EDITED: February 2018. Many travellers who are visiting Helsinki want to make a trip to Tallinn, Estonia as well. I highly recommend you do. Just to make your life easier, I will walk you through the different choices of shuttles and give you my recommendations on the ferries.
Planning your trip
The first thing you must think about is if you will want to go to Tallinn for just a day trip or perhaps stay one or two nights. If you are pressed for time, then a day trip is your best option. Otherwise, I suggest you take the time to stay at least one night, as then you will be able to see more than just the Old Town.
If you are going to stay the night, then you might want to look at what kind of ferry+hotel packages the ferry companies offer. But if you are going to be staying in a hostel, you can easily buy the roundtrip tickets directly from the ferry company and then book your hostel separately.
Second, you must choose which ferry to take across. I cannot think of any reason why you should fly to Tallinn, as the ferry connections are so numerous, fast and easy.
There are four different companies that make the commute across the Baltic Sea. These are Tallink Silja Line, Viking Line, Eckerö Line and Linda Line. It is extremely easy to book the trip directly from their webpages.
There even used to be a helicopter that flew you across but not anymore. None of these ferries are your luxury cruise liners but if you want to travel in style, they all offer comfort or business class for an extra charge.
Third – you will need to take your passport!
Out of all the different shuttles, I prefer to always use Tallink. My friends are at their wits end with my obsession to use this particular ferry, as I really do not have eyes for other companies. The simple reason is that they have the best timetables with many variations and only a two hour trip which means more time in Tallinn.
Now when choosing Tallink, be careful about which ferry you take. The one you want to maximise your time at the destination is Star or the Megastar. You do not want to be looking at the Silja Europa.
For Star and Megastar, I recommend you take the ferry that leaves 7.30 or 10.30. Thus, you will be in Tallinn at 9.30 or 12.30 respectively. Please note that the departure times vary according to if it’s winter or summer, so do check the webpage for the correct times. You have to be at the terminal both ways latest 30 minutes before departure. I suggest you are there at least 45 minutes before the ferry takes off, so you don’t have to rush as the queues tend to be long during peak holiday times and weekends.
Booking a cabin may be a good idea if you are taking the 7.30 ferry and you want to sleep. But a cabin is not necessary as you can rent lockers for your things or take your coats and bags to the cloakroom for a small price.
If you don’t need sleep and are leaving on the morning ferry (both 7.30 or 10.30) I suggest you reserve the buffet breakfast for yourself and your travel companions. This way you get a place to sit down, drink your coffee and have something to eat. Unfortunately many other passengers have noticed the convenience of this so it’s often fully booked.
There is also a buffet dinner available when you come back but it’s more expensive and most likely you have already eaten a lot in Tallinn so you might not need so much food when coming back.
If you have not booked the breakfast, then what you need to do when you get on board is rush to get a place to sit. In a café or bar. Let me stress that you need to do this the minute you get on board because you will need your energy for Tallinn and will be happy for a place to relax before or after that. The tables will be filled very quickly, so consider yourself warned! There are different cafés, restaurants and bars to choose from. Even Burger King can be found onboard.
Tallink has both Business and Comfort Class if you would like to avoid the rush of looking for a place to sit. We once paid the 20 euros/per person to gain access to their lounge as the ferry was so full that we could not find a place for ourselves. What was a bit of a surprise was that the Comfort Class did not have it’s own restroom and you had to exit the premises to use the restroom outside. The lounge was very nice and peaceful though compared to the craziness going on outside as it was a very busy Saturday evening. The price includes some small snacks and drinks. I would love to try Tallink’s business class as I’ve heard good things about it but you would have to pay a hefty 65 euros extra for travelling business.
In addition to eating and drinking, you can shop on board. There is a large tax free shop, a perfume shop and a shop for other knick knacks.
When coming back, I prefer to take the 19.30 ferry which will bring you to Helsinki at 21.30. This way you will have many hours to explore in Tallinn. This ferry does not go everyday in winter, so again, check the webpage. In summer one feels so much more energetic because of all the light, and then I don’t mind even taking the 21.30 ferry back. There are even earlier ferries if these seem too late for you.
Tallink’s Star and Megastar leave (and arrive) from the new terminal Länsiterminaali T2, i.e. West Harbour (Tyynenmerenkatu 14). Don’t confuse it with the old terminal, Länsiterminaali 1. When you reach the terminal, proceed to check-in (if you have not checked in online). If you have reserved a roundtrip, you will get all the tickets at the check-in, also for your hotel if you have a hotel package. You will want to take tram number 6T or 7 to get there.
The Tallink ferry will arrive and depart from Tallinn at D-terminal (Lootsi 13). It’s easy to walk from there to the Old Town but if you are in a hurry or staying in a hotel, you might want to take a taxi. I only take a taxi if going straight for lunch at the trendy Kalamaja neighbourhood.
I have used Tallink so many times that I cannot even count them anymore. I have not once experienced delays and it’s a good choice to avoid the party crowd. Tallink is my number one choice for sure.
