How to travel to Saint Petersburg from abroad

When planning to visit a city you first need to find out how to get there. The traveler to Saint Petersburg usually can choose between different means of transport.

There are many ways to travel to Saint Petersburg, Russia. By air, coach, minibus, train and, maybe the coolest of all, by boat. Of course, you could also use a combination of these ways of transport to get to the city.

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Flights to Saint Petersburg

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The city’s international airport, Pulkovo is located 23 kilometers south of the city center. There are not many low cost international airlines flying to the city. Some non low cost carriers offer quite reasonably priced flights during the low season however. If you’re looking for the cheapest way to get to Saint Petersburg, you might want to check low cost airlines that fly to Estonia and Finland. From there you could travel further to Saint Petersburg by train or by bus.

The most famous European low costers like Ryanair and Easyjet don’t offer direct flights to Saint Petersburg. The low-costers that do offer flights to Saint Petersburg are not as cheap as those real low-costers, at least not on this traject. The main companies that are considered to be low-costers and fly to Saint Petersburg are the Spanish Vueling and AirBaltic from Latvia. Actually I haven’t flown with either of them, because they are usually not the cheapest!

Although not many low-cost airlines fly directly to Russia’s Northern capital you can usually still get a reasonably priced ticket to Saint Petersburg from many European destinations. This is because many ‘classical’ airlines actually started behaving like low-costers by offering lower priced tickets to those who travel without a suitcase. Among the airlines that have taken up this practice are reputable ones like Lufthansa and Finnair. Like I mentioned, they usually offer a better price than the so-called low-costers, at least on the routes that I fly. 

Flying to a nearby airport and continuing your journey by land

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You can do this, but the problem with this is that the nearby airports are not that nearby. Not that the distance between Tallinn and Saint Petersburg or Helsinki and Saint Petersburg is that great, but you need to consider that you’re going to have to cross the Russian border by land and that takes times. It doesn’t take extra time if you take a highspeed train, but in that case, this option is not going to be cheaper.

Anyway, if for you every penny counts you could do this. Ryanair offers regular flights to Lappeenranta in Finland, which is much closer to Saint Petersburg than Helsinki. Ryanair connects Lappeenranta only to Milan and Athens at the moment, but some connections might be added in the future.  

There are quite many cheap Ryanair flights between Tallinn and European destinations. From Tallinn you could travel further to Saint Petersburg by bus or train.  

One airline to keep close attention to is the Russian low-coster Pobeda. Recently Pobeda started offering cheap flights between Eindhoven airport in the Netherlands and Vnukovo airport in Moscow. Unlike the tickets from Vueling and Airbaltic, this low-coster does live up to its title. 

Flights from the east

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Tickets from places in the east, like Samarkand in Uzbekistan, are quite reasonably priced, compared to long distance flights to the city from western destinations. A return ticket for a direct flight from Samarkand to Saint Petersburg will usually cost around 325 euros. That’s not too bad for a 5-hour flight, right? You will be flying with Uzbekistan Airways however. An airline that is apparently above all famous for good dishes they serve to the passengers during flights

To Saint Petersburg from abroad by train

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Saint Petersburg has many railway stations, at least one for every point of the compass.

From Helsinki to Saint Petersburg by train

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There is an excellent high-speed railway connection between Saint Petersburg and the Finnish capital: the Аllegro train. Tickets prices for the Allegro start at €29 but are usually much more expensive. Usually, the earlier you book a seat, the cheaper it’ll be. You can find information about ticket prices and purchase your tickets on the site of the Finnish railways.  I have travelled from Saint Petersburg to Helsinki and back with the Allegro and highly recommend it. You travel very comfortably, with a nice view and avoid all the hassle you usually encounter when visiting an airport.

The Allegro is not the only train between Helsinki and Saint Petersburg. You can also hop on the “Tolstoi”, the night train between Helsinki and Moscow and get off at Saint Petersburg’s Ladozhski Station. During navigation season one should be careful with choosing to do this however, because you are on the opposite side of the Neva river and might not be able to make it in time to the center before bridges open to navigation. If you do want to choose this connection during navigation season it might be preferable to book your accommodation close to the Ladozhski railway station, at least for the first night. The neighborhood is not the most appealing, but this way you avoid getting stuck and having to spend several hours at the railway station before bridges close again and you will be able to get to the center.

From Tallinn to Saint Petersburg by train

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Between Tallinn and Saint Petersburg there is also a night train. The schedule of which can be checked on this site, which is managed by the Estonian railways. This train arrives at Saint Petersburg’s Moskovsky railway station (wikipedia), which is conveniently located in the very center of the city.

From Minsk to Saint Petersburg by train

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There is a night train that leaves Minsk in the evening and arrives at Saint Petersburg the next morning. This might be a good alternative if you want to spend a couple of days in Minsk. You might need to get a Belarusian visa in this case though. Prices for this night train are usually between 50$ and 100$, depending on the kind of ticket you buy.

Prices and timetables for this train can be checked on the English version website of the Russian Railways.

To Saint Petersburg by Coach bus

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If you arrive to Saint Petersburg by coach you will usually arrive at the the Central coach station of the city, located at Obvodny channel embankment, 36. This is the not very helpful website of the central coach station (Russian language only). The central coach station is located in the center of the city, so it shouldn’t be a problem to arrive at night during navigation season if your accommodation is also in the center.

