Arriving in Finland by ferry is a memorable way to begin your visit, especially if you dock in Helsinki. Baltic ferries are big floating hotels/shopping plazas, with duty-free stores, restaurants, bars, karaoke, nightclubs and saunas. Many people use them simply for boozy overnight cruises, so they can get pretty rowdy on Friday and Saturday nights.
Services are year-round between major cities. Book ahead in summer, at weekends and if travelling with a vehicle. The boats are amazingly cheap if you travel deck class (without a cabin) – they make their money from duty-free purchases. Many ferry lines offer 50% discounts for holders of train passes. Some offer discounts for seniors, and for ISIC and youth-card holders. There are usually discounts for families and small groups travelling together.
Ferry companies have detailed timetables and fares on their websites. Fares vary widely according to season.
Operators include the following:
Eckerö Line Finland–Estonia
Finnlines Finland–Sweden, Finland–Germany
St Peter Line Finland–Russia
Tallink/Silja Line Finland–Sweden, Finland–Estonia
Viking Line Finland–Sweden, Finland–Estonia
The daily Stockholm–Helsinki, Stockholm–Turku and Kapellskär–Mariehamn (Åland) routes are run by Tallink/Silja and Viking Line. Tallink/Silja doesn’t offer deck tickets on the Helsinki run, but shared cabins are available. The cheapest crossings are typically to/from Turku (11 to 12 hours). Note that Åbo is Swedish for Turku.
Eckerö Line sails from Grisslehamn, north of Stockholm, to Eckerö in Åland. It’s by far the quickest option, at just two hours. There’s a connecting bus from Stockholm and some other Swedish towns.
Finnlines runs a cargo ferry connecting Naantali, near Turku, with Kapellskär via Långnäs in Åland two to three times daily (nine hours).
Wasaline sails from late June to early August from Vaasa in Finland to Umeå, Sweden (4½ hours).
St Peter Line connects Helsinki with St Petersburg three to four times weekly. A significant added benefit of arriving in Russia this way is a visa-free stay of up to three days in St Petersburg. Canal cruises from Lappeenranta also allow you to do this.
Several ferry companies zip between Helsinki and Tallinn in Estonia. In winter there are fewer departures and the crossing is slower due to the ice.
Finnlines runs six to seven ferries a week from Helsinki to Travemünde (29 hours).