Forget anything you think you know about Russia, and GO! Russia is well and truly like no place else. And every town from Moscow to Vladivostok is completely different, and well worth the visit. The Trans-Siberian-Railroad should be on every backpackers bucket list, and I cannot erg you enough to get it ticked off.✓
Lets start from to beginning: How do we get in??
First you’re going to need to visa, for this you have two options.
Option number 1: You can pay (a lot) and get a travel agent to do it for you. If you’re tight on time and have the money to spend, I recommend this option. Getting the visa is a long and somewhat complicated process, so if you can afford it, save yourself the stress and visit a travel agent.
Option 2: So, you’re a tight-ass or too stubborn to ask for help because you’re ‘a real backpacker’. (I am also a ‘tight-ass/real backpacker’ and therefore have all the first hand answers you need, I am essentially your Google, ask me anything).
For this I recommend you check out my ‘how to get a Russian visa’ page. Here I have stet out step by step on how you can obtain a visa all by yourself, because you’re “an independent human, and you don’t need no help from no one”
Now you have the visa, what’s next? …. The train
There are 101 different flights arriving in and out of Russia that are available and easy to arrange, but as we’ve already establisher we’re ‘real back packers’ and therefore we don’t do ‘easy’, right?
So in order for you to truly brag of how you travelled across the entire country of Russia, 9656.064 kilometres, and 11 times zones all by train you need to make sure you actually travel to entire thing by train. There are loads of train roots that lead into Russia, whether it be all the way from London, Victoria, or as close as Latvia, Riga. I personally caught the train from Riga and will explain exactly how I did it.
Riga to St Petersburg by Train
Okay, I know it’s a little scary, like your going to Russia, who does that?
Have no fear, I have crossed the border and lived to tell the tale, disappointingly I had no run-ins with Russian spy’s, the mafia, or AK 47’s, and wasn’t thrown into Prison for twerking (Women were actually arrested for twerking in front of a Russian war Memorial, you have been warned…)
Russia is truly a safe country to travel to, and if you truly are a ‘real backpacker’ then you do your research, hence your reading this so my point made. Know your stuff and keep smart, and you’re going to learn to really love and respect this country and will honestly not regret exploring all the wonders it has to offer.
Back to the train, you can catch a direct train from Riga to St Petersburg; you can book that at https://travel.ldz.lv/en, it should only take 7-8 hours, I recommend booking a overnight train and doing this at leased a week in advanced, trains fill up fast, the prices get higher as time passes and you only have a months visa for Russia and you cant afford to looses even a day. This cost between 30-40 Euros.
The Train station at Riga provides Lockers at the station so, if your hostel check out is early and your train is late, go ahead and leave your bags at the station, it should only cost 5-10 euros for the day.
The train can appear to be a little confusing as the train you catch will say Riga to Moscow (Москва), as the train split once you cross the boarder, half the train going to Moscow the other half continuing on to St-Petersburg (Sankt-Peterburg). There are many help counters and desks you can visit, if like me, you feel the need to check that you are going to the right platform and boarding the right train 4 times.
In order to board the train you will need your passport, and printed ticket. After presenting this you are free to board and find your bunk.
1st, 2nd or 3rd Class???
So I’ve tried them all, and each have their pros and cons.
- 3rd class is obviously the cheapest option. There are open cabins (no door) with two sets of bunks on either sides, and an additional bunk across the isle. Note: the top bunks are cheaper, but require a climb.
People will be walking back and forth through the isle getting to the bathrooms and there beds, so noise and traffic is unavoidable, this also means that if you go to the bathroom, you either have to leave your belongings unattended, or take them with you. I cable tie my luggage to the bed frame and padlocked my bags, however it only takes someone with a pair of scissors to walk past and your stuff is gone. Friendly reminder: Never leave your passport unattended!!! Replacing that is next to impossible.
- 2nd I will never again take a door for granted, they’re great, and are extremely underrated in the modern world!
2nd class consists of 2 sets of bunks in a mall cabin and a small table in-between. I almost always opted for the top bunk, its cheaper, harder for people to climb up and steel your belongings (I hide them in my pillow case while sleeping) and no one is going to sit on the end of you bed, which is what many commuters do if they are only catching the train for a short distance, and do not require a bed.
- 1st class is nice but quite frankly unnecessary; here you will be placed in a cabin with either one or two beds. The privacy is great, but in the end you’re still subjected to sitting on the train for hours on end with little to no entertainment, possible delays, bumpy roads and boredom, just like everyone else.
Evidently I recommend 2nd class, it’s more comfortable, you have a door, its reasonable priced, and it’s quieter. Your doing this trip and on this train for the experience, so stop being a pampered privileged kid, get amongst the locals, and share some Vodka and Caviar. However in saying this, you are essentially locked in a cabin with three strangers for an extended period of time. I met another solo traveller that said they prefer to 3rd class as they did not safe feel being locked in.
If like me you have an in-depth fear of starving and require a constant supply of ‘emergency snacks’ then now’s you chance to stock up. There is little no food on most the trains, however you have at your disposal an endless supply of hot water. I am now well educated on the variety of food that can be prepared with nothing more than a little hot water. E.g. noodles, mashed potato, rice, porridge, cous cous, soup, tea, hot chocolate and coffee. I hope these tickle your fancy, as this will become your primary diet over the next few weeks.
You’re on the train. Next stop the Border…
Crossing the boarder is done in two parts. First you will leave Latvia , your passport will be checked and stamped, then about an hour later you will enter Russia. If you have opted for an over night train this process is done in the middle of the night, additionally you are unlikely to find any English speakers to help you, and will more than likely feel very intimidated by the numerous uniformed police, and custom officers, but don’t be fouled this is an act and if you don’t cause any trouble you wont be stuck any.
You will be given two small immigration entry cards to fill out, they will ask general information, such as your name, D.O.B, Russian accommodations, and a visa number. The custom officer will stamp both keeping one for there records and returning one to you. Don’t loose it! You are required to have this on your person for you entire stay in Russia and must present it when exiting the country. Crossing the boarder is a lengthy process and will be sure to give even the calmest of people some serious anxiety.
Sample of the entry card ↓
You did it! Congratulations your in, now what?
Now get some sleep, you’re soon to arrive in St Petersburg Russia, and the adventure continues!