Moscow gets negative temperatures and first snow in November. November through December, however, very often is a transitional period with unstable temperatures and precipitation fluctuating between rain, snow and sleet. I wrote an article on clothing for November-December weather What to wear when Moscow winter starts? Many of the suggestions of that article are valid for the whole winter in Moscow. In some years, like 2018, December is a normal winter month, with snow and stable negative temperatures.
In this article I am covering specific suggestions for clothing when Russian winter is its full swing.
Winter in Moscow and in all central Russia is long. Starting in November-December, winter in Moscow lasts for almost five months. March is a full scale winter with lots of snow. It starts to get warmer only in April and snow melts by the middle of April.
It is dark in Moscow winter. In December Moscow barely gets any sunny days, what you see above is a layer of grey solid clouds, lacking any texture or form. Day light starts somewhere around nine in the morning and around four in the afternoon it is completely dark again. Daytime and number of sunny days increases in January and February.
Moscow gets lots of snow in winter. In between major snowfalls it just quietly snows, non stop, almost all the time. Communal services are in a constant struggle with snow throughout the winter. They are helpless however, it’s too much snow to handle. Moscow streets get very slippery in winter, covered with ice or snow or a thick layer of mud, when temperatures get above zero or when street cleaners apply snow melting chemicals.
Moscow winter conditions can be compared with those in Canada, Northern US states (Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota), Finland and Sweden. This is just to give you an idea of what it feels like in Moscow.
Beware that all apartment buildings, public places, offices and public transportation have really good heating in winter. This means putting on too much clothes on will make you feel uncomfortable when you are inside.
Temperatures like -20C…-30C happen in Moscow, but not every year and normally do not last for long. We are talking about few days or perhaps a week of very cold weather and again, it does not happen every year.
In St. Petersburg temperatures are the same, but it feels much colder because of wind and humidity. Same applies to Far East and Northern coastal areas. In areas close to polar circle it gets much colder. In Siberia humidity is low, but temperatures are lower. In terms of clothing what is recommended below will perform well, but you might need extra layers such as good wool sweater, thermo underwear, shoes with fur insulation.
When buying winter clothing make sure it is suitable for Moscow climate. Many European countries have very mild climate and clothing that is good for European winter are not suitable for Russian winter.
Gloves. Must have good woven or leather gloves to withstand winter temperatures. Your hands will say thank you for thick pair of gloves with extra insulation layer made of wool or fleece.
Hat. It can be any type of hat, warm enough for the winter. Avoid hats made of cotton as they are not warm enough. Ideally, the material your hat is made of, would have some natural wool in its composition. Wool provides warmth, but extra layer of fleece also works good. No one wears those famous “classic Russian” fur hats anymore, as they are not very practical and very expensive. There are hats available in that style, just in modern design and made of modern materials. They are good not only for Moscow but for other, much colder areas of Russia, because they cover your head and ears completely.
Coat. It is suggested to wear waterproof parka or coat with hood. Insulation of your upper garment can be anything like down or sintepon.
Wool coats are not suitable for Russian winter unless you put on extra layers of insulation and scarf. Women might wear fur coats. Fur coats are extremely warm and perhaps stylish, however they are not always practical in snow as fur may get wet.
Hood on your winter coat or jacket is not everyday necessity, but very practical in winter conditions called “metel’“. “Metel’“ (метель) is a heavy snowfall combined with wind. Hood helps protecting your face and neck from wind and snow. Also, temperatures may get above zero in winter causing rain or sleet. This is when hood on your parka or coat becomes real efficient in keeping you warm and dry.
Lambskin coats are excellent to wear when it gets really cold (or in Siberia) or if you are coming from a warm climate and very sensitive to low weather temperatures in general. The downside of them is they are pricey, can be heavy, not practical in wet weather conditions and too warm for average Moscow winter temperatures.
I myself wear Canadian brand winter parka ($200, bought in Moscow) with hood and sintepon insulation. It is very warm, not requiring extra layers of insulation, it works excellent throughout Moscow winter. If it gets too cold or windy, putting on sweater or hoodie keeps me warm in any winter conditions regardless of how cold it is outside.
Pants. You can wear jeans or just thicker pants of any kind suitable for winter. If your coat or jacket covers your legs, it will give you extra warmth. If not, you can put on underpants, leggings style. Undergarments of this type available for women and men and can be purchased everywhere. It is often called “thermo” underwear, but in fact it can be made of some cotton composition and still provide that extra warms to your legs.
