There are numerous ways to reach the Baltics by sea, providing for a slower but certainly more nostalgic journey. You can sail directly from Finland or Russia to Estonia; from Germany to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia; from Denmark to Lithuania; and from Sweden to all three Baltic countries. The Tallinn–Helsinki route has so many competing services that you should have no difficulty in getting a passage any day, but some of the other services – notably Tallinn from Stockholm and the cargo ferries to Denmark – can get booked up far in advance.
Schedules and fares change frequently – double-check both when you are planning your trip. Most ferry and hydrofoil operators keep updated schedules and fares on the Internet. Between Helsinki and Tallinn, most operators offer special deals for families and serial tickets for frequent passengers. A return Tallinn–Helsinki ticket with Nordic Jet yields a 50% discount on any return ticket with Finnish Railways VR.
Recently out of commission to receive a substantial upgrade, the ferry Sea Corona operated by Scandlines (www.scandlines.de) is a good bet and should be up and running. Plans were in the works for the former cargo boat to accommodate 300 passengers on its twice-weekly voyages between Ârhus, Denmark, and Klaipėda, stopping also at Aabenraa, Denmark.
Lisco Lines’ twice-weekly cargo ferry between Klaipėda and Copenhagen (22 hours) offers a very limited amount of car and passenger space. Tickets must be bought months in advance from any Lisco Lines or Krantas Shipping office.
A fleet of ferries now carries well over two million people each year across the 80km Gulf of Finland separating Helsinki and Tallinn. There are dozens of crossings made each way every day (ships 3½ hours year-round; hydrofoils 1½ hours May to October only). Note that in high winds or bad weather, the faster boats are often cancelled. Fares vary widely, depending on season, day and time of travel, and other factors – like whether there’s a crisis in the world oil market. Fares are generally higher on Friday evening and Saturday.
On most ferry lines, students and seniors can get a 10% discount, children between ages six and 12 pay about half price and those under six ride for free.
Year-round, Tallink (www.tallink.ee; Laikmaa tänav 5) runs the large passenger and vehicle ferries the M/S Meloodia and M/S Romantika. Each makes one crossing in each direction daily (3½ hours), using Terminal A in Tallinn and Länsi Terminal in Helsinki. Tickets are cheaper on Monday to Thursday and for departures after 6.30pm from Tallinn or before 1pm from Helsinki. Ballpark high season (July to mid-August) fares for adults start around €18, with a vehicle adding an extra €18. Tickets are available at their office on Laikmaa tänav.
Far more popular than its lumbering old ferries are Tallink’s zippy hydrofoils, which transport foot passengers and vehicles. The Autoexpress makes at least 12 departures daily (adult/vehicle from €34/25, 1¾ hours) between 7am or 8am and 10pm (8pm Monday to Wednesday). In Tallinn, these hydrofoils depart from Terminal D. In Helsinki, Tallink ferries and hydrofoils use Länsi Terminal, where you can buy tickets.
Silja Line’s SuperSeaCatFour travels five to seven times daily between Tallinn’s Terminal D and Helsinki’s Olympia Terminal (from €26 to €70, 1¾ hours). Purchase tickets at the Silja Line (www.siljaline.se) window at the Makasiini terminal. In Tallinn, the Silja Line office (Tel: 611 6661; www.silja.ee) is on the 5th floor of the Stockmann Kaubamaja (department store) in Tallinn.
Eckerö Line’s Nordlandia ferry, big enough to hold 2000 passengers and 450 cars, sails once daily back and forth from Tallinn to Helsinki year-round (adult/car from €20/€20, 3½ hours). It uses Terminal B in Tallinn and Länsi terminal in Helsinki.
Tickets are sold in Tallinn at Eckerö Line (www.eckeroline.ee) in Terminal B, and in Helsinki at Eckerö Line (%09-228 8544; Mannerheimintie 10) at Länsi Terminal.
Nordic Jet Line
Nordic Jet runs two sleek, 450-seat jet catamarans, Nordic Jet and Baltic Jet, between Tallinn and Helsinki. They sail early May to December (depending on the weather); and there are seven crossings a day (adult/car from €24/€28, 1¾ hours), docking at Terminal C in Tallinn.
In Helsinki, Nordic Jet (www.njl.info) uses the catamaran harbour at Kanava Terminal (Kanavaterminaali). The Nordic Jet office in Tallinn is in Terminal C.
Linda Line Express
The Linda Line Express is a small, independent hydrofoil company, the vessels of which plough the waters between Tallinn and Helsinki (adult from €22, 1½ hours) seven times daily May to September. All Linda Line vessels stop sailing in October when the waters ice over.
Linda Line Express hydrofoils arrive and depart from the Linnahall Terminal in Tallinn and the South Port (Makasiinterminaal) in Helsinki. In the Finnish capital, contact Linda Line (www.lindaline.fi). In Tallinn, purchase tickets from the Linda Line Express office (www.lindaliini.ee) in Linnahall Terminal.
Viking Line operates the giant car ferry Rosella, which has two departures daily from each port (adult/car from €15/€22, three hours). The Rosella uses Tallinn Terminal A and Helsinki’s Katajanokka terminal. In the Finnish capital, contact the Viking Line office (www.vikingline.ee; Mannerheimintie 14). In Tallinn, purchase tickets from the Viking Line (www.vikingline.ee) office in Terminal A.