Feature: 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 €74 to €84 for the normal seven- to eight-working-day processing time, and from €148 to €183 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$35.
Once you’ve got the paperwork sorted, it’s easy to jump on a train, bus or boat and head east.
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.
Bus 615 (€3.50, 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 (one way/return €6.80/12.50, 30 minutes, every 20 minutes, 5am to midnight). The last service leaves the airport at 1.10am.
The airport–city rail link (www.hsl.fi, €5, 30 minutes, 5.05am to 12.05am) serves Helsinki's train station. It's quick and easy and not subject to traffic complications.
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.
Länsiterminaali (West Terminal)
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 from €8.70, 4½ hours, up to three hourly
Kuopio from €11.40, six hours, hourly
Lappeenranta from €7.70, 3½ hours, up to three hourly
Oulu from €19.70, 9½ hours, up to 13 per day
Savonlinna from €8.70, 5½ hours, nine daily
Tampere from €4.70, 2½ hours, up to four hourly
Turku from €5.70, 2½ hours, up to four hourly
Buses to Russia
Buses run from Kamppi bus station to St Petersburg (€38, 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.
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 from €22.30, 4½ hours, three daily
Kuopio from €22.20, 4¼ hours, one to four daily
Lappeenranta €28, two hours, one to six daily
Oulu from €56, 7¼ hours, four daily
Rovaniemi €80, eight hours, four daily
Tampere from €8.90, 1½ hours, two hourly
Turku from €8.90, 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.