Shoes. Your footwear must serve three purposes in Russian winter. It must keep your feet warm, protect from water and provide extra support on slippery surfaces.
As mentioned above, Moscow gets lots of snow in winter. Snow and ice make streets very slippery. Despite best efforts in cleaning snow, there will be snowbanks everywhere. Street workers apply lots of chemicals to melt snow and it turns snow and ice into mud. Beware that snow melting chemicals will ruin any material
Shoes you are buying must come from an area where people know what real winter is. They must be clearly marked for winter use, have thick, sturdy sole, insulation, be slip-resistant and water-resistant.
Please be extra cautious on stairs outside, such as shop and office stairs, stairs to underground pedestrian walkways. Stairs in Russia are made of polished stone or tiles. In winter all of them get very slippery. Some of them are heated, but not everywhere.
If you need to wear business dress formal shoes, there is plenty of options available. You can buy office type of shoes with insulation of all kinds to protect your feet in the cold and snow.
It is uncomfortable to wear heavy winter shoes for the whole day in a warm office. Most Russian employees keep spare lighter shoes (from sneakers to formal dress shoes depending on company dress code) in the office to change for the day.
I personally wear insulated hiking boots. They are comfortable, warm, tall enough to protect feet up to an ankle. Insulation is not fur, but still very efficient against winter cold. When it gets really cold, a pair of wool socks provides extra insulation. I bought mine for $50 in an online store and they serve well in Moscow winter.
It is suggested to buy shoe driers for your shoes. Shoe driers are two small AC powered heaters, put inside your shoes overnight. In the morning your winter shoes will be warm and dry. Shoe driers are sold in any electronics store in Moscow and cost about $10.
Previous article explains general idea of the New Year holiday in Russia and December as a month of preparation.
How New Year celebration goes in Russia? The culmination of New Year is the night of December 31st that continues into the morning of January 1st. December 31st is a last day of preparation before holiday party kicks off.
Depending on a calendar, December 31st can be a working or non-working day. Each year Russian government tweaks New Year holiday schedule to make it ten consecutive days.
On December 31st people make final purchases of food and gifts, finalize cooking for New Year table and decorations of the house. Dressing up, applying makeup and doing hair is a big part of preparation as well.
In soviet times New Year celebration would take place mostly at home. Now, majority of Russians still have New Year parties in their homes. However there are other options available.
Some will go to clubs and restaurants for a New Year party. Entry to a New Year party is pricey, but despite the price, seats sell quickly, so if you plan on joining one of those parties, make booking in advance. New Year parties normally include table with food and entertainment. Depending on a place, level of food (and price) will vary. Some will have live artists and performances of famous artists, luxury food, some will have simpler menu and entertainment setups. Parties start late in the evening and continue throughout the night.
In Moscow, subway and some busses will be running all New Year night, so getting back home after the party is over will not be a problem.
Some people will leave the country and fly somewhere. Knowing Russian tradition, many resorts in popular touristic places organize New Year eve parties for Russian guests. Those parties again, go in the same fashion — dinner and entertainment.
Most people stay at home and celebrate New Year as a family holiday. Some families invite their friends or relatives to stay overnight and celebrate together. Some go to dacha if their dacha house allows staying in winter.
No matter where you celebrate, a way the night goes, is more or less the same and evolves around three primary activities — eating all night, drinking all night, watching music shows and other type of entertainment.
“How you meet New Year, is how you will live it”, Russian proverb.
By late evening of December 31st New Year tree is decorated. Everyone is dressed up. The table is full of food and alcohol is ready. TV is on.
People gather at the table, starting to eat and drink. Each drink goes with a toast. Before midnight all toasts are for the year that’s leaving and for coming new year - “S nastupayushim novim godom!”
Each household has its own food traditions for new year table. Some dishes seem to be common on many tables. Mandarins, olivie, seledka pod shuboi, caviar, holodetz. Olivie - mix of boiled root vegetables and sausage, seasoned with mayonnaise. Seledka pod shuboi - layered boiled root vegetables with herring at the bottom layer. Holodetz - meat jelly. “Narezka” - assortment of sliced meat delicacies has its place on each New Year table. As you can see these are mostly Russian-style salads. They are not the only ones to be on a New Year table, there will be main dish, like meat or poultry, many varieties of other salads, snacks, sweets.
