Most Trans-Siberian journeys begin or end in Moscow’s Yaroslavl station, so there’s no excuse for missing the vibrant Russian capital. Snap St Basil’s technicolour domes in Red Square, marvel at the riches in the Kremlin, and party till dawn in the achingly expensive night clubs.
As home to the Russian Pacific Fleet, the attractive naval city of Vladivostok was closed to Westerners under communism. Go there now to revel in the feeling of forbidden pleasures, drink in the café culture and laze on the unspoilt beaches.
Famous for being the final destination of Russia’s last tsar and his family, Yekaterinburg is now taking off as a gateway to the Ural Mountains. Hop off in summer for hiking or rafting, and in winter for skiing or dog sledding. A photo of yourself straddling the border between Asia and Europe is also obligatory.
Though it’s a handsome city in its own right, most travellers break their journey in Irkutsk to visit Lake Baikal. Known as the pearl of Siberia, Baikal reaches 1600m deep and holds one fifth of the world’s fresh water. In winter the surface freezes 1m thick, providing opportunities for cross-country skiing and snow-mobiling. In summer hiking and scuba-diving are the go.
UB, Mongolia’s squat, dusty, intriguing capital, throngs with a people in flux. Denim-clad students jostle with tribesmen in traditional dress; horse-drawn carts and 4x4s jam the streets; and felt gers stand side by side with communist blocks. It’s a city pulling out all the stops to modernise, but not quite made it yet.
As the 2008 Olympics host city, Beijing has undergone a revamp of epic proportions in the past few years and is now a heady mix of urban bustle, ancient China and ultra-modern cool. It deserves your attention: take a few days to explore the palaces, visit the Great Wall and mingle with the locals in Tiananmen Square.