The Legendary Trans-Siberian: Naadam

The Legendary Trans-Siberian Express is a spectacular adventure from Beijing to Moscow on one of the world’s greatest railways. Our July departure is timed to coincide with Mongolia’s annual Naadam Festival: a spectacular display of horsemanship, wrestling, archery and colourful traditional costumes.

The July Trans-Siberian is one of our most popular summer tours and it is not difficult to see why. In addition to all the normal highlights of this amazing adventure, the annual Naadam Festival is a dazzling display of colour, sportsmanship and pageantry beginning with the spectacular opening ceremony. The Trans-Siberian railway trip is without doubt the world’s greatest train ride: an epic 9,000 km journey through the very heart of Asia and into Europe. The ‘Legendary Trans-Siberian’ was the first escorted adventure we organised 30 years ago, and it remains one of our most popular tours. The journey takes us from Beijing to Helsinki with stopovers in Beijing; Mongolia; the capital of Eastern Siberia, Irkutsk; Ekaterinburg, Moscow  and St Petersburg. The entire tour is packed full of highlights as the journey unfolds across the face of the world. Many travellers use our very flexible Singapore Airlines ticket to explore other parts of Europe at the conclusion of the tour in the Finnish capital, Helsinki.

Tour Fitness Level: Moderate

Highlights

China

  • Exclusive picnic in a watchtower on the Great Wall of China
  • Attend the magnificent Beijing Acrobats show
  • Enjoy lunch with a local family in the Hutong district
  • Explore the fascinating Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square
  • Take a boat ride across the beautiful lake at the Summer Palace
  • Ride the great Trans-Mongolian train from Beijing to Mongolia

Mongolia

  • Attend the opening ceremony of Mongolia’s fantastic Naadam Festival
  • Stay at a ger resort in the Mongolian grasslands
  • Try your hand at archery and horse-riding in the north Gobi
  • Attend a concert featuring traditional Mongolian musicians

Russia

  • Attend an exclusive classical music concert in a Siberian mansion in Irkutsk
  • Visit the village of Listvyanka on the shores of Lake Baikal
  • Experience the legendary Trans-Siberian railway journey from Irkutsk to Moscow through Siberia’s magnificent forests, including a 2-night stop at Ekaterinburg
  • Explore the site at Ekaterinburg where the last Tsar and his family were murdered
  • Visit the Obelisk just outside Ekaterinburg which divides Asia and Europe
  • Extensive city tour of Moscow including the Kremlin, Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral, and the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
  • Travel on Moscow’s famous metro and visit some of the beautiful stations
  • Enjoy an exclusive dinner in Stalin’s secret bunker
  • See a thrilling Cossack show in a magnificent palace in St Petersburg
  • Visit The Hermitage, Catherine the Great’s Winter Palace and home to the world’s greatest collection of art
  • Marvel at the magnificent golden fountains at Peterhof, the Summer Palace
  • Sip Russian champagne as you enjoy an exclusive cruise on St Petersburg’s beautiful canals

Inclusions

  • All flights between Australia and Beijing/Europe and Australia (inc domestic from your preferred capital city)
  • All accommodation (twin-share)
  • 2-Berth compartments on trains (twin-share)
  • All ticketable air taxes (may be subject to change)
  • All transfers
  • All meals as specified
  • Travel Directors’ tour leader throughout
  • Expert local guides
  • All entrance fees in specified sightseeing
  • All visas and courier fees
  • All tips and gratuities

Please note that whilst every effort will be made to adhere to the above pricing, currency fluctuations beyond our control can affect final costs. A booking form is to be completed by all passengers, and a non-refundable deposit of AUD $3,000 per person paid at the time of booking. All escorted tours are based on a minimum group size of 10 people travelling.

Itinerary

04/07/2020 Australia – Singapore

Check-in at your chosen Australian airport for the flight to Singapore. On arrival we connect with our flight to Beijing.