People sit at the table, eating and watching New Year TV shows. Those TV shows have their own name of Goluboy Ogonyok (Little Light Blue Light). Goluboy Ogonyok means new year night entertainment on TV. Those shows start late in the evening of December 31st and continue throughout the night. Goluboy Ogonyok shows feature popular musicians, comedians, performers of all kinds, hours of entertainment, blended together under one continuous new year themed scenario.
Traditional movies, people watch exclusively on the New Year eve are: Karnavalnaya Noch (Carnival Night) (1956) and Ironiya Sudby (The Irony of Fate) (1976). Both movies have soviet New Year celebration as a key line of the plot. Both movies are great pieces of soviet cinematography. Most channels will broadcast them on the new year eve.
Midnight of the new year eve is a holiday culmination. Few minutes before midnight, Goluboy Ogonyok shows interrupt. President of Russia makes short speech to the whole nation. Precisely when President’s message ends, all TV channels show tower clock on Kremlin Spasskaya Tower, aligned at 12, bells of Spasskaya Tower start to chime last 12 strokes of a year. Everyone stands and toasts with glasses of champaign. As tradition suggests, it is important to drink whole glass of champaign and make a wish, before bells strike for the last time. After that, national anthem of Russia plays. Ones the anthem is over, Goluboy Ogonyok shows resume. People continue eating, drinking with toasts, now for a, for a new year - “S Novim Godom!”
After midnight people might go outside to do fireworks. Fireworks will continue for the whole night.
Due to unstable weather in December, it is very rare to have snow and below zero temperatures on a New Year night. As far as I can remember, most of years Moscow had no snow on a New Year night, it’s either raining or just warm.
Parties go on until early morning. Morning of January 1st is the quietest time in Russia.
The main and the most important holiday in Russia is New Year. History of this holiday is complicated. Before revolution in 1917 New Year was not a big thing. People observed Christmas and it was the main winter holiday both religious and social. Religion was banned in soviet times and Christmas was no longer a holiday. In pursuit of replacing Christmas, at some point of soviet history, soviet government established New Year as a public holiday. Traditions of observing this holiday have been developing throughout decades of soviet history. New Year we have now is a purely soviet holiday that (unlike many other traditions) haven not change much since ussr times.
Celebration of New Year in Russia is massive. It starts few weeks before holiday, with decorations, lights and new year trees appearing on city squares, in public organizations, businesses and private homes. New Year tree in Russia is spruce. They are cut before the holiday in large quantities and sold on special street markets that will be appearing everywhere in and larger shops. In Moscow, in addition to decorations all over the city, there will be holiday markets, on-street performances, concerts. Shows and decorations will have themes from New Year tales, fairytales, traditional festivities.
December and first days of January is a season for New Year events taking place everywhere for kids, called “ёлка”, “yolka” (New Year Tree). Yolka is the show type of event, where kids get entertainment and gifts, play games and do simple ring dance around the tree. The centerpiece of any yolka event is a decorated New Year tree around which the whole show evolves. The main yolka event is held in Kremlin. Hosts of any yolka event are Ded Moroz and Snegurochka.
New Year celebration in Russia has its magical figure, by its role-play very identical to western Santa. Russian Santa’s name is “Ded Moroz” (“Grandfather Frost” in a very rough translation) and he has a female companion, a granddaughter by the role — Snegurochka (“Snowy Girl”, again, a very rough translation). Ded Moroz and Snegurochka come to bring gifts and they ride their sleigh pulled by three horses (troika). Ded Moroz is supposed to have large white beard and be dressed in red and while coat, while Snegurochka is supposed to be a young woman dressed in light blue coat. They might also have snowman and various animals helping them.
Not long time ago I witnessed heated argument between three school boys. The boys were about 8-9 years or age, discussing some cellphone on display in the electronics store. Discussion was about ways of getting that cellphone. One of the boys was very confident that Ded Moroz might get that phone to him as a gift for New Year. The other two were skeptical about Ded Moroz arguing that, “It must be the parents”.
Along with events for kids, adult employees of businesses and government organizations will have New Year corporate events. There will be a separate article on those events.
