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Trans-Mongolian Express

Russia and Mongolia aboard the Golden Eagle

Overview

What better way to explore the enchanting lands of Russia and Mongolia than by luxury train? Timed perfectly for Mongolia’s Naadam Festival, the country’s wonderfully colorful annual event, spend three full days in Ulaan Baatar to watch the festivities that include horse racing, archery, wrestling, traditional throat singing, and contortionist performances—it’s thrilling! Highlights in Russia include a private viewing of the Armoury Chamber in the Kremlin, an exclusive music concert in the dazzling city of Kazan, and a day spent exploring stunning Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest lake. Enjoy adventurous options each day from a traditional Russian cooking class to a hike to the top of Mount Chersky above Lake Baikal and a visit to a traditional Russian dacha to get a glimpse into everyday life.

Note: This rail journey is not exclusive to, nor operated by, Wilderness Travel, who acts solely as agent in booking your reservation with the operator. The itinerary, lecturers, and all other arrangements are subject to change at the discretion of the operator.

Itinerary at a Glance

Eastbound Itinerary

Day 1
Moscow, Russia

Arrive at Moscow Airport, where you are met and transferred to the stylish five-star Four Seasons Hotel, Moscow. Located in the historic building of Moskva Hotel in the heart of the city, the hotel is a short walk from the Kremlin, Red Square, and the Bolshoi Theatre. In the evening, enjoy a champagne reception, followed by an exclusive Welcome Dinner. Specially selected international wines are included with dinner, as with all meals during the tour. If you’d like to extend your stay in Moscow with additional nights to explore more of the city at your leisure, or take in a performance at the world-renowned Bolshoi Theatre, pre-booking is available.

Day 2
Moscow, Russia

Your tour of Russia’s capital takes you to the Kremlin—the spiritual, historical, and political heart of Moscow—and to see the treasures of the Tsars in the Armoury Chamber where you’ll enjoy an exclusive private viewing. Continue with a visit to Red Square, the iconic symbol of Russia’s former military and political might, with its eclectic mix of fascinating architecture. You’ll visit the ornate St Basil’s Cathedral and see the magnificent onion-domed spires, and marvel at the beautiful façade of the world-famous GUM department store that was constructed in Tsarist times. 

Lunch will be served in Café Pushkin, a legendary Moscow restaurant serving traditional Russian cuisine with a décor that evokes the atmosphere of an early 19th century mansion. An essential part of any visit to Moscow is a tour of the opulent and unique stations of the Moscow metro, where you can admire showpieces of Socialist art furnished with statues, frescoes, and incredible mosaics. If you have been to Moscow before, you can opt to visit other sights of the city such as the famous State Tretyakov Gallery (National Museum of Fine Art) or the Space Museum.

In the late afternoon, head to Moscow Kazansky Station where you will be greeted in the ornately decorated Imperial Waiting Room with a cold glass of Russian champagne and canapes as you mix with the other guests and are welcomed by staff members who will join you on the train. 30 minutes before departure, your car attendants will escort you to Platform 1 where you’ll board the Golden Eagle.

Day 3
Kazan, Russia

Situated on the River Volga is the picturesque, historic city of Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan. One of the highlights of this city tour is an exploration of the Kremlin Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Within the walls of this ancient citadel, you’ll explore the stunning mosque and picture-perfect onion-shaped domed cathedral.

As Kazan is the birthplace of one of Russia’s most famous opera singers, Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938), we honor his memory with a private music concert. You will also have time to wander through the main pedestrian area of Kazan and immerse yourself in the atmosphere of this beautiful city.

Day 4
Yekaterinburg, Russia

Founded in 1723 by Peter the Great, Yekaterinburg is the capital of the Urals. Known as the Great Divide, the Ural Mountains create the natural border between Europe and Asia. European and Asian culture and architecture come together in this fascinating cosmopolitan landscape. Your city tour takes you to the poignant site where the Romanov, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, was executed with his family by the Bolsheviks in 1918 following 78 days of imprisonment. Now a church dedicated to their memory, this site provides powerful insights into the turmoil of the Russian Revolution. Drive to the obelisk marking the geographical border, and enjoy a glass of champagne with one foot in Europe and the other in Asia.

Time permitting, visit the recently opened Museum of Military Machinery. The museum houses an amazing collection of different types of military hardware including tanks, aircraft, boats, and even armored trains. The museum is a real treat for anyone with an interest in Soviet history. Alternatively, you’ll make a short stop at the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center, recently opened in Yekaterinburg and dedicated to the contemporary political history of Russia.

Day 5
Novosikbirsk, Russia

Experience the life and character of Novosibirsk’s rich culture where the arts and science predominate. The city is located in the heart of Russia and is situated on both banks of the River Ob. Visit Lenin Square, where the imposing Opera House is located. An architectural marvel, it houses two permanent ballet and opera companies and is one of the largest opera houses in the world. In front of the Opera House, you can admire impressive statue of Lenin—a marvelous opportunity to have your photograph taken with this iconic political leader.

Time permitting, you’ll visit Novosibirsk’s excellent Railway Museum just south of the city. The museum displays locomotives and rolling stock from the late 1800s, including carriages of the Tsars, through to the Soviet era. Alternatively, you may choose a visit to the Mineralogical Center with its fine display of Siberian minerals.

Day 6
On board the Golden Eagle

Enjoy a day to unwind and take in the scenery as it glides by. Relax in the lounge with fellow passengers, catch up on some reading, attend informative lectures, and linger over delicious meals in the dining car.

