Surprise I’m in Russia!
Time and time again, the theory that the best things happen when you least expect them is proven true. While relaxing at my hostel in Tallinn, the idea of visiting St. Petersburg, Russia was brought up. Myself and a fellow American traveler quickly shut it down because of the lengthy visa requirements for American citizens… but out of the heavens came a voice – well from the guy at the front desk:
“You can visit Russia by cruise for 72 hours, visa-free from Helsinki, Finland”
Yes. It’s fantastically true. You can take a St. Peter’s Line ferry/cruise for a max of 72 hours to St. Petersburg, Russia. Now, we had to learn the hard way for most of the trip because the website for the cruise was terrible with details. (Post updated 2017) But I’ve created this guide so you can have a wonderful, seamless trip!
Keep reading if you want to know how to visit St. Petersburg for 72 hours without getting a visa in advance
The Main Points
- This is applicable for American citizens (not sure for other passport holders)
- You can (currently) only do this via St. Peter’s Line
- It is only available from Helsinki
- You can spend of maximum of 72 hours in St. Petersburg (not including ferry transport time)
- You must book accommodations in St. Petersburg (cannot leave luggage on ferry)
- You must purchase a shuttle bus ticket with your ferry ticket (Russia requires a booked “tour”)
- You must keep your departure card. Do not lose this, it is technically your visa!
How to Book
So you can stay visa-free for 72 hours on Russian soil via a St. Peter’s Line cruise from Helsinki, Finland. The cruise leaves at night, you sleep in your assigned cabin, and arrive about 9:30am the following day. You must take all your bags OFF the boat and spend 2 nights at a hostel or hotel. The boat leaves on the last day around 6pm and you spend that night on the ship in a new room.
MAKE SURE you book the cruise that actually gives you 72 hours in Russia NOT just a 72 hour trip. The website was unclear with when you actually arrive and depart. We accidentally booked a 1 DAY cruise and had to rebook a new ferry for 2 days later upon arrival. Everyone was extremely helpful to us though and even packed our bags in the cabin and brought them to us since we couldn’t re-board to get them.
When booking your trip online, you must also purchase a shuttle bus ticket when you book your cruise (it will force you to buy it, it’s 25$). This is because a stipulation of being able to stay visa-free is that you have a “tour” while in country. All this is is a shuttle bus to the center of town that you take from the port.
The cruise line gives you an arrival and departure card which acts as a visa. You give them the arrival card when you go through customs at the port and when you leave you give them the departure card. You get a stamp in your passport as well, so make sure you have enough pages.
Again, the website is still pretty confusing about the duration of the cruise, departure arrival times, when boarding closes, etc. Make sure you are early for boarding (boarding closes 30 minutes before departure in Helsinki and 1 hour in St. Petersburg). We cut it very close in Helsinki and had to have them phone border patrol and reopen customs to get us through.
Tips while you’re there…
There are no ATMs on the boat, so you can withdraw Russian Rupels at the port. I suggest about 3000 for the stay. Most hostels require payment in cash and on average I’d say only 1/2 the bars and shops take card.
Not many people speak English, but most everyone is always willing to help and point you in the right direction. The main area to go out at night is Dumskaya street, a line of bars and clubs that are almost always packed, and the main street to stay/eat on is Nevsky Prospect.
Read the Ultimate Weekend Travel Guide to St. Petersburg for your trip!
I was a tad nervous in the hours leading up to our departure but the trip was so worth the confusion in planning. Of course, 72 is not nearly enough to get the full experience, but I’m so grateful I got the time I did and I certainly hope to return some day. Well, that’s about it! Feel free to contact me for more details if you’re interested in visiting!