Because celebration is big and important, people start preparing long before the holiday. Aside from New Year tree, which not every home will have, the centerpiece of New Year celebration is holiday table, full of food. Russians socialize and celebrate over food and New Year is no exception. The key element of any New Year celebration is overnight dinner. New Year dinner starts late in the evening of December 31st and continues throughout the night. I will write a separate article on the New Year food. Important to understand here that New Year table must be real big and provide lots of food not only for the New Year night, but few days after. Eating New Year table leftovers is also a part of holiday tradition. Ideally, New Year food must be home made. However, with all the busyness, many people have no time for cooking and they order some of the food for their New Year table. Cooking services available privately and through many cafes and restaurants.
This New Year table tradition means all families start stocking lots of food long before holidays. They also plan celebration entertainment, buy gifts, new clothing, make new haircuts and so on. December, especially its second part, will be a rush season. Many restaurants will be booked for corporate events. Food shops will be packed with people, especially on weekends, huge crowds of shoppers buying food in bulk quantities. Shopping malls will be crowded with people buying gifts. Delivery services will be overloaded with orders. Car traffic, especially in larger cities like Moscow, will be horrendous. Hair dressers will be fully booked in the last two weeks of December. Many people will be traveling before holidays. This means more airport traffic and higher ticket prices.
Last thing to mention here is that New Year public holidays last for ten days, which makes a nice addition to annual paid vacation.
For Russians New Year is a holiday that comes with feelings of joy, fun, hopes for the better upcoming year. People will be exchanging gifts, sending postcards.
In the next article we will talk about how New Year celebration happens in Russia.
This is a third part of the series of articles on the train travel in Russia.
Boarding the train. For stations, where train originates, boarding starts 30 minutes before departure. For boarding you need to get all traveling passengers registered for a train ride. If I understand correctly, all passengers get automatic registration at a time of ticket purchase. You can check your registration status though RZD website in your personal cabinet.
For boarding the train you need photo ID used to purchase ticket, normally passport. If you purchased train ticket electronically, print your e-ticket from your personal cabinet on RZD website. It will have the ticket itself and boarding slip with QR codes. If you purchased your ticket from a ticket office, it will be a ticket with a slip attached at the back. Train attendant checks IDs, tells you your seat numbers and lets you into the train. Later, when train departs, they will come to your seat to collect train tickets, only those purchased from the ticket office. E-tickets are not collected.
Your train ticket has some advantages outside the train. When you arrive to a place of your destination and police questions you about registration, your ticket is an official proof of your arrival (or departure) date. Also, on train stations, with your train ticket you get free use of toilets on the date of travel, otherwise toilets are for a fee.
When boarding, normally you do not expect any help with your luggage from train attendants, as they are busy checking other passenger tickets. They might help, if they are not busy though. Also, many attendants are women and therefore not expected to deal with heavy stuff.
People accompanying you to the station are allowed onto the train to help you bring in your luggage and accommodate. Five minutes before departure train attendant will call everyone not traveling to leave the train.
Onboard train services and amenities Ticket of each class comes with certain services, amenities and options that are included in a ticket price and most of them you can’t remove or add. Variety of options, services and amenities is very big and sometimes tricky, to name a few most common ones: air conditioned carriage (not all of hem are), meals included in a ticket price, handling of oversized luggage, traveling with small pets, free newspapers, luggage compartment, shower, bio-toilet (airline style), travel set (toothbrush, eye-mask etc), TV, slippers, electric outlets and so on. Each ticket will have code of service. Those codes are tricky, but most important options will be displayed as little icons next to a carriage of your choice, when you buy ticket on RZD website. Some trains offer escorting underaged children on a train (if parents can’t travel with the kid). List of services is endless and no way of mentioning all of them. If you have some specific needs for your travel, check what specific train or ticket has included. Below I will explain the most common services and amenities.
Luggage. Official limit for luggage is 36 kilos per passenger. No one really controls luggage weight and enforces this norm, unless your luggage is so bulky that does not fit car storage spaces.
Russian railways does not provide luggage service like airlines do, so you have to bring all the luggage with you. I understand for oversized bulky luggage there are options for luggage service, but it has to ordered separately and it does not seem to be very popular. For storing luggage, railroad passenger cars have various options depending on a train and travel class.
