10 Must-Do Adventures Along the Trans-Siberian Railway

So, you want to take the longest train ride in the world?

6,000 miles, 87 cities, and eight time zones spanning through China, Mongolia, and Russia: The Trans-Siberian Railway truly is the stuff that adventures are made of.

To call the crossing of the Eurasian continent “epic” would be an understatement. Summers can be sweltering hot, and winters can freeze the train platform to the extent of requiring traction shoes while boarding. The cultures, cuisine, languages, and scenery you’ll see along the journey are some of the most wild in every sense of the word… just what you’d expect along a ride through the heart of Siberia.

Regardless of when you go, and what your final destination is, you don’t need to be a train buff or history aficionado to appreciate all of the sights you’ll see along the way. Here are the best and most beautiful sights you can’t miss along the Trans-Siberian Railway.

1) Hike the Great Wall of China

Before boarding the train in Beijing last June, we spent a couple days exploring the capital of China and one of its most historic landmarks: The Great Wall of China. The Wall is actually almost as long as the train route is, stretching a full 5,500 miles, which means there are plenty of access points and adventure opportunities all along the way.

Given the chance to go again, I would definitely opt to spend a night camping on the Great Wall’s Gubeikou Section or visit the newly restored Mutianyu Section. Whichever way you choose to see it, be prepared to have your breath taken away.

2) Eat Like a King in Beijing

You won’t just watch the landscape change during this journey – you’ll see the same with the food on your plate. The train’s dining car actually transforms throughout each country from traditional, simple Chinese adornments to elaborate, flashy Russian décor. In my own experience, Beijing’s menu tops any others on the list. The sweet Cantonese, spicy Sichuan, and hot and sour Hunan dishes were some of the most flavorful and memorable of my trip (even if they included delicacies like duck skin and fried bees).

So whether you’re boarding the train in Beijing or arriving there as your final destination, make sure you take advantage of the city’s gastronomical scene.

3) Explore Mongolia’s Terelj National Park

Only in Mongolia will you have the opportunity to try horseback riding wild steeds, alpine archery, and a taste of falconry - all at once. I can’t think of a better way to experience the authentic nomadic lifestyle than to eat and sleep like a local in a traditional Mongolian ger in Terelj National Park, the nation’s most popular tourist attraction.

That being said, tourists are few and far between. This adventure really lets you get into the spirit of wild Siberia, where you make your own hiking trails and set your own schedule (hint: the sun barely sets in the summer). Get out there and see for yourself.

4) Take a Boat Tour on Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal is the oldest, deepest, and one of the clearest lakes in the entire world. Add to that: Largest freshwater lake in the world, containing a fifth of the earth’s unfrozen, unsalted water. Once train passengers discover this beta – and see the lake’s imposing size on a world map – it’s not a question of if, but how long they’ll be able to spend exploring the shores alongside its primary docking town, Listvyanka.

In the winter, Lake Baikal completely freezes over – making for some epic ice fishing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, and other winter sport opportunities. Quintessential frozen tundra at its finest.

5) Hike the Abandoned Section of the Trans-Siberian Railway

The best way to learn about the fascinating (and frankly outrageous) history of the train: Sign up for a local tour. There’s no better place to start than on the shores of Lake Baikal, where you can visit the now-defunct Circum-Baikal Railway section of the original Trans-Siberian route and hike along its old tracks through underground tunnels.

Every local guide will have a different version to tell of the history of the Circum-Baikal. Like how back in 1904, engineers laid down train tracks across the frozen lake and a train was swallowed whole by its icy depths (confirmed fact). Or how the tracks were almost completely constructed by convicts serving lifelong prison sentences, most of whom who were literally worked to death, and whose bodies remain along the rails (unconfirmed story, but pretty believable).

6) Climb the Pillars at Stolby Nature Sanctuary

Hop off the train at the less-visited Krasnoyarsk stop and travel 10 kilometers south of the city to see some of Russia’s most impressive rock formations at the Stolby Nature Sanctuary. Only 3.5% of the reserve is actually open to hikers and climbers, which means that the views you’ll get capture on top of the Takmak Stolby look out on endless kilometers of untouched wilderness.

Check out photos from the Amusing Planet blog to stoke your inspiration even further, and learn about stolbism – Russia’s version of extreme solo climbing.

7) Hike, Camp, or Climb in the Ural Mountains

The Ural Mountains are absolutely massive, which is one of the reasons why they mark the border between Asia and Europe. There are endless activities to do and tour groups to join once you arrive in Yekaterinburg, the main jumping off point to this mountain range.

Popular points of interest: Kungur ice cave, Taganay National Park, or Zavyalikha ski resort. No matter what time of the year you go, you’ll find something to do in the Urals.

8) Paddle Boat the Iset River in Yekaterinburg

Yekaterinburg is loaded with a rich history as the main industrial and cultural capital of the Ural Mountains, and as such, has dozens of museums to show for it. If history isn’t your thing, the city (Russia’s fourth-largest) has some pretty stunning architecture and the Iset River runs right through the center. Visit the Town Square and rent a paddleboat or kayak for a quick 30-minute jaunt around the river. Or, grab a picnic lunch of pirozhki and pelmeni and spend a few hours on the water soaking in the city sights.

9) Visit the Europe-Asia Border

Reserve a half day during your stay in Yekaterinburg to visit the official border that splits the Eurasia continent, marked by the Ural Mountain Range. You’ll be able to organize a tour through your hostel or local tourist agency, which will take you 47 kilometers along the New Moskovsky Tract highway to the “old” Europe-Asia border. Tie a ribbon on a nearby tree or add a lock to the chain link fence for good luck, or add on a few less-touristy attractions to your day by visiting the Gulag Memorial or the Museum of Heavy Artillery – whatever suits your fancy.

10) See the Red Square in Moscow

Moscow is one of the largest, grandest cities in the world. If you’re traveling east to west, the culture shock of transitioning from a barren Russian wasteland into the country’s capital will hit you full force the moment you step off the platform.

The Red Square is no exception to the country’s notoriety of luxurious living. Be sure you spend a half-day exploring the heart of the city, located in the very center of Moscow, and see Russia’s grandeur at its finest.

Published: May 15, 2017

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Rachel DavidsonExplorer

Seattle

Mountain climbing, trail running, and writing all about it. New to Seattle! Hit me up to show me around or go on an adventure.