The Silk Road (between Moscow and Beijing) 21 days

Retracing one of the most important trading routes of ancient civilisation, the Silk Road follows in the footsteps of such legendary figures as Alexander the Great and Marco Polo. For centuries, merchants and adventurers journeyed to and from China on ancient routes through some of the most testing landscapes in the world trading silk, spices and perfumes. These ‘highways’ – stretching some 4,000 miles (6,400 km) – collectively came to be called the ‘Silk Road’.

Crossing both Russia and China as well as some of the remotest former Soviet Republics our epic journey onboard the Golden Eagle through Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and the Shangri-La Express from the Kazakh border to Beijing across the Gobi Desert and through an ever changing landscape, will take in some of the most magnificent yet little visited sites and oasis cities from the ancient world.

We travel a total of 6,800 miles (11,000 kilometres) across five countries and six time zones through areas only accessible by train. Whilst the journey may present great difficulties for the independent traveller, our tour provides the opportunity to travel in comfort and safety. A true feeling of adventure and pioneering awaits on this unique 21-day tour by private train.

Moscow, Russia

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 former 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.

Volgograd, Russia

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.

Kara Kum, Kazakhstan / Days onboard our private train

We will enjoy a relaxing day onboard the Golden Eagle as we travel across the vast expanses of the Kara Kum desert. Each Silk Road departure has a number of days or half days onboard our private trainas we travel to our next destination. This time offers the opportunity to unwind and reflect on the many sights and sounds we have experienced or are about to experience on our rail journey so far. Chat to your fellow passengers, listen to a talk on the history of the Silk Road and its people along the route, simply relax with a good book or enjoy the ever changing landscape outside your window as it unfolds before you.

Khiva, Uzbekistan

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.

Darvaza Burning Gas Crater, Turkmenistan (westbound only)

The Golden Eagle makes a brief scheduled stop at Ichoguz, where we have the option to leave the train and make a short journey to Darvaza’s famous burning gas crater, a spectacular sight best seen at night. Located in the middle of the Kara Kum desert where the area is rich in natural gas, the 70 metre-wide crater is known by the locals as the ‘Door to Hell’ and has been burning for over 40 years. A unique experience that is not to be missed.

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

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.

Merv, Turkmenistan

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.

Bukhara, Uzbekistan

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.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan

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.

Tashkent, Uzbekistan

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.

Almaty, Kazakhstan

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 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.

Urumqi, China

Urumqi is located in a verdant oasis between the lofty ice capped Bogda Peak, the vast Salt Lake, the pine covered Southern Hill and the alternating fields and sand dunes of the Zunggar Basin. Urumchi boasts an entry in the Guinness Book of Records for being the city furthest from any sea in the world – a staggering 1,400 miles (2,500 km) from the nearest coastline. This morning we visit the renowned 3,500 year-old mummy exhibition at the Xinjiang Provincial Museum.

Turpan, China

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. Our final destination is the elegantly decaying sand city of Jiaohe that was founded in 108 BC.

Dunhuang, China

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.

Jiayuguan, China (eastbound only)

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.

Lanzhou, China (westbound only)

Lanzhou is a vital city on the Silk Route due to its principal crossing point of the mighty Yellow River. A visit to the Gansu Provincial Museum here provides evidence of the kind of goods that moved in an eastward direction along the Silk Route and the famous ‘galloping horse’ dating from the Eastern Han period that was found in a nearby tomb.

Xian, China

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 programme 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.

Beijing, China

Beijing mixes both ancient and modern and is where we spend three nights staying at the five-star Regent Beijing hotel, which is located in the historical centre of the city. This luxurious Beijing hotel is minutes from the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Wangfujing shopping, the Oriental Plaza and picturesque hutongs.

In our extensive touring programme 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 programme 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.

The Great Wall of China

During our three-night stay in Beijing we devote a 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.

  • Two nights in Moscow
  • 10 nights onboard the Golden Eagle
  • Five nights onboard the Shangri-La Express
  • Three nights in Beijing
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