The world’s longest continuous rail line, the Trans-Siberian Railway stretches over 6,000 miles – one-third of the distance around the globe – and crosses eight time zones between Moscow, in the west, and Vladivostok, on the Pacific coast. The network of routes is one of the truly heroic engineering marvels of the last century, crossing taiga, steppe, desert, and mountains. An arduous trip of several months before the rails were laid, this epic journey can now take just 7 days.
Various routes and options connect Moscow with Russia’s far east and beyond. The most luxurious option by far is the recently introduced Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express, a private train offering 13- to 15-day tours between Moscow and either Vladivostok or UlaanBaatar, Mongolia, including stops and excursions en route. The less upscale but eminently comfortable Tsar’s Gold train travels from Moscow to Beijing via Mongolia.
Accessible from any of the three routes, lake Baikal is one of the most interesting off-rail excursions. Disembark at Irkutsk, once called the “Paris of Siberia,” just 30 miles from Baikal – the world’s oldest freshwater lake and also its deepest, plunging a mile below the surface in parts and containing as much water as all of North American’s five Great Lakes combined. Ringed by rocky, tree-covered shores, with mountains rising in the distance, the crystal-clear blue Baikal and its environs are home to an extraordinary variety of flora and fauna. Some 1,800 species – many found nowhere else – have earned the lake the moniker “Galapagos of Russia.” Siberian brown bears, moose, elk, sables, and deer roam the forests, while the Baikal seal flourishes in the lake. The area is also home to Buryat tribes, who live along the eastern shore, raising sheep, goats, and camels. Some tours include a night or more abroad lake cruisers, exploring pristine islands, bays, and rivers, while others strike off on one-or multiday hiking tours.
Other stops include Kazan, the Tatar capital, on the Volga River; Yekaterinburg; and the charming university town of Tomsk – one of Siberia’s highlights thanks to its lovely wooden mansions and vibrant arts scene.
WHERE : departures eastbound from Moscow and St. Petersburg; westbound from Vladivostok or from Beijing or UlaanBaatar, Mongolia.