Express trains have special racks and above seat shelves for storing the luggage. Sleepers have storage space under the lower bed, and a shelf above the door. Third class sleepers have upper shelves and space underneath lower bed for storing the luggage. Some sleeper (newer) trains have separate luggage compartments. Availability of such compartment is indicated in the list of services on RZD website that appears when you purchase tickets. Very approximately, for sleeper train, each passenger can take onboard one large suitcase and one smaller luggage item, like backpack or bag. If each of passengers takes these two items there will be enough storage space for everyone. It’s possible to cram more luggage into compartment, but possibility of fitting it will depend on what luggage other passengers have and some other factors.
For storage of smaller items each bed in sleeper cars has individual small shelves, sometimes designed like a small locker.
Each sleeper compartment or seater has hooks and hangers for clothes. Sapsan has cloth racks with hangers.
Some trains (very few though) have option of bringing your car with you. This service is ordered separately.
Toilets. Older cars have one toiler, newer have two toilets. Toilets are of two types: “bio” and “regular”. Regular toilets is nothing but a stall with a hole in a car floor and waste goes directly onto the rail tracks. For this reason, there are “sanitary zones”, around the stations and on the stations themselves, where toilets are locked. This means if train stops for an hour, no one is allowed to use toilets.
Newer cars have ”bio” toilets, that function like aircraft toilets, waste goes into special tanks, and toilets can be used anywhere any time. Each toilet has small sink for washing face and hands, hot and cold water taps, mirror and sometimes paper towels.
On the overnight trains, in the morning of arrival, everyone will want to use toilets and it will create lines. Be mindful of that.
Depending on a train and service, passengers might get basic toiletries set, that includes toothbrush and small tube of toothpaste, hair brush, disposable slippers (for moving around the car). Regardless of ticket and services included, all passengers get small cloth towel for using during the trip. This towel is reusable and you have to leave it on your bed when your ride is over.
Showers. Most, like almost all, trains have no showers. Very few newer trains on some routs have showers. If shower is available it will be indicated on a services list when purchasing ticket.
Air conditioning and heating. Heating is available in all trains. Long distance sleeper trains are heated by burning coal. Each car attendant is in charge for keeping inside temperature comfortable and this is a challenge for them. I must say most trains are overheated and this is one of the downsides or train travel. In winter it’s so intensely hot inside, people get most of their clothes off, when sleeping, but still it’s extremely hot. Windows in newer card do not open, so letting outside air inside is not an option and you suffocate at night, when compartment door is normally closed.
Newer cars have air conditioning — in theory. In reality they either do not work or car attendants do not know how to operate them properly. Most complaints from passengers are about air conditioning not working and uncomfortably hot temperatures.
Power outlets. Older cars have very few, close to no power outlets. Newer cars have power outlets in each coupe. Not many though, perhaps one per passenger, so if you have many gadgets, bring outlet multiplier for the trip. Having external battery for charging your gadgets is also very useful.
Lights. Each bed in a sleeper car has individual reading light. Also each compartment has ceiling lights for the whole compartment.
Wi-fi. Some (newer) trains have wi-fi. The problem is that train wi-fi internet is coming from public cellular networks and coverage between stations is very limited. If you are on a long distance train, I would not count on having stable internet connection between stations and on some stations connection also can be quite weak.
Food. All long distance train have restaurant or buffet car. Seaters normally have buffet cars, sleepers have restaurants. Both serve variety of food depending on a specific train, its rout and where train consist originates. Sapsan for example employs its own chef to provide passengers sort of “fine dining“ onboard. Regular long distance trains have more menu options for food, but dishes served are simpler.
An interesting fact, all dishes in train restaurant cars are made to order from scratch, no heating up. This means longer wait for your order, but since you have time traveling long distance this should be fine. Every dish you order will be fixed by chefs on a restaurant kitchen especially for you. I ones ordered potato wedges and it took forever to cook, but when they arrived, I found they were made from raw potatoes and not unfrozen.
Prices vary and I believe depend very much on where the train originates and some other factors. In general, restaurant car food is affordable on most long distance trains. For many passengers train food is still pricey, so they bring their own food onto the train. A classic train food people bring is boiled eggs and chicken, sandwiches, burgers (Russian style), sausage, vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers. The idea is to have food that does not spoil for longer time without refrigerating. Some people just bring instant noodles.
In addition to restaurant car you can buy some simple snacks from a car attendant. They will also make and bring you a hot tea or coffee (instant coffee only!) for your order. You can order food from restaurant car to your coupe.
