Trains: cheap tickets, going to and from St. Petersburg and other cities

Trains are an excellent, fun, affordable, efficient means of venturing outside Moscow, be it to St. Petersburg or nearby towns and cities, especially Golden Ring cities such as Vladimir/Suzdal, and Yaroslavl/Sergiev Posad or all the way across Siberia to Vladivostok or China. This overview will provide most of the information you will need, including how to get the best prices.

There are many travel sites and ticket resellers out there all using different and confusing terms for train types, ticket classes etc. This article sticks to the terms used by the official Russian Railroads web site – – which should be your first stop for checking timetables and buying tickets (more on that later).

Types of trains and service

There are three basic types of trains:

  • Long distance trains: as the name implies, cover long distances, take from many hours to many days and so provide sleeping quarters. One advantage of, especially with regard to St. Petersburg, is that IF YOU CAN SLEEP on trains (the clickety-clack of the wheels lulls you to sleep), you can leverage the 8-hour trip to save on a hotel room – and also precious daylight hours – by choosing one of many overnight trains leaving between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. and arriving the next day between 7 and 9 a.m. Admittedly, you may arrive still not fully rested, and will want or need to stash your bags at your hotel until your room is ready (NOT a problem usually) or at the train station (lockers provided). Among the long distance trains, the "firmenny" or "branded" trains form a select category.  Those have names in addition to numbers, such as the "Red Arrow".  Expect newer equipment, a unique color scheme, attendants wearing matching uniforms, better service, and a higher price. For long distance trains, you will need to choose your comfort level with regard to service classes. There are these basic classes of service to consider: 
    • De Luxe: a premium 2-person cabin/compartment with more amenities than "SV" including an en-suite bathroom/shower.  You'll have to buy out the cabin as a unit if you are traveling alone. Offers the most privacy but expensive.  8 passengers per car have room to stretch out.
    • 1st class: go for the separate, private/lockable 2-person cabin abbreviated in Russian as "SV". If there are two of you traveling, great – if not, then you will likely get to make a new Russian friend! Note it is not uncommon to find that your overnight cabin-mate is of the opposite gender. You may opt during ticketing for a gender-specific cabin, but this will reduce the tickets available, a potential problem during peak summer months and times. 16-18 passengers per standard railroad car. There is a bathroom at each end of the car.
    • 2nd class (known in Russian as "Coupe"): still a separate lockable cabin, but for 4 people, with upper and lower berths on each side. Again, if there are 2-3-4 of you, great, if not, expect to share! 32-36 passengers per car, so ticket price roughly half that of 1st class.
    • 3rd class (known in Russian as "Platzkart"): it's a berth to sleep in in a car with an open layout, with only light divider walls between sleeping berths, and thus they fit 54 people per “car,” with the ticket price correspondingly lower.  Think of it as a hostel on wheels.
    • 4th class (or "Sitting"): you get a seat in an open-plan car. Not recommended unless you are desperately broke or your ride is not too long. 
  • High speed trains: come in slightly different flavours, allow you to cover long distances about twice faster than overnight trains, mostly run in daytime. Sapsan is a fast way (around 4 hours) of getting to and from Saint Petersburg from/to Leningradsky station in Moscow (cryptically referred to as Moskva Okt on the rzd web site and in the tickets). Due to shorter trips, there are no “sleeper” cars or separate cabins, although there are first-class cars (not advisable unless you crave "airline-like" first-class service - free meals and beverages, newspapers, and other pampering). These are an excellent way to travel in a reasonable timeframe (i.e. not overnight or all day travel), and certainly meet or beat any air alternative if you consider the time to get to/from airports, to pass check-in, security etc. These trains, however, do not run very frequently – for St. Petersburg, several departures daily in the early morning, morning, afternoon, and evening, with additional trains on peak dates. One more fast day train to St.Pete is Nevsky Express - it's Russian-built (as opposed to the German-built Sapsan) and has a more traditional train layout with 6 seats per compartment, otherwise it's as fast and at least as comfortable as Sapsan.Another notable category of these fast daily trains are fast trains Strizh and Lastochka to Vladimir (gateway to Suzdal) and further on to Nizhniy Novgorod. All of them have comfortable seating, toilets, catering/drinks from a trolley and proper restaurant car at Strizh trains. These trains operate from Kursky station in Moscow.
  • Suburban (commuter) trains (in Russian unofficially "electrichkas"): very basic trains, with no assigned seating that service small towns and cities (like Sergiev Posad or Dmitrov) in the vicinity of big cities like Moscow. As the seats cannot be reserved and the price is fixed, it makes no sense to book tickets in advance – those trains never sell out and who boards first gets a seat. In peak times it’s not unusual for many people to ride standing up. Be sure to hang on to your ticket stub as this is required not just on the train as proof of ticketing, but to exit through the “turnstiles”. Large train stations have a separate section for commuters and separate ticket windows.

When to buy your tickets

For non-commuter trains, you should get your tickets in advance, especially if you will be traveling during peak times (summer months), and days (Friday-Monday). Not only you risk to find your desired train sold out, the price for most trains goes steeply up (up to four times the initial price!) as the number of available seats goes down. Don’t be afraid to book early if you are not completely sure of your plans. Tickets bought on can be returned via the same site for a full refund (minus a modest fee of 185 rubles) up to 8 hours before the train departure.

