Weekend Away: St. Petersburg, Russia

Russia has its fair share of red tape, but it shouldn’t it be skipped! Especially if you’re already in Finland.

Many Finns and expats in Finland I’ve talked to have said that they’ve been planning on going to St. Petersburg for “forever” but it’s just too complicated. Excuses, excuses, I say.

Well, it’s not that complicated. It’s really not, and I’ll tell you how.

I don’t speak the language.

Many Russians do, in fact, speak some English – especially the younger generations. I might even go so far as to say that you’ll get by with more English in St. Petersburg than many other countries in Europe (think Italy, Spain, Greece, etc.) that we consider to be less intimidating.

Worried about the Cyrillic alphabet? Most signs you need to get around the city have either been translated or transliterated using the Latin alphabet.

Getting a visa will be headache.

The visa process has never been easier, especially in Finland. By default, Finnish nationals will receive three-year tourist visas with a successful application. The U.S. and Russia have an agreement (that was made before the conflict in Ukraine began) to issue three-year visas on a reciprocal basis for tourist, business, and private visas.

Because so many people apply for Russian visas in Finland, there is a special service that will handle the application process for you for a fee of 26 euros. This is in addition to the cost of the visa itself, which ranges from 100-200 euros depending on your nationality. You must be a resident of Finland, however, to use the service.

When I applied, it cost me around 160 euros and I received my three-year visa within a week. Easy peasy!

It takes forever to cross the border.

If you’re willing to shell out a bit more money to save time, the Allegro train is for you. It takes just three and a half hours to get to St. Petersburg with all border and customs control on board. It is by far the fastest and most comfortable way to get from Finland to Russia and vice versa.

If, however, you’re traveling on a budget then check out Lux Express. The journey time is significantly longer but the ride is still comfortable, with free Wi-Fi and coffee on many of the routes.

Isn’t it dangerous there?

Don’t get wrapped up in Russia’s Hollywood portrayal. Yes – just like in any major city – you should always be cautious when travelling in a new city, and keep a careful eye on your belongings. But not every Russian is a member of the mafia and they’re not out to get you.

The worst thing that could happen (as long as you’re not looking for trouble) would be losing your documents and not making your return trip, or being pick-pocketed. But that’s not the end of the world. These things happen, and there are procedures in place to get you back to Finland.

Here are a few tips to keep your belongings safe:

  • Make photocopies of your travel documents and leave your passport at the hotel
  • Be aware of your belongings in the metro and at major tourist attractions
  • Don’t carry large sums of cash with you and keep a back-up credit card at the hotel
  • Don’t walk alone at night in unfamiliar neighborhoods and use official taxis (this has been much less of a problem with the rise of services like Uber, Gett, and Yandex Taxi which work great in Russia)

Overall, traveling from Finland to Russia is much easier than you think, and it’s well worth it. I went for Midsummer weekend and it was a fantastic trip and travelling there was smooth sailing.

I’m happy to answer any questions on traveling to and inside of Russia and look forward to hearing if you have any other tips!



10 thoughts on “Weekend Away: St. Petersburg, Russia”

  1. We took a cruise to avoid the visa hassle, and it was well worth it even with a tour. I’m thinking of going back next year for the World Cup, when there will be visa waivers for any ticket holders. Worth the hassle though! #FarawayFiles

    1. Hey, that’s a great excuse for people to go! When I was there this weekend they had the same system for the FIFA Confederations Cup and that was easy enough, so hopefully that make it an even smoother process for the World Cup. Good thinkin!

  2. Really useful – I hadn’t realised it was this easy from Finland. I’ve wondered about the cruises as you get 48h without a visa but Helsinki and St Petersburg would be tempting. #farawayfiles

  3. My mother was in love with St. Petersburg and we used to travel there at least once, if not twice a year when I was a kid. I remember the opulent palaces, and canals lined up with beautiful houses, and the breathtaking churches. I think this is a city that would inspire anyone to pick up a brush and start painting. It’s my opinion, at least. I hope to go back one day. The funny thing is that we actually traveled from St. Petersburg to Finland one time 🙂 Your post brought back lots of dear memories, even though it was a down-to-earth informational piece. Glad I found your blog Annie! xoxo, nano |

  4. Great tips! I’ll definitely refer back to them if I ever reach St Petersburg. It’s one of Europe’s classic cities isnt it? Thanks for joining #FarawayFiles

  5. I’ve never really thought of visiting St Petersburg but my partner went there on a school trip (many years ago, from Ireland) and always raves about it. Perhaps one day….. #farawayfiles

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