If you'd like to buy a train ticket in Russia you can do it either at a train station or online. If you buy it online, you'll usually get an e-ticket, which you can show from your smartphone (or a printout) when you board the train directly to the conductor. The e-ticket has an English translation, so it's pretty easy to use.
Option 1: Buying an E-Ticket for a Russian Train from RZD / UFS
To purchase your train tickets before the date of your travel, you can use our online service provided by UFS, who work directly with the Russian Railways (RZD). They have a very low markup and the most up-to-date schedules and prices for all the trains. You can pay with a credit card online and you'll get your e-ticket (in Russian and in English) delivered to you by email right after you pay. Then simply show it from your phone or print it out when you board the train.
Option 2: Buying a Train Ticket from a Travel Agency
If you think that you might need English-language support you can buy your train tickets through our premium service provider, East West Link Ltd, based in UK. They can sell both e-tickets and paper tickets (for some stopover Trans-Siberian trains) and their operators will provide all the necessary support you need: from explaining how to get to the train to delivering the train tickets to your hotel. They charge a premium for their service, but it's worth it if you're after a more complicated route or if you're traveling in Russia for the first time and need assistance. If you need to book a journey with several stopovers, please, try their Trans-Siberian planner, which helps you design a train route with stopovers.
You can buy Russian train tickets at any train station in Russia, at travel agencies, or online. If you can afford to wait until you arrive to Russia and can speak a bit of Russian, you can try to get the train tickets directly at the train station, but be prepared: the operators don't speak English, so you'll need to show them a printout of the route you need. There may also be problems with immediate availability (but 3-5 days ahead of departure is usually fine). Travel agencies also sell train tickets, but as the Russian railway doesn't offer any commission, they usually add their markup - from 200R ($5) to about 20%. Finally, you can also buy train tickets online and there are two ways to do it. You can use Russian railways website (which offers the lowest prices), but keep in mind that their customer support is not very advanced, so if you run into any problem you might lose your ticket. Alternatively, you can also use any other reputable online service (like the one recommended above), which will arrange the delivery of your tickets for you and help if there is any problem. This is especially useful if there is no e-ticket for your route, as it can then be delivered to you by post before you travel to Russia or by courier once you're in Moscow or St. Petersburg.
How to Buy the Cheapest Train Ticket in Russia?
The cheapest tickets are always available directly at the train stations, but there are two problems: language barrier (the operators only speak Russian) and availability (there may be no tickets for popular routes available and long queues). The first problem – the language barrier – can be resolved if you print out the details of the train you need (using the form above, for example). The second problem is a bit more difficult. If you're taking a train in summer for a popular Trans-Siberian route, it may be hard to get a ticket for the date you need. However, a good option is to get local trains (which may be of lower quality), stopping in several cities along the way. This way you'll be sure to get the train tickets you need and they might even be cheaper. Use our online Trans-Siberian journey planner to find out which trains you can take. For example, if you're traveling from Moscow to Irkutsk and the direct ticket is not available, you could take a ticket for Moscow - Ekaterinburg, then another ticket for Ekaterinburg - Novosibirsk, and the other one for Novosibirsk - Irkutsk – for 3 different trains.
Are there E-Tickets for Trains in Russia?
Yes. There are two types of e-tickets. The first type works like anywhere else: you get the ticket online, pay for it using a credit card, then receive the e-ticket by e-mail, print it out, and use it for traveling. However, most e-tickets in Russia are of the second type: e-registration. The process is the same as above, however, once you receive the e-registration form by your e-mail, you cannot travel with it. Instead, you should come to the train station some time before your departure, and use a special machine to print out the real train ticket using the e-registration form you received. It's not very complicated and the machine has an interface in English, but still you should prepare to spend some time on that before your departure.
Refunds: Is It Possible To Return a Train Ticket?
Yes. In fact, this works better in Russia than in other countries. You even have a chance to get a refund if you missed your train!
In general, for most trains, if you return your ticket up to 8 hours before your travel, you should get the full refund (link to the RZD regulation, in Russian). If you have an e-ticket, you can do it through the online terminal / agency where you purchased it. Or directly at any train station. If you return your ticket from 8 to 2 hours before the departure, you'll get about 50-80% of the total price of the ticket back. If you return your ticket less than 2 hours before departure or after departure, you'll get back about 20-50% of the ticket's price.
There are some exclusions from this rule. For example, if you buy a return ticket for Moscow - St. Petersburg for the express "Sapsan" train, you can only refund the return leg of the journey.
How to Get Trans-Siberian Train Tickets?
The best way is to first plan your journey and see where you want to stop along the way. Many people just travel directly from Moscow to Beijing with only a few days stopover at Irkutsk on Lake Baikal, but after they find out that it's too rushed – when it's already too late to change anything. So we recommend to read our travel city guides which include most Trans-Siberian train destinations, choose the cities you want to stop in, and then see how flexible you are. If you're prepared to improvise, just get a ticket for the first leg of the journey (e.g. Moscow to Ekaterinburg) and then get the rest of the tickets once you're there. If you're not so sure, choose a few stops along the way, such as Ekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk or Ulan-Ude (both are on Baikal lake). Count about 2 days for Ekaterinburg and Novosibirsk and at least a week for the lake Baikal (or two weeks would be the best). Then you can take a train from Irkutsk or Ulan-Ude to Mongolia or China. In case your schedule looks like that, you can book the first leg of the journey (Moscow - Ekaterinburg) and the last one (Irtusk - Ulan-Bataar and Ulan-Bataar - Beijing) and then leave everything else to improvisation. There's many passing trains, and there are also flights between all those cities (which cost even less than trains sometimes) so you'll surely get where you need, but the increased flexibility will give you a chance to not rush and explore each destination properly.
Also, use our Trans-Siberian journey planner to find the train connections you need.
What are the Best Places in a Russian Train?
If you are a woman traveling alone, it might be best to get a 3rd class "platzcart" common carriage ticket. The reason is that the compartments in the common carriage do not have walls, so you avoid risking to get an annoying neighbor. Plus common carriages are the best for meeting all kinds of people and socializing. They're a bit more busy though, so it's a trade-off you have to think about. Otherwise, you can also get a place in a 2nd class 4-berth private compartment ("kupe"). Usually the top bed is better, because you don't have to share it with others and you can hide your stuff at the top shelf above – this applies both to "kupe" and "platzcart". Another option is to just buy the whole "kupe" with all the 4 beds, so you have it solely for yourself – may be a good option if you're a couple or 3 people. There are also 2-berth sleeper carriages (1st class), but those are overpriced and you'll lose one of the most interesting part of the long train journey: socializing with other passengers.
Moscow has three major airports: Sheremetyevo in the north (Aeroflot + most international flights), Domodedovo in the south (Swiss, British Airways + many Asian carrers and domestic flights) and Vnukovo in the south-west (mainly domestic flights, but also some international ones, such as Utair).