05/07/2020 Singapore – Beijing (LD)

Depart Singapore on Singapore Airlines SQ 800, 01.10

Arrive Beijing 07.15

After completing customs and immigration formalities at Beijing airport we transfer to our hotel. Later we tour the beautiful Summer Palace, the largest and best-preserved imperial garden in China. Located on the western edge of the city, it was used as a summer residence by China’s emperors as a cool retreat from the main imperial palace. One of the highlights is the ‘Long Corridor’, a 720-metre covered walkway decorated with more than 8,000 individual paintings. The Summer Palace was World Heritage listed by UNESCO in 1998.

Novotel Peace Hotel

Beijing

06/07/2020 Beijing (BLD)

Early today we take a stroll in the world’s biggest public plaza, Tiananmen Square. Covering 100 acres and dating back to 1420, the square has witnessed many of China’s most historic events. At one end is the Gate of Heavenly Peace, the entrance to the Forbidden City. This incredible complex was built between 1407 and 1420 by an estimated one million labourers. Until 1924 it was the Imperial Palace for China’s emperors and in 1987 was World Heritage listed by UNESCO. A visit here is never to be forgotten. In the afternoon we tour the fascinating old part of the city, known as the Hutong. Cycle rickshaws take us on a delightful trip through the ancient narrow streets where we visit a local family.

07/07/2020 Beijing (BLD)

After breakfast we drive out of Beijing and head for the incredible Great Wall of China. We visit the beautiful section at Mutianyu, which is far less touristy than many other parts. Built more than 2,000 years ago under the orders of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huamgdi, it remains one of the largest construction projects of all time and stretches an incredible 6,400 km. We have plenty of time to stroll on the ramparts and fully take in this Wonder of the World. We also enjoy an exclusive picnic in one of the watchtowers lining the wall. Returning to Beijing, we attend a stunning show of the Chinese acrobats.

08/07/2020 Beijing – Ulaan Baatar (B)

Depart Beijing Train 23, 07.27

Today we board the Trans-Mongolian Express for the thrilling journey to Ulaan Baatar. As the train heads north towards the Mongolian border, we pass through mountainous countryside and enjoy several glimpses of the Great Wall. Now is the chance to read books, play games or retire to the dining car for drinks or a meal. Arriving at Erlian, the Chinese/Mongolian border town, giant hydraulic lifts raise the train and the wheel bogies are changed to fit the wider gauge tracks in Mongolia. With Chinese and Mongolian border formalities completed, the train makes its way into the vast Gobi desert.

09/07/2020 Arrive Ulaan Baatar – Hustai National Park (D)

This morning we travel through the rolling grassy steppes, which stretch 1,000 km north to south and 2,500 km east to west. Yaks, camels and Mongolian horses dot the austere landscape. The few towns and gers to be seen are testimony to man’s ability to survive in, and adapt to, almost any environment.

Arrive Ulaan Baatar 14.30

On our arrival in Ulaan Baatar we drive 55km west of the city to our delightful ger camp in the serene countryside of Hustai National Park.

Mongolian Nomadic Camp

Hustai National Park

10/07/2020 Mongolian Nomadic Camp – Ulaan Baatar (BLD)

This glorious area of the Gobi is a paradise for nature lovers. Today is completely at leisure, although we have the opportunity to ride Mongolian horses, practise a little archery, enjoy a walk, or just relax on the steps of our gers and soak up the atmosphere. In the afternoon we drive back to Ulaan Baatar and check into our hotel.

Shangri La Hotel

Ulaan Baatar

11/07/2020 Ulaan Baatar  (BLD)

Every year on 11 July Mongolians celebrate ‘Naadam’. Meaning ‘recreation’, the Naadam Festival is a spectacular event that attracts the country’s top wrestlers, archers and horsemen and women for five days of fierce competition. One of the features is the grand Opening Ceremony, which we attend. Later we drive a short distance out of Ulaan Baatar to the amazing Chinggis Khan statue. Standing 40 metres high and made of stainless steel, the statue of  overlooks the Tuul River at a spot where, according to legend, Chinggis Khan found a golden whip. After our visit here we return to Ulaan Bataar.

