For those who travel for the pleasure of the journey, those who believe that getting there is as much fun as being there, Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway has long been an almost mythic experience. It is the longest continuous rail line on earth, each run clattering along in an epic journey of almost six thousand miles (or about ten thousand kilometers) over one third of the globe. For most of its history, the Trans-Siberian journey has been an experience of almost continuous movement, seven days or more of unabated train travel through the vast expanse of Russia. A great part of the pleasure of such a trip is simply sitting back and watching the land go by. However, most travelers on the Trans-Siberian find that interaction with other passengers, both Russians and tourists, is what makes the trip an unforgettable experience. Today, with far fewer travel restrictions, it is possible to use the rail journey as the core of a more varied tour. Travelers can enjoy stopovers in many of the Russian cities and towns along the route, from the historic Volga port of Yaroslavl to Irkutsk and the scenic Lake Baikal region.
Cities and Towns Along the Way
Yaroslavl – One of Russia’s oldest cities, Yaroslavl was founded by Yaroslav the Wise of Kievan Rus’ in 1010. Over the next several centuries the city prospered as a trading port on the Volga and a center of textile manufacture, becoming by the 17th century the second largest city in Russia behind Moscow. Its wealthy merchant community became notable patrons of the arts, building hundreds of churches. Fortunately, the great majority of these remain intact today, making the city one of the most beautiful destinations along the railway.
Ekaterinburg – Although there are few tourist sites here other than the 18th-century cathedral, the city is nonetheless of great historical interest. It was here, in a house that once stood on Liebknecht ulitsa, that Tsar Nicholas II and his family were executed on the morning of July 17, 1918. Although the house no longer exists, its site is marked by a plain wooden cross. The Imperial family, like most tourists, was brought to Ekaterinburg on the Trans- Siberian. Ekaterinburg is also notable for being the hometown of Boris Yeltsin.
Krasnoyarsk – One of the older towns in Siberia, Krasnoyarsk was founded in 1628 as a trading post along the Yenisei River. It grew rapidly when gold was discovered in the region, and eventually became a major river port and industrial center. Outside the city is the Stolby Reserve, an attractive preserve notable for the odd, columnar cliffs that rise from the river’s edge inside its area.
Irkutsk – Irkutsk became a wealthy trading center soon after its founding in the 1660s, benefiting from its position along overland trade routes between China and Western Russia. Since then it has maintained its position as the regions most important city, though today its attraction for visitors is supplemented by its proximity to Lake Baikal.
Ulan Ude – Like most Siberian cities, Ulan Ude was founded during the 17th century. However, as the center of the Buddhist Buryat culture, it is unlike any of the other stops along the Trans-Siberian railway. Although the city’s Buddhist tradition, like all other religions, suffered a sharp decline under Stalin, there has been a noticeable revival in recent years.
Khabarovsk – Khabarovsk is a pleasant city, with wide, tree-lined boulevards, a popular beach, and an interesting museum of ethnography and local history.
Vladivostok – Vladivostok was founded in 1860 as a military outpost, but its outstanding natural harbor soon brought it prosperity as a trading port. The city’s nomination as the headquarters of the Russian Pacific fleet in the 1870s brought further growth, and by the twentieth century it had become a major center of international trade. Today Vladivostok is a lively, attractive city, with a wealth of attractions and, as always, a strikingly impressive harbor.