They are Russia’s two largest cities and are usually the highlights of any trip to this massive country. Though what was once an arduous land journey between Moscow and Saint Petersburg can now be experienced in less than 4 hours on Russia’s highest speed railway.
Moscow is the capital and most populous city of Russia. There is definitely no shortage of things to do here and it makes a great base for taking day trip excursions to intriguing places beyond the cosmopolitan center.
Saint Petersburg, founded by Peter the Great, is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities and for this reason has become so popular with tourists. It is the cultural capital of Russia and is a sleek modern city steeped in history, and home to one of the largest art museums in the world.
While your instincts may be to book a flight between these two iconic cities, it’s actually faster to travel by the high speed express train known as Sapsan. While the flight itself is only about an hour and a half, once you factor in travel time to and from both airports, checking in, waiting for take-off, and collecting bags, it works out faster by train.
And, the best thing about taking the Sapsan is the convenience of departing and arriving in the heart of both Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Make sure you include these highlight on your itinerary. Remember to complete your Russian e-Visa application in advance of your travels.
Discovering Moscow and Saint Petersburg via Russia’s Highest Speed Railway
Highlights of Moscow
The highlight and starting point for any trip to Moscow is quite obviously the Red Square where you will find the Kremlin and Saint Basil’s Cathedral, with its iconic multicolored domes.
Enjoy some of the world’s best classical performing arts, stunning historical architecture, numerous museums, buzzing nightlife, and delicious restaurants.
Witness Russian treasures in the Armoury Chamber and the Diamond Fund as well as visiting the final resting places of Russian notables such as Anton Chekhov and Vladimir Lenin.
Must visit museums include the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, WWII Museum, State Historical Museum, Gulag Museum, Tolstoy House Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary History of Russia.
Be sure to get take advantage of the 540m tall Ostankino TV Tower for panoramic views of the city and head underground on a tour to explore the Neglinnaya River and Moscow Metro.
Catching the Sapsan from Moscow to Saint Petersburg
About the Sapsan
Travelling from Moscow to Saint Petersburg by car or average train would take you over 9 hours. The ultra-fast Sapsan however will get you there in as little as 3 and a half. Before the Sapsan went into service in late 2009, the fastest rail journey between the cities was two hours longer.
The Sapsan train, Russia’s fastest, is named after the Peregrine Falcon which is the fastest member of the animal kingdom. The train is aptly named, as it has no problem matching the speeds of the falcon which can clock 320 km/h.
While the train generally travels at a pace of around 200-250 km/h, it has the capability of reaching speeds of around 350km/h which puts it in line with some of the trains on China’s high-speed rail network.
Photo credit: Shilpy Arora
The Sapsan Experience
Russian weather can be brutal but somehow the Sapsan manages to safely get it passengers to their destination even in -50°C temperatures! Inside you’ll find modern comfortable seating that is arranged by classes similar to what you would see on an airplane, such as economy, business, and first class sections.
Enjoy panoramic windows, toilets in all coaches, and plenty of room to store your luggage. Should you need assistance booking hotels, taxis, or tours in Saint Petersburg, they can arrange that for you onboard as well.
Wi-Fi is available onboard and may be free of charge depending on your seating class and entertainment as well as a dining car is offered as well. Feel free to bring along your own meal as well if you wish.
Although the economy seating is more than comfortable for the short 3.5 hour journey, the business and first class options provide the ultimate in relaxation. Enjoy a lot of extra space with the ability to recline (almost horizontally in first class) along with included meals and Business Lounge access at the train stations.
Of course if you find yourself starting off in Saint Petersburg, you can make the journey from here to Moscow on the luxurious Sapsan as well.
Highlights of Saint Petersburg
Image credit: mzagerp
St. Petersburg is full of cultural, historical, and architectural landmarks. Situated on the Neva River, with its numerous bridges and canals, Saint Petersburg has acquired the nickname “Venice of the North”.
Founded by Catherine the Great, the Hermitage is the second largest art museum in the world. Located in Winter Palace, the official residence of the Russian monarchs, the museum contains literally millions of masterpieces including the largest collection of paintings in the world.
Explore the seafront Peterhof Palace, also referred to as the “Russian Versailles”, with its beautiful gardens and fountains or pay a visit to the preeminent musical theatre in modern Russia known as The Mariinsky Theatre.
Cruise the rivers and canals of the city, during summer of course, to admire just how beautiful this city is. Cruises take in the Fontanka, Moyka, and Neva River as well as numerous canals along the way.
See St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the largest orthodox basilica in the world, with its gilded dome that dominates St. Petersburg’s skyline. Equally as impressive is the Church of the Savior on Blood which was constructed on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated.
Be sure to gather with the crowds on late summer nights to witness the raising of the bridges over the Neva River. This allows cargo ships to pass during the summer months and is a true highlight of a visit to Saint Petersburg during the White Nights, where the sun barely sets.
Another exciting way to take in the grandeur of the city is to take to the rooftops. Tours such as the one to the rooftop of the Art Nouveau building at Ligovsky Prospect 65 allow you to take in all the city’s impressive landmarks.
Saint Isaac’s Cathedral
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