On arrival in Beijing you will need to make your own way to the group hotel. A group briefing will be held in the hotel at approximately 6.30pm. Following our briefing we head to a local restaurant for a welcome dinner and our first chance to sample some of the local cuisine and get to know the other members of the group.
This morning we visit 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 178 acres, the City is a magnificent group of palaces, pavillions, 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. In the afternoon we will also visit the Summer Palace followed by the opportunity to experience an acrobatic show. For dinner there will be a chance to sample the delicious Beijing dumplings and other local specialties. Please note that this can be quite a long day of sight-seeing although you will certainly have ample opportunity to relax on your train journey heading west!
We will make an early morning start today to explore the Great Wall at the Mutianyu section. 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 great 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 for a traditional Peking Duck dinner.
This morning we transfer to the train station for our overnight journey to Ulaanbaatar. The train journey takes around 30 hours - two days and one night. This is an ideal way to see a changing countryside from the frenetic pace of Beijing through the great expanse of the Gobi Desert and into downtown Ulaanbaatar. The border crossing from China to Mongolia takes place late evening and 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. For purchases made on both the train and platforms in China, you should keep some Yuan with you. There is no need to obtain Mongolian Togrog prior to arrival in Mongolia as purchases made on the Mongolian train can only be paid in USD.
The train is expected into Mongolia's capital city Ulaanbaatar by mid afternoon. On arrival we are met by our Mongolian guide who will be with us for the next 7 days. After freshening up at the group hotel we will have a tour of the city. Our first stop is Sukhbaatar square, the central square named after the revolutionary hero of 1921 Damdinii Sukhbaatar who declared independence from China. We then visit the National history museum before heading out for a Gala dinner at our hotel accompanied by a folklore performance. Overnight at hotel. (dinner)
Today we will enjoy the spectacle that is the Naadam Festival at the 12,500 capacity Central Stadium. The stadium has changed little since its construction in 1958. We witness the famous and highly contested Mongolian wrestling & archery competitions which comprise two of the three, "Games of Men". After lunch we drive out from town to see the third game, horse racing. In Mongolia horse racing differs from the Western variant. Races here are cross country events and course lengths are 15-30km. Overnight in a ger camp.
This morning we return to the horse races to attend the small festival laid on in the honour of the winners. After lunch we drive east, out to the spectacular Terelj National Park. You will enjoy your evening meal in the stunning location of the ger camp.
We embrace a full day in the dramatic landscapes of the Terelj National Park. There are opportunities for hiking within the surrounding mountains and also to visit a Buddhist Meditation Centre nestled in the hills. In the evening we return to our traditional Mongolian ger camp.
After a hearty breakfast at the ger camp we will drive on to visit a local Nomadic family, who will be our hosts for the day and night. This is a fantastic opportunity to experience the daily lives of the local nomadic people. During the day we have options to horse ride or hike in the surrounding mountains and meadows. There will be ample opportunity to taste "airag", the fermented mare's milk which is a favorite among Mongolians. We overnight in a ger which will be set up alongside our host family's ger.
After breakfast we bid our farewells to our nomadic hosts and drive back to the city, Ulaanbaatar. The afternoon is free and easy to enjoy as you choose. Please speak with your local guide for suggestions.
We commence our sightseeing by foot this morning with a visit to The Hermitage one of the world's greatest museums. During our tour of the winter palace and the Hermitage buildings we will be absorbed by the rich art work on display including porcelain and tapestry, the amazing Peacock Clock and a collection of paintings from throughout Europe.
On arrival in St Petersburg (at 08:00) we will be met by our guide who will take us for breakfast before we commence an orientation tour. We will include a visit to Peter & Paul Fortress, which is the oldest building in the city and was built in 1703 to protect the city against the invading Swedes. It is however most famous for being a political prison until 1917 and inmates such as Gorky and Trotsky spent time here. We then head to our hotel for check in around midday. We will have this afternoon at leisure to relax and 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. Late this afternoon we take a walk along Nevsky Prospect, Russia's most famous street, before returning to the hotel.
