Given the vast size of the country, visitors to Russia can struggle to see as much as they can. Moscow is on almost every tourist’s list, but some 400 km away on the Volga River lies the historic city of Nizhny Novgorod, a cultural gem nicknamed “Russia’s Hollywood”, where you can enjoy multi-day cruises down the Volga for much of the year. So, what’s the best way for a visitor to Moscow to fit in a trip to “Nizhny” with the least time and hassle? Fortunately, The Russian rail system is one of the largest rail networks in the world – including three high-speed trains that can make the trip in under four hours.
The Sapsan train (Russian for “peregrine falcon”) is the fastest train in Russia with a top speed of 250 kilometers an hour. While you could originally only book St Petersburg to Moscow train tickets on the Sapsan, it now continues on to Nizhny Novgorod once a day. The Moscow to Nizhny train takes just under four hours.
The Sapsan Moscow to Nizhny Novgorod train has six Economy cars with 64 seats each (about $83 per Sapsan ticket) and four TV sets. Snacks and drinks can be purchased. There is also one Economy+ car (about $93) which offers slightly more space, seating 51 passengers and a meal (generally a sandwich and tea).
The single Business Class car carries 52 passengers in wide leather seats (about $130 US, which includes a hot meal and free Wifi). The single First Class coach (about $245 US) carries 19 passengers with a good deal of open space. The seats include personal TVs and recline to almost completely horizontal. A hot meal and Wifi is included. Additionally, there is an even more exclusive Conference Class, with four seats in a conference room with a separate entrance in the First Class car. It includes a sofa and multimedia TV with a Playstation, as well as the other amenities of First Class. The conference room can only be booked buying all four tickets (a total price of about $765).
A unique option on the Sapsan is the Dining Class, which books one of 40 seats (about $120 US) in the Restaurant car arranged in groups of four around tables. The ticket price includes an allowance of about $35 for the purchase of food and drink, including alcohol.
The Strizh has been running the Moscow – Nizhny Novgorod route since 2015. Built by the Spanish company Talgo, the Strizh (Russian for “swift”, another fast-flying bird) has a top speed of 200 kilometers an hour with a passive-tilting system that allows it to take curves at higher speed which shaves minutes off the travel time and allows the Strizh to make better time on its non-stop route than the faster Sapsan. Four Strizh trains operate between Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod, departing from the Kursky Railway Station in Moscow and varying from about three and a half hours for the non-stop runs to as much as four hours for the trains with stops in the cities of Vladimir Dzerzhinsk, and Kovrov. There are up to seven departures a day between the two cities.
The Strizh has nine 2nd Class cars each with 36 seats (about $32 US). Food and drink, as well as newspapers and magazines, are available for an extra fee. The two 1st Class seating cars each have 20 seats (about $52 US) with individual 220v outlets, and a hot meal and hygienic kit are included in the ticket price. The five luxury cars each hold five sleeper compartments (able to accommodate up to two passengers each) with private toilet and shower, with a hot meal, bedding, towels and a hygienic kit included in the price (about $105 US).
The Lastochka, or “sparrow” is the third Moscow to Nizhny Novgorod train high-speed variant. With a top speed of about 160 kph, the Lastochka makes a single trip to Nizhny Novgorod daily in about four hours. A workhorse high speed train, the Lastochka is widely used throughout Russia unlike the Sapsan and Strizh. While some routes have other options, the Moscow to Nizhny Novgorod route offers only second class seats for about $63 US.
Looking at all three trains, the Strizh stands out as the best choice for the Moscow to Nizhny Novgorod train. While it lacks some of the niceties of the more modern Sapsan, it more than makes up the difference in price, with its more luxurious options costing less than the Sapsan Business Class ticket. However, if quality and comfort are your primary drivers, the Sapsan has more options to suit you – for a price. As for the Lastochka, while it’s an attractive option in many other parts of the country, when put up against the other two, it falls into last place.