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Helsinki, Norway and St Petersburg

Travel Forums Europe Helsinki, Norway and St Petersburg

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1. Posted by tehsi (Budding Member 47 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

My dad has a day course in Helsinki early June 2017 and we plan to take the opportunity to travel around the Scandinavia (probably not all) as we are quite short of time.

All in all, we have approximately 7 days +- and one day will be taken up for the course. None of us (in a group of 4) has ever set foot in the Scandinavian countries and given the not-so-long break we have, we would like to cover St Petersburg, Helsinki and Norway, well at least that's our plan for the time being.

Anyone can give us any advise on itinerary and places to go and what are the "must see & must do"... we are not so into museums so maybe just one museum to know the history. otherwise, we are more into sight seeing and get "wow" by the nature.

Also on the connectivity between these cities. should we opt for train (Helsinki to St PB) and fly to Norway (Fjords etc)

Thank you very much in advance.


2. Posted by AndyF (Moderator 996 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

I would want a few days in St Petersburg, both to see the sights and to justify the hassle and expense of the visa process. Check what that will entail for you before proceeding too far with your plans - for us Brits it now includes a trip to London for interview and fingerprinting at the embassy.

I'd find it hard to get a taste of Norway in your remaining few days. Maybe the popular "Norway in a nutshell" tour would work for you: Oslo to Bergen by train, with a detour on the Myrdal to Flam branch line. This is a single day trip; you could fly back, and spend some time in both Oslo and Bergen. However, I'd personally want to drive or cruise around the fjordlands to get a proper feeling of the place.

From Helsinki it is easy to take a ferry over to Tallinn for the day; a very rewarding trip as you can see the old town easily on foot as well as a taste of the Tsars' Russia, great if you don't end up going to St Petersburg.

3. Posted by mapsandmoxie (Full Member 196 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

7 days is tight, and I think you're trying to cover too much ground.

I might suggest St. Petersburg by boat across from Helsinki for 3 days. There's a unique visa agreement when arriving by boat and only staying 3 days if you take certain routes, and all the travel time is overnight so you don't lose much of your time. I know that of these, St Peter's Line goes from Helsinki or Tallinn, and would cover your accommodation for 2 nights as well. Prices may have changed from when I was there, but it was quite reasonable.

That would only leave 4 days, which personally, I would spend predominantly in Tallinn over Helsinki, but the time could easily be split across the 2. As Andyf has suggested, it's only an easy ferry ride across the sea.

Alternatively, you could spend the entirety of the time remaining in Helsinki and do a day trip up the coast, to Porvoo, or inland to Tampere or another city.

Given your time frame, I'd skip Norway altogether and leave it for another trip. Ideally, you'd want a couple days each in Oslo and Bergen, and possibly time in Stavanger or Fläm, which means a lot of additional travelling and rushing around.

4. Posted by AndyF (Moderator 996 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

I've heard before about the St Petersburg visa loophole, from what I read a few years ago it was intended for cruise ship pax on shore tours and included the stipulation that they be on a prebooked excursion.

Do you know if that is something to worry about, or in reality no problem?

5. Posted by hasbeen (Travel Guru 1260 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

Quoting Andyf

I've heard before about the St Petersburg visa loophole, from what I read a few years ago it was intended for cruise ship pax on shore tours and included the stipulation that they be on a prebooked excursion.

Do you know if that is something to worry about, or in reality no problem?

I have been on a Princess cruise that stopped in St.Petersburg for 3 days & the no visa rule for that was that one had to be on an excursion booked with the ship or a company on shore .. one had to stay on the ship overnight .. I understood I would have to stay with the tour guide all of the time but she let us go off on our own while she took some of the group went elsewhere. I met up with her later for the drive back to the ship.

The cruise also offered excursions that overnighted in Moscow .. a visa was required for that.

One day I was ill & could not attend the ballet that evening so I gave the ticket to the nurse, a crew member .. immigration would not let her go ashore because the name on the ticket & her name were not the same.


