9 May 2020.
I had always imagined a trip on the Trans Siberian Railway would be accompanied by a hefty price tag; an Orient Express type experience of luxury carriages and gourmet dining.
And while these lavish experiences do certainly exist, this extensive train route across Russia was first and foremost established as a way to link Europe with the Far East. To encourage trade and provide a lifeline for remote village communities.
Today, it remains an integral and affordable way of life for locals moving about Siberia, while international visitors often consider it as one of the world’s great overland adventures. One that thankfully doesn’t need to break the bank.
This guide includes a breakdown of exactly what my month-long journey on the Trans Siberian Railway cost, things to consider if you’re pinching your pennies and which big purchases were completely worth it.
Some Things To Know About This Budget Breakdown…
| Long time readers of The Sandy Feet will know that I generally prefer travelling on a budget. That said, there are occasionally things that I will gladly splurge on given the opportunity. Experiences like an exceptional meal, a unique day tour, or a night on the train that offers an extra touch of luxury. Though higher than my usual day-to-day budget, I always felt these hand-picked experiences were worth it and offered excellent value for money, particularly when compared to what is considered ‘affordable’ by western standards.
| Moscow and Saint Petersburg are far more expensive destinations than anywhere else in Russia and have the potential to blow out your travel budget very quickly. In fact, a common and rather amusing line you’ll see in restaurant reviews across Siberia where people have deemed a place too expensive is ‘where do you think you are, Moscow?’ Though I did make a few big purchases in the capital, I was generally more conscious of my spending here and sought out more budget-friendly options.
| Travelling Russia solo added considerably to my overall costs, particularly for accommodation. If you’re travelling as a pair or group, this will help keep your day-to-day costs down.
| I took a month to travel from east to west which allowed me to spend more time off the train than actually on it. Travelling slowly is always a great way to save money on the road, as is taking full advantage of free activities like hiking or exploring cities on foot which I did as much as possible. If you’re taking the trip over a shorter time frame, your daily spend will likely be much higher.
| Prices are based on travel in December 2019, with all train tickets booked one month in advance, except for one purchased at the station after a last-minute change of plans. This post was written in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic when economies were struggling, currencies were in freefall and everything was pretty much up in the air. All values in Russian Rubles were correct at the time of travel, but the provided exchange rates are likely to see enormous fluctuations so I’d suggest only using them as a guide.
| Prices shown are in Russian Ruble (₽), Euro (€), US Dollar ($) or Australian Dollar (A$).
Total Cost // ₽80,564 // €1,006 // $1094
Days | 30
Average Daily Spend | ₽2,685 // €34 // $36
Transport | 36% // ₽29,233 // €365 // $397
Accommodation | 26% // ₽20,584 // €257 // $279
Food | 24% // ₽18,952 // €237 // $257
Clothing | 9% // ₽7,065 // €88 // $96
Activities | 4% // ₽3,617 // €45 // $49
Extras | 1% // ₽1,113 // €14 // $15
Transport // ₽29,233 // €365 // $397
Train Tickets // ₽21,279 // €266 // $289
The journey between Vladivostok and Moscow involved six train trips in a combination of third class, second class and premium second class. This cost also includes cancellation fees for two tickets which were rebooked (₽200 / €2.50 / $2.70 each).
The most expensive leg was the 70-hour journey between Vladivostok and Irkutsk on the premier Rossiya Train (₽5,295 / €66 / $72) and, as a result, was also the only part of the trip I spent in third class. On the other end of the scale, the cheapest fare was for Yekaterinburg to Kazan (₽2,603 / €33 / $35) in second class on a standard passenger service, closely followed by the overnight stint between Kazan and Moscow (₽3,212 / €40 / $44) where I splurged on premium second class on the Rossiya for my final leg of the Trans Siberian Railway which was absolutely worth the minimal price hike compared with the second class ticket.
Keep in mind that ticket prices can fluctuate heavily based on demand and season. For example, during the summer peak, fares may be at least double what I was charged during winter.
Your trip will also become more expensive with each separate train trip that you take even though you’re covering exactly the same distance overall. This accounts for things like fresh linens every time you board the train. If you’re trying to keep costs down, making fewer stops will help.
Other Transport // ₽7,955 // €99 // $108
The bulk of this category comes from long-distance buses, such as trips from Irkutsk to Olkhon Island, Novosibirsk to Gorno-Altaisk and Yekaterinburg to Zlatoust. The rest is from city transport – buses, metros and the odd taxi.
Accommodation // ₽20,584 // €257 // $279
After transport, accommodation was my biggest expense and included 11 nights in hostel dorms and 10 nights in private rooms in guesthouses. The remaining 8 nights were spent on the train.
Anyone travelling as a couple or group will be able to save a bunch of cash on accommodation compared to a solo traveller as most private rooms cost the same whether you’re a party of one or four. In many more remote locations, these will also be the only option available.
The most expensive accommodation I stayed at was in wonderfully wintery Artybash at a still fairly reasonable ₽1,750 (€21.85 / $23.75), while my cheapest night was at Rolling Stones Hostel in Irkutsk at ₽460 (€5.75 / $6.25), incidentally also my favourite hostel of the trip.
