One of my most memorable travel experiences was crossing the frozen Baltic Sea from Tallinn to Helsinki. It was incredible to see the ship somehow break through the ice and get us from Tallinn to Helsinki in about 2 1/2 hours. This is part five of an eight part trip report from my recent travels to Estonia and Finland. This report covers the Baltic crossing from TLL-HEL and HEL-TLL.

There are two lines that offer services between Tallinn and Helsinki, Tallink Silja Line with 7 sailings a day and Viking Line with 14 sailings a week. The Viking boats are scheduled for 2 hours and 30 minutes while most of the Tallink shuttle boats run at just over 2 hours. Pricing is slightly more for the Tallink crossings though it all depends on when you buy your tickets. Both lines offer online ticketing.

I arrived for my Tallink ship about 15 minutes before the departure time and it was complete chaos in the terminal. Finns come over to Estonia to buy alcohol and other goods (though mostly alcohol) that are sold much cheaper than in Finland. There were literally hundreds of Finns with tons of alcohol waiting to pickup up their tickets and board the ship. We are talking crates of wine, vodka, and multiple 36 packs of beer. It was like they all went shopping at Costco. Anyway, the automated ticket machines stop printing boarding passes 30 minutes prior to the ship and I had to get in line with the crowd. It was evident that there was no way I was going to make the boat and I jumped in a taxi to head to the Viking Line instead. The Viking Line had a ferry scheduled for 15 minutes later and was located at a terminal about 10 minutes away. The last minute ticket price was EUR 31.00.

The crossing begins with moving water for the first 10-12 minutes, but quickly turns into broken ice once the boat leaves the harbor. It was quite extraordinary to see the boat crushing through the ice…and this was nothing compared to our docking in Helsinki and later return to Tallinn. At points during the journey you could actually feel the boat struggling to break through the thicker ice and the whole ship would vibrate on impact!

The ship with Tallinn in the distance…

Now, the number one activity on board is drinking. EVERYONE regardless of age, 15 to 85, are partaking in their newly purchased and brought on-board refreshments. However, there are some other activities on the ship as well…

There are several lounges with free wifi, though it’s very very slow…

A coffee shop…

Smoking rooms…

Slot machines…

A cafeteria…

A disco…

Jager Shots!


Docking in Helsinki was an unreal experience. The entire dock was iced over and the ship carefully maneuvered into place…

On the return I took the Superstar by Tallink Silja Line which saved us approximately 30 minutes on the crossing. One of the coolest things in daylight was seeing the vast sea of ice from a different perspective. At some points, it literally looked like the ice went on forever and it created one seamless sheet of “ice foam” as far as the eye could see. Check out the video below…

It might not sound like the most desirable trip, but if you have the opportunity to sail through the Baltic Sea in the middle of winter it’s awesome. Definitely choose it over the short-hop flight from Tallinn to Helsinki.

Up next, my weekend in Helsinki…

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asianfridae May 16, 2013 - 12:06 pm

i also did a cruise in the dead of winter albeit with St Peters Line which is a Russian cruise liner. It was a completely unforgettable experience, the sight and sound of the ship breaking through ice was nothing short of amazing. i’ve traveled a lot in the past few years, but this remains one of my more memorable experiences (also matters who you have in the cabin with you :-))

adam May 16, 2013 - 9:55 pm

@asianfridae – Glad you had an unforgettable experience as well. Truly amazing breaking through the ice!

Jeff May 16, 2013 - 12:53 pm

“like Costco….” just like when Canadians head south of the border to pick up stuff except they bring back a different liquid… gas 🙂

adam May 16, 2013 - 9:53 pm

@Jeff – Haha, not all that different!

Michael W. Travels May 16, 2013 - 7:23 pm

I did a day trip years back from Tallinn to Helsinki and back. We were there during the summer. In the morning it was smooth sailing but on the return, our ferry was cancelled due to high winds. We had to wait for a larger ship to get back to Tallinn. It was an awful journey back and the employees were passing out garbage bags for the sick passengers.

Jim Louderback May 16, 2013 - 9:38 pm

you make me want to do the trip! Also, thanks to Rene from Delta Points I’ll be calling on you for booking help. What a great idea!

adam May 16, 2013 - 9:45 pm

@Jim Louderback – You should definitely consider it, it was amazing! Great, I’m excited to help you find your ideal flights!

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