The Silk Road: Moscow to Beijing by Private Train

21-day Escorted Tour


The Tour

The Silk Road rail adventure is one of the most exotic, storied, and best-loved by Society of IRT members, taking travelers to places few Westerners have ventured. It’s no wonder IRT co-owners Owen & Eleanor Hardy chose this epic adventure to celebrate IRT’s 30th anniversary in 2013!

This two-train tour follows in the footsteps of Marco Polo along one of the world’s oldest and most historic trade routes. The luxurious Golden Eagle and the first-class Shangri-La Express train will transport you through five countries – and back in time.

This great caravan road linking the kings of Europe with the luxuries of Asia—most significantly, its silks and spices—is preserved to a remarkable degree. Tour the Gobi Desert on camel and see the Terracotta Warriors of Xian. Marvel at the architecture and artistry on display in the mosques and buildings of Central Asia’s most important medieval cities. Wander through local markets offering Uzbek textiles and ceramics. Explore the history-rich cities of Beijing and Moscow. And do it all from the comfort of your “hotel-on-wheels!”

This is truly a “trip of a lifetime.” Our Silk Road by rail journey also runs in the opposite direction. For the Beijing-Moscow itinerary, please click here. Note the westbound itinerary is one day shorter than the Moscow-Beijing eastbound itinerary.

The Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express will include two Imperial Suites on all departures. These new compartments are the most spacious – 120 square feet – and feature a fixed king-sized bed, a dressing table and lounge area, and more. For details about this and other upgrades, click here.


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“ It was probably one of the best-managed tours I have ever been on.”

—J. Emery, Silk Road 2009

“ I’m no history expert. My Tang and Han dynasty dates usually get twisted up in a knot, but of one thing, I’m dead certain: As soon as this trip ends, I’ll want to hop right back on the train and see it all again.”

—Chris Fuller, The International Railway Traveler®

The Itinerary

Days 1-3: Moscow
Our touring programme of Moscow principally takes us to the grandeur of the Kremlin grounds and cathedrals – the spiritual, historical and political heart of Moscow, and to see the treasures of the Tsars housed in the Armoury Chamber. We also visit the Red Square, an iconic symbol of Russia’s fomer military and political might with its eclectic mix of fascinating architecture, such as the ornate St Basil’s Cathedral’s magnificent onion-domed spires, the beautiful façade of the world famous GUM department store, constructed in Tsarist times, and the sombre and evocative site of Lenin’s tomb.

We’ll gaze on the view of the city from the top of Sparrow Hill, see the beauty of Novodevichy convent and take a tour of the Moscow Metro to experience the extravagant decoration of its Soviet-era stations, each one of them a work of art in itself.

With our Freedom of Choice touring options you may instead wish to travel out of the city centre to Sergiev Posad, home to one of the most beautiful monasteries in Russia and the historical and spiritual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church or visit the famous State Tretyakov Gallery (National Museum of Fine Art).

Included in our time spent in Moscow is two nights at the five-star Marriott Royal Aurora, or similar. Located in Moscow city centre, and within walking distance of Red Square and the Bolshoi Theatre, this luxury hotel offers spacious accommodation with butler service for each guest room – the only hotel in Moscow to offer this fine service.

Why not extend your stay in Moscow with additional nights to explore more of the city at your leisure or have time to take in a performance at the world-renowned Bolshoi Theatre? Tickets need to be pre-booked and are subject to schedule and availability.

After settling into our modern, stylish cabins we enjoy dinner in one of the beautifully designed restaurant cars as our rail journey to Beijing begins.

Day 4: Volgograd
Standing on the banks of the Volga, Stalingrad, as the city was known in Soviet times, was the dramatic scene of one of the most important Second World War battles. The Russians heroically turned back the Nazi advance here to alter the course of the war. We visit the poignantly sobering Mamayev Kurgan war memorial, followed by an informative museum visit.

Day 5: Kara Kum
Today, we enjoy a relaxing day onboard as we travel across the vast expanses of the Kara Kum desert. As well as experiencing the unique landscape, you can take the opportunity to chat to fellow passengers and maybe take part in a Russian language lesson.

Day 6: Khiva
From Urgench we travel to the ancient city of Khiva, founded 2,500 years ago. As one of the Silk Road’s most important trading posts and now a World Heritage Site, it lies at the crossroads of the routes between Mongolia, Russia, China and Persia.

A truly magnificent sight to behold, it rises out of the desert to reveal a wealth of impressive architecture. Stepping back in time, we discover its impressive mosques, madrassas, bazaars and minarets within Khiva’s ancient walls.