The earliest tickets go on sale is 45 or 60 days before the departure date depending on the train. Some resellers will be happy to take your money much earlier and sit on it until the actual tickets go on sale – don’t let that fool you into thinking that they can secure your seats before those go on sale.

Where to buy your tickets

The only web site where you can buy your tickets at face value (same price as at the station) with no commission is the official web site of Russian Railroads - The web site provides a user interface in English and accepts most Visa/Mastercard credit cards. Even though most people succeed in buying their tickets from web site lately, many complain about their cards being declined. Here’s what you can do to maximize your chances:

  • Make sure your card is 3D-Secure compliant;
  • Make sure your bank/credit company is aware of your upcoming trip to Russia and won’t block any transactions coming from Russia as suspicious (many do by default);
  • If at first you don’t succeed, just try one more time, maybe in a few days;
  • Try another card. Cards issued by well-known international banks (e.g. CITI) statistically work better than those issued by smaller regional outfits.

If you still can’t make your card work with no matter what, there is a large number of resellers online (see the list at the bottom), all of them adding a markup ranging from modest to outrageous. As of the moment of this writing, adds a very reasonable markup/commission and accepts PayPal. Anyway it’s up to you to compare prices between different sources and decide what price is acceptable to you.

You can also buy tickets for any train at any train station in Russia: see above the risks of postponing your buying until the last moment. However, if you have your heart set on this, you may want to consider paying $5 or so for entry into a VIP lounge (available at most major stations) versus standing in line at an "English language" window with the noise, confusion,  and potential for delays this entails). The agents in the lounge will be able to a) understand you, and b) calmly, quietly get you your tickets, c) with free wireless to boot, and, d) in summer months, in a nice, air-conditioned setting.

Finally, you can ask your hotel to get your tickets for you: with the same "risk" caveat as for buying at a train station, you can certainly ask your hotel to help. In a pinch, while they may charge you a bit more (the biggest portion for courier delivery since here you will be dealing with paper tickets), this might come in handy at some point!

Whenever possible (almost always!), opt for an e-ticket. This is easy to do, and all you have to do is show up at the train (your car) and show your passport and your e-ticket with a bar code on it – either as a printout or on the screen of your smartphone. The boarding agent will find your name/reservation on his/her hand-held device and wave you onto the train.

Please note, that buying a train ticket in Russia requires a passport. If you buy online you'll have to enter passport number (category called "foreign document", not "international passport"), country of issue, date and place of birth. Passport number will be printed on your ticket and may be checked while boarding. Do NOT enter "33" anywhere as misleading online help and some internet posts might suggest: simply select "foreign document" as Document type and type your passport number into the Doc number field.

International trains

There are two important points to be made re buying international train tickets:

Tickets for some trains (e.g. to Ulan-Bator, Mongolia) are NOT available online via To get those tickets, you’ll either have to buy them at the station (with the risk of the train being sold out by then) or resort to a reseller/agency which would be able to buy out and deliver physical tickets to you.

Be very careful when buying tickets for international trains headed to Russia from abroad. If the train doesn’t have an "ЭР" (electronic registration/check-in) icon next to it on then you WON’T be able to board it abroad with your Russian e-ticket only: you will need a paper ticket that can ONLY be obtained in Russia. If the train does have an "ЭР" logo then the Russian e-ticket should work but still it makes better sense to buy the ticket in the country where you are boarding the train so that in case of any problem/ misunderstanding/ itinerary change etc you will find yourself talking to the same company that sold you the ticket.

Getting to your train station (Moscow only!)

As with any place in Moscow, the Metro will whisk you to any out of its nine train stations, regardless of location. The good news is three of them are right in the same place – Komsomolskaya  Square. Overall, the three most likely suspects will be:

  • Leningradsky Station (will appear on the ticket as МОСКВА-ОКТ): hop on the Metro (Red,  "Radial" Line, or Brown, Ring Line) and get off at the Komsomolskaya Metro Station. The train station will be right there (depending on which line you may need to take the underground walkway to get to it). As the name implies (for those familiar with the old name of St. Petersburg, anyway!), this will be your station for trains to and from St. Petersburg, as well as other locations in a northwesterly direction from Moscow.
  • Yaroslavsky Station: right next door to Leningradksy, used mostly for trains to several of the Golden Ring Cities directly to the north of Moscow, including Sergiev Posad, Yaroslavl, and Rostov Veliki ("the great"), including commuter trains heading out to a number of smaller towns in this direction. Most of the trans-siberian trains depart from this station, too. 
  • Kursky Station: to catch trains going east such as Strizh and Lastochka to get to either Vladimir (and ideally onto Suzdal by bus, car as part of a 2-day excursion) and/or Nizhni Novgorod.  Again, just hop on the Metro – head out to the Kurskaya Station on the Dark-blue, Radial Line, or the Brown, Ring Line, or, less likely, the Chkalovskaya Station on the Lime-Green, Radial Line. 

Russian train ticket resellers (mostly added by the resellers themselves):