Kick things off in St Petersburg. Originally constructed as Russia’s ‘eyes into Europe’, the city has been the backdrop to countless catastrophes, but Russians are nothing if not resilient. Today, the 21 -century city is a thriving cultural capital; discover clubs and live music, an experimental art scene, cosy wine bars, great tea houses, and a multicultural food offering. A local punk musician recently summed it up by saying "in a city of three revolutions, you’re bound to get a fourth".
Descend into underground palaces on the metro and find yourself surrounded by marble pillars, ornate chandeliers and classical frescos on the way to the city’s extraordinary sights. Perhaps you would like to take in the magnificence of the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood; perched canal-side, it stands a vision of immense beauty. Set aside some time to visit the opulent Hermitage Museum housed in the Winter Palace for a taste of Tsar life, and see if you can spot one of the 70 feline guards that protect the art collection from hungry mice. It’s also worth noting that there’s no avoiding vodka, so embrace it. It accompanies meals to ‘help digestion’ and seems to replace water as the giver of life. Sometimes it’s infused with mystery flavours like a bag of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans - horseradish vodka, anyone?
As you take your first overnight train to Moscow, get to know your fellow adventurers and plan a list of sights you want to hit once you arrive in Russia’s capital. Study the Cyrillic alphabet and master a few words of Russian, don’t be afraid to try them out on local travellers.
Head to Red Square for an immediate WOW factor. You’ll find yourself slack-jawed on the cobbled square (surprisingly not red) staring in awe at the gingerbread masterpiece of St. Basil's. As you start to explore Moscow, you’ll soon discover that this revivalist piece is just one of the architectural wonders scattered across the city. Around the square alone, you’ll find the Kremlin - with its gothic towers watching over the treasures within, Lenin’s Mausoleum displaying the embalmed revolutionary, and the State Museum that is well worth a visit if you fancy a history lesson. You can wander to Zaryadye Park for a great vantage over the striking skyline or chill in Gorky Park, a favourite among locals soaking up their long-lost friend, vitamin D. Try the local fare, some of the best has Georgian and Asian influence. With a full belly, it’s time to check out the nightlife. Live jazz, underground dance and ping-pong bars to name a few.
All aboard the renowned Trans Siberian Railway! Settle into life on board as you watch the stunning scenery transform outside your window. Hang with your group in the dining car and try out your language skills on unsuspecting locals. With a little inventive sign language, you’ll all be sharing laughs and snacks in no time. The train will make minor stops along the way, ask how long it's staying before you hop off and devour homecooked delights from babushkas along the platform - a welcome break from your 2-min noodles.
Welcome to the heartland of Siberia. Irkutsk underwent its own revolution during the 19 century when artists, officers, academics and nobles were exiled here for their part in the Decembrist Revolt against Tsar Nicolas I. The city became a thriving centre for intellectuals and elites; creating a rich cultural heritage, including the signature wooden architecture and ornate latticework. About 50% of the population were exiled, creating a prosperous cultural and educational centre.
Settle into your shore-side home at Lake Baikal and soak up the scenery as you take a stroll around the water’s edge. As the largest freshwater lake in the world, it holds 20% of the planet’s freshwater and seems to stretch on to an infinite horizon. Take a ‘refreshing’ dip if you’re feeling brave and taste the local cuisine. Sample the locally caught fish, you can eat it raw, smoked or roasted on a BBQ. Ask your honcho about lake activities; they vary throughout the year from ice driving to kayaking or something more relaxing.
Enjoy a final day in the city before boarding the train to Ulan Ude.
Welcome to the Republic of Buryatia, the original home of the Buddhist-Shaman Buryats. Cossacks settled here in the 17th century, and it became a bustling trade centre connecting Russia with China and Mongolia. During Soviet times, Buddhism suffered more than other religions. Many were forced to flee or risked being accusations of being a Japanese spy.
Ask your Honcho about organising a trip to the Old Believers Village. See the wonderful colourful houses, traditional dress and enjoy a hearty meal with your hilarious hosts. The singing, dancing and infectious joy of the people will leave you grinning from ear to ear. Fancy something free? Take in the giant Lenin head in the centre of town. It’s a popular meeting place for locals and a great spot to soak up Ulan Ude’s different pace of life.
On the rails again leaving the home of the Buryats we travel to Mongolia.
Head out to a traditional ger camp in a protected nature reserve. See how the nomads live and see that their roving traditions haven’t changed much for hundreds of years. Enjoy a hike in the wilderness and soak up the serenity of your surroundings. Your Honcho can organise horse riding or archery to help you feel like a real Khan. Enjoy a peaceful sunset before getting cosy around the campfire. After a few airags (fermented mare’s milk), head outside to witness the Milky Way blaze across the night sky.
Back in the capital you can take the opportunity to visit the Zaisan Memorial to get a great view over the sprawling capital - a skyline of Soviet blocks, Buddhist temples and ger suburbs ringed by empty grasslands for hundreds of miles in every direction. Or see the ruby-robed monks at Gandantegchinlen monastery, a name which translates to ‘the great place of complete joy’, and perhaps get a taste for the life of a Khan with a visit to the Winter Palace of Bogd Khan - one of the only historical attractions in Mongolia that the Soviets or Mongol communists didn’t destroy. Enjoy your final night in Mongolia with a feast of local cuisine and a tasty brew, like Crazy Shaman IPA at Hop & Rocks Brewery, Mongolia’s first ever producer of craft beer. Night owls will find plenty to keep them up from live music venues, beer gardens and chill bars, to pulsing clubs and luxury lounges.
Back on board, this time on the Trans Mongolian line. Glide across the green grasslands and pass the golden Gobi before launching into China. Use your time to learn a few words of Chinese and plan what you’d like to see and eat in Beijing. There are eight national cuisines to try, so that should keep you busy when you’re not exploring Imperial Palaces or strolling along the Great Wall.
Welcome to China and congratulations, you’ve just completed an 8,515 km journey across the largest country in the world and beyond! Let’s celebrate with a visit to one of the many snack markets. Fried scorpion on a stick, anyone? Well, maybe some Peking duck in its hometown then. Here you can explore by bicycle or rickshaw and get acquainted with the patchwork of ancient, imperial and modern life. Or visit the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the hutong district before heading to the hills for a stroll along the most peaceful part of the Great Wall, Huanghaucheng.
All train tickets
Visa support & destination information
Shared accommodation including 2 twin share hotel nights, 7 hostel nights, 2 nights at a Siberian guesthouse, 1 night at a ger camp, 8 nights on the train (4-berth)
A dedicated tour leader (Honcho) for the entire journey, however, with no pre-arranged sightseeing, you have complete freedom to roam. Stay with your group or explore on your own.
All arrival transfers once you have joined the group *
* Arrival transfer on Day 1 and departure transfer at the end of your itinerary are not included.