Trans-Siberian Adventures

Useful reading for the Trans-Siberian Railway

I’ve found a couple of books really useful for preparing for the Trans-Siberian railway journey.

Trans-Siberian Adventures: Life on and off the rails from the UK to Asia, by Matthew Woodward

Trans-Siberian Adventures by Matthew Woodward

I originally found this book after searching Google for “Edinburgh to Hong Kong by train” and discovering Matthew Woodward’s blog describing his train journey between the two cities (travelling on a longer route to the one I’ll be taking).

This book is an account of Matthew Woodward’s first journey on the Trans-Siberian railway, travelling from Edinburgh to Shanghai in December 2012. It’s written in a really engaging way and I found it a really entertaining read as well as full of useful information about what the journey is like.

Matthew travelled in first class on the Chinese Trans Mongolian route in Train 004. I’ll be taking the same train from Irkutsk to Beijing, and travelling at the same time of year, so I found lots of the details of day-to-day life on the train really useful to help me prepare for the journey: such as how to walk between carriages on the train to get to the restaurant car, and what it’s like travelling on the Trans-Siberian in the winter.

I hadn’t considered bringing Christmas decorations to decorate my compartment on the Trans-Siberian before I read this book, but it sounds like a great idea!

I put up some sliver tinsel around the window (quite tasteful) and hang up some illuminated ice crystal stars (less tasteful), and on my table I place a flashing mini Christmas tree (not tasteful at all). Mr Chen pretends not to stare in surprise as he walks part my compartment. Mr Lee is clearly impressed by my efforts, and he wishes me a Happy New Year. I leave my door open and enjoy watching even the hardest Russian men smile when they glance in.

Find the book on Amazon UK

Trans-Siberian Handbook (10th edition) by Bryn Thomas and Daniel McCrohan

Trans-Siberian Handbook (10th Edition) by Bryn Thomas and Daniel McCrohan

This book is described as the ‘bible’ for all Trans-Siberian travellers. “The guide to the world’s longest railway journey”, it includes 91 maps and guides.

It’s set out in a very similar way to a Rough Guide book. It has a couple of introductory chapters on planning your trip, on Russia and the history of the Trans-Siberian.

Each stop on the Trans-Siberian has its own section, with pages on the history of each place, what to see and do, practical information, local transport, where to stay, where to eat and drink, onward travel from each destination, and day trips.

Towards the end of the book is a detailed description of what you can see each kilometre out of the window of the train: the Trans-Siberian, Trans-Mongolian, and Trans-Manchurian routes are all included.

It will take up valuable space in my bag but I’m definitely taking this book with me on the journey!

Find the Trans-Siberian Handbook on Hive Books and Amazon UK

Edinburgh to Hong Kong train route

How to get from Edinburgh to Hong Kong by train?

Edinburgh, Moscow and Hong Kong

I’ll be going on 8 train journeys in total from Edinburgh to Hong Kong, including the first part of the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Trans-Mongolian route from Siberia to China.

Edinburgh to Hong Kong route map (open in new window)

The route I’m taking includes 8 train journeys:

  • Edinburgh – London
  • London – Amsterdam (Eurostar)
  • Amsterdam – Berlin
  • Berlin – Moscow (part of the “Paris to Moscow Express”)
  • Moscow – Yekaterinburg (part of the “Trans Siberian”)
  • Yekaterinburg – Irkutsk (part of the “Trans Siberian”)
  • Irkutsk – Beijing (“Trans Mongolian” railway)
  • Beijing – Hong Kong

Countries I’m travelling through: UK, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Belarus, Russia, Mongolia, and China.

Edinburgh to Moscow

Edinburgh to Moscow by train

Train 1: Edinburgh to London

Distance: 332 miles (534 km)
Time: 4 hours 20 mins
Countries travelled through: UK

The first journey is on the LNER train from Edinburgh Waverley to London St Pancras.

Train 2: London to Amsterdam

Distance: 222 miles (357 km)
Time: 3 hours 55 mins
Countries travelled through: UK, France, Belgium, The Netherlands

The second train journey I’m taking is London to Amsterdam. Since April 2018 Eurostar runs direct trains from London to Amsterdam, taking 3 hours 55 minutes.

Train 3: Amsterdam to Berlin

Distance: 357 miles (575 km)
Time: 6 hours 22 mins
Countries travelled through: The Netherlands, Germany

There are a number of different ways to get from London to Berlin by train. London-Brussels-Cologne-Berlin is a slightly faster route, but I decided to travel via Amsterdam because it involves fewer changes of trains, which is easier with luggage. The timing of the train connections gives a convenient 55 minutes in Amsterdam for lunch!

Train 4: Berlin to Moscow by train

Distance: 2,164 miles (3,483 km)
Time: 14 hours 19 mins
Countries travelled through: Germany, Poland, Belarus, Russia

I’m joining the Paris to Moscow Express part-way along its route, departing Berlin Hauptbahnhof at 7.26am and arriving in Moscow at 11.45am the next morning.

