Five climate-friendly overland travel routes to Helsinki

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The rule of thumb for climate-conscious tourists is to travel overland as far as possible. Here we present five different overland travel routes to Helsinki, including details about the climate emissions, travel times and costs of these climate-friendly travel options.

Overland as far as possible

Comparing the climate-friendliness of different travel options is complex and requires processing a lot of information, for example about the types of fuel used and emissions from electricity generation. In Finland and Sweden, trains run on electricity generated mainly by hydropower, meaning they are computationally carbon neutral. Travelling by car with other passengers can keep emissions per passenger relatively low, even when powered by fossil fuels, while driving alone can produce almost as much emissions as flying. When flying, stopovers should be kept to a minimum and you should consider not only direct CO2 emissions but also the other warming effects in the upper atmosphere, which are often not taken into account in the airlines' own emission calculators. The scale of emissions for individual passengers on ferries greatly depends on the distribution of emissions between passengers and cargo. In this article, we report emissions within an average range taking into account different calculation methods.

The journey as much as the destination

Overland travel takes considerably more time than flying. Accordingly, the journey itself should be planned as a rewarding part of the holiday in itself by reserving enough time to stop at places of interest. For example, a week's holiday can be planned according to the following formula: 2 travel days + 5 holiday days + 2 travel days. Staying for two consecutive nights in the same place, with days in between without having to pack and move, will make longer trips more relaxing.

Five routes to Helsinki

5 routes to travel across Finland.
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1. Hamburg-Helsinki: By train and ferry through Denmark and Sweden

An easy, straightforward and relatively comfortable route from Central Europe to Helsinki is by train from Hamburg via Denmark to Stockholm and then by ferry to Finland. The fastest crossing with the lowest emissions is from Stockholm to Turku, but overnight ferries will bring you directly to Helsinki. Hamburg is a major rail hub on the northern European continent and offers excellent connections in all directions. If you aim to take the overnight ferry to Helsinki from Stockholm, you will need to depart from Hamburg so early in the morning that it might be more relaxing to spend a night in Copenhagen, Malmö or Stockholm.

Train: Hamburg-Copenhagen-Stockholm – 10 h, 0-30 kg CO2
Ferry: Stockholm-Turku (Stockholm-Helsinki) – 10 h  (15 h), 30-90 kg CO2
Train/Bus: Turku-Helsinki – 2h, 0-10 kg CO2

Total emissions: approx. 30-120 kg CO2

2. Berlin-Helsinki: By bus through Poland and the Baltics

Probably the cheapest way to travel from Europe to Helsinki is by bus through Poland and the Baltic countries. The bus from Berlin to Tallinn takes 24 hours, so only the most dedicated travellers should try it in one go. Fortunately, there are four capital cities along the way (Warsaw, Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn), as well as the spa town of Pärnu, so it really is worth stopping. If you plan to stay in Riga, for example, Helsinki is a perfect weekend destination. The introduction of the Rail Baltica high-speed railway line will eventually reduce the total journey time to just a third upon completion – many are already dreaming of a fast and convenient night train connection between Finland and Central Europe via Tallinn!

Bus: Berlin-Warsaw-Vilnius-Riga-Pärnu-Tallinn – 24 h, approx. 80 kg CO2
Ferry: Tallinn-Helsinki – 2 h, approx. 20-50 kg CO2
Total emissions: approx. 100 kg CO2

3. By ro-ro ferry from Germany

Finnlines carries mostly walk-on passengers on its ro-ro ferries operating between Travemünde in Germany and Vuosaari Harbour in Helsinki. Passengers travelling by car can try the ro-ro services from Gdynia in Poland and Kapellskär in Sweden to Naantali, which is near Turku. The ferry crossing from Germany to Finland takes one and a half days, so make sure you have a book or other entertainment to keep you occupied onboard. The ro-ro ferries are otherwise comfortable and even have a sauna and small gym. In summertime, of course, you can relax on deck and enjoy the scenery and sun. Tickets are relatively expensive, especially during the summer season. You might be able to buy a ticket without a cabin, but even sharing a cabin is more comfortable. From Vuosaari Harbour, you can hop on a bus to the nearby metro, which takes you all the way into the city centre.

