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To St Petersburg & Beyond!

One of Russia’s most beautiful cities feels tantalisingly close to Helsinki, but for most visits, including on the fast trains, you’ll need a Russian visa. The exception to this is the overnight Helsinki–St Petersburg ferry run by St Peter Line, which allows you a 72-hour, visa-free stay in the city. A mandatory shuttle bus (for visa-free requirements) takes you from the harbour to the centre in St Petersburg.

Applying in your home country for a Russian visa is the easiest option. If you want to apply in Finland, it’s simpler to do it via a travel agent such as Russian Expert, Rustravel, which is also helpful with visas for other former Soviet states, or Venäjän Viisumikeskus. Visas start from €78 for the normal seven- to eight-working-day processing time, and from €218 for express processing (three to four working days). Prices depend on nationality.

In all cases, you’ll need a passport with more than six months’ validity, two free pages, a couple of photos and ‘visa support’, namely an invitation document, typically issued either by accommodation you’ve booked in Russia (even hostels) or by an authorised tour agent. Travel agencies can also organise this for you, and there are reliable set-ups that arrange visa support documents online, such as Way to Russia (http://waytorussia.net). These cost US$30.

Once you’ve got the paperwork sorted, it’s easy to jump on a train, bus or boat and head east.

Air

Helsinki-Vantaa Airport

Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, 19km north of the city, is Finland’s main air terminus. Direct flights serve many major European cities and several intercontinental destinations.

Finnair covers 18 Finnish cities, usually at least once per day.

Transport Options

Bus

Bus 615 (€3.20, 50 minutes, every 30 minutes, 24 hours) shuttles between Helsinki-Vantaa airport and the Rautatientori (Railway Sq), next to Helsinki's train station.

Faster Finnair buses head to and from Elielinaukio, outside Helsinki's train station (€6.30, 30 minutes, every 20 minutes, 5am to midnight). The last service leaves the airport at 1.10am.

Taxi

Door-to-door Yellow Line Airport Taxis (per two/four passengers €29.50/39.50) need to be booked the previous day before 6pm if you’re leaving Helsinki.

A regular Taksi Helsinki cab should cost €45 to €50.

Train

The airport–city rail link (www.hsl.fi, €5, 30 minutes, 5.05am to 12.05am) serves Helsinki's train station.

Boat

International ferries sail to Stockholm, Tallinn, St Petersburg and German destinations.

Ferry companies have detailed timetables and fares on their websites. Fares vary widely according to season. Purchase tickets online, at the terminal, or at ferry company offices. Book well in advance during high season (late June to mid-August) and on weekends.

There are five main terminals: Katajanokan Terminaali, Makasiiniterminaali, Olympia Terminaali, Länsiterminaali and Hansaterminaali. The first three are closest to central Helsinki.

Katajanokan Terminaali

Katajanokan Terminaali, on the island of Katajanokka, is served by trams 4 and 5.

Viking Line runs car and passenger ferries to Stockholm (16½ hours, one daily) via Åland (11 hours), and to Tallinn (2½ hours, two to three daily).

Makasiiniterminaali

Makasiiniterminaali is served by trams 1A and 2.

Linda Line runs the fastest service between Helsinki and Tallinn, aboard small passenger-only hydrofoils (1½ hours, three daily).

St Peter Line runs to St Petersburg (14 hours, three weekly).

Olympia Terminaali

Olympia Terminaali is served by trams 1A, 2 and 3.

Tallink/Silja Line runs car and passenger services to/from Stockholm (16 hours, one daily) via Åland (11 hours).

Länsiterminaali (West Terminal)

Länsiterminaali (West Terminal) is 3km southwest of the city centre, and is served by trams 6T and 9.

Tallink/Silja Line runs car and passenger services to/from Tallinn (two hours, eight daily).

Eckerö Line runs car and passenger ferries to/from Tallinn (two to 2½ hours, up to three daily).

Hansaterminaali

Hansaterminaali is 18km east of Helsinki, served by bus 90A from Vuosaari metro station.

Finnlines runs car and passenger ferries between Helsinki and Travemünde, Germany (29 hours, six to seven per week).

Bus

Kamppi bus station has a terminal for local buses to Espoo in one wing, while longer-distance buses also depart from here to destinations throughout Finland. Onnibus runs budget routes to several Finnish cities.

Destinations with several daily departures include the following:

Jyväskylä €30, 4½ hours, up to three hourly

Kuopio €34, six hours, hourly

Lappeenranta €30, 3½ hours, up to three hourly

Oulu €55, 9½ hours, up to 13 per day

Savonlinna €30, 5½ hours, nine daily

Tampere €25, 2½ hours, up to four hourly

Turku €28, 2½ hours, up to four hourly

Buses to Russia

Buses run from Kamppi bus station to St Petersburg (€35, nine hours, up to four daily); you must have a Russian visa.

Car & Motorcycle

Helsinki is easily accessible by car from Finnish destinations and neighbouring countries, including via car ferry.

Given the city's compact size and good public transport, a car is not necessary, but it can be handy if you're heading to outlying areas.

Train

Helsinki’s central train station is linked to the metro (Rautatientori stop) and situated 500m east of Kamppi bus station.

The train is the fastest and cheapest way to get from Helsinki to major centres.

Destinations include the following:

Joensuu €44, 4½ hours, three daily

Kuopio €45, 4¼ hours, four daily

Lappeenranta €28, two hours, six daily

Oulu €56, six hours, four daily

Rovaniemi €80, eight hours, four daily

Tampere €21, 1½ hours, two hourly

Turku €20, two hours, hourly

There are also daily trains (buy tickets from the international counter) to the Russian cities of Vyborg, St Petersburg and Moscow; you'll need a Russian visa.