Day 7
Irkutsk, Russia

In Irkutsk, the “Paris of Siberia,” take in the most significant sites and museums, including an exploration of the city’s classic wooden architecture with its intricately carved lace-like decorations that gives many of this region’s buildings such a distinctive and unique appearance. Visit the Volkonsky House Museum, dedicated to the memory of the aristocrats who were exiled to this remote outpost after the failed Decembrists uprising of 1825, and recreate the atmosphere of that time with a champagne reception and private concert. As an optional activity, learn to cook some traditional Russian dishes with a local chef and enjoy the lunch you’ve prepared. Or, you might also wish to visit a traditional Russian dacha (summer house) or an urban apartment to get an insight into the everyday life of a typical Russian family. Please note: touring options may be subject to change depending on train timings, weather, and other factors.

Day 8
Lake Baikal, Russia

A major highlight of your Trans-Mongolian journey is witnessing Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world, which holds 20 percent of the world’s freshwater. Also known as the “Pearl of Siberia,” it is home to a unique breed of freshwater seals and over 50 species of fish including the omul. For five hours, the train winds its way through tunnels along cliff-hugging tracks above the lake with a vista of snow-capped peaks along the far shore, forming a picture-perfect backdrop. To add to the grandeur of the day, the Golden Eagle will be hauled by a Soviet-era steam locomotive on this beautiful section of the line. There will be plenty of opportunities to take photographs as the train winds its way along the lake's edge. This will be an unforgettable part of the journey.

Weather permitting, stop in a picturesque location by the lake for photographic opportunities. For those feeling adventurous, there is time for a refreshing swim in the crystal clear, ice-cold waters of Baikal. Traveling onwards to the end of the Baikal branch line, leave the train and travel by boat onto the lake to Listvyanka, a small Baikal settlement nestled at the base of the surrounding hills. Here, you can visit the Lake Baikal Museum and Aquarium and learn about the flora and fauna of the area.

In the evening, enjoy a delicious barbecue, including freshly smoked omul fish, prepared by the train’s private chefs on the shores of Lake Baikal. If you’d like, there is an option to hike up Mount Chersky where you’ll get spectacular views of the lake below.

Day 9
Ulan Ude, Russia

The ethnic and cultural diversity of Ulan Ude, the capital of the Buryat Republic, offers a unique insight into its heritage. On a tour of the area, you’ll be welcomed by the Buryat people. Explore the Old Believers’ Village where you’ll have the opportunity to learn about the culture and history of these religious people. Enjoy a concert featuring local traditions and folk singing.

Day 10
Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia

Upon arrival in Mongolia, enjoy a 3-night stay in the capital, Ulaan Baatar. Mongolia, once the very center of an enormous empire led by Genghis Khan, is a country of beautiful landscapes and nomadic people, rich in culture and history. Mongolia is famous for its endless green steppes, grazing livestock, and traditional nomadic gers (yurts) that dot the countryside.

On a tour of Ulaan Baatar, visit the Gandan Monastery, one of the most important Buddhist Monasteries in Mongoli,a which houses a community of over 500 monks. The full name, Gandantegchinlen, translates to, “the great place of complete joy.” At Chinggis Square (formerly Sukhbaatar Square), view the central monument to Genghis Khan—undoubtedly the most feared and revered Mongol. Your overnights in Ulaan Baatar will be in the Shangri-la Kampinski, the Ramada, or something similar, depending on availability.

Day 11
Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia

Your trip is timed perfectly to be able to take part in the Naadam Festival, Mongolia’s biggest and spectacularly colorful festival. The word naadam means “three manly games,” and is known as the world’s second oldest Olympics. On the first day of the festival, observe the elaborate opening ceremony that consists of local dancers, athletes, horse riders, and musicians, before traveling outside Ulaan Baatar to watch the national horse race. The competitors in the riding events are all children between the ages of five and twelve, many of whom have been in the saddle since the age of one. As they race along the plains for 20 kilometers, thousands of spectators line up along the remote track to watch up to 1,000 horses with children sitting confidently astride their small but sturdy Mongolian steed. It is claimed that such equestrian skills won Genghis Khan an empire that stretched from the Sea of Japan all the way to Europe. In the evening, enjoy a performance of traditional Mongolian throat singing and contortionists.

Day 12
Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia

Continue to experience the spectacular, but little known, Naadam Festival and soak up the exciting atmosphere of this national holiday. Once a religious ceremony, the festival now formally commemorates the 1921 revolution when Mongolia declared itself a free country. In recent times, women have been allowed to enter and they now compete in two of the three events, horse racing and archery. Today is the day for all the main competitions and you will attend the archery, wrestling, and ankle-bone shooting events—it’s a thrill!

Day 13
Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia / Depart

After breakfast in your hotel, transfer to the airport for homeward-bound flights.

Westbound Itinerary

Day 1 Arrive Ulaan Baatar
Days 2-4 Ulaan Baatar
Day 5 Ulan Ulde
Day 6 Lake Baikal
Day 7 Irkutsk
Day 8 On board the Golden Eagle
Day 9 Novosibirsk 
Day 10 Yekaterinburg
Day 11 Kazan
Day 12 Moscow
Day 13 Depart

Highlights

Highlights

Enjoy a private viewing of the treasures of the Tsars in the Armoury Chamber of the Grand Kremlin's Palace
Witness stunning Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world
Attend a private concert of Feodor Chaliapin’s music in beautiful Kazan, the famous opera singer’s place of birth
Explore the Gandan Monastery, one of the most important Buddhist monasteries in Mongolia
Spend three days watching the thrill of Mongolia's annual festival, the Naadam Festival

Details

Length: 13 days
Cost From: $17,695  
Arrive: Moscow, Russia
Depart: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Lodging: 8 nights luxury train, 4 nights hotel
Meals: All meals included
Activity: Cultural Adventures, Photography, Journeying by Rail
Trip Level:

13-day rail journey, cultural explorations, and walking tours

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