Food // ₽18,952 // €237 // $257
Restaurants // ₽14,946 // €187 // $203
Eating out in Russia can be extremely affordable, meaning travellers on virtually any budget can eat well.
Most of my meals cost between ₽120 and ₽400 (€1.50 / $1.60 to €5 / 5.50), though among my best value finds was the cosy Baikal Love Cafe in Irkutsk where I feasted on huge portions of fresh Baikal fish and cherry dumplings. Yum!
At the other end of the scale, I also splurged on lunch at the beautiful Cafe Pushkin in Moscow as a special little treat for my last day in Russia. Admittedly, their a la carte menu is fairly pricey, but their 3-course lunch and wine option (₽1,640 / €20.60 / $22.30) set in an elegant old-world library room is a lovely way to indulge without breaking the bank.
Groceries // ₽4,006 // €50 // $54
All the food and snacks for train trips and hiking adventures. i.e. a ridiculous amount of instant noodles and chocolate. See more of my train food packing tips here.
Clothing // ₽7,065 // €88 // $96
I had never planned to find all the gear that would help me survive winter in Siberia in Australia, so I had fully expected to spend big on a few winter essentials on arrival.
However, high-quality outdoor gear turned out to be so affordable that aside from the insulated snow boots and pants that I desperately needed, I also added an extra pair of woollen gloves, insulated mittens, a fleece-lined beanie and a pair of handmade woollen socks to my already overstuffed backpack.
If you’re taking the trip in summer or are already well-equipped for the harsh winter, this is not an expense you’ll need to worry about.
Activities // ₽3,617 // €45 // $49
Surprisingly, I spent very little on activities with money for this category going towards just three things:
| the entry ticket for the Kremlin Cathedral Complex and Armoury (₽1,700 / €21.40 / $23.10)
| the northern tour of Olkhon Island (₽1,500 / €18.80 / $20.40)
| two day passes for Taganay National Park (₽200 / €2.50 / $2.70)
Unless you’re taking part in several tours or visiting a number of museums, you likely won’t need to fork out much on activities.
Extras // ₽1,113 // €14 // $15
All the random expenses that don’t really fit anywhere else, these extra costs included a month of data (₽600 / €7.50 / $8.20), laundry, luggage storage and the odd toilet stop.
Visas // A$200 // €121 // $131
Most nationalities will need to apply for a visa to visit Russia.
For Australians, a standard single-entry tourist visa valid for 30-days will set you back A$170. As part of the application, you’ll require a Letter of Invitation which can be ordered online for an additional A$30. If you’re unable to apply in person at either of the Australian Visa Centres, you’ll also need to pay for postage. For express visas, expect to pay double.
Thankfully, it isn’t too complicated, but this step-by-step guide for Aussies will walk you through the Russian visa application process.
Tourist visas for other nationalities cost the following: £101 (UK), US$198 (USA) or €105 (EU).
Travel To And From Russia //
Another major expense of your trip will be your travel to and from Russia which will vary hugely depending on where you’re coming from and in what season.
From Europe, you’ll be glad to know that you can virtually always find a great flight deal to Moscow or Saint Petersburg. Arriving in Vladivostok is generally more expensive but you’ll find regular connections with Moscow and major hubs in East Asia. Schedules are heavily reduced over winter.
Both sides of Russia can also be reached by ferry with services between Helsinki and Saint Petersburg, and Vladivostok and Sakaiminato in Japan via Donghae, South Korea.
Since this train trip will essentially take you half way across the world, it’s a good idea to consider all your options for getting there and which will be the most convenient and affordable before deciding on which direction to travel the Trans Siberian Railway.
Could I have Done It Cheaper?
While I enjoy travelling on a budget, I also feel as if I’m past the point of agonising over every dollar spent and am willing to pay a little extra for certain comforts or unique experiences and for this journey it was often these small splurges that led to some of my favourite memories of the trip.
There were a number of areas where I could have tightened the purse strings to cut down my overall spend, but this time around, that just wasn’t the type of trip I wanted to take.
If you are travelling on a shoestring, things like only travelling on trains in third class, making fewer stops along the way, travelling as a pair, avoiding remote locations where only pricier private accommodation is available or sticking only to cheap eats will help keep your daily travel budget in check.
What About Luxury Train Travel?
Want to make this bucket list adventure that little bit more special? There are just a handful of options for anyone seeking a luxurious train experience.
To retain some flexibility in your Trans Siberian Railway itinerary, consider travelling in first class on any of the premium passenger trains. Cabins are extremely limited so you’ll need to book well in advance, but this will allow you to plan your own itinerary and have a private space on board. Tickets are also still reasonably affordable at around €1,000 per person for the full journey.
For a high-end all-inclusive experience, you’ll also find bespoke itineraries on private trains with an extravagant price tag to match. Here you’ll be treated to a range of spacious and elegant ensuite rooms, plush dining areas, gourmet meals and a host of guided day activities. Trips usually run for 2 to 3 weeks and you’ll be taken care of at every step of the way.