Today has been set aside for a visit to Red Square and the Kremlin and its cathedrals. We start with a walk through Red Square where we will be overwhelmed by the view of 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. Those wanting to go inside St Basil's will also have the opportunity (a small fee is applicable). During our sightseeing of the Kremlin, we'll also view the Armoury, where there is an opulent collection of state treasures. Return to the hotel to freshen up before transferring to the station for the train journey to St Petersburg just before midnight.
This morning we begin our sightseeing taking in many of the sights of Moscow including a visit to Sparrow Hills were we can enjoy a panoramic view of the city. We will leave the bus and visit the Christ the Saviour Cathedral, before walking to Old Arabat for lunch and free time to stroll through the market stalls which line the pedestrianised street. A visit to Moscow would not be complete without going underground to the view the elaborate Metro with its walls adorned with imagery depicting Russia's historic and political rhetoric. We'll select 3 or 4 of the most interesting stations en-route to our hotel. Following the Metro ride the rest of the day is free to enjoy Moscow before returning to the hotel.
Today we arrive into Moscow around 2pm. We are met at the railway station and taken to our hotel. The remainder of the day is at leisure.
This morning we visit the Gandan Monastery, a Mongolian Buddhist monastery. It's full name, Gandantegchinlen translates in Tibetan as,"the great place of complete joy". It houses a 26,5-m (87 ft) high statue of Avalokitesvara, a bodhisattva who guides men along the path of truth. After the monastery we will have some spare time for shopping before transferring to the train station where we bid farewell to our Mongolian friends and board the train for the 24 hour journey to Irkutsk.
This morning we leave the shores of Baikal and return to Irkutsk, visiting the museum of wood carving in Taltsy village en-route. Irkutsk is located on the banks of the Angara River, which has its source 80 km upstream at Lake Baikal. Irkutsk is easily one of the most attractive cities in Siberia. Irkutsk was founded in 1651 as a Cossack garrison to keep the local Buryat's in line. The Cossacks were a rough lot sent as official representatives of the Tsar's to establish remote outposts and they included trappers, traders, criminals and vagabonds. Later, in the 19th century, Irkutsk was used as an exile post and received some illustrious aristocratic exiles, giving the city a rich cultural heritage. The city's location, near Mongolia and China means that strong Asiatic influences abound. The architecture of Irkutsk includes some of the classic wooden Siberian cottages with beautifully painted and carved shutters. Other features are the onion-domed shaped churches. During the Soviet-era planning Irkutsk suffered the same fate as many other Siberian cities with the building of rows upon rows of ugly white, apartment blocks - still prevalent in the city today. This afternoon we will undertake at sightseeing tour in the city known as the 'Paris of Siberia'. visiting the main sites of interest include the Decembrist Houses and the historic churches and buildings. We will also have time to go shopping for the supplies we will need on the train. We expect to board the train around 4pm and begin our journey to Moscow.
We commence our sightseeing by foot this morning with a visit to the colourful fish bazaar where you can try the local specialties, salted, baked and smoked fish. From here we have a short walk to visit the beautiful old wooden St. Nikolai Church. We continue on to the Limnological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The Limnology Museum here has an excellent exhibition showcasing the fauna and flora of Lake Baikal which includes an aquarium.
We arrive into Irkutsk at around 3pm where we will be met by our Russian guide for the next few days. We will change some money in Irkutsk and have a short city tour before driving an hour to the small town of Listvyanka located 60 km's south-east of Irkutsk. Listvyanka sits right at the edge of Lake Baikal, where the Angara River reaches the shores of the Lake at Port Baikal. We will check in to our hotel where we will base ourselves for the next two nights.
After breakfast we visit what is perhaps St Petersburg's most famous and spectacular attraction - Peterhof Palace. Founded by Peter I in the early XVIII century as a summer residence of the royal family, and recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Peterhof is a series of palaces and gardens filled with fountains, statues and pavilions. We return to St Petersburg by "Meteor"(boat) and walk back to the hotel or do any own sightseeing.
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 Moscow 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.
The trip concludes at the hotel after breakfast.