Before visiting Russia, I was really unsure what to expect when it came to long distance train journeys. Would there be any English signs or would I have to quickly learn Cyrillic? Would it be easy for a foreigner to buy a ticket? Did you have to prepay? I can tell you now that it is really easy and although this short trip from St Petersburg to Moscow on the Sapsan train is nothing compared to the full Trans-Siberian route (that is for another blog post!), here are my must know tips.
Before you leave
I would highly recommend pre booking your tickets here at least a couple of days before your departure date. The online form is simple, needing just a few personal details (including passport information) and then you receive an email with downloadable tickets. Make sure you print out your tickets as you will need them in paper form to get on the train. There are a few different ticket classes available but we found economy to be comfortable enough – the only downside was the lack of internet and plug sockets.
Most of the trains are fairly roomy but remember that you will need to put your bags in the luggage compartment above the seats or in the designated luggage section so I would recommend not taking anything too large. A small carry on suitcase or a backpack would be ideal. If you are still working on packing light, make sure your luggage is at least easy to carry and move around.
Additionally, when you arrive in Moscow, if you are planning to use the Metro to get to your accommodation, note that Moscow train station is very big and there are lots of stairs. It is definitely not conducive to lugging a big suitcase around!
Before getting on the train
Be aware that when you enter St Petersburg train station you will have to put your bag through an airport style conveyor belt security scanner and then walk through a security scanner – it is a lot quicker than airport security (it only takes a minute or two)!
There are always lots of guards at the station so don’t be alarmed if you see lots of people in uniform around the station.
Tickets & Passport
Before allowing you to board, an attendant will check your passport against the details on your ticket so ensure you have both your passport and ticket to hand. It is a good idea to keep these handy throughout the journey in case you are asked to present them.
Waiting for the train
At the end of the terminal, above the “long distance trains” platforms, you will see a big board with all train departures listed. It is all in Russian Cyrillic but look out for anything that says сапсан (Peregrine Falcon) as this is the Russian meaning of the word sapsan. Additionally, I would recommend downloading the Google Translate app (or something similar) as this allows you to translate an image with writing (ie the departures board) offline.
On the train
On your ticket you will have been assigned a carriage and a seat number so make sure to find the right spot. The seats are fairly comfortable; all trains will have a tray table but only some will have easily accessible charging outlets.
A snacks and drinks cart frequently passed through the carriages offering alcohol and non-alcoholic beverages, chips and dried fruit snacks. Additionally, there was a dining cart offering warm meals. You also have the option to order and pay for food using an app which can be downloaded.
Entertainment & WiFi
Our train had a drop down screen in the isle that played a Russian film and ear phones were provided to plug in to listen. Unfortunately, it didn’t have subtitles and I don’t understand Russian so I opted for a book instead. Wifi is only available in first and business class.