On the way we’ll go through Belarus. As Russian railways have wider rails than in Western Europe, there’s a change of gauge at the border, where the train wheels are changed from European standard track gauge to Russian gauge.

Moscow to Beijing

Moscow to Beijing by train

Train 5: Moscow to Yekaterinburg

Distance: 880 miles (1,416 km)
Time: 25 hours 18 mins
Countries travelled through: Russia

From Moscow I follow the Trans-Siberian route, to Yekaterinburg, the fourth biggest city in Russia. The city has the largest concentration of constructivist architecture in the world.

Train 6: Yekaterinburg to Irkutsk

Distance: 1,749 miles (2,815 km)
Time: 53 hours 21 mins
Countries travelled through: Russia

Continuing on the Trans-Siberian route to Irkutsk, one of the largest cities in Siberia. Described as the ‘capital of Eastern Siberia’, Irkutsk is 2,000 miles west of the Pacific, and 2,600 miles east of Moscow.

Train 7: Irkutsk to Beijing

Distance: 1,026 miles (1,653 km)
Time: 54 hours 27 mins
Countries travelled through: Russia, Mongolia, China

I’m going directly from Irkutsk to Beijing on the Trans-Mongolian route, I’m not stopping off in Mongolia because unfortunately the train times didn’t work out — maybe next time…

Beijing to Hong Kong

Train 8: Beijing to Hong Kong

Distance: 1,516 miles (2,439 km)
Time: 8 hours 56 mins
Countries travelled through: China

The high-speed rail link from Beijing to Hong Kong opened on 23 September 2018, which means that although this train journey is much further than Irkutsk to Beijing, it’s much quicker, taking less than 9 hours to travel over 1,500 miles.

The aim is to arrive in Hong Kong on Christmas Eve!

Total distance: 8,246 miles (13,270 km)

See the full route I’m taking from Edinburgh to Hong Kong by train (interactive Google map).

Moscow to Beijing by train

How to choose where to go and what route to take on the Trans-Siberian?

There are a myriad of different train routes to take between Edinburgh and Hong Kong. How to decide which way to go?!

My choice of which route to take was informed by:

  • how much does it cost
  • how long does it take
  • how many connections are there (fewer connections are easier with luggage and mean fewer connections to miss!)
  • how many nights on the train (I didn’t want too many consecutive nights)
  • what places I’d like to see/stop over in
  • when do trains arrive/leave – on the Trans Mongolian and Trans Siberian sections some of the trains run at awkward times, or only run on certain days of the week

Edinburgh to Moscow by train

Starting out in Edinburgh the only way to connect with mainland Europe by train (if you don’t want to catch a ferry) is to go to London and catch the Eurostar from London St Pancras. Edinburgh to London is a fairly straightforward and fast route along the UK East Coast main line.

To help plan the onward route from London to Moscow I used The Man in Seat 61 website – London to Russia.

The quickest route to Moscow by train from Western Europe is on the Paris to Moscow Express, so the first part of my journey is planned around that train. As the name of the train suggests, it departs from Paris, but I’m joining it in Berlin instead, because Deutsche Bahn’s special discounted fares makes travelling via Berlin slightly cheaper than going via Paris.

Deutsche Bahn offers special “Sparpreis Europa” cheap fares from London to Germany (which include Eurostar tickets) from EUR 59.90.

Moscow to Beijing by train

I used the Real Russia Trans Siberian railway journey planner to decide which route to take and where to stop off on the Trans Siberian/Trans Mongolian railway from Moscow to Beijing.

Planning tip: I knew I wanted to arrive in Beijing by Christmas Eve at the very latest so I worked backwards from that dateto see what stops I could make on the way and for how long.

The route from Moscow to Beijing follows the “Trans Siberian” Railway and “Trans Mongolian” Railway route. Both routes start out the same – Moscow to Irkutsk – but the Trans-Siberian route continues on eastwards to Vladivostok, whereas the Trans-Mongolian route turns south, through Mongolia, to Beijing.

Trans-Siberian railway route

For the first part of the journey I’ll be travelling on Train #2, the Rossiya, which runs the Trans Siberian route every other day, starting in Moscow and terminating in Vladivostok in the Far East of Russia (although I’m only going as far as Irkutsk on this train).

I’ll be stopping off on the way in Yekaterinburg and Irkutsk, to get the opportunity to explore a couple of cities on the Trans Siberian route. The stops also break up the journey a bit, so that I don’t spend more than two nights on the train in a row.

Trans-Mongolian railway route

From Irkutsk to Beijing I’ll go through Mongolia, on the Trans-Mongolian route, in the Chinese-run train number 004. I’m not stopping anywhere on the way in Mongolia.

Beijing to Hong Kong by high speed train

I’m taking the daytime high speed train from Beijing to Hong Kong, which takes just under 9 hours. There’s also an overnight train between the two cities, but it takes 24 hours, so the high speed train is much quicker. All the details are on The Man in Seat 61 – Hong Kong to Beijing by train.