Following the route of the traditional Trans-Siberian Express, the equally epic Trans-Mongolian Express crosses Russia from Moscow in the east, through the Urals and across the steppe, via the sublime Lake Baikal to enter Mongolia. The focus, and what makes this luxury great rail journey so special, is the riotous annual Naadam Festival, the Mongolian equivalent of the Olympics, Grand National and a giant party, all rolled into one. Held in the capital Ulaanbaatar during the national holiday in mid-July, the sporting contests commemorates Mongolia’s freedom following a revolution in 1921. Known as the world’s second oldest Olympics, Naadam literally translates as ‘three manly games’. The games in question are archery, wrestling and horse riding, the three essential skills for survival on the Steppe. As part of immersing yourself in the history and tradition of the games, we will secure you seats to witness the elaborate opening ceremony as well as arrange viewings of the individual competitions, and all having traversed a diverse, challenging quarter of the world without having sacrificed any creature comforts.
After a complimentary chauffeur transfer to the airport, board a flight to Moscow. On arrival, you’ll be taken to your centrally-located luxury hotel. After settling in and freshening up, perhaps with a a session in the indoor pool hot tub or spa, join fellow passengers for a welcome dinner and drinks. Treat yourself to a nightcap on the stylish rooftop terrace too. After a comfortable night’s sleep, spend the day with a local guide exploring Moscow. Discover the symbols of the city’s military and political might, marvel at the ornate and unusual architecture and make a visit to Lenin’s tomb. Highlights might include Red Square, the Kremlin and the Bolshoi Theatre. With some background and context to the journey, we’ll then take you to Kazansky Station. After a cold glass of Russian champagne, your car attendants will escort you to the carriages and you’ll see the iconic Golden Eagle train for the first time.
Stay: Ritz Carlton (day 1), Golden Eagle (day 2)
Following your first night on the rails awake to discover the miles you’ve travelled while you slept and look out onto the picturesque, historic city of Kazan, right on the banks of the River Volga. As the train pauses at the station platform, alight to explore the UNESCO-listed Kremlin Fortress and the stunning mosque and traditional cathedral with its iconic onion-domed roof, stood within the citadel walls. In the evening, commemorate the birthplace of one of Russia’s most celebrated opera singers by attending a private concert of his music.
As you make stately progress across Russia you’ll start to ascend through the Ural Mountains, which mark the border between Europe and Asia. As you navigate the Great Divide, note how the cultural and architectural influences of each continent change. Decamp from the train as it stops in Yekaterinburg, capital of the Urals. Let an expert guide bring the city, founded in 1723 by Peter the Great and the third largest in Russia, to life. Wander the atmospheric streets and uncover the place where the Romanov, Nicolas II of Russia was executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918; a church dedicated to their memory now stands on the site.
Beyond the Urals lies the vast span of the Russian Steppes. As you start to cross this stark expanse, stop at Novosibirsk, a modern Soviet city famed for its colossal statue of Lenin and the equally imposing and enormous opera house, held to be one of the largest in the world and home to two permanent ballet and opera companies.
After all the off-train excursions and guided tours, settle in for a day riding the rails as you make your way across the Steppes. Reflect on the sights and experiences you’ve enjoyed so far while watching the vast landscapes characteristic of remote central Russia unfold and slip past the train’s panoramic windows. Spend time in the bar car with other passengers, listening to the onboard pianist play Chopin on a baby grand while you read about the history of the Trans-Siberian or play cards with your companions.
Next you will explore the ‘Paris of Siberia’ with a stop in Irkutsk. Your guide will explain the history of this nickname and lead you through the classic wooden buildings synonymous with the city. Uncover the backstory of the city and its role as a place of exile for aristocrats involved in the failed Decemberists uprising in 1825. As a celebration of this era and the atmosphere they created in their new home, attend a private concert at the Volkonsky House Museum. Prepare your own lunch in the company of an expert chef and learn how to make Russian delicacies, then gain a privileged insight into the everyday life of a local family with a visit to a traditional Russian Dacha (summer house).
Following the historic stop look forward to a spectacular natural wonder. Lake Baikal is a supremely pretty expanse of water that the track edges around, ducking into and out of tunnels to stay close to the shoreside. A Soviet era locomotive will haul the Golden Eagle train through this scenic section, adding to the grandeur of the passage. Admire the stillness and colour of the lake and contemplate the unfathomable depths of the world’s deepest lake, which holds around a fifth of the whole world’s freshwater. When the train stops on the bank of the Pearl of Siberia, seek out freshwater seals, look for seabirds and brace yourself for a quick swim in the vodka-clear but ice-cold lake waters before a private barbecue on the edge of a secluded bay featuring freshly smoked lake fish.
Beyond Lake Baikal you’ll start to see an increasing ethnic and cultural diversity borne out of the region’s Mongol heritage. This is best encapsulated in the capital of the Buryat Republic, Ulan Ude, where your guide will introduce you to local families in order to learn more about the culture and history of these communities over a traditional meal, followed by a performance by local musicians and dancers.
Cross into Mongolia and follow the steel ribbon to the capital Ulaanbaatar, which marks the culmination of your great rail journey. Climbing down from the train for a final time will be tinged with sadness but offset by excitement at the prospect of the Naadaam Festival to follow. After a day spent getting to know the vibrant city, its history and traditions, you’ll take lunch Mongol-style in Terelj National Park in the company of a nomadic family, who will welcome you into their Ger (yurt).
Stay: Ulaanbaatar accommodation
After all the anticipation and adventure of the Trans-Mongolia Express, the main event is the spectacularly colourful Naadam Festival. Embrace the rare opportunity to be among the few non-Mongolians to experience the festival and soak up the atmosphere. Start with a seat at the elaborate opening ceremony where dancers, athletes, riders and musicians perform. Catch the national horse race on the outskirts of the city, where jockeys aged 5-12 race the horses, mostly bareback and barefoot. Pass the evening listening to traditional Mongolian throat singers and watching contortionists perform.
On your second ay here, watch the drama of the main events unfold with seats to see the archery, wrestling and ankle bone hurling, events that celebrate what defined civilisation in the Steppes eight centuries ago. Between contests snack on lamb pasties and salt tea and soak up the family fair atmosphere. In the evening dress for dinner and attend the commemorative farewell dinner, where you’ll enjoy a culinary feast before being serenaded with folk songs and thrilled by traditional dances.
Stay: Ulaanbaatar accommodation
With your head full of memories of the sights and sounds of competition, steel yourself for the return journey and let us carry you to the airport for your onward departure. On arrival back in the UK, you'll be whisked to your door via our complimentary chauffeur service.
"If you're going to experience Mongolia, this is the way to do it. Naadam Festival is a fantastically vibrant affair and the perfect opportunity to witness traditional Mongolian culture. And, you'll be travelling on the Golden Eagle, a unique train experience that will see you tackle one of the most diverse corners of the world without compromising on luxury - an epic journey never to be forgotten. "