Day 7: Ashgabat
Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan is known as the ‘Las Vegas of the Kara Kum’. Situated between the Kara Kum desert and the Kopet Dag mountain range, Ashgabat is a relatively modern city built upon the ruins of the Silk Road city of Konjikala and the Soviet city built after the devastating earthquake of 1948.

The city’s extravagant fountains, golden domes and towering modern buildings appear strangely incongruous in this desert setting. Highlights on our visit include a visit to the National Museum and Kipchak Mosque.

Day 8: Merv
From Mary we transfer to the ancient and mainly unrestored remains of Merv. Once an important stopping point on the Silk Road, it claims to have briefly been the largest city in the world during the 12th century.

1794 saw the demise of Merv, after the Emir of Bukhara destroyed the dam which the population depended on for its water.

Day 9: Bukhara
Bukhara is quite simply outstanding. Like Khiva, UNESCO sponsored the renovation of much of the city for its 2,500th anniversary in 1999. The highlight of this wonderful tour is a visit to The Ark, a fortified residence of the Emirs of Bukhara – the despotic and ruthless leaders who ruled until Soviet times.

We then travel out of the city to experience the Emir’s enchantingly named, Palace of the Moon and Stars. This evening, weather and time permitting, we will enjoy a barbecue on the station platform before our train departs.

Day 10: Samarkand
Just the mention of Samarkand instantly conjures up evocative images of the Silk Road, more so than any other town. Founded in the 6th century BC, Samarkand’s stunning architecture hints at its former status as one of the most important cities in Asia and is particularly noted for its architectural remains from the 14th to the 17th century, when it flourished as the fabled capital of the Mongol empire of Timur and his successors.

Today we will visit some of its most significant sites including Registan Square, the refined elegance of the beautifully proportioned Bibi Khanum Mosque and the Ulag Beg observatory, one of the earliest Islamic astronomical observatories built in 1428. Before dinner we will return to the now illuminated and awe-inspiring Registan Square.

Day 11: Tashkent
Tashkent is the capital city of Uzbekistan and we spend time touring this modern Soviet-style city which was rebuilt following the devastating earthquake of 1966. Our tour of the city includes the Old Town, where traditional homes and religious buildings line the narrow streets and here in a small library we’ll be privileged to see one of Islam’s most sacred relics – the world’s oldest Koran. This is followed by a visit to the Railway Museum and the Museum of Applied Arts.

Day 12: Almaty
Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhstan and is notable for its wide tree-lined boulevards. Surrounded by the majesty of the Tien Shan Mountains, this beautifully verdant city derives its name from ‘alma’ meaning ‘apple’. Just a short distance from the city, apple orchards thrive in abundance.

Our city tour includes a visit to Panfilov Park where we have the opportunity to visit the Zenkhov Cathedral which was built entirely of wood. We’ll also go out of the city to the Chimbulak resort, where a cable car ride will give you spectacular views of Almaty and the mountains.

Day 13: Border Crossing
As we arrive at the Kazakh border of Druzhba, we bid the Golden Eagle a final farewell. The border crossing takes approximately 5 hours but our patience is rewarded as the Shangri-La Express private train awaits us in Alashankou, the Chinese border station. We are now at liberty to settle into our comfortable cabins as we begin our journey across China. A welcome dinner is served in the restaurant cars, giving us our first taste of authentic Chinese cuisine.

Day 14: Turpan
Turpan is the location where the Flaming Mountains create a magnificent backdrop. We take a fascinating tour to the ancient underground irrigation system that has successfully fed the rich orchards and vineyards for centuries. We will also visit the Museum of Turpan with its 5,000 artefacts detailing the rich history of the area and includes the Ancient Mummy exhibition with exhibits dating back 3,200 years.Our final destination is the elegantly decaying sand fortress city of Jiaohe that was founded in 108 BC and became an important trading route along the Silk Road until it was abandoned in the 13th century following a raid by Genghis Khan.

Day 15: Dunhuang
In the small oasis city of Dunhuang we will visit the fascinating Magao Thousand Buddha Cave Complex. This impressive site contains almost 500 grottoes, carved between 700 and 1,700 years ago. Inside we will see an amazing collection of beautiful sculptures and murals depicting the evolution of Buddhist religious art over this 1,000 year period.

In the afternoon we explore the vast natural beauty of the Gobi Desert by camel. Here we discover Crescent Lake. Hidden amongst towering sand dunes, it has sustained life in this region for millennia. Tonight we experience dinner and a local folk performance in this magical setting.

