If you have always dreamed of seeing the best of Russia, but you have only limited time, do not get upset! Travelling between Moscow and Saint Petersburg is possible at nearly the speed of light, with the Sapsan!
Well, the speed of light is not entirely true, as the Sapsan high-speed trains reach speeds of up to 240 km/h. However, this does mean that you can move from the centre of Moscow to the centre of Saint Petersburg in less than four hours!
Sapsan is the high-speed alternative to the traditional Russian train that reaches about any part of the immense country. The impressive part about trains in Russia is that they always ride, no issues with leaves on the track, hot summers, or loads of snow. They simply go!
The Sapsan high-speed trains were introduced in 2009, as a fast and very convenient connection between the two largest cities of Russia, Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The modern trains are a comfortable way of travelling and, of course, ecologically friendly. The trains run many times a day and tickets can be booked easily online – for this we recommend using the official website of the Russian Railways exclusively.
The high-speed train is named after the swift and beautiful bird called "peregrine falcon", which in Russian sounds like “sokol sapsan”. When hunting, this bird can reach speeds of more than 300 km/h! These dazzling figures make the "sapsan" officially the fastest animal on the planet.
Each Sapsan train consists of 10 coaches, offering 522 seats in total. Seats range from economy class with a starting price of 2,000 Rubles per seat, to business class with prices as of 6,000 Rubles. Regardless of the class you choose, seats in the Sapsan are always very comfortable.
All seats come with adjustable backrests, armrests, footrests and a (folding) table. The price of a seat depends not only on the class, but also on the position. For example, if you would like to sit next to the window and especially by the table, the price will be slightly higher.
The large racks near the entrance of every coach are made for storing your large baggage items, whilst hand luggage can be stored in the racks above your seat. Some coaches also have automatic shoe shine machines, particularly useful in wintertime. It is also very important to mention the 6th coach explicitly, as this coach contains special places for people with disabilities.
The 5th coach of every Sapsan train contains a bistro, which is free to enter for all passengers. The bistro offers hot and cold beverages, snacks, sandwiches, soups and much more. A shared standing table provides for the opportunity to have your meal or drink right away, whilst you can also decide to have it at your seat.
If you’re short on money, bring your own teabags. As we have learned from Chinese tourists, in the Sapsan you can get free hot water any time.Life hack
Sapsan staff are also happy to deliver your meal right at your seat. When connected to Wi-Fi, you can place your order via the Sapsan online service, or simply address one of the Sapsan staff passing by, and ask for the menu (also in Russian, they use the word "menu").
Please note that your cellphone is going to lose connection during substantial parts of the trip between Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Fortunately, there is a Wi-Fi network available on the train, which is free of charge. Note that this standard connection is not very fast though.
For those constantly at work, Sapsan has more to offer for you. First of all, coach number 6 is equipped with a mini-office, that allows you to copy, print or scan any of your documents. Ask any staff to learn more about the costs of service.
The most exclusive option for business passengers is the Conference Cabin, which is located right behind the train driver. This private and sound-proof conference room allows you to calmly discuss your business matters. The room is equipped with four comfortable leather chairs positioned around a table, a multifunctional screen and even a sofa for a nap. Please note that the Conference Cabin can only be reserved in its entirety, accommodating up to four passengers in total. We recommend to book the Conference Cabin in advance, whilst purchasing your ticket.
Many websites offer tickets for Russian trains, but there is only one official website. We recommend using it, as you will get the lowest price without scams. On the official website, you can also check routes, timetables and prices for all destinations.
By creating a personal online account, you will be able to receive your tickets directly online – note that for some faraway Russian destinations it is still required to visit the ticket office before departure in order to get your official ticket hard-copy. A personal account also gives the opportunity of cancelling your tickets online, in order to get a refund. Otherwise, you should visit a ticket office for cancellation of tickets, which often means long queues and explaining your situation in Russian.
By the way, we have had only very good experiences with buying train tickets in Russia. The cancellation policy is relatively flexible, and usually almost the entire amount of your purchase is being refunded.
Economy class tickets start at around 2,000 Rubles, which is about 30 Euros at the time of writing. Not bad, for a comfortable high-speed train that drives you almost 700 kilometres further.
There are several things to keep in mind to make sure you are getting your tickets at the best price. Our most important tip has already been shared above, and is to exclusively use the official website of the Russian Railways for booking train tickets. Below we've added some more tips, which can help you buying your tickets at the lowest price.
The lowest price for Sapsan tickets is always at the start of sales. Ticket sales start at 8:00h Moscow time, 90 days before departure date. Note that prices can rise quickly, sometimes even within minutes. Buying two-way tickets will generally save you up to 30%.
Aim for the earliest trains. Tickets for trains that leave Moscow at 5:45h, or at 05:30h from Saint Petersburg are often the cheapest. Evening trains are usually much more expensive.
Eventually prices are based on demand. Although business class tickets initially sell at a higher price, they can become cheaper than economy class, if there happens to be low demand. Checking for business class tickets might therefore be worthwhile.
The most popular periods in Russia are during the New Year's holidays from December 31 to January 10, and during the May holidays from May 1 to May 9. Usually, tickets for these dates sell out like hotcakes.
In less than four hours you can move environmentally friendly from the heart of Saint Petersburg to the heart of Moscow, where you will arrive at the Leningradsky Railway Station. From there, the Moscow metro drives you directly to the main square of the city, the Red Square. With the Red Square as your starting point, there are so many great options for exploring the Russian capital.
From the Red Square, you can directly walk into the historical heart of Russia, and enter the Kremlin with its magnificent museums and churches. Or perhaps you're lucky today, and Lenin's Mausoleum is open, allowing you to see the mummified former Soviet leader free of charge.
Other great options are walking the historical streets of Moscow, starting with Nikolskaya Street – in this case, don't forget to have a peek into the luxurious shopping mall GUM, designed in the pseudo-Russian style. Or perhaps it's a good day for a walk in Zaryadye Park, one of the brand-new central parks of Moscow with flora from all over Russia, where you can get stunning views over the Moskva River from its iconic floating bridge.
As you can see, there are so many options in Moscow. That is why we have built our Streetwise map of Moscow, showing you the very best of the Russian capital, so you can make your own plan of what to visit, completely in line with the moment and your mood.
We consider it an absolute must though, to check out Moscow's majestic underground, arguably the largest museum of Moscow – and the cheapest too! In one of our recent stories we guide you through the most beautiful metro stations of Moscow in a 2-hour tour.
The Sapsan allows you to swap Moscow for Saint Petersburg in less than four hours. Arriving at Moskovsky Railway Station in Saint Petersburg means that you find yourself in the heart of the city, right at Nevsky Prospect. From here you can walk through the centre to the Palace Square, where the famous Hermitage Museum is located. Prepare for the Hermitage with our quick but very essential guide about how to visit the Hermitage museum.
If you have only one day to explore the wonderful Saint Petersburg (which is a cultural crime in our opinion), consider taking our 3-hour walk, during which you will get acquainted with the most colorful, gorgeous and unforgettable places in the heart of the city.
No matter how long you are planning to stay, make sure to check out our useful Map of Saint Petersburg where you can find not only the main landmarks, but also the cool bar streets and the best places for shopping in Saint Petersburg.