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Finland, Estonia, St Petersburg - Doable?

Finland, Estonia, St Petersburg - Doable?

Jun 19th, 2016, 01:59 PM
  #1  
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Finland, Estonia, St Petersburg - Doable?

OK, so I have finally decided that I want to go to Estonia next year. I will be 62 at the time of travel and will be traveling alone.

Looking at a map, I decided to fly into Helsinki, spend a couple of days, take the ferry to Tallinn, rent a place for a week, and do some day trips within Estonia and then go to St. Petersburg by train and fly home from there. I read a post elsewhere though saying that it is better to travel by train from Helsinki to St. Petersburg. What do you think?

I have only just begun to gather information, and I have found in the past that there is a wealth of information to be found in these forums. What is the best time of year to go? As an American, will I need visas for all three countries? Is safety a concern for a woman traveling solo in any of these countries?

Any input would be much appreciated!
rapunzll is offline  
Jun 19th, 2016, 02:11 PM
  #2  
kja
 
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That plan should be perfectly doable -- assuming, of course, that you give yourself enough time, preferably at least 2 weeks.

I'm not sure if it is "better" to travel by train from Helsinki to St. Petersburg, but it is certainly an option -- if you are willing to backtrack from Talinn. I took that train ride many years ago, and thought it interesting to see the differences between the countryside in Finland and in Russia. I have no idea whether those differences still exist.

The best time to go would be around the summer solstice -- the "White Nights" in St. Petersburg are utterly awesome! It's also the most expensive time to go, so plan accordingly.

You will need a visa for St. Petersburg with this plan.
https://travel.state.gov/content/pas...ry/russia.html

I haven't been to Estonia, but felt perfectly comfortable as a solo female from the U.S. in both Finland and Russia -- but that was back in 1994, and of course things have changed. I don't think I would hesitate to go alone again now; you need to assess your own comfort levels.

Get some decent guidebooks (or consult them at your local library), learn to transliterate Cyrillic, and be sure to learn a few words for civilities -- they go a LONG way.

Also, if you have any interest in seeing Moscow or any other parts of Russia, consider adding time to this trip to make that possible, since you'll be nearly there and will have paid for your visa.

Hope that helps!
kja is offline  
Jun 19th, 2016, 02:21 PM
  #3  
 
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I just did this trip, partly, a few weeks ago. I started in Vilnius and worked my way by bus up (stop in Riga) in Tallinn. I took the ferry to Helsinki and same day took the St. Peter line ferry to St. Petersburg for a couple of days using the 72 hour "visa free" option, then ferry back to Helsinki. (I didn't stay in Finland - flew on to Amsterdam from there same day.)

No visa needed for Estonia or Finland. Visa needed for Russia unless you do it like I did, by ferry. Read my trip report about the ferry experience here - very easy and enjoyable, except it limits your time in St. Petersburg to basically 2.5 days:

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...a-helsinki.cfm

No need to learn Cyrillic if you have a smart phone with a translate app - though in St. Petersburg I barely needed even that. Many signs are in Roman/Latin as well as Cyrillic. St. Petersburg is extremely touristy, though very little English is spoken. Traveling solo, I had absolutely no trouble getting around and never felt uncomfortable anywhere (I was worried about this). The local Russians were more friendly than expected; I expect I would have had a few conversations with them had I known how to speak Russian.

Google Maps on my phone made getting around on foot unbelievably easy. I used the bus system extensively in St. Petersburg (also in Tallinn though not really needed there - the old town is quite small), and Google Maps simply told me which buses to get and how to walk to/from the stops. No need to learn complicated bus schedules in Cyrillic. Everything is cheap for Americans right now in Russia (RUB was 67:1 when I was there!). Bus rides are 30 Rubles per ride, currently about 45 cents USD.

