Planning a trip by cruise ship or ferry to St Petersburg, Russia? If so, learn more on your Baltic Cruise with our best insights and recommendations.
In the last few years, travelling by cruise ship or ferry to St Petersburg has become one of the most popular ways to get to Russia. Currently, more than 600,000 passengers come to visit St. Petersburg on a cruise ship because it is fun, easy, and relaxing. And, it can be a romantic idea for a weekend getaway or a great short break destination in summer.
By sea, you can enjoy a wonderful scenery
across the Baltic Sea and the Scandinavian coastlines while drinking, eating, and relaxing on the ship, and most importantly, you will be able to enter Russia without a Visa by taking advantage of a little loophole.
Many first-time visitors from the USA and Canada choose to cruise on a big ship liner, while others, mostly Europeans such Germans, prefer to come on a ferry cruise. Naturally, between ferries and cruise liners, there are some differences when it comes to cost, comfort, and onboard service but there are also some tiny travel restrictions on arrival that may limit your visit to the cultural capital of Russia.
Cruise ships tend to be more expensive than Ferries for obvious reasons, but nowadays both are easy ways to travel to Russia thanks to the new law that allows cruise ship passengers to visit the city of St Petersburg without Russian visa for up 72 hours if they meet certain requirements (more on that later).
This magical visit Russia visa free loophole is available only by
cruise. It is operated exclusively via the St Peter line ferry onboard Princess Anastasia as well as via several international major cruise liners (see list at the end of the page).
We, Anastasia and I (Davide), have been travelling by ferry to St Petersburg on several occasions, and we still remember that time when we were chilling out on the deck and looking at the beautiful Baltic Sea and blue Gulf of Finland while passing through the coastlines of Finland and Estonia on the way to Russia. It was amazing!☺
Now let's get into the content of ferry to St Petersburg and see what cruise ship or ferry you should keep an eye on to get here. To get started just click on the links below or scroll down the page. Happy reading!
Saint Petersburg, sitting at the eastern
of the Baltic Sea, has been a major port city and an attractive
destination for sea travellers since its foundation by Peter the Great. So getting to Russia's Imperial Capital by sea won't be difficult, but just a long pleasant trip.
Today, if you would like to travel by sea you have two options: you can take one of the major international ship cruise lines such as Princess, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Carnival,
Cunard Line, Celebrity, MSC, and so forth. Or you can take the popular St. Peter Line Ferry, the only operator offering both a ferry cruise and a cargo ship directly to Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Alternatively, if you are looking for other options that are not going direct to St. Petersburg, then you could also take a ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki and from Stockholm to Tallinn, including from/to Riga with Tallink & Silja Lines or Viking Cruises. Both are two established European shipping companies offering access to the entire Baltic Sea region with the most modern fleet. From there, you can continue your trip to St Petersburg by bus, by train, or by car.
If you are on a tight budget then you could also try your luck with freight travel.
We know that there is a direct ferry to St. Petersburg, Russia from
countries such as Germany, Poland, Spain, UK, Belgium, Denmark, Finland,
Estonia, and Sweden operated by Finnlines Cargo-Passengers Ships, but we're not sure if they still board passengers, so before you go check the company for yourself.
The most popular routes by ferry or cruise ship from Northern Europe are Helsinki to St. Petersburg, Stockholm to Helsinki and St. Petersburg, or Tallinn to St. Petersburg or Stockholm, and reverse. Instead, all the international ship cruise lines have a route to St. Petersburg, but they include several stops in some European capital cities, and even worldwide, if you board from the USA, China, or Australia for instance.
Speaking of travel time, if you travel by ferry to St Petersburg from the Baltic States it may take from 14hrs to 38hrs,
depending on the route chosen. Instead, if you're going with one of the
international ship cruises it may take days or even weeks.
Going on a cruise ship is totally a different travel experience than
going on a ferry to St Petersburg. Cruise ships are ships to entertain passengers,
and a big cruise ship lasts for 1 or 2 weeks. Ferries, on the other hand, are
used to only transport passengers (or cargo) from one point to another and they are cheaper.
