Trans-Siberian: Top Stops En-Route
When planning your Trans-Siberian railway journey the first issue to consider is where to start and what direction to go (either eastwards from Moscow or westwards from Vladivostok or Beijing). Once this important decision is made, travelers usually consider whether they want to take the train ride all the way through or break it into shorter legs and do more of sightseeing on the way. Unlike common belief traveling Trans-Siberian is not only about the train trip (which is certainly important), but also about exploring many different destinations located on your way. Here is the list of the most important stops that our guests often make when departing from Moscow.
Just an overnight train from Moscow will bring you to Kazan that is the capital of Tatarstan Republic (Federal subject of Russia) and probably the most important Muslim center of Russia. This is also the city with the ancient history, and like many old Russian cities it has its own Kremlin which was declared the UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000. Our City tour introduces visitors to Kazan Kremlin built by the order of Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible after the siege of Kazan and to the relatively modern building of Kul Sharif Mosque which is being the largest mosque in Europe outside of Istanbul. If you stay overnight here we suggest taking the tour outside of the city either to Russian Orthodox Raifa Virgin Monastery built in the XVII-th century or to Sviyazhsk Island on the Volga river where Ivan the Terrible had founded the fortress in the XVI-th century from where Russian troops started the siege of Kazan battle. One can even visit both sites during one day, though, it will take some 7-8 hrs on the private tour.
When you cross the Ural Mountains before entering West Siberia you may want to consider a stop in Yekaterinburg. The city itself is worth a day to see the old center of the city and the famous museum of gems. Yekaterinburg was famous as the center of the mining industry from the old Tsarist times and it is the city where the last Russian Emperor was executed in 1918. The newly built church to commemorate the Romanov’s royal family is found just outside of the city not far from the obelisk standing on the boarder line between Europe and Asia. If you plan to sleep a night in Yekaterinburg, we would probably advise to visit Koptelovo village on the next day for an out-of-town activity. This is not just an attraction, but an actual village with a few streets where people live in very traditional wooden cottages. Major attraction is the ethnographic museum with the original log hut (Russian izba) which is claimed to date back 300 years ago. This tour will give you an impression of the countryside life in Russian rural area.
Another popular activity is a day-trip from Yekaterinburg to the nearby Nevyansk city. This one was originally founded by influential Russian merchant Demidov as the city with mostly stone buildings, rather than rural village with huts like Koptelovo. City’s major site is the Leaning Tower. Unlike famous leaning tower in Italian Pisa, Nevyansk tower was initially made this way since the spire on top of the tower is still being perfectly perpendicular to the ground. Tavolgi pottery center is usually visited on the way to Nevyansk where tourist can experience local crafts themselves and bring self-made souvenir back home.
Perm is another large city in the Ural Mountains area. However, most of our guests prefer Yekaterinburg over Perm and are very unlikely to visit both, since these are located too close one from another. This is unless someone wants to make a very thorough trip visiting as many cities in Russia as he can. Perm is famous for Belogorsky (White Mountain) Monastery that dates back to 1891 and Kunguar Ice Cave which is one of the biggest caves in Europe. Both are located outside of the city.
Large Siberian cities like Omsk, Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk are all relatively young and do not have much of historical heritage. Novosibirsk (which means the New Siberian city) used to be just a small village with a different name before the Civil War of 1920s. Its importance grew during the Soviet times and it finally became the third largest city of Russia. Novosibirsk does not have any architecture that would date back to Imperial Russia. City’s most important sites had been built in Soviet constructivism style during 1930s through 1950s. The example is Novosibirsk Opera constructed in 1947 and considered now to be the biggest theater building in Russia.
Novosibirsk is very famous for the largest and really the best Zoo in the country and the railway museum. The latter was opened for public in 2000s, but it exhibits a really amazing collection of the old steam, diesel and electric locomotives as well as Soviet retro cars and trucks. This is an interesting attraction to visit for those who are interested in this particular theme. Otherwise, Novosibirsk is just the modern city where some of our guests stop for a night to split a long train ride, get some rest and sleep in a hotel bed. Novosibirsk would probably be perfectly located half way from Yekaterinburg at the Urals to Irkutsk at Lake Baikal.
Irkutsk located only 75 km away from the west shore of Lake Baikal is the number one destination on the Trans-Siberian way. Irkutsk lies roughly on the half way from Moscow to Vladivostok or to Beijing if choosing the Trans-Mongolia route. Irkutsk itself is worth visiting a day to see the old Siberian wooden architecture. Besides, it is the most popular drop-off city for excursion and adventure tours to Lake Baikal. Short-time visitors often travel to Listvyanka at the Angara river source where most of the museums and tourist side are concentrated. If you have more time you can travel to remoter locations at the lake including Olkhon Island where you can find plenty of landscapes and scenes and have some rest at the local leisure resorts.
Ulan-Ude found further eastwards from Lake Baikal is quite a regular Russian city with many concrete pre-fabricated buildings from the Soviet era. Yet, it is the popular destination for ethnographical and cultural tourism. Although Mongolian-descent local Buryat population assimilated into Russian culture especially those who were born and raised in the cities, one can still find more traditional lifestyle in remoter villages outside of Ulan-Ude where many seniors live.
Ulan-Ude is considered to be the capital of Buddhist religion in Russia. There are Ivolginskiy Datsan, Tamchinskiy Datsan and Atsagatskiy Datsan that are the three major Buddhist temples found near Ulan-Ude. Ivolginskiy monastery was built in 1947. Nowadays, it is the summer residence of the Head of Russian Buddhist Community. The territory of the temple looks like a small village where both temples and houses of lamas are situated. One can see Stupas – the constructions where sacred relicts are buried, the evergreen sapling of the Bodhi tree, the library of the Buddhist religious books which is the largest in Russia.
In 1991, Buddhist institute has been founded on the territory of Ivolginsky monastery. This is the school where the Buddhist monks, Buddhist scholars, specialist in Old Mongolian languages are trained. The body of lama Dashi-Dorjo Itegelov’s is also kept here. The lama has been in the state of meditation for the last 78 years. He attained the special state of it called “Samadkhi” - thus, he purified the body and the mind and prevented it from putrefaction. The body of the great Lama was found recently, and he still seats at the same posture of Lotus as he had set before the death and it is considered to be sacred.
Another popular ethnographical attraction around Ulan-Ude are the villages of Russian Orthodox Old Believers who were exiled to the wild steppes of east Siberia in the XVII-th century after the church reforms carried out in European Russia by Patriarch Nikon. Here, you can see authentic Russian huts that are carefully taken care of by their owners. People still paint wooden window shutters in different colors and decorate their houses with hand-made wooden carving. We lead tours where you can see Russian wooden architecture, Old-Believers Church, meet local people and enjoy Russian folk dances performed by the hosts dressed in Russian traditional costumes.
Contact us to receive programs at any of these destinations or request a quote for any of your own ideas for Trans-Siberian side-trips.