Travel topics > Transportation > Boat travel > Ferries > Baltic Sea ferries
- This article is about cruise ferries local to the Baltic Sea. See Cruising the Baltic Sea for international cruise ships visiting the Baltic Sea, and Boating on the Baltic Sea for independent boating.
There are many passenger ferries crossing the Baltic Sea, between all countries along its coastlines. Those between Sweden and Finland are in Sweden called Finlandsbåt ("Finland boat"), while in Finland Ruotsinlaiva ("Sweden boat").
Most of these ferries carry car traffic between countries and often also function as cruise ships for short shopping trips of 2–48 hours. Evening departures on the lines in the triangle Stockholm–Turku/Helsinki–Tallinn are — especially during weekends and holidays — wild party cruises, with heavy drinking and crowded dance floors. Other cruises tend to be more laid-back, with a larger portion of travellers who actually intend to visit a foreign country. The ferries from Germany to Finland, and some of those between Sweden and Finland, are quiet and Spartan ropax ferries, concentrating on trucks but providing a good alternative for some travellers too. Historically a number of ferries also carried trains, but this has diminished with the construction of fixed links, the rise of aviation and the opening of many European borders. The only two such ferries that remain link Fehmarn and Denmark and serve the sea stretch on the Malmö - Berlin sleeper train. More such services exist for cargo.
If you have a day or more to spare in a city served by these ferries, consider a cruise. That would give low-cost accommodation, as well as a one-day stop in another city.
Occasional cruises are special events, such as music festivals or conferences. These might cost extra.
Ferries in general have on-line booking. Check for "Red tickets" or "Last minute offers" for cruises reaching Stockholm.
Note that both Viking and Tallink Silja may have a problem with accepting international credit cards. That is not a problem in practice, as you can make a booking and pay it in the port with only a token extra charge (€3–5).
If you intend to use the boats to travel between the cities, it is almost always cheaper to book a round-trip cruise (Sw: kryssning, Fi: risteily), or even two head-to-head cruises and discard the returns, rather than buy one-way tickets. Tickets can be had for as low as 80 SEK (USD $13, €10) for a full 4-person cabin, making it practically the cheapest accommodation one can find in a high-income country - at 10 SEK/night/person for a two-night Stockholm–Helsinki return cruise (provided you book early or last minute during the weekdays), and rarely (even for a weekend cruise in high season) exceeds 400 SEK for the cheapest 4-bed cabin. A one-way ticket, for a shared berth, in comparison, usually exceeds 1000 SEK.
- Birka Cruises offers cruises between Stockholm and Mariehamn (Åland), without the car ferry function.
- Tallink/Silja Line between Sweden, Finland and Baltic states is a mid-market carrier, offering good standard of food, accommodation and entertainment for road-trips and entertainment cruises. The Silja Line ships between Stockholm and Helsinki meets the standard of many cruise ships.
Northern and southern Baltic
- Finnlines links most countries with Baltic ports. Operates the longest ferry trip on Baltic Sea - two and a half day cruise from Lübeck to St. Petersburg (via Sassnitz and Ventspils).
For overnight cruises, the ticket price is per cabin. A regular cabin accommodates four passengers, holds a standard comparable to two-star hotel room (toilet, shower, soap, towels, reading light), and is much cheaper than a hotel room in Stockholm or Helsinki. The cheapest (C-class and some of the B-class) cabins have no windows, but cabins and suites of higher standard are also available. If the cruise includes a day stop, you might have access to your cabin throughout the day. Some ferries return immediately and you might have to spend some time ashore before the destination city awakes.
The ferries between the Stockholm and Turku regions have very tight schedules with just an hour in port, which means cleaning of cabins is started very early (unless you have a return ticket). Do not count on being able to sleep until just before the ferry arrives. In summer (with early sunrise) waking up for the pricy but plentiful breakfast and watching the huge archipelago while approaching may be a good option.
Most cruise ferries have several cafés and restaurants at all price levels (although the budget options will not keep your hunger away), at a standard typical to Sweden and Finland; you know what you get, but you won't be impressed. The most famous one is an all-you-can-eat Nordic buffet/smörgåsbord at around 30 €. Should traditionally be eaten as seven servings; herring, other seafood, cold cuts, warm meat, sausage, cheese and dessert.
Drinks in the bar are slightly cheaper than in regular Swedish or Finnish pubs, although expensive compared with the ones in Estonia, Latvia and Russia. Cocktails start around €8.
On some party cruises, alcoholic beverages may not be brought on board. The crew might search passengers' luggage for them. St.Peter Line actually x-rays your luggage to look for alcoholic beverages when boarding as a pedestrian. Any such bottles will be taken away, you'll get a receipt and get the bottles back at the information desk the next morning half an hour before arrival.
Most cruise ferries between Sweden and Finland make a stop at Åland, to earn the legal opportunity to host duty-free shopping (as Åland for tax purposes isn't part of the EU). These stores, with alcohol and tobacco prices far below Swedish and Finnish levels, are the main attraction for many passengers. Consumption on board is officially not allowed, but happens all the time. At weekend party cruises, these stores do not sell alcohol during the evening. Also cruises to or from Russia have duty free shops, although much smaller ones.
The stores also offer the classical duty-free supply of perfume, make-up and sweets. Some ships also have shops for clothing, toys and other consumer goods.
Ferries accept credit cards, and at least local currencies (in most cases Swedish Crowns and Euros).
Gambling at slot machines and roulette tables. Social dancing to live music. Nightclubs. Karaoke. Most cruises have playrooms for children, and child activities. Sunbathing at the upper deck, if the weather allows.
To make an understatement, drunkenness is common on these ferries in the night, and differences in languages and manners often provoke conflicts. While security guards tend to forgive drunkenness itself, they punish violent passengers by locking them up in a detention cell for the rest of the journey, or even marooning them in a foreign port.
Cabin parties are common, but security will respond when guests in the cabin area disturb the neighbours.
Avoid the open deck at night and in harsh weather. Smoking is only permitted in designated compartments.
Saint Petersburg cruises include time in town. Cruise passengers are exempted from visa requirements (check the terms).
A 40-hour cruise Stockholm–Helsinki, Stockholm–Tallinn, Stockholm–Riga or vice versa includes an 8-hour stop in each city, enough for visitors to make a short tour.
Between Stockholm and Turku returning with the same ship means 23-hour cruises, without time ashore.
The pass over Gulf of Finland is short enough to give time in Helsinki or Tallinn, if taking a morning ferry and returning in the evening.