The days were very long when I did this late May/early June, of course. That's great in some ways, but personally I like to shoot night pictures, and I found it very frustrating to have to stay up so late to shoot pictures! I was out in St. Petersburg one night past 1AM (lots of people still out partying; I felt very safe by myself). St. Petersburg is absolutely stunning at night when everything is lit up.
Andrew is offline  
Jun 19th, 2016, 02:23 PM
  #4  
 
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The train from Helsinki to St. Petersburg is much faster than the train from Tallinn (I considered getting a visa and doing it this way) because the border guards can ride the train as it keeps moving (and do the passport stuff while the train keeps going), as I understand it, but not on the train from Tallinn.
Andrew is offline  
Jun 19th, 2016, 02:32 PM
  #5  
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Thank you! I did forget to mention that I am planning on two weeks for the trip. The ferry to St. Petersburg sounds like something worth looking into.

Thank you both!
rapunzll is offline  
Jun 19th, 2016, 02:37 PM
  #6  
kja
 
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Note that you can use the no-visa ferry option only if you give St. Petersburg a very limited amount of time.

Being able to transliterate Cyrillic is very helpful if you try to use the metro or if you get lost and find yourself trying to match street names to a map. And for some other signage.
kja is offline  
Jun 19th, 2016, 02:53 PM
  #7  
 
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Even if you get a visa and stay longer in St. Petersburg, the ferry is still worth looking at, at least one way. I had never slept on a ship before, and the whole experience was much more fun than I expected. It was also not expensive, probably because of weak Ruble. I think it cost me 99 Euros round trip (one person with a tiny, private cabin) plus 25 Euros for the "tour" required for the visa free option. Unless you take a night train, the overnight ferry saves you a night of hotel, too.

There is a St. Peter Line ferry directly from Tallinn to St. Petersburg a few days a week; I would have taken it (instead of ferrying to Helsinki first) had the schedules worked for my visa free visit. If I had a visa, I probably would have taken the ferry one way from Tallinn and the train back to Helsinki. (Though had I had a visa, maybe I would have gone to Moscow too and not come back through Helsinki at all.)
Andrew is offline  
Jun 19th, 2016, 07:24 PM
  #8  
 
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We too took the ferry from Helsinki to St Petersburg for a visa-free 72 hrs. The required 'tour' involved us boarding a bus at the ship dock and being dropped off where we wanted in the city! We stayed for two nights and then returned to the bus drop off spot a few blocks from our B&B. All very very easy.

Here is the St Pete's Line website and the B&B we stayed at just a few blocks from the Hermitage...excellent location.

http://www.nevskyinn.com/rooms.shtml

https://stpeterline.com/en

If you decide to stay at the Nevsky Inn, let me know and I will let you know how to find the front door!
michele_d is offline  
Jun 19th, 2016, 07:37 PM
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I highly recommend seeing Riga as well as Tallinn, especially if you have any interest in Art Nouveau. I would fly into Riga, bus to Tallinn, ferry to Helsinki and train to St. Petersburg. I also recommend learning the Cyrillic alphabet. I am terrible at languages and found it quite easy.

I am a solo, senior, female traveler, and have had no issues in any of these countries. I visited Russia in 2004, but I was in the Baltics in 2011. See:

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...ne-baltics.cfm

For info on the Russian visa see:

http://waytorussia.net/RussianVisa/

For info on the train from Helsinki see:

http://seat61.com/helsinki-to-st-pet...m#.V2dkpuSG-qI
thursdaysd is offline  
Jun 20th, 2016, 06:52 PM
  #10  
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Thanks. If I had to end up choosing between Helsinki and Riga, which do you guys think would be the one to choose? I'm concerned that Estonia, Helsinki, St Petersburg and Riga might be a lot to fit in in two weeks.
rapunzll is offline  
Jun 20th, 2016, 07:01 PM
  #11  
kja
 
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I'm not sure I can answer that question, but agree that it is a good one!

I can say that I would recommend at least 6 nights in St. Petersburg, unless you have specific interests that cause you to decide on more or less time there.

If you can't fit everything into this one trip -- and I doubt that you can -- you might want to defer those destinations that are easiest for you to reach because they are, well, easiest to reach and so most easily incorporated into another, subsequent trip. ;-)
kja is offline  
Jun 20th, 2016, 07:10 PM
  #12  
 
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A lot to fit in? Yeah, could be, though I did about that much in two weeks in the last month. ;-) Yes, we all have different travel styles - some like to spend more time in places than others.

