Having traveled the Trans-Mongolian Route this summer in a rather fast mode, I have been putting some thought together on the itinerary that I would personally propose to anyone wishing to embark on the exact same journey.
The idea is that you are able to enjoy this amazing trip to the maximum, without being bone-tired by staying on the train for a long time or missing out on some wonderful places along the way.
Let’s see how many days you would actually need if you were to fully enjoy the Trans-Mongolian Route.
Days 1-3: St. Petersburg
Technically not part of the Trans-Siberian Railway, yet the best starting point to get your travel appetite going!
Days 4-6: Moscow, Moscow, Moscow
If this is your first time in Russia, anything less than 3 full days in the incredible Russian capital would be a terrible mistake.
Days 7-8: Moscow - Yekaterinburg
Anticipate spending a maximum of 1 day and 8 hours on the train, which is quite manageable for everyone. I recommend opting for a train that arrives in Yekaterinburg in the early afternoon or night. In this way, you can fully enjoy the luxury of a warm shower and a comfy sleep on a real bed!
Train Tickets: 3rd Class (50€), 2nd Class (100€), 1st Class (165€)
Day 9: Yekaterinburg
Explore Yekaterinburg before jumping on the afternoon / night train to either Novosibirsk or Irkutsk. With half a day at your disposal, and depending on your special interests, you can:
- Walk the “Red Line” Route around the city center. By following this marked touristic path, you will have the opportunity to see the main attractions (monuments, landmarks, architectural sights) the city has to offer.
- Join a short tour or ask a taxi driver to take you to the heart of the Ural Mountains. Here you will find the famous Obelisk memorial that marks the natural borderline between Europe and Asia. To the west of this obelisk lies the European Russia, while to the east the vast land of Siberia.
- Join a short tour or ask a taxi driver to take you to Ganina Yama, the official burial site of the Romanov family. Adjacent to the site, a Monastery complex has been built to commemorate and pay the respect to the last Russian Imperial family.
- Combine (2) and (3) options in one tour.
Days 9-10: Yekaterinburg - Novosibirsk (optional stop)
For this stretch of the journey, you will be spending approximately 22 hours on board before finally reaching the first Siberian city along your way. Having said that, I recommend selecting a train that departs Yekaterinburg in the early afternoon, so as to avoid arriving in Novosibirsk late at night.
Here you will have another opportunity for a refreshing shower and night spent on a real bed!
Train Tickets: 3rd Class (45€), 2nd Class (90€), 1st Class (190€)
Day 11: Novosibirsk
Exploring Novosibirsk and boarding the afternoon / night train direction Irkutsk.
While in Novosibirsk, consider a night out at the third most beautiful Opera and Ballet Theater in Russia (after Bolsoi Theater in Moscow and Marinski Theater in St. Petersburg)! Make sure to check well in advance the days of scheduled performances, as well as the ticket availability. Also remember that, in such a case, you will have to book the midnight train for your departure.
Days 11-12/13: Novosibirsk - Irkutsk
You will be spending approximately 1 day and 9 hours on the train for this leg of the journey.
While approaching Lake Baikal, keep your eyes wide open for witnessing unlimited, dramatic, and ever-changing landscapes through the windows of the Trans-Siberian train.
Train Tickets: 3rd Class (35€), 2nd Class (90€), 1st Class (230€)
Days 13-18: Exploring Lake Baikal and its surrounding areas
Lake Baikal is the jewel of Siberia and you should by all means plan as many days as possible for your visit here. Thinking back, I regret planning only two days for this amazing place. I strongly believe that a minimum of five (5) days is what Lake Baikal and its surrounding areas truly deserve!
Out of these five days, one day will be dedicated to the Circum Baikal Railway and another two for exploring Irkutsk and Listvyanka. The extra three days (optional) are required for visiting Olkhon Island (commuting is the most time-consuming part of this journey).
You can read about all the things I have done and seen during my short stay in Lake Baikal on my dedicated article here.
Days 18-19: Irkutsk - Ulan Bator
Trains connecting Irkutsk and Ulan Bator are only running every Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday morning. Your main target while working on your itinerary, is trying to achieve perfect timing for your connections.
Due to the lengthy border crossing control, you will be spending approximately 23 hours before reaching Ulan Bator.
Train Tickets: 3rd Class (n/a), 2nd Class (110€), 1st Class (210€)
Alternative (Budget) Way: Irkutsk - Ulan Bator (via Ulan Ude)
Unless you are traveling on a really tight budget (like myself), I would highly recommend skipping the extra stop at Ulan Ude. However, if you want to save both money and time, getting to Ulan Ude is your only option for connecting with an inexpensive bus that is departing for Ulan Bator each morning.
Entering Mongolia by bus is also the most favorable scenario for saving travel time. The border control process is way quicker since there are fewer passengers on the bus. Therefore, you will eventually find yourself arriving in Ulan Bator at around the same time with the train that had departed one day before!
Train Tickets (Irkutsk – Ulan Ude): 3rd Class (15€), 2nd Class (30€), 1st Class (65€).
Bus Tickets (Ulan Ude – Ulan Bator): 30€
Days 19-25: Mongolia
My personal recommendation is staying one full week in Mongolia and join a tour with a local driver/guide at a destination of your preference. You can head to the Gobi desert, tour around central Mongolia, or simply visit the country’s most popular National Parks.
For more insights and tips about Mongolia, you can revert to the dedicated post I have created on this subject. Moreover, read all about the two most trusted contacts I have established in Mongolia here. They are the right people to revert to for a budget and fully customized trip based on your personal needs and preferences.
Days 26-27: Ulan Bator - Beijing
Let me remind you that there are two direct trains per week serving this route. The Mongolian (brand new) train number 024 is departing from Ulan Bator every Saturday, while the Chinese transit train number 004 is departing from Ulan Bator every Sunday.
It comes without saying that you need to work on your itinerary in such a way so as to achieve perfect timing for your connections. The duration of the journey on both trains is approximately 1 day and 7 hours.
Train Tickets: 3rd Class (n/a), 2nd Class (200€), 1st Class (300€).
Alternative (Budget) Way: Ulan Bator - Beijing (via Erlian)
If you are a budget traveler and also want to be more flexible when it comes to your departure from Mongolia, you can consider as a workaround an indirect connection at the Mongolian / Chinese border.
More specifically, there are many different trains you can consider for this journey:
- Option 1: Trains #021 and #022 are running every Monday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday from Ulan Bator to Erlian (China). The duration of this journey on both trains is approximately 14 hours.
Train Tickets: Only 2nd Class available (60-70 USD)*
- Option 2: Train #276 is running every day from Ulan Bator to Zamiin-Uud, a city of Mongolia just a stone’s throw away from the land border with China. The duration of this journey is again 14 hours.
Train Tickets: Only 2nd Class available (30 USD including the bus ticket for crossing the border)*
From Erlian, you can get a direct bus to Beijing. The Time Schedule on this bus route can be found through this link.
Bus Tickets: 220 CNY (approximately 30€) if bought on site OR 300 CNY (approximately 40€) if booked through an agency*. From my experience traveling on high season, there is no availability issue for buying your bus ticket on site. Just make sure to do so straight away and upon your arrival in Erlian.
* The given prices are for tickets booked through a local agency.
Tip: If you plan to stay in Mongolia for 1 week, you can easily buy your tickets from the train station immediately upon arrival in Ulan Bator. In this way you will save on the commission fees.
Days 28-30: Beijing
Three days is the absolute minimum you can spend in the amazing city of Beijing. And this recommendation goes specifically to the ones that have time restrictions that do not allow them to stay longer.