Ro-ro ferry: Travemünde-Vuosaari – 29h, approx. 80 kg CO2

4. By train around the Baltic Sea via St. Petersburg or Haparanda

Helsinki can in fact be reached completely overland by circling all the way around the Baltic Sea via St. Petersburg in Russia or Haparanda in Sweden. Travelling through Russia requires a visa, which makes this option more expensive and less convenient. However, it is possible to take bus or even minibus from St. Petersburg to Helsinki, which is cheaper than by train but takes two to three times longer. If you are staying in St. Petersburg, Helsinki is a perfect weekend destination. Note! Due to the events of spring 2022, the Finnish Railways company, VR, will suspend Allegro train traffic between Helsinki and St. Petersburg for the time being on March 28. from.

Train: St. Petersburg-Helsinki – 4 h, approx. 5 kg CO2
Train-bus-train: Stockholm-Haparanda-Tornio-Helsinki – 22 h, approx. 0-20 kg CO2
Total emissions: approx. 0-20 kg CO2

5. By train all the way from Asia: Beijing-Helsinki

You can also get to Helsinki from Asia without flying. The Trans-Siberian Railway operates weekly from Beijing and Vladivostok to Moscow, and from there you can continue by train via St. Petersburg to Helsinki. Theoretically, you can even travel to Helsinki by train all the way from Singapore via Bangkok in Thailand, Vientiane in Laos and Beijing. Alternatively, from Sakaiminato in Japan it has been possible to take a ferry to Vladivostok, which is the second starting point for the Trans-Siberian Railway. Tickets aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway cost around EUR 500. Detailed information about the route can be found online, for example on the Seat61.com website.

Train: Vladivostok/Beijing-Moscow-St. Petersburg-Helsinki – approx. 6 days,  < 400 kg CO2

Ferry passing by Suomenlinna
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Interrail ticket for adventurers or plan ahead and purchase tickets directly

The price of train and ferry tickets increases significantly the closer you get to the day of travel. Tickets usually go on sale a few months before the travel date. Interrail tickets offer a flexible way to travel across Europe. A “5 days in 1 month” pass costs less than 300 euros and is enough for a trip to Helsinki and back. Most high-speed and night trains require a seat reservation at an additional cost, but local trains usually do not. The additional cost can range from just a few euros to several tens of euros in France and on night trains, for example.

Where can I find out more about overland travel?

  • The Interrail.eu website provides basic information about train travel and sells Interrail passes. 
  • The RailPlanner, Rome2Rio, Google Maps Schedule Explorer and Deutsche Bahn websites are great for checking routes and schedules.
  • The maatapitkin.net website is a Finnish online resource for planning overland travel routes.
  • The Seat61.com website presents the personal experiences of “The Man in Seat Sixty-One” of different train routes around the world.
  • Austrian Federal Railways (oebb.at) operates a comprehensive network of night trains throughout Europe.
  • The Eurovelo.com website presents cycling routes throughout Europe.
  • Deutsche Bahn has a convenient emissions calculator on the umweltmobilcheck.de website.
  • The Maata pitkin overland travel agency provides climate-friendly travel consulting and can be found online at maatapitkin.com.
     

Facebook groups such as Maata pitkin -matkustavat in Finland and Tågsemester in Sweden are great places for overland travel tips and ideas, from scheduling to places to eat!

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Sustainable ways to explore Helsinki
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Biking in Helsinki

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Cycling in Helsinki is for the most part just as easy and fun as anywhere else, plus you get to see and experience a lot more from the saddle than you do riding a bus, for example. Find the top tips here.
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Bike tours and biking activities
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City cycling routes by City of Helsinki
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Lovely walking and hiking routes in Helsinki

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Helsinki is a dream city for walking: it’s easy to breathe, there’s always something new and interesting just around the corner, and the distances are short. The walking routes presented here reveal the city’s unique neighbourhoods, the places beloved by locals, and many well-kept secrets too. Best of all, amidst the hustle and bustle of the nation’s capital, you are never far away from the sea.

 

As a rather quaint capital city, Helsinki is an ideal city where you can go on a walk or even a hike if you wish to be one with your thoughts or simply to enjoy the peace and quiet this Nordic society has to offer. There are plenty of places where you can calm your nerves, either alone or with others. You can even find silence in the heart of the city.

There are plenty of routes where you can enjoy a walk whilst admiring the views. Whether it is workout you desire and wish to go on hike in deep forest or only walk a short distance from the city centre, thus getting the opportunity to enjoy the stunning views of the Helsinki maritime, it is all possible.

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Helsinki's coastline is over 130 kilometers long, with plenty of space to run around and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Aleksi Pahkala
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The rule of thumb for climate-conscious tourists is to travel overland as far as possible. Here we present five different overland travel routes to Helsinki, including details about the climate emissions, travel times and costs of these climate-friendly travel options.