On arrival in St Petersburg you will be met and transferred to the group hotel, Beijing Dong Fang Hotel, or similar. Today you are free to get acquainted with this beautiful city. This city was founded by Peter the Great as a gateway to Europe, and you will immediately feel that you have arrived in Europe with well planned avenues and elegant buildings lining the Neva River and nearby canals.
This morning we visit The Hermitage, one of the world's greatest museums. During our tour of the Winter Palace and the Hermitage buildings we will have time to be immersed in the rich art works on display including porcelain, tapestry, the famous Peacock Clock and mesmerising collection of classical paintings from throughout Europe. After our guided tour concludes, you can choose to spend extra time further exploring the never ending rooms and galleries of this magnificent and vast complex. The remainder of the day is free and easy to spend at your leisure.
Today you are free to self explore St Petersburg before transferring to the train station in the evening for your overnight journey to Moscow. St Petersburg abounds with attractions, including the impressive Peter & Paul Fortress. The original citadel was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 but later expanded (1706-1740) into the star fortress we can see today. Located on Hare Island in the Neva River, it was built at the height of the Northern War to protect the city against an impending Swedish attack which never materialised. It's most famous in fact for being a political prison until 1917 in which inmates such as Gorky and Trotsky spent time. Furthermore, a walk along Nevsky Prospekt, Russia's most famous street is an absolute must. The grandeur of this avenue and its monumental buildings are truly a spectacle to behold.
Russia capitol city Moscow needs little introduction. It has truly catapulted into post communism bringing with it a wealth of both improvements and problems. Whilst the essence of this great city is still evident, the shopping and nightlife have brought an entirely new layer of complexity to the city. Today has been set aside for a visit to the city's traditional heart, the Red Square, the Kremlin and cathedrals. We start with a walk through the world famous Red Square where we will be greeted with the sight of the towering St. Basil's Cathedral. For those wishing to visit the Mausoleum of Lenin at the foot of the Kremlin wall, expect approximately a two hour queue (entrance fee to be paid on entry). Those wanting to go inside St Basil's will also have the opportunity (a small fee is applicable). During our sightseeing of the Kremlin complex, we'll also view the Armoury which displays an opulent collection of state treasures.
A free morning at leisure in Moscow. Later we transfer to Moscow Yaroslavskaya Station to board our train east to Irkutsk.
During these few days spent on one of the greatest train journeys in the world, you will watch the changing landscapes. Your travelling companions could be foreign tourists or locals alike and you should make the most of your journey by absorbing the scenery, or relaxing and talking to your fellow travellers. This section of the trip is all about the journey with the anticipation of our approach to Irkutsk growing by the day. During these days we will have many stops, some from a short 5 minutes others up to 30 minutes where we will have the opportunity to stretch our legs and replenish supplies with purchases made on the platforms.
This morning our train rolls into the Siberian city of Irkutsk. You will be met and transferred 60km south-east to the small town of Listvyanka which sits both on the banks of the Angara River and the shores of Lake Baikal. UNESCO heritage listed Lake Baikal is the oldest, largest and deepest lake on earth, reaching a depth of more than one kilometer and holding one-fifth of all the planet's fresh water. Throughout antiquity, the indigenous people living on its shores have revered this majestic body of water. The Buryat-Mongols tell of Baikal's creation in stories and legends, of the spirits and gods who inhabit its waters and of the mighty conqueror Genghis Khan who roamed the region. More recently, Russian literature has celebrated the lake through ptry, fiction, and song. National Parks and nature reserves line the east and west shores of this sparsely populated region, encompassing a landscape of dense forests, snow capped mountains, grassy steppes, lush wetlands, harsh deserts, rocky islands and rugged cliffs. Upon arrival in Listvyanka you will check into the hotel, the rest of the day is at your leisure.
This morning we depart from Lake Baikal and return to Irkutsk. En route, we stop by the living museum of wooden architecture in Taltsy Village which provides visitors with a fascinating insight into early Russian settlement of the region. Irkutsk was originally founded in 1651 as a garrison by Cossack representatives of the Tsar sent to control the local Buryat population. The Cossacks, due to their tough military traditions were commonly used by the Tsar to establish and maintain remote outposts. Later in the 19th century, Irkutsk was used as an exile post and received numerous illustrious aristocratic exiles, in the process enriching the city's cultural heritage. Its location on the banks of the Angara River, close to Mongolia and China means that strong Asiatic influences abound. The architecture of Irkutsk's historic city centre includes traditional, ornate wooden Siberian cottages with beautifully carved and painted shutters and beautiful gilded onion domed churches which line the river. Standing in stark contrast are the regimented Soviet-era apartment blocks which tower in rows on the city's outskirts.