If you travel on a big ship cruise, for example, with Princess, Carnival, or Costa cruises, you can make friends on board, relax with all the services provided (sauna, massage, gym, swimming pool, jacuzzi, etc), sleep comfortably, eat delicious food a' la carte, and enjoy the onboard entertainment (shows, night clubs, bars, casino, etc) together with great sea scenery.
On the contrary, if you go on a ferry to St Petersburg, for example, with St. Peter Line Ferry you can relax on the deck and have a meal or drink and enjoy your cruise by watching the Gulf of Finland but don't expect any luxury. The ship is vintage with fake gold handrails, dark maroon carpets, and basic sparse cabins.
Based on our research we can tell you that nowadays most people prefer big ship cruises to ferries because they're all-inclusive, very comfortable, and give you the chance to truly unplug and see more cities along the way. However, you should know that between the two ships there is also another difference, which is notable and lies on the Visa loophole.
When you arrive in Saint Petersburg by an international ship cruise in order to go ashore you must book a group tour offered by the cruise company (This option gives you less freedom of movement unless you book an alternative tour with an authorized local company). Instead, if you arrive with St. Peter Line in order to leave the ship you must book the mandatory city bus tour along with other things (This option gives you complete freedom to wander off in the city alone but you may feel disoriented without any guide).
speaking, for the greatest amount of freedom of movement, it is worth
the effort to obtain a Russian Tourist Visa. Today the Visa
not arduous or slower or costly as it used to be in the past but it is
very easy to do it. With a visa, you can freely come and go from
the ship as you please without being tied to any guided tour unless you
want one, and you can visit other Russian cities.
Lastly, but no less important, the cruise ticket price varies according to the cabin category and cruise package you choose, the season you are travelling, and the time or date you are planning to leave. Our advice is to plan your trip via ferry to St Petersburg early. And, most importantly, don't forget to book your sightseeing program in the city before you go as you will surely need and should have one regardless of how you come.
If you're thinking to go via ferry to St Petersburg, remember that currently, the only ferry operator working this route is St. Peter Line. The ship sails from Stockholm, Helsinki, and Tallinn directly to St. Petersburg and reverse. Here is a short introduction to the company.
The St. Peter Line is a famous
Russian based ferry operator that offers moderate high-class Baltic cruises on
Princess Maria and Princess Anastasia ferries, as well as on a regular cargo
ship. Today, the company is owned by Moby SPL Limited.
Cargo ship won't be of interest we think, so let's look in more details at the two most popular cruise ferries, Princess Maria and her sister Anastasia, the only options that will bring you directly to St Petersburg Visa-free if you decide to go with them of course.☺
As far as we know, these ferries were named after daughters of the last Russian tsar, who were murdered by the Bolshevik secret police after the Red Revolution. They both offer a good level of service and entertainment onboard but not similar to those big cruise liners. However, cabins are basic by cruise standards but lavish compared to a ferry. Lucky for you the prices are more like ferries too.
To give you an indication of the prices, a one-way trip starts at €38/$43 in a shared cabin below the car deck, while a two-berth cabin on an upper deck starts at €165/$186. Alternatively, a B-class private cabin for yourself, both ways, costs around €356/$400 (including the mandatory city bus tour).
Certainly, you could economize your journey by
buying a special offer package, sharing a cabin with someone else, or booking a few months early. Just do your research and book in advance!
On the ship you can expect a few cruise-ship features, such as an entertainment lounge, casino, tax-free shop, cinema, sauna, and even a small swimming pool deep in the bowels of the ship.
Not too bad for being a mix of a ferry and cruise, is it? But there is more!
When taking St. Peter Line, you can also benefit from luggage delivery to your cabin,
hotel or excursions packages, and you can even bring your pet onboard, at a price obviously. But the best part, the one we suppose why you might choose to go with them, is that if you buy their city bus tour at the same time as you book your ferry trip, you qualify for the 72 hours visa-free rule.