Some tickets include meals. This is indicated when you buy a ticket and you options are dinner or breakfast. No choice of food though, they will serve what they serve, you either eat it or not eat it. The meals included in ticket price will be served in your cupe.
Alcohol is officially banned in trains, except for alcohol served in the restaurant car. This ban works in theory, in practice passengers bring their own alcohol and drink in their cupe. No one will pay any attention as long as your behavior is not abusive or disruptive in any way to other passengers.
If you are traveling for many days on a train, on longer stops there will be an option of buying food on the platform. It’s sort of business fo locals to sell “homemade” food on the platform or nearby platform when train arrives. Without getting into details you should avoid any of this food unless it’s a factory packaged product.
Water. Some, very few trains have public drinking water dispensers for passenger use. In all other trains you can buy bottled water from train attendant or from restaurant car or bring your own water supply for the trip. You can also buy water on stations during long stops if time allows.
Each long distance train has public water heater (see on picture above) and hot water is available for free to all passengers.
Safety. Each coupe can be locked inside. Modern cars have electronic keycards that can also lock coupes outside, but cupe on older cars can not be locked outside. Each train has police aboard. In general train travel is very safe, but do not undermine basic safety precautions. Theft seems to be the most common train crime, so make sure you keep all your valuables secure. People getting drunk can behave strangely or violently and police should deal with them, you just report any abusive behavior to the car attendant. This does not happen very often though, most passengers understand they will be removed from train at a nearest stop, fined or even jailed for any misconduct.
Primary website for buying rail tickets in Russia is Russian Railroads (RZD) website This link gets you to the search form where you pick travel destination and dates. The website is Russian/English. You need to register on RZD website to buy tickets. Payment is by plastic card of almost any type. Their system gives you train options with tickets available on the date of search for a chosen destination. If tickets or specific type of ticket not available at a time of search, go not give up, as ticket availability is dynamic.
You will need photo ID to buy a ticket (normally passport). ID number, name and type will be requited for buying a ticket. Exactly the same ID will be required for boarding the train. If you do not have an ID you used to buy ticket, you will not be allowed onto the train.
Tickets go on sale 90 days before train departure (45 and 60 days for some trains). Prices are dynamic, reflecting popularity, demand and availability. This means buying in advance gives you more chances of cheaper tickets. All railroad tickets now are electronic (paper tickets are still available if you buy from a ticket office). If for whatever reason you need a paper ticket, you can print standard paper ticket from the ticketing machine on any major rail station in larger cities. When you buy a ticket on RZD website, they will email you e-ticket in PDF format. Russian railroad tickets are Russian/English.
You can buy one-way or return ticket and sometimes you get some discount on two-way ticket.
Alternatively to electronic tickets you can buy regular paper tickets from ticket offices on any of nine major rail stations in Moscow. Difference is that buying from ticket office you will have no options of choosing specific seat on a train. There will be lines. There are many resellers online and offline. When buying from a reseller you will pay commissions and availability of tickets might be limited. Also, not every reseller provides seat choice and other Russian Railroad services. All tickets are returnable, you get fraction of a price if returned on the day of travel. There was an idea of cheaper non-returnable tickets, but I am unsure if it is implemented yet.
When you get list of train options available, each train has different types of cars and services included in a ticket price. There will be indication of number of seats of each type available in each car. If you click on a specific car on the list, you will get car map with occupied and available seats (beds for sleepers).
By the level of service, there are two types of trains: “firmenniy” (branded) or “ne firmenniy” (regular). “Firmenniy” train consists tend to have newer cars, better maintenance and passenger service. “Firmenniy” trains always have a brand name, which is written next to the train number on the online ticketing RZD website. They are also pricier. Regular trains are not necessarily worth. They can have older or newer cars in consist and good service. It depends on a number of factors, and I believe the most important one is where the train originates. Each RZD division that builds and maintains train consists have their own specifics.
Regardless of branded or regular all rail Russian railroads cars come in four major types.
Type of seater car depends on destination and train that service the destination. Each seater has its own class system. Each seater train service is unique because they have train consists and car layouts built for specific rout and service. Each seater worth separate article. I will outline some of the most popular seater train services below.
Sapsan (on above picture), “branded” train that runs between Moscow and St.Petersburg has tickets of seven classes. Sapsan trains are built by Siemens and provide excellent travel quality and comfort that comes with very good passenger service. Each of seven classes of Sapsan provides different accommodation or services included.