12/07/2020 Ulaan Baatar – Irkutsk (BL)

This morning we visit the National History Museum, the Gandan Monastery and the State Department Store. After lunch we transfer to the railway station for our journey north to Russia.

Depart Ulaan Baatar Train 309, 15.22

The train heads north towards the Mongolian border town of Sukhe Bator, arriving early the next morning. There are thorough customs and passport inspections before we proceed to the Russian border town of Naushki, 5,900 km from Moscow.

13/07/2020 Arrive Irkutsk (D)

Early this morning we join the main Trans-Siberian railway line and head west towards mighty Lake Baikal. The train often skirts the shore of this vast lake, which contains 20% of the world’s fresh water supply. The mountains and small decorative Russian houses provide a beautiful backdrop before the train rolls into Irkutsk, the capital of Eastern Siberia, once known as the ‘Paris of Siberia’.

Arrive Irkutsk 14.35

On arrival we transfer to our hotel. Late afternoon we enjoy a classical music concert in a Siberian mansion.

Marriot Courtyard

Irkutsk

14/07/2020 Irkutsk (BLD)

This morning we drive out of Irkutsk to the pretty village of Listvyanka on the shores of Lake Baikal. Formed some 25 million years ago, Baikal is the world’s deepest lake and almost every statistic about it is astonishing. We enjoy an informative briefing about the lake on a visit to the excellent Limnological Museum, before taking a boat ride on the lake.

15/07/2020 Irkutsk – Ekaterinburg (BL)

After breakfast we continue exploring Irkutsk. Early afternoon we transfer to the railway station and board the Trans-Siberian Express.

Depart Irkutsk Train 1, 15.45

Now is the time to sit back, relax and watch the world go by as the train begins its epic journey across Siberia.

16/07/2020 Onboard the Trans-Siberian Express

The train pushes inexorably towards Ekaterinburg, passing through Russia’s third largest city, Novosibirsk.

17/07/2020 Arrive Ekaterinburg (D)

Cutting through the foothills of the Ural Mountains the train arrives into Ekaterinburg.

Arrive Ekaterinburg 13.36

On arrival we transfer to our hotel. The afternoon is at leisure.

Novotel

Ekaterinburg

18/07/2020 Ekaterinburg (BLD)

Ekaterinburg is the fourth largest city in Russia, beautifully situated on the eastern side of the Ural Mountains. Its geographical location is unique in that it lies on the border of Europe and Asia. Today we head out to this continental frontier, 40kms from the city. Here we visit the obelisk which marks the spot where Europe and Asia meet, and you have a unique opportunity to take photographs with one foot in each continent! Later we visit one of Russia’s most sacred sites – the place where Tsar Nicholas, his wife, and their children were executed on 17July 1918, after spending almost a year imprisoned by the Bolsheviks. The home which stood on the site was demolished in 1977, but the basement of the structure remained. In 2000 approval was given to erect a church on the spot of the murders, and construction was completed in 2003, with the basement from the original home becoming a part of the present structure.

19/07/2020 Ekaterinburg – Moscow (BL)

This morning we continue exploring Ekaterinburg, and after lunch we transfer to the railway station for the journey to Moscow.

Depart Ekaterinburg Train 1, 14.06

The train now travels through European Russia, on its 1,777km journey to Moscow.

20/07/2020 Arrive Moscow (D)

Arrive Moscow 14.52

Finally the train rolls into Yaroslavsky Station, Moscow, at the end of its momentous journey. On arrival we transfer to our hotel and later take a stroll into Red Square. Dating back to 1493, the magnificent square is flanked on one side by the red walls of the Kremlin and on the other by the majestic GUM department store. At one end is the imposing history museum and at the other is one of the world’s most famous buildings, the unique St Basil’s Cathedral. The square also houses Lenin’s mausoleum.

National Hotel

Moscow

21/07/2020 Moscow (BLD)

This morning we take a city tour including a visit to the Cathedral of Christ Our Saviour, which was re-built between 1994 and 2000 after Stalin had the original blown up in 1931 to make way for a massive monument to Lenin that was never built. The views of the Kremlin and the Moskva River from the top ramparts of the cathedral are quite extraordinary. Later we see some of the palatial stations of Moscow’s stunning underground system, and visit Arbat Street – the famous pedestrian mall with its busy market stalls and fine shops.