Today we take time to explore some of Chinas most valued national treasures. We start our full day tour with a visit to Tiananmen Square and the beautiful Forbidden City, which is a masterpiece of 5000 years of Chinese civilisation and still vividly displays the power and prestige of the former dynasties. Sprawling over acres, the City is a magnificent group of palaces, pavilions, courtyards and deep terracotta walls. Ornately furnished palace rooms, priceless artworks and treasures are all now open to the public after 500 years of seclusion. This afternoon we have the opportunity to explore the Summer Palace and walk amongst its imperial temples, pagodas, glittering lakes and gardens to gain insight into how royalty lived during the steaming hot summer months. For dinner there will be a chance to sample the delicious Beijing dumplings and other local specialties.
On arrival in Beijing you will be met and transferred to the group hotel. The rest of the day is at your own leisure. A visit to the the Temple of Heaven,is well worth the visit. Set in a walled 267-hectare park with a gate at each compass point, the temple originally served as a vast stage for solemn rites performed by the Son of Heaven who prayed here for good harvests, and sought divine clearance and atonement for the sins of the people. You may also wish to take a cyclo ride to through the rapidly diminishing Hutong (traditional houses) area of Beijing. These charming traditional houses are quickly becoming a thing of the past as China's rapid development takes hold.
This morning we transfer to the train station for our overnight journey to Beijing. The train journey takes around 30 hours. This is an ideal way to see a changing countryside from downtown Ulaanbaatar through the great expanse of the Gobi Desert and into the frenetic pace of Beijing. The border crossing from Mongolia to China takes takes around 4 hours, due to the changing of the train's bogies and the border formalities. Chinese and Mongolian border officials will board the train so expect a couple of interruptions to your night's sleep. This is all part of the adventure.
This morning we say goodbye to Siberia and board the train to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.The border crossing takes approximately 7 hours, officials will board the train at both sides of the crossing and we will be able to catch some rest in our cabins as this is completed. We recommend you buy some snacks for the journey, there is also a dining car should you wish to purchase food on the train.
Today we will spend a full day in Terelj National Park. Today you will have the opportunity to visit a local nomadic family and experience their way of life. If you are feeling game you may wish to try your hand at horse riding, your guide will be able to assist you to hire a horse from a local family. Meals and overnight at the ger camp.
We will arrive at approximately 6.30am in Ulaanbaatar where we will be meet by our driver and guide and transferred to Terelj National Park, where we will spend the next two nights. The afternoon is free to explore the camp and walk in the surrounding hills, for those interested there is a Buddhist Meditation Center nestled in hills that we can visit. Meals and overnight at the ger camp.
We will make an early morning start today to explore the Mutianyu section of the mighty Great Wall. This is approximately a 1.5 hour drive outside of Beijing, slightly further than the popular and very busy Badaling Gate section. On arrival we will have the option to complete a 2-3 hour walk along this beautiful section of the wall. Mutianyu is renowned for its Ming Dynasty guard towers and superb views. The scene here is as one would expect of one of the world's greatest man made wonders, with huge steep ramparts criss-crossing this mountainous area. Those deciding not to undertake the walk will be able to enjoy this section of the wall by cable car. The Great Wall of China is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and is one of the world's most unusual and awesome sites. Commenced 2000 years ago, it was built as a defence line to keep out invaders, along the course of several thousand kilometres. The Emperor Qin Shihuang unified the various northern walls into the Great Wall we see today. We return to Beijing in the evening. Tonight you have the option to try one of Beijing's restaurants or perhaps you may wish to have a traditional Peking Duck dinner.
After breakfast at the ger camp, we drive back to Ulaanbaatar. En route we'll stop at the impressive 40m tall Genghis Khan Equestrian statue on the bank of the Tuul River where legend has it, he found a golden whip. In the afternoon you are free to explore the nation's capital city, a perfect opportunity to purchase any snacks and drinks you may wish to take with you on the train the following day. Overnight at our hotel in Ulaanbaatar.
The trip concludes after breakfast.