) trains are normally newer, have better ventilation system and cleaner toilets. Usually the trains have a name besides a number.
LIFE ON A TRAIN
Many people immediately make themselves at home on the train. The moment the train departs they take slippers out of their bags and put on their home clothes (one can change in a restroom or in a compartment if it is a 1st class coach; in this case all other passengers of the opposite sex have to leave the compartment for a while). Every coach has a water-boiler (some of them are still stoked with wood and coal), and it is barely an hour into the journey passengers start to line up along the corridor with their cups and teabags. If your don't have your own utensils with you, you can buy some tea from provodnik - a person (usualy female) who checks passengers' tickets, looks after water-boiler, cleans the coach and distributes bed linen. You can buy some snacks from her too, but for more serious nutrition you are expected to go to a restaurant car. Most passengers believe it to be overpriced and not really worth visiting. Normally passengers have some food with them, and they will most probably invite you to share some with them. Train classics are roasted chicken, boiled eggs, cucumbers, tomatoes, instant noodles. It is easy to stock up on food at some major stations, where the train stops for at least 10 minutes. The locals come to the platform to sell home-made food - boiled potatoes, vegetables, pickles, pastry, fruit, smoked fish or even crawfishe and beer.
As for drinking, passengers might have a few drinks, but it never goes wild - a provodnik and train policemen will 'help' a violent passenger out of the train. Anyway it is better to have earplugs with you, whatever class you travel.
There are two toilets in each coach. Also keep in mind, that in older trains toilets get locked when the train is running through a town area (for major stations, like Moscow and Petersburg, it is about 30 minutes before arriving/ after departure). However all the newer trains and for sure all firmenny ones have so-called bio-toiletes are always accessible.
Bedding is normally included in the ticket price, in the more expensive coaches/trains it will be already laid, in the 2nd class you are to do it by yourself.
HOW TO BUY A TICKET
There are many agencies where you can buy tickets, but the cheapest way is to buy them directly from Russian Railroads (RZD), their official websiteis translated into English. However, the translation is sometimes tricky, so let us lend you a helping hand.
After you will have chosen Departure/ Arrival stations and the date of your journey (tickets become available 45 days before the journey), you will be forwarded to a page with all available trains:
In the Cost column you can see 4 coach classes - Sitting (with seats only), Reserved seat (it is the 2nd class), Compartment (the 1st class) and Soft - luxury. On the right of it you can see the number of seats/bunks available and the prices.
ЭР icon on the left means your passport is all you need to board the train (although we recommend to print your electronic ticket out and take it with you). If there is no such icon, you should obtain the ticket in a special self-service kiosk at the station or ask a cashier to print it. You will need your passport and e-ticket number.
On the next screen you can choose a coach and a place in a coach. You can choose a bunk on a coach plan. This is a second class coach plan:
The bunks on the sides are actually the worst because they are neighboured by WCs and passengers keeps passing you on your bunk all day long. Choose ones in the middle and preferably the ones not on the side (not 38-54).
Boarding starts 40 minutes before train's departure (about 20 minutes for Sapsans).
Have a good journey!