Nevsky Express (below picture) en rout between Moscow and St.Petersburg has been in operation long before Sapsan. Nevsky Express consist is built by a Russian manufacturer and runs almost with the same speed as Sapsan. Nevsky Express cars have separate compartments for six passengers each. That is 3 seats in two rows facing each other. The compartments have glass doors, luggage shelves, small table, and TV sets. Nevsky Express has only one class of service, and it comes with food included in a ticket price. All passengers get lunch delivered to their seat.
Moscow — Nizhniy Novgorod route is serviced by Sapsan and Strizh. Photo below has 2nd class of Strizh train.
Strizh consist is a Talgo train, provides three classes of service. One class is seater and two classes are sleepers, completely different from regular RZD sleeper cars explained below.
Many destinations are services by Lastochka trains. Lastochka is built by Siemens and it’s a very comfortable simpler type of seater that provides accommodation similar to airline economy seats (wider seats and more room for legs though).
Other seaters are Russian built and provide airline type of seating arrangement, 3+3, 3+2, 1+2 or 2+2 seats in one row. Some seaters serve regional destinations like Tula or Kaluga and have only seaters in their consist. Some long distance trains have 1-2 seater cars in their consist to serve regional passenger traffic.
Seater train options have less availability compared to sleeper cars as they serve less destinations. Sleeper cars come in 4 classes, explained below. International train services may have completely different accommodation and class system. Also, there are few deluxe trains operating on some routs by private companies, not RZD, and their class system can be different. Bellow class system is found on 99% of Russian long distance trains.
All long distance sleeping cars have small compartments called kupe (купе). Kupe or compartments come in 4 types, explained below.
Modern cars that have fewer compartments for 1-2 passengers each with private toilet and shower. Available on a very few trains and they are very pricey.
Mostly seen on trains between Moscow and St.Petersburg and obviously targeted to business use or private use for passengers who can afford them. I understand this type of carriage comes with multitude of services included in ticket price. Suffice it to say, if you can afford this type of ticket — go for it. If you travel in DeLuxe type of carriage you can skip all below reading, because DeLuxe cars are different in every way from “mass” type of rail car accommodations.
1st class sleeper (Russian — “spalniy vagon” — “спальный вагон” or “СВ”).
Each first and second class car has small kupe, compartments with sliding door. In 1st class, each compartment has two lower bunk beds. 2nd class cars have four bunk beds — two upper, two lower, and this is the main and the only principal difference between 1st and 2nd class.
Each bed in kupe is sold separately on RZD website. This means if you travel alone, you will have company of a total stranger, of whoever buys second bed in the same kupe with you. You can buy both beds on separate tickets to your name and occupy the whole compartment, but this is pricey as you have to pay for two full tickets. This is an option though, and this is the only way to get maximum privacy and safety. If you are lucky and no one buys second bed, you will travel by yourself. You might get company of a passenger, getting on the train on some of the stops though.
Your kupe bed serves as a couch at daytime and for sleeping it turns into bed. In older cars the bed linen is provided separately and car attendant makes your bed on request before sleep. For trains departing late at night, kupe comes with bed already made, so when you board the train your bed is ready to sleep. In newer cars, the bed linen stored inside the back of the couch. The back of the couch collapses and turns into a bed, that’s been pre-made already. You do not need car attendant, just flip the back of the bed and your bed is ready. Bed linen include one or two pillows (depending on service), mattress (slim) blankets and cover.
Other kupe amenities include: mirror, foldable table, TV set (in some cars), individual reading light, storage space for luggage, hooks and hangers for clothes, electric outlets (only in newer cars!). Normally each passenger provided small cloth towel. There are individual smaller shelves for keeping small personal items for each bed. Windows have shades. There can be other service options and amenities, I will discuss them later in part three.
A bit more about 1st class cars. First class is not available in every train, and where it is available, it’s usually only one car, perhaps two on some trains. This means first class tickets will sell quicker, despite they are priced more than double compared to 2nd class.
Since 1st class cars have less passengers, it’s more quiet. 1st class passengers get more attention from attendants and better overall service. There will be less morning lines to the toilet in the 1st class carriage.
Although Russian Railroads are making big effort in rebuilding or replacing old soviet rail cars, a big bunch of older cars is still in operation. This means even if you buy a first class ticket, you might travel in an older car.
