One of my dream vacations is to hop on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, which takes you from Western Russia (Petersburg or Moscow,) all the way to either Vladivostok on Russia’s eastern coast, or to Beijing, China via Mongolia. (More about this later…)
So, while looking into traveling to St. Petersburg to catch the railroad, I had a bit of sticker-shock at the cost of a flight to Russia from my hometown of Washington, D.C. — it’s about $1300 to St. Petersburg, or $1500 to Moscow round-trip. 700+ one-way for each.
But then I remembered…Finland!
Finland, the wonderful Scandinavian country that kept out the Soviets thanks to reloading-while-skiing skills is only a few hours from St. Petersburg. And, guess what? It’s only about $800 round-trip to Helsinki, Finland from Washington or New York, and about $100 aboard a train from Russia.
Surprise! It’s literally cheaper to fly to Helsinki, experience the city, spend a night or two in hostel, then jump on a train to Russia than it is to just fly to Russia. As you’ll see, by accident, I stumbled the perfect one-week long Nordic and Russian trip.
When I travel across the Atlantic, I always try to see as much as possible. (If you’re going to pay all that money to get over there, why see just one place?)
That’s where the third destination, Tallin, Estonia comes in.
Tallin — a quick ferry ride from Helsinki, or quick train from St. Petersburg — is one of Europe’s most up and coming cities and home to Estonia’s impressive economic turnaround. The city’s 15th and 16th century look is complemented by a modern core, makes for great photography, and even looks a little romantic, if you’re so inclined.
Even better, you can do it on the cheap. I don’t mind staying in hostels, but Tallin is the sort of city where you can grab a nice hotel for under $100 per night anyway.
How To Do It:
My suggestion: Book a round-trip flight out of Helsinki in the early summer and give yourself about a week’s time. Spend two nights in Helsinki, and take the ferry 50 miles south across the Gulf of Finland to Tallin. Spend two nights in Tallin, explore the Old Town and get on a train to St. Petersburg. Explore Russia’s cultural capital for two to three nights, before getting back on a bus or train to catch your flight home from Helsinki. Planes, trains and ferries should cost just over $1,000. The rest is up to you. Congratulations, in 7 days you’ve seen Finland, Estonia, and Russia!
P.S. If you’ve got a couple extra days and dollars to spare, consider adding Vyborg, Russia a former Finnish city that changed hands in the 1940s to your itinerary.
And note: Russia’s visa laws have changed (and gotten cheaper,) recently, so keep an eye out for the requirements for travel.