The journey is often more exciting than the destination - and never is that more apparent than on a railway holiday. Whether you're being rocked to sleep on Vietnam's Reunification Express, watching the Highlands whizz past the window in Scotland, or cracking open the vodka and a pack of cards on the iconic Trans Siberian Railway, there are few better ways to travel the world.
Best time to go on the Trans Mongolian
Winter evokes scenes from Dr. Zhivago in Siberia with fields of glittering snow, while the summer promises skies of endless blue in Mongolia.
The Trans Mongolian departs all year round, since for many Russians, Mongolians and Chinese it’s an everyday form of transport. The best time to take a Trans Mongolian railway holiday is autumn or winter, with moderate temperatures and relatively low rainfall. At the turn of the seasons, while the landscapes are kaleidoscopically beautiful, the train can be either a little too stuffy or cold. Summer, while busy, is blissful, especially around Lake Baikal and the deep green Mongolian steppe. Winter sees much of the landscape, especially in the east, draped in snow, thin wisps of smoke curling from the stoves of gers and wooden shacks.
Moscow Weather Chart
Our Trans Mongolian Railway Holidays
The Trans-Mongolian railway,
month by month
WinterSnow falls in Siberia from late November, and while it warms up the further west you travel, even the Gobi Desert sees a thin covering. Moscow and St. Petersburg are absolutely gorgeous in winter, though by December temperatures are well below freezing. Christmas on the Trans Mongolian can be a wonderful experience: troika (three-horsed sleigh rides) through the pine forests of Siberia, ice-skating on Lake Baikal and warming up in a banya. The Mongolian gers in Terlj National Park, heated by stoves, are remarkably cosy. January and February are very cold months, but correspondingly less busy.
SpringMoscow is still -2°C in March, and in April and May Siberia can be very cold. Train windows are usually sealed shut until late in the season, so on sunny days it can be quite close. The Mongolian steppe is lush and green, scattered with rhododendrons, edelweiss and delphiniums, but the dry winter means there is a risk of wildfires. By mid spring, you’ll find the temperatures at each stop far more manageable, and there is less chance of rain, too. Spring is a short but wonderful season to see Beijing, the landscapes around the nearby Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China at their most radiant. In spring and summer there tend to be more daily train departures, usually two, between destinations than you will get in winter.
SummerBy summer the temperatures in Siberia are more or less stable, and Moscow reaches 19°C in July. Lake Baikal freezes late in winter, and usually only begins to thaw around June, when it becomes a lovely spot for picnics, boat trips and scenic walks. There is plenty of daylight, ideal for excursions, while July sees the thrilling Naadam Festival take place across Mongolia. July and August are the most popular months on the Trans Mongolian, with Russian holidaymakers and foreign travellers alike; tickets can be trickier to attain. There are also a lot of ticks around, and even with air conditioning and open windows, train compartments can be stuffy making sleep more difficult.
AutumnIn Mongolia, where it’s not unusual to experience four seasons in one day, the climate is even more unpredictable from September onwards, and while daytime temperatures can hit 15°C, after nightfall they plummet to just above zero. By October, the Siberian forests and Mongolian pastures are taking on wonderful hues. It’s getting colder, but the heating’s still off in train compartments, so bring warm clothing in early autumn. From November onwards you can really get the sense of winter approaching, the days growing shorter and snow beginning to fall. Cities such as Yekaterinburg and Irkutsk see fewer visitors, so it’s a good time of year to explore attractions such as the Church on the Blood.
If you'd like to chat about Trans Mongolian Railway or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
Dan Mozley, from our supplier Sundowners Overland, on the best time of year to take a Trans Mongolian holiday: “People naturally gravitate towards summertime. As well as a busy event schedule, summer lets you pack lighter, head to the hills, horse ride across the steppe, and relax under rose tinted skies. Winter journeys are spectacular, pushing you out of your comfort zone to see the world with fresh eyes. Pack effectively and try exhilarating activities, and celebrate Russian Orthodox Christmas with a traditional feast and a drop of vodka to warm the cockles in Lake Baikal, Siberia. But you can go at any time of year; there’s nothing like watching the seasons change across three countries. Leafy avenues blaze with vibrancy, pale icy streams rush between rusty foothills, and jagged mountain peaks sharpen under a lashing of snow. The eyes of yaks and Bactrian camels are hidden under new winter coats. Explore outdoors during dewy mornings and amber afternoons, the mild weather is the perfect chance to reconnect with nature, so head to the Gobi Desert, and see cultural sites without summer crowds.”
More about Trans Mongolian Railway
Our Trans Mongolian railway holidays guide explores one of the world’s great train journeys, taking you from Moscow to Beijing, or vice versa, through Mongolia - land of Genghis Khan.
Life onboard the Trans Mongolian railway is a movable feast of culture, with plenty of opportunities to get to know your fellow passengers a little as you travel between stations.
Travelling east or west, there are a few unmissable stops on any Trans Mongolian itinerary - our Trans Mongolian map and highlights page takes a closer look at the places you’ll be visiting.
Just because you’ve reached the end of the line doesn’t mean your adventures have to be over. Our suppliers can often help you with a Trans Mongolian 'plus' itinerary.
Fancy Nadaam in Mongolia, or Christmas in Siberia - we run through a handful of the different types of Trans Mongolian railway holidays available to you, and what each has to recommend it.
Planning a journey on either the Trans Siberian or Trans Mongolian is significantly more complex than booking your average train trip - here’s how to choose the right trip for you.
Vast Lake Baikal, ‘Pearl of Siberia’, is virtually an inland ocean - frozen through winter and spring, and in summer a beloved destination among Russians for boating, fishing and picnicking.
A trip on the Trans Siberian or Trans Mongolian is the adventure of a lifetime but it’s not cheap, and deciding whether you should save or splurge on it is should be part of your decision-making process.
Read our guide to what to expect from a stay in a Mongolian ger so that on arrival in Ulaanbaatar you'll be up to speed on the practicalities, the traditions, and what you need to bring.
We take a look at responsible tourism on the Trans Mongolian railway, with tips for respecting traditional Mongolian culture, and why cheap cashmere has unseen environmental costs.