22/07/2020 Moscow (BLD)

Today we continue to explore Russia’s magnificent capital, visiting the famous Kremlin and the great Armoury Museum, which houses Russia’s crown jewels. We also take a boat cruise on the Moskva River.

23/07/2020 Moscow – St Petersburg (BLD)

Heading out of Moscow this morning, we visit the beautiful estate of Kolomenskoye. Situated on the banks of the Moskva River, this was the summer residence of Alexei Romanov. This estate dates back to the 14th century and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here we witness a traditional Russian wedding.  In the afternoon we transfer to the railway station for our journey to St Petersburg.

Depart Moscow 15.30

Arrive St Petersburg 19.16

On arrival we transfer to our hotel.

The Angleterre Hotel

St Petersburg

24/07/2020 St Petersburg (BLD)

After breakfast we take a city tour of beautiful St Petersburg. Formerly known as Petrograd and Leningrad, this most European of Russian cities is the country’s intellectual and cultural heart. Perched on the banks of the Neva River, it is often referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’ because of its glorious canal system. We enjoy sights such as St Isaac’s Cathedral, the Winter Palace and Peter and Paul’s Fortress, where the bodies of Tsar Nicholas and his family are interred. In the evening we attend a traditional Cossack folk show.

25/07/2020 St Petersburg (BLD)

This morning we visit the Winter Palace. Completed in 1762, the palace was home to the tsars until the Russian Revolution in 1917. It now houses the Hermitage Museum, arguably the world’s greatest art collection. After lunch we explore the Yusupov Palace, including the room where Rasputin was poisoned.

26/07/2020 St Petersburg (BLD)

Today we board a hydrofoil for a trip down the Neva River to Peterhof. This is the site of the magnificent Summer Palace, playground of the tsars and tsarinas. The beautiful gardens are comparable with those at the palace of Versailles and the amazing fountains provide a great spectacle.

27/07/2020 St Petersburg – Helsinki (BD)

After breakfast we transfer to the railway station for our final train trip to Helsinki.

Depart St Petersburg 11.30

Arrive Helsinki 14.57

On arrival in Helsinki we transfer to our hotel. In the evening we enjoy a farewell dinner in the Finnish capital.

Original Sokos Hotel Vaakuna

Helsinki

28/07/2020 Helsinki – Frankfurt (B)

This morning is at leisure. Later we transfer to the airport for our homeward flight.

Depart Helsinki Singapore Airlines SQ 2003, 18.15

Arrive Frankfurt 19.50

Depart Frankfurt Singapore Airlines SQ 325, 22.00

29/07/2020 Singapore – Australia

Arrive Singapore 16.25

On arrival in Singapore we connect with the flight to our chosen Australian capital.

FAQs

If I travel alone, do I have to pay the single supplement?

If you do not want to share a hotel room with another person in the group, you will have to pay the single supplement. However, if you are willing to share we will team you up with another passenger of the same sex in the hotels. If a match-up is not possible, we will upgrade you at our expense.

Why are meals on the trains not included and how much do they cost?

We don’t include the meals on the train because the days are not so structured and people like to eat at different times. Also, as you are not exercising, you don’t need so much food. Meals on the train are cheap (around USD $8). Cheap snacks can also be purchased at some stops. In addition some people like to take packet soups and pot noodles on the train, which are easily prepared with boiling water from the samovars located in each carriage.

Do I need vaccinations for this journey?

No vaccinations are mandatory on this route but we would recommend you seek advice from your doctor. Tetanus should certainly be up to date and a flu jab is useful to help prevent colds.

What is the climate like at this time of the year?

July can be very hot, especially in Beijing. But temperatures are more moderate throughout the rest of the tour. Our pre-departure information booklets will provide specific temperature and weather guides for your trip.

Do I have to fly straight home from Helsinki?

