The distance between Moscow and St. Petersburg, the two main cities in Russia, is 700 km. The trip by car would take around 9 or 10 hours, so the options are a daytime high-speed train, a nighttime slower train, or a plane.
In our experience, Russia is not an easy country to travel around, so better to plan your trip in advance, especially when moving from one city to another. It is a huge country with plenty of people, and it is not that easy to find someone who can speak English. On top of that, they have their own alphabet (Cyrillic), so signs and names are not always easy to remember, as the Latin/Roman alphabet version is not always provided. A useful tip here is to take pictures of important signs or names just in case.
Daytime high-speed train: Sapsan (САПСАН)
This is the most convenient way to travel between Moscow and St. Petersburg with no doubt. Sapsan or “САПСАН” (Russian for Peregrine Falcon) it is a high-speed electric train with a maximum speed of 250 km/h (155 mph).
The fastest train, which does not stop between the two cities at all, takes only 4 hours and costs between 2625 RUB (USD 45) to 5124 RUB (USD 89) on Economy class. The time will depend on the number of stops, and the price will depend on a number of factors:
- The date of sale of the ticket.
- The percentage of occupied seats on the train.
- The travel class: First, Bistro, Business, Economy Plus and Economy.
To buy tickets you should use the official Russian railways website (RZD), and avoid any reseller or intermediary. As today, you can buy tickets up to 3 months in advance (~ 90 days).
The trains depart from Leningradskiy station (same as Moskva Oktiabrskaia) in central Moscow and arrive at Moscow station (same as Sankt-Peterburg Glavny) in St. Petersburg, which is also in a very convenient location.
Attention here, as the station names can be misleading!
Google map shows a completely different place when you search for “Moskva Oktiabrskaia”. It turns out that “Oktiabrskaia” means October and it is used all over the place as it relates to when the Russian revolution took place. So if you use Google maps just search for Leningradskiy station (Address: Komsomol’skaya Ploshchad’, 5/43, Moskva, Russia, 107140). The picture above shows the timetable from RZD website, and I highlighted the stations and train name in red.
On the other hand, Google shows the right place when your search for Sankt-Peterburg Glavny, which is located here.
Nighttime/Sleeper trains: Grand Express, Red Arrow and others
A nighttime train could be a very good option, especially for those who need to save time and/or money. You can travel overnight for a reasonable price without spending a penny in accommodation. Just bear in mind that not everybody can sleep easily on a train.
These trains take between 7.40 and 10 hours, and there are a couple of options available, being the Grand Express and Red Arrow the most popular ones (but not the cheaper).
Grand Express (ГРАНД ЭКСПРЕСС)
With Grand Express, you can enjoy the most luxurious overnight journey between Moscow and St. Petersburg. It is the only luxury train in the country run by a private company.
It is up to you the experience you want to have. Prices start at USD 40 with no facilities nor food, but they can go up to USD 550 for a 2 passenger compartment with bathroom (shower cabin, sink, toilet), individual air-conditioner, 2 TV-sets, wireless earphones, dinner in compartment, hot breakfast and business class transfer. This is Grand Imperial class, but you also have Grand de Luxe, Grand, Grand Single, First Class (Business and Standard), and Economy.
This could be a unique experience on its own, and it is not normally used just to travel from one place to another. You can buy tickets on the Gran Express website or the official Russian railways website (RZD). There is only one service per day at 23.40 (M->SP) or at 23.44 (SP->M).
Red Arrow (Красная стрела)
This is the most historic train, as most popular members of the Communist Party (Lenin, Stalin) used to take it. It is been running since 1931 (with an interruption between 1941 and 1943), so it has more than 84 years of service under its belt. Since 1965, the song “The Hymn to the Great City” has been playing when the train leaves Saint Petersburg at 23:55.
At this point, you may have realised that The Red Arrow is probably the best option for a full and authentic Russian rail experience. In terms of travel classes, it has 2nd class (4 people cabin with pull-out sofas, bed linen and magazines), 1st class (same as 2nd for two people and nicer cars), and VIP/Deluxe (same as 1st plus a shower).
There is only one service per day at 23.55 (both M->SP and SP->M). Tickets can be purchased on the official Russian railways website (RZD).
There are more night trains available, which are less authentic and luxurious, and also cheaper. You can find all the available options on the RZD website. Some of them have names, such as Artico (Арктика), Volga (Волга), Metropolis (МЕГАПОЛИС) and Express.
Note that some of these services depart from Moscow Kurskaya station (Moskva Kurskaia, as shown on the official website) and can arrive either at Moscow station (Sankt-Peterburg Glavny) or Ladozhsky station (Sankt-Peterburg Ladojs).
Flights between St. Petersburg and Moscow take between 1.15 and 1.40 hours, and prices start at 45 USD for a single trip.
St. Petersburg has only one airport called Pulkovo (LED), but Moscow has seven (Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo, Vnukovo, Myachkovo, Ostafyevo, Bykovo, and Ramenskoye). The cheapest flights normally depart from Domodedovo (DMD) or Vnukovo (VKO), and the cheapest companies are S7, UTair and Aeroflot.
While this is a cheap way to travel, airport security and traffic getting to and from the city-centres to the airports can take you more than 5 hours.
Important Information for the 2018 FIFA World Cup fans
You should get a FAN ID and you can get free railway transfers! This is the information provided by RZD:
“During the World Cup from 14 June to 15 July 2018, fans who have match tickets or a document which entitles them to receive a match ticket, together with a FAN ID, have the option of free railway transfers on the extra trains being laid on between the cities where the matches will take place.
In order to be eligible for free railway transfers on the extra trains running between the venues, fans must:
- purchase a ticket for a match which will take place in one of the 2018 World Cup host cities;
- register and receive a FAN ID on the https://www.fan-id.ru website;
- register on the tickets.transport2018.com website and book their railway transfer to one of the 2018 World Cup host cities.
In order to board additional trains, passengers will have to present match tickets or documents which give them the right to receive match tickets – in other words, printed out proof of purchased tickets from the www.fifa.com website.
During the 2018 World Cup, foreign fans are eligible to enter and leave Russian Federation without a visa if they have a registered FAN ID and proof of identification officially recognised as such in Russian Federation (passport).”