Combining a visit to St Petersburg with a trip to Finland will provide an excellent change of scenery. Whereas in St Petersburg you can visit museums, explore palaces and have a packed itinerary, Finland will provide a relaxing alternative. Outside of Helsinki, Finland has beautiful countryside, various spa hotels and fishing resorts. Basically, all you need to get away for a few days.
Most importantly, you need to remember that you will be crossing a border. There are no visa waivers for the Russian-Finnish border, so you’ll need to be visa ready. Finland is visa-free for many countries, and others will need a Schengen visa. Russia, on the other hand, is visa-free for very few nationalities, so it is important to think about that in advance. The weather is likely to be similar on either side of the border. In winter, make sure to dress warmly and to pack some extra layers to be safe.
A direct high-speed train runs between St Petersburg and Helsinki and is likely the best combination of price and comfort. The travel time is three and a half hours, and you travel from and into centrally located train stations. Prices vary depending on how far in advance you purchase. Generally speaking, a one-way second-class ticket is about 50 euros (US$58), and first class is just above that. Depending on what country you are in, tickets should be bought from the railway company, be it in Russia or in Finland.
The cheapest but least comfortable way to travel is by bus. There are numerous companies that operate transfers between St Petersburg and various stops in Helsinki. For a large group, it is possible to hire a taxi to take you there. Many companies operate minivans, but won’t necessarily speak English. A reliable service is the LuxExpress, which has an English interface on its website and has more comfortable travel conditions than minivans. The price is also quite pleasant, hovering around 500-1000 roubles per seat (US$8-16). The overall journey time is about seven hours, depending on traffic at the border. Be prepared that some groups will stop in duty-free shops both ways, which can be frustrating if it’s not on your agenda.
The route between St Petersburg and Helsinki can be completed with ease. The road has been completely rebuilt, and it is now a smooth journey. The benefit of driving is that you don’t have to make all the same stops as the bus and you’ll have more freedom in where you go on either side of the border. As with the bus, a major issue can be border queues, which easily take over an hour at peak times, especially over the weekends and holidays. Another issue is that most car rental offices do not allow vehicles to be taken over the border. Alternatively, a cross-border fee will be incurred.
The short distance between St Petersburg and Helsinki means the flight will be quicker than the time it takes to go through airport security. In just under an hour, you can travel between the two cities by plane. From there, both airports are well connected to the city centre. Many carriers complete this journey, yet despite the short travel time, it won’t be cheap. You’ll be looking to spend at least 130 euros (US$150) for a flight, so it doesn’t make much sense unless you are transiting in Helsinki and need to do a changeover in Finland.
If you want to make a mini-holiday out of the journey, another option is to take a ferry into Helsinki. The ferries leaving from St Petersburg usually have a selection of routes (some also stop in Stockholm and Tallinn) and then return to Russia. Among the most popular carriers is the St Peterline Ferry. The price mainly depends on the route you choose and the type of cabin you select. The latter range from simple bunk beds to a comfortable hotel-like room. There is also entertainment and restaurants and shops on board.