Each 1st class ticket comes with different options and additional services and we will discuss them later in part three. Again, the main difference between 1st and 2nd class is number of passengers in one compartment — kupe.
2nd class sleeper (Russian — “kupe”).
In Russian, second class is just called “kupe (купе)”. Technically it is the same type of accommodation as 1st class, with only one difference — kupe, or compartment, has 4 bunk beds. Two upper beds and two lower beds. Again, similar to 1st class, all 4 beds sold separately and when traveling alone you get company of three strangers. It is good to travel with family or company, you can buy all 4 beds and have maximum privacy.
Second class sleepers have the same bed system as first class. Bed linen is either stored in a collapsible back of a couch type seat or bed is provided separately. Train attendant will make bed for you upon request or you can make it yourself.
Second class has absolutely the same amenities as 1st class, including mirror, foldable table, TV set (in some cars), individual reading light, storage space for luggage, hooks and hangers for clothes, electric outlets (only in newer cars!). Normally each passenger provided small cloth towel. There are individual smaller shelves for keeping small personal items for each bed. Windows have shades.
Since 2nd class has upper beds, there is foldable ladder to help passengers get to their upper bed.
If you are traveling for more than one night, normally lower beds (turned into a couch with bed linen removed) and table by the window are shared with upper bed passengers during day time.
Tickets for upper beds are cheaper, but because of inconvenience to some passengers getting to/from upper bed, lower beds are sold much quicker. When you get list of available beds on RZD website, there will be clear indication which bed is upper which is lower. Upper beds has its individual reading light and smaller shelf for keeping personal items.
Most 2nd class kupes are mixed sex. On some trains, there are female only kupes. This is indicated on the list of available beds on RZD website when you search for tickets. Male passengers can’t buy ticket to a female kupe.
Each train consists would have 1-3 2nd class cars and they are less popular as they are pricier. This means on a busy destination 2nd class tickets are sold quicker.
Trick for making your overnight train travel more comfortable.
When choosing kupe, aim at those located in the middle of the car. Soundproofing is not that good in Russian rail cars. Kupe close to sides of the car get lots of noice from wheels, car coupling mechanism that makes loud banging noise, doors opening and closing all the time, people gettin on and off the train at stops, talking at the platform, toilet that makes loud noise when flushed. This applies to all four classes of sleeper cars.
3rd class sleeper (Russian — platskart).
Same thing as 2nd class, except that compartments have no doors. This is a communal type of sleeper, cheapest and for that reason most demanded. Compartments are open and you get company of 50+ passengers for the entire trip.
In addition to open compartments with four bunk beds, there are two bunk beds on the side of the corridor. Lower side bunk bed folds and turns into two seats and a table for the day time, so both passengers (from upper and lower beds) can sit during day time.
Beds in 3rd class are shorter compared to 1st and 2nd class. This means if you are tall, your feel will hang in the corridor when you’re sleeping. 3rd class has less luggage storage space and 3rd class passengers get less of additional services and amenities. There will be no TV, no mirror (except toilet), in most cases no extra amenities like toiletry kits. I understand 3rd class never comes with food included in a ticket price.
In this type of car you get no privacy at all. It is noisy, smells with body odors, bad breath of drunk people, food people eat.
Generally speaking 3rd class is not recommended, unless you are on a very tight budget or for whatever reason you wanna be around Russians, socializing with them. Socializing is an inevitable part of Russian rail travel and we will talk about this in further articles.
3rd class is convenient in absence of seater service on chosen destination, when you travel long distance during day time and do not need to sleep on a train. This gets you very cheap and comfortable seater. Picks lower side bed (боковое место or боковушка), it will be a wide chair during the day with table, at the window.
Good thing is that almost all third class sleepers were renewed in the past years, so chances of getting an old car is much less (almost none) compared to 1st and 2nd class. 3rd class has less luggage storage space and 3rd class passengers get less of additional services and amenities, that will be discussed on the next article.
Choose travel dates, destination. Check available train options and car options. Select preferred seat or bed. Finalize purchase by entering each passenger data. Pay for the ticket using plastic card. Ones the ticket is purchased, you receive confirmation e-mail with e-ticket in PDF format. You can always access your tickets through RZD website logging into your account.
Rail tickets are returnable and you get full refund if you return them before the day of travel. For tickets purchased from RZD website, returns can be made from your account.