We were shocked to find out how cheap Uber is in Russia: a thirty-minute ride literally costs €2,5; an hour not much more than €5. Even so, Russia is a train-centred society. In the major cities you can get to any part of it on the metro, and in Moscow it will be the most beautiful underground commute you’ll make anywhere in the world. And then there’s the historic national rail.
The Moscow – Saint Petersburg line was built less than 30 years after the invention of the very first horse-drawn rail in the UK. And that famous trans-Siberian railway – nearly 9,300km of rail from Russia to the far East – was already established very early in the 20th Century. And among these iconic rail lines there is the legendary Red Arrow overnight train running between Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
Red Arrow started its daily service in 1931, and have reliably run ever since. It was only interrupted between 1941 and 1943 when Finland and the Nazis raided Saint Petersburg. During the Soviet era it was the de-facto carrier of the Communist elite, zipping the likes of Stalin and Lenin in between the two iconic Russian cities. Many luxury overnight trains have spawned from the Red Arrow, but nothing beats the original.
So if you’re heading to Russia, which you absolutely should (try and get there before the end of the World Cup – the atmosphere is insane!), and you’re planning on visiting both these cities (again, which you absolutely should), you should absolutely forget about those crowded domestic flights and step aboard the historic Red Arrow instead.
We’ve tried it, we’ve loved it, and we want to help you with a super quick bullet guide.
Moscow – Saint Petersburg in 8 hours
23.55 – 07.55
Depart from Leningradskaya Station
NOTE: If you leave from Moscow it will say MOSKVA OKTIABRSKAIA -> SAINT PETERBURG. There is a station in Moscow with that name but that is not where your train departs from, it just indicates the direction in which the train travels. The Red Arrow always leaves from Leningradskaya station.
Saint Petersburg – Moscow in 8 hours
23.55 – 07.55
Depart from Moskovskaya Station
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
It depends on the class of your ticket and where you book it.
It can cost between €50 and €200 when you book on the cheapest site.
The price fluctuates with about €10 depending on the time of the year.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT CLASSES
Red Arrow is an affordable luxury train, so even if you book the lowest you’ll be comfortable. But the classes are, from worst to best:
2nd class sleeping compartment: this is a 4-berth compartment with upper and lower bunks. Upper bunks are €10 more expensive than lower bunks. WC at each end of the carriage. (ca. €50-€60)
1st class sleeping compartment: 2-berth sleeping compartments with lower bunks. The same size as the 2nd-class compartment so you get twice the space and all the privacy. WC at each end of the carriage. (ca. €90)
Deluxe: 2-berth sleeping compartments with one upper and one lower bunk, with en-suite WC and shower.
You should buy tickets directly from the official Russian rail site: https://pass.rzd.ru/main-pass/public/en
They have an English translation and it’ve every clear. The only thing not in English is the payment gateway where you enter your credit card information. But you can just copy and paste it into google translate to know where your card number and where your name go.
There are English-language booking agencies but they charge fees on top of the train ticket price and it can end up being more than double the price.
DEPARTURE – WHEN TO BE AT THE STATION
You don’t have to be there hours before. We went early, to be safe, but it was totally unnecessary. The platform is only shown 20/30 minutes before departure, and there is no rush to get a good seat because it’s booked already.
Just leave enough time to get through the general station entrance security (this doesn’t take too long).
DEPARTURE TO ARRIVAL: WHAT TO EXPECT
- When your platform is finally displayed, you’ll have to go through another round of security. Then, you’ll find your carriage and show your ticket and ID to the provodnik/provodnitsa (male/female carriage attendants) who will be waiting to receive you. Keep your passport at hand.
- Once you’re settled in, your provodnitsa will show you all the important bits in your compartment, like how to unfold your bed and where the plugs are.
- In the carriage will be snacks like waters and fruits, bread rolls and Red Arrow branded chocolate, newspapers and travel amenities like toothbrushes and toothpastes. Pillows and a hand towel are placed on each seat in protective plastic. The bedlinen is already made, as you will see when you flip down your mattress.
- There are two tiny very useful lights lights indicating which WCs are occupied.
- There’s a menu from which you can order drinks, extra meals, and souvenirs.
- Your compartment door locks from the inside.
- After that you can snooze through all the way to Saint Petersburg!
- You will receive a wake-up call about an hour before your arrival with some breakfast: we had traditional pancakes with smoked salmon and cheese and meats with pre-packaged croissants on the side.
The train ride is smooth, quiet, and it feels surprisingly short – so enjoy every minute! I actually wished it was a bit longer, so we could enjoy the train a bit more – we just slept through most of it.
I don’t know why I was surprised that a historically Russian train operates only in Russian. The conductor’s departure and arrival announcements, the TV channels, the provodnitsa: it is an all-Russian operation. Even so, we still felt wholly welcomed and were a hundred percent comfortable and at ease.
There are lockers available at the station.
Departure and arrival times are obviously way before and after general check in/out times, so this is a good idea.
Beware: The lockers were VERY busy during the middle of the day in Moscow: long, long queues underground in a hot station. Hmmm, no thanks. We just kept our backpacks on us for the day.
However, the St Petersburg station’s luggage area was dead when we arrived at 8am, and again when we departed just before midnight.
HOW TO STORE YOUR LUGGAGE
Follow the luggage signage – a bag with a key – in the train stations, they will lead you downstairs.
Buy a card/token from the luggage guy.
Pay per hour up to three hours, and then a set price from 3 – 24 hours.
We paid about 300 Rubles (ca. €4) for 24 hours.
Follow the instructions on the locker.
PIN FOR LATER