This mandatory city bus tour is actually no
more than a shuttle bus that would take you to the city from the port and back to the port. It costs 25Euro per person and set you free up to 72 hours. However, keep in mind that you are not hiring a tour guide but you are buying a shuttle bus ticket only. So, if you need a local guide to tour the city you will need to book one separately.
That said, the difference between the two ships is their sea route.
If you sail with Princess Maria, you will cruise directly from Helsinki to St. Petersburg, and reverse (average time 15 hrs), while if you sail with Princess Anastasia, you will cruise from Stockholm to St. Petersburg or from Tallinn to St. Petersburg, and reverse (average time 40 hrs).
If you're wondering where to buy the ticket for your ferry to St Petersburg you basically have two options: you can ask a travel agency or book online directly through the ferry or ship cruise company.
The best thing to do would be to find the website for the cruise company of your choice, and then see if they provide a ticket reservation service online. Alternatively, you can find a travel agency that represents the cruise company you have chosen and ask them to arrange the tickets for you. Nowadays there are many Baltic tours available and so many travel agencies you can contact, so choose well!
Remember, by buying online, you can avoid the inflated prices of some tour operators or the travel agent service fees, and you won't need to call or go to the agency. So, online is really the way to go as you can get a better deal while booking comfortably from your home.
To find the best cruise deals you should start looking through some of the most popular cruise search engines such as Expedia, Kayak, CruiseDirect, CruiseCritic, CruiseWatch, to name just a few. However, keep in mind that these cruise websites are actually a cruise line’s own site - since technically, cruise booking websites aren’t allowed to undercut the prices that the cruise lines set.
Our best recommendation when buying your cruise tickets is to keep your schedule flexible. Play around with the dates of sailing to ensure you maximize your visa-free period.☺
If you plan a trip by ship or ferry to St Petersburg you must know that to qualify for the Visa-free access you have to meet some requirements, which between the one and the other are slightly different.
So Read on carefully...
If you arrive on an international cruise ship in Saint Petersburg, Russia you can go ashore on the condition that you stay no longer than 72 hours, you are accompanied by an authorized tour guide, and stay overnight in the ship. This means that from the moment you leave the ship in the morning (usually about 8 AM) until the moment you return to it (around 5 PM), you will have to follow the arranged schedule and you will not have the opportunity to visit the city or other cities on your own.
Please note that this regulation applies not only if you arrive in Saint Petersburg but also if you arrive from any of the following Russian ports: Anadyr, Arkhangelsk, Kaliningrad, Korsakov, Novorossiysk, Murmansk, Sevastopol, Sochi, Vladivostok, Vyborg, and Zarubino.
On the contrary, if you arrive with St. Peter Line Ferry you can go ashore on the condition that you stay no longer than 72 hours, you book accommodation by yourself (Hotel, Hostels, or Flat), and you buy a round-trip ticket with the same company.
In addition to that, you must also book a "City Bus Tour", which has nothing to do with an organized excursion group but it has the pretense to do so. This way the ferry trip is classified as a cruise ship and you can benefit from this visa loophole.
For your information, the city bus tour through St. Peter Line is actually no more than a shuttle bus that would take you from the port to the city center of St.Petersburg to the St.Isaac’s Square and reverse. As soon as the driver drops you off you're free to go anywhere in the city without a tour guide, free to use public transportation, visit museums, palaces, monuments, theaters, Russian restaurants, shops, etc.
Speaking of the tours, we don't recommend package shore tours
provided by the ship cruises because most of the time they offer only
expensive standard city tours in large groups with zero flexibility. Instead, if
you book a private tour with a local company you are sure to get a
better introduction to the city, have fun and see more. Also, you enjoy much more freedom of movement and
choice because you can choose what to see and what to do.
We do also recommend booking a private guided tour even if you take advantage of the Visa loophole offered by St Peter Line Ferry because, with only 72 hrs, which effectively is only 2 nights stay and 1 day and half of sightseeing, you will not have enough time to see all the city's main attractions, especially if you plan to tour the city by yourself.
