When traveling through Russia, there is no better option than the country’s vast, reliable rail system. And when it comes to traveling from St Petersburg to Moscow, there may be no better rail option between the capital cities than a sleeper car. With the trip taking only a single night, you can drift off as you pull away from St Petersburg and wake up ready to start a new day in Moscow. And while there are a number of night trains that make the journey, two premier trains stand out – the Red Arrow and the Grand Express, both offering non-stop service between the cities. Which one is right for you?
The Famous Red Arrow – History On Rails
Russia’s oldest train, the Red Arrow entered service in 1931 and its regular service between the two cities was interrupted only during the Siege of Leningrad, from 1941-1943. In the old Soviet days, it was the shuttle of choice for Communist Party elites traveling between Moscow and Leningrad (as St Petersburg was called at the time). In 1962, the train was painted the distinctive red color it bears to this day, and even served to transport the Olympic Flame for the 1980 games in Moscow. Though almost a hundred years old, the Red Arrow has been updated many times and is a modern train, but has kept its classic style with carpeted passageways, wooden accents and red velvet curtains. There is no more famous or popular train running anywhere in the country.
The Red Arrow leaves the Leningradsky station in St Petersburg just before midnight each night (a sister train runs the Moscow-St Petersburg route at the same time each evening, leaving out of Moskovsky station), with its departure announced by the playing of “The Hymn to the Great City”. Traveling at an average 160 kilometers an hour, the train reaches Moscow at about 8 am.
Tickets and Coach Classes on the Red Arrow
Passengers on the Red Arrow can choose from three classes of passenger car. The most luxurious are the two VIP cars – each of which holds only four two-passenger cabins offering a private bathroom with shower and a flatscreen TV. The 1st Class cars (nine in all) offer eight cabins each accommodating up to two passengers. The five 2nd Class cars also offer eight cabins, each made to accommodate up to four passengers. There is no 3rd Class option. 1st Class and above tickets include a hot breakfast. Of note for solo female travelers, both 1st and 2nd Class each offer one carriage on which passengers may choose gender-specific cabins. St. Petersburg train tickets on the Red Arrow can be purchased up to 120 days in advance and range from around $50 US for 2nd Class up to about $260 US for a VIP cabin (both tickets for a VIP cabin must be purchased, even for a single occupant).
The Opulent Grand Express – A Rolling Hotel
In contrast to the storied history of the Red Arrow, the Grand Express – the only private luxury train in Russia – has operated only since 2005. In that short time, however, the train has become renowned for its hotel-like quality. Slower than the Red Arrow, the Grand Express leaves slightly before it but takes some nine hours to make the journey to Moscow (it, too, has a sister train making nightly return trips from Moscow). But the attentive staff pride themselves on offering superior service and amenities to make the trip an experience, and the Grand Express is indisputably the most luxurious way to travel between the capitals. All cars offer Wifi and television, unlike on the Red Arrow which has them only in the VIP cars, and compartments at all classes have soft furniture and wide, comfortable bunks.
Tickets and Coach Classes on the Grand Express
The Grand Express offers multiple options for travelers. There are two 2nd Class cars offering nine compartments with four bunks each, designated as 2nd Class and 2nd Class Economy – a pared-down option with fewer amenities. The four 1st Class cars offer nine compartments with two bunk, and are designated as Business, Standard, Premium and Premium Single (cabins for one). Lastly are the four luxury cars – VIP Deluxe, Grand, Grand Imperial and Grand Single – with roomy compartments up to double the standard size. 1st Class Premium and above include a hot breakfast and private wash sink. Moscow train tickets run from about $75 US for 2nd Class up to about $500 for Grand Imperial.
Two Good Options
Each of these trains offer something special – the luxury and comfort of the Grand Express on the one hand, the classical style and history of the Red Arrow on the other. Whichever you choose, these two elite trains promise a memorable experience on your Russian adventure.