Day 16: Jiayuguan
Jiayuguan is most famous for being the first pass at the most westerly point of the Great Wall of China; it was given the rather poetic name, ‘The first and greatest pass under Heaven’. Our tour takes us to the perfectly restored fortress at the end of the Great Wall which dates back to 1372. Considered one of the greatest sites in north-west China, we spend time here and visit its excellent museum.

Day 17: Xian
Our fascinating journey of discovery takes us to Xian. We will have several hours to explore the world famous Terracotta Warriors, discovered by peasants only 40 years ago. The 6,000 terracotta figures and their horses are one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century.

Alternatively, as part of our Freedom of Choice program we will offer a visit to the Han Yangling Museum. This tomb, dating back 2,000 years with its adjoining museum, is one of China’s best kept secrets.

In the evening we enjoy the Tang Dynasty Dinner, Music and Dance Show, a wonderful performance of ancient entertainment.

Day 18: Beijing
Spending the last day onboard the Shangri-La Express we wind our way northwards towards the capital of China, Beijing. Having travelled a mammoth 7,000 miles (11,250kms) from Moscow we bid farewell to our train crew and transfer to the five-star Regent Hotel (or similar) for a three-night stay. This luxurious Beijing hotel is minutes from the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Wangfujing shopping street, the Oriental Plaza and picturesque hutongs (old lanes).

Day 19: Beijing
In our extensive touring program of the Imperial City, we visit Tiananmen Square and explore the magnificently restored Forbidden City which was built in the early 14th century and was home to the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Our cultural exploration continues at the Temple of Heaven, built during the Ming Dynasty to offer sacrifices to the heavens, which is the grandest of the four great temples situated in Beijing. Here we experience enchanting displays of traditional dancing, singing and the delicately precise ancient art of calligraphy. We’ll also explore the small ‘hutong’ lanes of old Beijing by rickshaw and visit a local family in a traditional courtyard house.

Alternatively, with our Freedom of Choice touring program we offer a tour looking at Beijing’s modern architecture with visits to the Olympic Village and the Bird’s Nest stadium, the National Centre for Performing Arts, colloquially known as The Egg, the CCTV Tower and the Capital Museum.

Day 20: Beijing
During our three-night stay in Beijing we devote one whole day to the most awe-inspiring site in the whole of China – The Great Wall. This amazing edifice is perhaps the most evocative symbol of Chinese skill and precision. Originally built to protect the Chinese Empire from raids by nomadic tribes, it is the world’s longest man-made structure in the world and part of the UNESCO World Heritage List.

We have the privilege of walking along a portion of the wall – the perfect opportunity to take some memorable photographs with your fellow guests.

Day 21: Beijing
Following breakfast, you will be transferred to Beijing Airport for international departures.

2018 Dates:

Tour is not running in 2018.

2019 Dates:

April 16-May 6 (Westbound)
Tour can also be done between Moscow and Almaty only:
April 24-May 6 (Almaty-Moscow)
October 3-15 (Almaty-Moscow)

The Prices

2019 pricing:
Deposit amount
Silver Class
Gold Class
Imperial Suite
on request


Deposit amount
Silver Class
Gold Class
Imperial Suite
on request

All pricing is per person.


*Tour also available Beijing-Urumchi and/or Almaty-Moscow only.

Five visas are required for this journey (for U.S. citizens); please allow two months for this process.
Kremlin museums are closed on Thursdays; in this case, Kremlin museums tour occurs morning of departure day.

Latest News: Click here for owner Owen Hardy’s blog on improvements on the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express.

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The Highlights

  • Grand trek across China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Russia
  • The most stylish, comfortable way to see sights rarely seen by Western travelers
  • Moscow’s Kremlin and Red Square
  • Terracotta Warriors of Xian
  • Beijing’s Temple of Heaven, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall
  • Samarkand; viewing Registan Square beautifully lit up at night
  • Thousand Buddha Cave Complex of Dunhuang, site of 500 grottoes carved up to 1,700 years ago.
  • Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, site of the legendary WWII battle to the death between the Nazis and the Soviet Union
  • Exploring the Gobi Desert by camel, including Crescent Lake
  • Flexible touring options in Moscow, Xian and Beijing
  • All meals, wine and beer with lunch and dinner, off-train tours and gratuities. International airfare and visas are additional.
Temple of Heaven.  Photo by Eleanor Hardy.
Temple of Heaven. Photo by Eleanor Hardy.
Tapestries of Samarkand.  Photo by Owen Hardy.
Tapestries of Samarkand. Photo by Owen Hardy.