With the help and knowledge of a local guide, you are sure to maximize your cruise to St Petersburg and make your short visit an unforgettable vacation.☺
If you are wondering where your ship will dock when sailing to St Petersburg you should know that the city has two sea passenger terminals: one for sea passengers and one for river passengers.
If you will be travelling by cruise ship or ferry to St Petersburg, you will dock at the new Sea Passenger Port (Marine Facade), while if you will be travelling by ship via the Volga river, then you will dock at the old River Passengers Port (Rechnoy Vokzal).
Specifically, the new terminal of Marine Façade is the place where you will arrive when taking a ferry to St Petersburg with St. Peter Line or any other major ship cruise lines such as MSC, Norwegian Star, Queen Elizabeth, and so on (See the full list below).
Built-in 2011 and located in the Harbor of Vasilevsky Island the Sea Terminal Marine Facade comprises a modern building, with a total area of 18,500 square meters and landing-stages capable of taking four ships at once. Inside you will find comfortable and spacious arrival halls, ATM machines with a currency exchange function, cafes, a souvenir shop, post office, duty-free shop, information desk, VIP waiting area, and much more.
Today, the seaport handles more than 200,000 passengers each year and provides ferry connections with the cities of Tallinn, Helsinki, and Stockholm, and also sea trips, excursions, and cruises.
On the contrary, the old River Passenger Terminal Rechnoy Vokzal, welcomes all
Russian river cruises travelling on the Volga River between Moscow and St. Petersburg or between Moscow and Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Saratov, or Volgograd, including cruises on the river going vessels along the Neva as well to the islands of
Valaam and Kizhi (the most beautiful Russian islands located in the Ladoga lake).
If you're planning to go by ferry to St Petersburg, and you hold all the necessary documents to go ashore (your boarding card, city bus tour, and passport), then keep reading the information below, while if you are a cruise passenger skip this paragraph, as you cannot leave the ship on your own.
Upon your arrival in Saint Petersburg, from the Sea Passenger Port Terminal (Marine Facade) into the city you can take the Bus № 158 or the Minibus (Marshrutka) which goes to metro station Primorskaya (Green line), two stops from the famous Nevsky Prospekt in the city center. When you get off the bus, walk past the many shops and street vendors to get to the metro station.
If you don't like taking the bus or the subway, then you can always arrange a taxi from the information desk at the seaport to go downtown, or much better, you can book a taxi with us before you come.☺
The price should be less than €13 or $15 for a taxi, while 44Rubles (€0.50/$060) for the Marshrutka. The car trip from the port to the city is 40 Km and takes approximately 20 minutes.
However, if you travel by ferry to St Petersburg with St Peter Ferry Line, once you're outside look for the signs for the City Bus/Shuttle Bus with the Moby/St Peter logo, if you have booked a tour with them. There is a helpful attendant who will guide you to the right bus.
The bus is comfortable with space for luggage storage underneath. The journey into downtown St. Petersburg will take around 40 minutes. You will be dropped off at St Isaac’s Square near the beautiful St. Isaac Cathedral and the oldest Astoria Hotel.
Instead, if you arrive from the River Passenger Terminal (Rechnoy Vokzal) to the city you can easily walk to the nearest metro station Proletarskaya (Green line) - it takes about 10 minutes - and from there, take the metro, taxi, or bus to reach the central part of the city.
Below we have summed up what we think is the most important information you need to know to travel by ferry to St Petersburg. Hope you find our tips and recommendations helpful for the planning of your trip to St Petersburg, Russia.
Happy ferry to St Petersburg, Russia!☺
Below you can find a list of the main international cruise liners travelling to St. Petersburg, Russia.
Please note that all these cruise ships listed above arrive at “Marine Façade”, the maritime passenger
terminal of St. Petersburg located in the western part of Vasilievsky
Island. For more information about the seaport please click here.