Let’s talk about cruises on the Baltic Sea! From an early age, the passenger ferries carrying people, cars, and cargo on the Baltic Sea have been familiar to me. Coming from an island, it was often the only way to get anywhere really. While my family and I traveled by necessity, others hopped on a cruise ferry in order to have some fun. There are frequent ferry lines between many cities in the Baltic Sea Region. In this article, we focus on the northern parts of the area, i.e. Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, and Latvia. We also only write about the main passenger lines, there are cargo ships that traffic other lines.
Cruising on the Baltic Sea: Destinations
Actually, there are three major ports in the Swedish capital, depending on the company and the destination. Ferries departing for Finland or Estonia always stop at the Åland Islands – either in Mariehamn or Långnäs. The reason for this quick (and often seemingly unnecessary) stop is the fact that the Åland Islands is regarded as a third territory with respect to indirect taxation, which enables the sale of tax-free goods to passengers traveling between the Åland Islands and other EU Member States. In other words, the ferries stop at Mariehamn or Långnäs in order to sell cheap alcohol. And this is also the reason why many people travel on those ferries. We are not talking about small ferries here, most of them can carry over 2,000 passengers.
In short, from Stockholm, you can travel to Mariehamn and Långnäs on the Åland Islands, Turku and Helsinki in Finland, Tallinn in Estonia, and Riga in Latvia. The ferry to Riga does not offer duty-free shopping but the prices are low nonetheless.
From Sweden, you can also travel to Eckerö on the Åland Islands as well as St.Petersburg in Russia. We have never tried cruising to Russia because it’s not a direct journey. Instead, the whole tour includes St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm, and Tallinn.
There are also frequent journeys between Helsinki and Tallinn several times a day.
- Stockholm – Åland – Turku
- Stockholm – Åland – Helsinki
- Stockholm – Åland – Tallinn
- Stockholm – Riga
- Helsinki – Tallinn
Four Types of Trips
We have not included the route Helsinki-Tallinn here because there are so many options there.
Between Stockholm-Helsinki, Stockholm-Tallinn, and Stockholm-Riga. You spend two nights on the ferry and during the day you have 6-8 hours at the destination. This is usually a cheap way to see the capitals in the region, as you get the accommodation included in the ferry ticket.
Between Stockholm-Mariehamn, Stockholm-Åland, Åland-Turku. You spend one night on the ferry. This is usually a good option for all the party people. You usually don’t get off the ferry. Sometimes you might change ferries, but you will not spend any time at the destination.
Between Stockholm-Åland. These ferries depart from the smaller harbors some distance away from Stockholm, mainly from Kapellskär or Grisslehamn. Bus transfer from the city terminal in Stockholm tends do be included in the ticket price or added for a small fee. This is usually for people who want to spend a nice day at sea, enjoying some duty-free shopping and good food.
This is for people who are actually traveling somewhere, not just sitting on the ferry. The length of the journey really depends on where you are going. From Sweden to Åland it takes between 2 and 5 hours for instance. From Stockholm to Helsinki and Tallinn you’ll get to spend 16-18 hours on the ferry. This alternative tends to cost more than the cruise tickets that also include the return. None of the operators do however allow you to end your cruise after the first leg.
Cruising on the Baltic Sea: Planning Your Trip
If you are planning to travel in the summer, it might be a good idea to book in advance. This holds especially true if you want to bring your car and/or book a cabin. Most companies offer both cruises and route bookings. Depending on the company and the length of the journey, you might have to book a cabin as well. You also need to know whether you are bringing your car or some other type of vehicle. Pets are usually allowed but you have to pay for them.
It might also be a good idea to decide how you want to do with food. All ferries have a buffet as well as an a la carte restaurant. Usually, there is also a cafeteria where you can buy lighter snacks. You can bring your own food, of course, but you are not supposed to eat it in public areas. Note that it can be more expensive to pay for the trip at the terminal, pre-payment is usually preferred. Always remember to read the terms and conditions!
It’s usually possible to book hotels and activities at the destination via the ferry lines.
Here are the links to ferry companies that traffic the Baltic Sea:
Cruising on the Baltic Sea: Things to Keep In Mind
Here we have listed some things that you should keep in mind while cruising on the Baltic Sea.
- Don’t miss your stop! Especially if you are planning to leave the ferry on the Åland Islands you should be aware of the fact that the stop is very quick. It has happened that people have traveled for much longer than they intended to in the first place when they enjoyed the bar too much.
- Remember the time difference. The ferry will not wait for you if you are late.
- At certain times of the year, the weather conditions can be bad. It has happened that the journey has been canceled. It does not happen very often, though, so you might end up extremely sea-sick instead.
- Bring your passport and/or national ID (for EU citizens). Your papers will probably not be checked, but you can never be 100% sure.
- Familiarize yourself with the rules regarding duty-free shopping.
- Check out the activities on the ferry: some ferries have a spa, others might have a small cinema. All of them have some kind of performances and shows. Especially when it comes to spa treatments, it is usually a good idea to head to the spa reception once arriving at the boat to book a time.
- Behave yourself – there is a cell on the ferry and in case you behave in a disorderly fashion, you will probably be dropped off at the nearest port and spend the night in the police station. You would probably not like ending up in a third country when traveling between country A and B.