6. Posted by berner256 (Moderator 974 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

With such limited time, you really should stick to Finland. But flights to Oslo from Helsinki are inexpensive. Also, Norwegian Air has a nonstop flight from Oslo to Bangkok, also at a low fare. And you can easily reach KL from Bangkok.

Visiting St. Petersburg might not be feasible, unless you purchase a tour. Since you're from Malaysia, check first with the Russian Embassy in KL. For U.S. citizens arriving in St. Petersburg by ship (cruise line, or ferry), here's what the State Department says:

"Passengers of Cruise Ships and Ferries at St. Petersburg and Vladivostok are permitted to stay in Russia for 72 hours without a visa when accompanied by a tour operator licensed by Russian authorities. Ferry schedules may not permit visitors to stay more than two nights without exceeding the 72 hour limit. If you plan to sightsee on your own you must have a tourist visa. A visa is also required if you plan to depart Russia by another mode of transportation. Riverboat cruise passengers must have a visa and must follow the general guidelines for entry/exit requirements. U.S. citizens entering Russia as cruise passengers should be aware that a number of active duty and retired U.S. military members have experienced targeted harassment by the Russian authorities."

If you had more time, I'd suggest a Hurtigruten cruise along the coast of Norway. See this link for some ideas:

7. Posted by mapsandmoxie (Full Member 196 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

If you take St. Peter's Line, I believe I booked a cheap excursion (under 25 euro) to meet the requirement, but didn't actually complete it. You do not have to return to the boat during the 72 hours, and need to find your own accommodation, see whatever other sites you want. It's a great little loophole if you're nearby and want a taste of Russia without all the hassle of the visas. See their link below for more information:

I am aware that this is not the case for anyone travelling overland, or with other carriers (although there may be some exceptions for one or two now that weren't available when I was there). My hostel there was only about 16 CAD in 2015, and if I recall it was around 100-150 CAD for the boat there and back, including the "excursion".

June is also when you would catch the midnight sun in St. Petersburg, and is worth a visit.

8. Posted by AndyF (Moderator 996 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

Another concern I have with trying to use the visa loophole is that Russian police have a reputation for targeting darker-skinned people, whether for genuine document checks or bribe scams. As a white man with close cropped hair I'm fortunate enough to get taken for a Russian and have never had any hassle, but stories told by Russian friends suggest that obvious foreigners don't fare so well. Part of this targeting is looking for caucasus terrorists, so maybe Malaysians would be fine. But being picked up with no visa and being found to be not quite within the visa rules may spoil your time there by wasting it in a police station.

Another idea from Helsinki is the overnight ferries to Stockholm. The Scandinavian capitals are all worthwhile to visit and I think Stockholm would be as rewarding to visit as Oslo. This has the advantage of travelling overnight and maximising your daytime in your destinations.

[ Edit: Edited on 31-Jan-2017, at 01:23 by Andyf ]

9. Posted by mapsandmoxie (Full Member 196 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

I found St. Petersburg police were hesitant to talk to non-Russia speakers and in general people were very friendly towards tourists as they get so many from cruise ships. It is within the visa regulations as the "excursion" booked was a bus tour of the city and these lines were created for it. And there is nothing to say that you have to be on the excursion the entirety of the time you are on Russian soil. I don't know about Russia in general but there were a couple of Asian guys in the hostel that i stayed in that didn't have any trouble. I also met a black man that has been living in St. Petersburg for school and he loved it there.

Obviously, I wouldn't suggest leaving st Petersburg while on the 72 hour rule by boat, although I did meet people that had and were fine.

I do agree that Stockholm would be a good alternative as well, but I'd also want a good 2-3 days there. With only a week, Tallinn, Helsinki and possibly a day trip elsewhere up the coast or to porvoo are plenty to see as well without travelling further.

10. Posted by Shooter632 (Budding Member 8 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

You dont have very much time to look at everything. Norway itself is so beautiful summer or winter and you could spend your entire time in one area there. My tip is, whereever you are get out into the countryside