One of the best things about the Trans Siberian Railway is that it was not built for tourists. This is a regular service, providing an authentic experience through contact with the local population.
Trains are operated by national and private companies from Russia, Mongolia and China. The service differs depending on the operator, however, there are clear categories of trains, with Sundowners Overland tours favouring the Firmeny and Express trains.
Types of train
Firmeny: Most Sundowners Overland tours glide along the Trans Siberian railway on Firmeny trains. Privately run, they tend to be newer with a higher standard of design and comfort. Covering great distances with fewest stops, these bedroom trains usually offer 1st, 2nd, 3rd class compartments, and a good restaurant car for dining and socialising.
Express: Despite the name, express trains usually make more stops than the Firmeny trains. Between Moscow and St. Petersburg, the trains have 1st and 2nd class cabins on board with a good restaurant car and free WiFi. Further along the line, 1st class and WiFi is not always available.
If you’ve booked a Private Luxury Tour you can find more information here.
Sundowners Overland tours utilise the 1st and 2nd class sleeping carriages on trains. Cabins usually have a table, reading light, a door that locks, and room for your luggage. Clean bedding is provided along each section, allowing you to convert your cabin for sleeping in the evening.
Carriages have 2 communal toilets without showers, a corridor lined with windows and charging stations (Euro plug), a samovar (hot water station), and provodnitsas and provodniks (female and male attendants) who keep everything clean.
1st class, SV or Deluxe: This is the highest cabin type on public trains. If you’re travelling on a Sundowners Overland Premium Tour then it’s included in your ticket, otherwise, it may be possible to upgrade.
The sleeping carriage is usually made up of 9 cabins with comfortable 2-berths – accommodating 18 passengers, and perfect for added privacy if you’re travelling as a couple. The corridor is more spacious in 1st class, and great for watching the world roll by.
2nd class or Coupe: This is the most popular cabin for long Trans Siberian journeys due to the added social aspect. Carriages have 9 cabins with 4-berth cabins – two upper and two lower bunks – catering for 36 people. Travellers tend to leave their doors open during the day and people chat in the corridors – whereas in 1st class people tend to stay behind closed doors.
Eating and drinking on board
Each train has a restaurant car offering meals, snacks and drinks throughout the day. The type of cuisine will be customary to the region and can vary in price. Many passengers choose to bring their own food onboard, such as dried noodles, soups, bread, bottled water, alcohol and snacks. Tea, coffee, and hot water are always available, just ask your attendant.
The train will pull in at minor stations along the way, stopping for 5-45 minutes. Use this time to stretch your legs and purchase some provisions from babushkas selling boiled potatoes, eggs, sausages, and meat pasties - local travellers have been known to put on a spread and invite you to join them. Additionally, vendors sporadically come on board selling snacks.