Zip Line: Moscow to St Petersburg on the Sapsan Bullet Train
Jump aboard this express rail journey as Sarah Noal takes us on a ride between two of Russia’s famous cities.
As the crow flies, 636 kms separate two Russian Icons Moscow and St Petersburg. But the superfast Sapsan train, named after the world’s speediest bird, darts between them in as little as 3.5 hours. Before 2009, you’d trundle on the overnight train between Russia’s capital Moscow and its former capital St Petersburg to avoid losing daylight hours. Since then, the Sapsan – Russian for peregrine falcon – has propelled passengers from one city centre to the other in no time at all. For travellers today, this means squeezing in that trip to ‘Piter’ or Moscow is a breeze. You won’t waste time on a sleeper train or by schlepping out to city-fringe airports. True, the flight between cities is just over an hour, but think of the cab fares you save, the security checks you skip … and those airline queues!
Instead, book yourself a seat on the Sapsan bullet train. Window seats are a winner as you fly along the tracks at an average speed of 240-250 kph; sweeping through Russian scenery you wouldn’t otherwise get to see. Schedules are designed with commuters in mind so there’s no shortage of departures either. Trains run from about 5.30am to 9pm. Plus you can travel year-round – the Sapsan was built to take on Russia’s fiercest weather conditions. All you need to do is book your ticket through an English language website such as https://rail.ninja/train/sapsan-high-speed-train.
On each train, there are usually 10 carriages and six categories to choose from: economy, economy plus (economy with a sandwich and drink included), dining, business, first class and a conference car. Apart from dining, the other categories speak for themselves. Much like air travel you get what you pay for but with more room to stretch out or stretch your legs. Economy carriages feature 64 seats in spacious two-by-two configurations. Food and drinks are not included but you can buy them from the snacks trolley, restaurant car or BYO. What is included are TVs throughout the carriages, playing classic Russian movies if you tire of the scenery (unlikely!) and want to tune in. Book into the dining category (restaurant car) and you’ll join a maximum of 39 other passengers in similar comfort but seated four around each table. One for foodies, the dining ticket price includes a budget of roughly $50 AUD to order off the menu and fuel you on your travels. You keep your spot in the restaurant car throughout your journey.
Head to Moskovsky or Leningradsky station, depending on which way you’re travelling. They’re in the city centres, so cabs, trams and underground trains can all take you there. Leave some time to find your way around these long-distance departure stations, which also have everything from cafes to pharmacies if you want to stock up before you go. Boarding begins 45 minutes before departure. Once on board, stow your baggage overhead or in designated spots and sink into your adjustable seat. And if you forgot to book that cab for your arrival or need some help, there’s a handy information desk on board too. Trains are direct so there’s no stopping off at outlying stations along the way. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the view!
- Get your snacks beforehand – they can be pricey on board.
- Check out: russiantrains.com/en/train/sapsan-high-speed-train for all your essential info, like figuring out train tickets in Russian.
- Trains run to Moscow time – Russia has seven time zones.
- Pack light – designed for commuters, storage can be on the lean side in economy.
- For free wifi, you’ll need to head to business or first class.