From Helsinki to Saint Petersburg by bus

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There are excellent affordable coaches running between Helsinki and Saint Petersburg. One of the most affordable is from Luxexpress, which offers tickets between the cities from 10 Euro (usually you will pay at least twice that amount, but that is still an affordable amount for an almost 400-kilometer drive). The journey takes about 8 hours by coach, which seems like a lot for this distance, but it takes some time to cross the border.

From Tallinn to Saint Petersburg by bus

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There is also a good bus connection between Tallinn and Saint Petersburg. Several companies, like the above mentioned  Luxexpress  have daily busses driving to Saint Petersburg and back. The bus takes about 8 hours to get from the Estonian capital to Saint Petersburg. Again it usually takes quite a lot of time to cross the border by bus.

From Minsk to Saint Petersburg by bus

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From Minsk there is an overnight bus to Saint Petersburg, which takes between 13 and 15 hours to get there. A ticket costs with Ecolines costs usually around 30$ with ecolines. I have never tried this route and would be a bit apprehensive about sitting in the coach for so long. It is cheaper than the train though.

To Saint Petersburg by minibus

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Minibuses (маршрутки in Russian) are probably the cheapest way to get to Saint Petersburg.  

From Helsinki to Saint Petersburg by minibus

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You can catch a minibus from Helsinki to Saint Petersburg for as little as 800 rubles (around 13$), according to the current exchange rate. The company AMG travel actually has a surprisingly decent looking English language site, with pictures of the pickup points. In Saint Petersburg they will drop you on Vosstanya Square, in front of the Moskovsky railway station, in the very centre of Saint Petersburg.

From Tallinn to Saint Petersburg by minibus

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There’s a company called Baltic business travel ( Балтик Бизнес Трэвл in Russian). Their site is in Russian only. They offer to take you from Tallinn to Saint Petersburg for as little as 20$. If you don’t speak any Russian this might not be the best option for you though. The final stop of this minibus will also be Vosstaniya square in the very center of the city.

To Saint Petersburg in someone else’s car

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With services like blablacar you might be able to get a ride to Saint Petersburg for the same price as a minibus, but slightly more comfortable. But, obviously, you have to be lucky that someone is actually looking for extra passengers.

To Saint Petersburg in your own car

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If you are a very adventurous kind of person, you could even consider driving to Saint Petersburg by yourself. This is not for the faint of heart, but on the upside: gas is cheap in Russia – at least compared to Western Europe.

Your paperwork should be in order when you drive your own car to Russia. Your car needs to be insured in Russia. I heard it is possible to buy this insurance at gas stations close to the border crossing. This insurance costs about €35 per car.

Besides the insurance, your car should also be equipped with a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit with things like bandages.

A car with foreign license plates might attract more attention in Russia, but according to most people it doesn’t attract that much unsolicited attention.

To Saint Petersburg by Boat/ ferry

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It is always a unique experience to enter a city by boat in my experience. It is great to enter a city from the water, because of the views and the unique perspective you get from the water.

Another important upside of travelling by boat is that you have more space. Obviously, this is an important plus especially if you’re tall. But not only tall people like myself can appreciate the luxury of being able to walk around a ship, rather than being crammed into a small airline seat.

Also in today’s day and age, when it seems that everything has to be done ever quicker, it can be nice to choose the slower option and take your time to slowly approach your destination. It takes courage not to hurry.

What’s also nice about travelling by boat is that the passengers usually have the time to get to know each other and after a while the boat and its passengers will be like a small town with its inhabitants moving along the water.

72  hours visa free stay for participants in a cruise

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Tourists, who come to Saint Petersburg by boat are allowed to reside in Russia for 72 hours without a visa. To fall under this visa-free exception the ferry company must have a special license and the tourist should live either on board of the ferry or in another place that is reserved for the group of tourists. It is important that you leave Russia the same way you came, so also by ferry. The ferry companies can provide you with additional information about the possibilities of visa free travel.  

From Helsinki to Saint Petersburg by boat

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The cheapest one-way ticket from Helsinki to Saint Petersburg that I have seen is from the ferry company st Peterline. It costs €42.50 , which isn’t too bad, but, of course there are many more expensive options. Comfort is something that you should pay for. Usually the trip will be overnight and will take at least 14 hours.

From Tallinn to Saint Petersburg by boat

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Peterline, the same Ferry company that also organizes cruises from Helsinki to Petersburg also has cruises from Tallinn to Saint Petersburg, which, if I am not mistaken, are on the same boat. Saint Petersburg is, however, not the first stop on this boat. First you will be heading to Stockholm, where you’ll arrive in the morning and leave in the evening. From Stockholm you’ll be travelling to Helsinki, where you’ll also arrive in the morning and depart in the evening. Only 2.5 days after having left Tallinn on the boat from Peterline will you finally arrive in Saint Petersburg. So this is definitely not the quickest route, but it seems like an interesting way to get to see several other cities in a short period of time. Since you’ll have to spend much more time on board of this ship, prices are higher from Tallinn than from Helsinki. The cheapest ticket I have seen is €167. Still not too bad for a 2.5 day cruise I think.

From Stockholm to Saint Petersburg by boat

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Yes, this is the same ferry company as above, Peterline. And the same route. So, after leaving Stockholm in the evening you will arrive at Helsinki in the morning of the next day. You’ll have one day to walk around the Finnish capital and the next evening you’ll get back on the boat to arrive at Saint Petersburg the morning after. A nice short trip of 1,5 days. I have seen tickets that cost €109- maybe not something for the hardcore budget traveller, but definitely not super expensive either.

Conclusion

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I hope this overview of ways to get to Saint Petersburg is useful to you. How do you plan to travel to Saint Petersburg or how have you travelled there before? Leave a comment below.

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