Review: London to St Petersburg & Moscow by train
Specialist Holiday - Rail travel
London to St Petersburg & Moscow by train
92 people found this review helpful
St Petersburg is a beautiful city with a facinating history and plenty to keep any visitor enthralled for several days.
Its only a few hours flight time from the UK and many Baltic cruise ships call in at the busy port that’s just a few miles from the city centre. But its also posible to take the train from London and visit the countries inbetween, that other routes either fly over or cruise around.
International rail travel is incredibly easy these days because all the tickets and hotel reservations can be bought in advance so its as simple as any other form of travel, except you need a bit more of an adventurous spirit and an interest in other people and places. Many people remember the old-style inter-railing across Europe, which amounted to little more than backpacking on rails, with uncomfortable nights spent sleeping upright on train seats. Today with pre-booked tickets and hotels travelling across Europe can be as economical or as luxurous as you like.
I booked my through passage from London to St Petersburg and then on to Moscow with London based Railbookers (www.railbookers.com). After discussing optional routes and hotel styles I settled on the Eurostar to Brussels – Brussels to Cologne & an overnight sleeper to Warsaw. The private compartment of the sleeper train had a small table, two beds, which converted into chairs, as well as its own toilet, sink and small shower. A snack meal and bottled water was provided on departure and tea or coffee in the morning. Next day I changed trains for the town of Bialystok in northeast Poland where I stayed overnight in a nice little hotel right in the city centre (the Branicki hotel). There was an afternoon and evening for sightseeing before travelling on at 10.15 the following morning to Vilnius in Lithuania.
Most of this journey was in a traditional Agatha Christie style carriage with a side corridor and separate eight seated compartments with a sliding door, the final run into Vilnius was in a more conventional open carriage train.
One of the virtues of this route through the Baltic States is that it is visa free and bypasses Belarus which requires a visa even when transiting through on the train. Also the city stopovers are far more interesting.
I thought Vilnius was merely a convienent stopping off point but it turned out to be a fabulous destination in its own right. The UNESCO World Heritage old town has a surprising Italianate Baroque style with red roof tiles, cobbled streets, alleyways, courtyards, street musicians and a thriving street cafe culture.
I stayed at the Shakespeare hotel in Vilnius old town, which was an absolute gem (www.shakespeare.lt). A glorious seventeenth century mansion where they manage to make you feel like you’re staying with rich friends rather than a commercial hotel. Shakespeare plays were apparently read there in the 1600’s and this literary tradition is continued with rooms named and themed after authors. I was in Jane Austin with miniture portraits and literature while Hemmingway has his books and hunting memorbilia. There are complimentary bicycles for those who like the exercise but the town is easy enough to explore on foot. I loved Vilnius & even with the late afternoon, evening and all the next day to explore I still wanted to stay a bit longer but the 18.15. sleeper to St Petersburg was waiting.
This train had no private facilities just a sink & toilet that had to be shared between several compartments of the carriage. Snacks and drinks were again provided on departure and before arrival.
Russian customs and immigration on board the train were a breeze, compared to the not uncommon 3 hour hassle at airports, as the officials come to you in your compartment. It was very simple and easy going although the carriage attendants (provodnitsas) sudden appearance, throwing open the door at 1am and shouting ‘passports/permits’ in Russian was a bit disconcerting.
I arrived In St Petersburg at 10.00 and negotiated the simple metro system to my hotel, the luxurious Kempinski Moika 22, almost next door to the Winter Palace (Hermitage museum). After a fabulous few days I took the Sapsan train to Moscow, this hi-speed Eurostar style train took just under four hours. After a complimentary three course lunch & wine at my seat the English speaking train staff offered to call ahead and book taxis to meet passengers at the station. This is a brilliant idea because Moscow is a disorienting destination due to all signage being in cyrillic script so most of your maps from home and planning go out of the window, as they’re usually in Latin script.
92 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.
Silver Travel Advisor Recommended Partner: Railbookers