The Eckerö ferry m/s Finlandia takes 2 hours 15/30 minutes to cross. The morning ferry leaves at 9.00 and is in Tallinn at 11.15. You will depart Tallinn at 18.30 and be in Helsinki at 21.00. So Eckerö gives you almost seven hours in Tallinn. Yes! However, the sailing time is 15 to 30 minutes longer than with Tallink.
You can order buffet breakfast beforehand – note that there are two seatings, of which the first sitting starts at 8.30 and the next at 9.45. The price is 14 euros/adult. A dinner buffet can also be ordered for when you are returning.
There are a number of restaurants, bars and shops you can enjoy while waiting for your ship to reach its destination. Cabins can also be booked in advance or you can upgrade yourself to the Lounge for 44€.
Eckerö departs (and arrives) from Helsinki’s Länsiterminaali T2 (West Harbour). This is the old terminal. See map and tram connection from that section.
In Tallinn Eckerö will arrive and depart at A-terminal (Sadama 25). That is the same terminal as for Viking Line. You can walk to the Old Town from there.
Eckerö would be my second choice of a shuttle and now with their new 9.00 am departure from Helsinki, it could very well be a great alternative to Tallink.
Viking Line again takes 2 hours 30 minutes to go across. You will want to use the Viking XPRS that leaves Helsinki at 10.30 (arriving at 13.15 in the summer season). To come back you will then take the 18.00 ferry from Tallinn which will arrive in Helsinki at 20.30. The other times the ferry goes are not convenient for short trips to Tallinn. Please note that the timetables vary quite a bit if it is summer season or a Sunday so make sure you check the exact times on Viking’s webpage!
As you can see, even this will only leave you around four hours ashore (as you will have to be at the terminal latest 17.30), so if using Viking, it could be a good idea to stay the night. Personally I think four hours is not enough – it is only sufficient when I am going speed shopping in the city and know exactly where I will go and what I am going to buy.
Like Tallink and Eckerö, you can book a cabin if you like. There are many restaurants to choose from and also a buffet brunch is available. The buffet costs around 18 euros and includes all drinks, even alcoholic ones. There are two settings during peak travel times, so make sure you check which one you have reserved and don’t think you can sit there for the whole duration of the trip. One of my friends loves the buffet and always hopes we take Viking on our girly trip to Tallinn. Unfortunately because the time ashore is so short, we seldom do.
You can do lots of shopping on board, anything from fashion, sweets to wines.
The Viking XPRS departs (and arrives) from Helsinki from the Viking Line Terminal at Katajanokka (Mastokatu 1). You will take the tram number 4 or 5 to get there.
In Tallinn you will arrive and depart from Terminal A (Sadama 25) like Eckerö. As you will only have around three hours, it may be a good idea to take a taxi to where you want to start your exploring.
Unfortunately I cannot recommend Linda Line to you in any circumstance. I have travelled on it twice now and will never again. The reason I went a second time was that the first time was so long ago that the memory had faded and it was the only affordable choice at such a short notice in summer. Unfortunately it all came back during the trip.
You might be tempted by their advertisement of “fastest” route to Tallinn but in reality this is often not so as they tend to take much longer if the sea is rough. When one craft is late, it can have a huge effect on your trip as they only have two crafts on the route. They say that they will take you to Tallinn in 100 minutes but it can actually be twice as long.
Weather conditions really make a difference too, as the crafts are so subject to wind and waves. You could be out of luck and the whole days’ worth of ferries could be cancelled because of huge waves or windspeed. I have heard that it’s difficult to get refunds but I have no experience of this myself, so I do not know if it’s true or not.
Linda Line crafts do not operate during the winter months. Usual operation times are from April to October but this varies, so you should check their website for updated information.
The high speed crafts are so small that you will most likely feel seasick unless the sea is very calm. You should’ve seen my son – his face was green the whole time! There is nothing really to do there but sit in your own seat as there is not much room to move around. You can buy drinks and small snacks on board and there is a very small shop as well. There are no cabins. However, there is a Comfort Class for an extra cost.
The Linda Line ferry terminal in Helsinki (Makasiiniterminaali, Eteläsatama, Eteläranta 7) is really clean and modern. You can get there with tram number 2 for example.
The terminal in Tallinn (Linnhalli Terminal, Mere pst. 20E) is absolutely awful. It seems like a makeshift terminal but it has been there as long as I remember. It is situated in Linnahall – which is a fascinating remainder of the Soviet times. Linnahall is a huge concrete structure which was actually a sports stadium for the Moscow Olympics. You do not have to take the Linda Line craft in order to see Linnahall as it’s available for anyone walking by. The Old Town is only a short walk away or you can take a taxi or tram.
During busy times, Linda Line could be the only craft that has reasonable departures and prices available. Preferably make your reservations for your Tallinn trip in advance, so you do not find yourself sitting in a Linda Line craft. And don’t come back saying you were not warned.
Helsinki tram connections to terminals
For all tram/bus/metro/train connections in Helsinki – use the journey planner here. It is absolutely the easiest way for you to find out how to get from your hotel/hostel to the ferry terminal.
Have you tried any of these ferries? What were your experiences?
I wish you a very enjoyable trip to Tallinn!