No. We encourage our travellers to take advantage of this great location for further travel in Europe and will arrange for passengers to return home from any city in Europe that Singapore Airlines serves. All we ask is that you nominate a city and a return date before you leave Australia. These dates can be changed, however, and the ticket is valid for one year. ‘Add-ons’ are relatively inexpensive and easily organised.

I have been to Beijing before. Can I join the tour later and avoid this section?

Yes, you can fly to Beijing later and join the tour prior to the departure for Mongolia. We can advise on the saving depending on which night you join.

I want to leave the tour in St Petersburg. Is this possible?

Again, this is not a problem. We can easily arrange a flight out of St Petersburg.

I heard that visas are difficult to obtain. Is this the case?

A Russian visa is very difficult to obtain, but because we arrange all this paperwork there is no need to worry. We also organise the Chinese and Mongolian visas. However, we require your passport three months before departure in order to process the visas.

A lot of companies have many expensive optional extras on their tours. Do you?

We don’t believe in a lot of expensive ‘optional tours’. Our itineraries are designed to make the best possible use of time and to include all the must-see sights, plus additional surprises. Therefore, practically everything is included in the tour cost. However, if there is a ballet on in St Petersburg that you would like to attend, for instance, we can book it for you, but it would be at your own expense.

Is the water safe to drink en-route and what is the general standard of hygiene?

We err on the side of caution on all of our tours and advise travellers to drink only bottled water. This is easy to obtain everywhere. The standard of hygiene is surprisingly high along the entire route.

Is it possible to have a shower on the trains?

Although there are ‘officially’ no showers on the Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Siberian routes, because we are friends with many of the conductors on the trains we can sometimes organise the use of a shower on request, but this cannot be guaranteed. However, the washrooms are spacious and there are two per carriage. Hot water is always available so keeping clean is not a problem.

I’ve heard that some trains in Russia and China are of a poor standard. Is this true?

Yes, some trains in Russia, Mongolia and China are not up to the same standard as trains in Australia and can be very poor. However, we schedule our tours to coincide with the timetables of the very best trains in these countries.

What is the security like on the train?

Security is first class on the trains. On the Trans-Siberian Express there are two permanent security guards. However, we still urge basic precautions such as locking your compartment when visiting the dining car.

What is the standard of the hotels?

We choose our hotels for their central locations, which we believe is very important. They are generally 3-4 star quality (or better), comfortable, clean and all with en-suites.

What currency do I need to take?

Both Euros and US dollars are easily changed into the local currency in every country en-route. Euros are probably more popular now, which is why we encourage you to take your cash in this currency.

How much spending money do I need for the entire trip?

Because almost everything is included, we would suggest an amount of 600 Euros per person as being ample for the whole month-long journey.

Are credit cards acceptable?

Credit cards are widely accepted throughout the journey and ATMs are available along the entire route. However, we don’t recommend relying on these as your main source of funds. It is advisable to take some cash.

Are there internet facilities en-route?

All the hotels we use have internet facilities. There are also many internet cafes in the vicinity of the hotels we use, which generally offer cheaper access.

Do mobile telephones work?

Telstra and Optus mobiles work throughout the entire journey except at our Dugana camp in Mongolia and some parts of the train journey. You will need to ensure you have global roaming. Contact your service provider for further details.

How much should we tip the guides and porters?

There is no need to tip guides or porters as all tips and gratuities are included in the tour cost.

Reading

Listed below is a selection of books which you may wish to read prior to, or during, your journey.

Wild East: Travels in the new Mongolia

Jill Lawless

Dateline Mongolia: An American Journalist in Nomad’s Land

Michael Kohn

The Trans-Siberian Handbook

Bryn Thomas

The Trans Siberian Rail Guide

Robert Strauss

The Princess of Siberia

Christine Sutherland

Russia: A Journey to the Heart of a Land and its People

Jonathan Dimbleby

The Great Railway Bazaar

Paul Theroux

Through Siberia by Accident

Dervla Murphy

The Big Red Train Ride

Eric Newby

In Siberia

Colin Thubron