I hadn't found Helsinki too interesting when I read descriptions of it ahead of time, which is why I didn't plan to spend a night there on my recent trip. I don't really regret that; I had a few hours there the day I came back from St. Petersburg to roam around the town center, the waterfront, and take a ferry out to one of the islands. That was probably enough time for me. (As a photographer, my only real regret was not being there a night to take night shots, something I like doing in any city I visit.) Helsinki seemed like a very pleasant town, actually, lovely in a way but otherwise not especially interesting.

Riga by contrast is HUGE and has a lot of things to see and do. The old town is nothing special, really (extremely touristy - e.g. TGI Fridays and Subway in the old town) but has some interesting buildings and huge churches. The central market in the huge zeppelin hangers by the train station is really something with the great variety of foods on sale - and obviously designed for locals not tourists. The town has some nice parks, too, and for me, tons of photo ops. And those Art Nouveau buildings really are amazing and unusual - you don't have to an architecture buff to appreciate them.

Tallinn is much smaller than Riga (at least, the old town is); in some ways it is more touristy than Riga (lots of cruise ship tour groups invade the small old town in the daytime), but the old town is also really nice and much more authentic-feeling than Riga's - and very charming. I found Tallinn much more relaxing than Riga and easier to navigate because of its smaller size.

If I had to choose between only two of Helsinki, Tallinn, and Riga, I'd choose Tallinn and Riga without question, personally. But if you want a coherent trip, note that Estonia and Finland have much more in common culturally and historically than Latvia and Estonia do. If you really want to visit Finland and have specific things you'd want to do besides Helsinki, then staying there might make more sense.

Of all the countries I visited recently in the Baltics, I'd probably go back to Estonia. (Though Riga may have been my favorite city, Latvia wasn't my favorite country.) I did a day trip to the lovely town of Haapsalu, on the west coast on a bay. With more time, I would have explored some of the islands off the coast. It sounds like having a car for that would make visiting them much more practical, and I didn't have time to fit that in on this trip.

Finland is also more expensive than Estonia and Latvia (and Russia, right now) for what it's worth.
Andrew is offline  
Jun 20th, 2016, 07:14 PM
  #13  
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So maybe Helsinki for a day trip from Tallinn? I mean, I don't really have anything specific I want to see in Helsinki although I would like to find out more about the design district.
rapunzll is offline  
Jun 20th, 2016, 07:18 PM
  #14  
 
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Well, depending on how you are planning to get to St. Petersburg, it might make sense to do what I did and take the ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki, then take the ferry or train on to St. Petersburg from there (or go in the other direction). You could leave your bags in lockers at one of the ferry terminals or the train station in Helsinki and spend at least a few hours there. Or do it as a day trip by ferry. It's 1.5 to 2.5 hours each way, depending on which ferry line you take between Tallinn and Helsinki.

I'd definitely read up more on all of these places and see what interests you in each one. If you find more things you want to do in Helsinki than Riga, maybe you should visit there instead of Riga.
Andrew is offline  
Jun 20th, 2016, 07:20 PM
  #15  
 
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If you don't have anything specific to see in Helsinki, i would skip it altogether.

If I had to rank the four cities, it would be St. Petersburg - Riga - Tallinn - Helsinki, with St. Petersburg and Riga well ahead.
thursdaysd is offline  
Jun 20th, 2016, 07:21 PM
  #16  
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Yes, I have time to fine tune everything. I would love to go to Lapland, but maybe another time!
rapunzll is offline  
Jun 20th, 2016, 07:52 PM
  #17  
kja
 
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Again, IMO, you really need to identify your priorities. I regretted that I gave St. Petersburg ONLY 6 full days. I thought Helsinki easily worth 2.5 days, and wish I'd given it more.

As you have discovered, Fodorites have a wealth of information to offer. As you have also discovered, we all travel for different reasons and with different tastes. If you keep seeking specific scheduling information, you'll keep getting different answers, not because anyone is right or wrong, but because we all have different preferences.

That's part of the wonderful-awful challenge of traveling -- figuring out what YOU want!

Good luck!
kja is offline  
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