Travelling from Tallinn to St. Petersburg by train is a brilliant travel experience that should feature highly on every travel bucket list.
You can start an interrail trip in Europe and go onwards to Russia for an exciting and memorable train trip through a mix of dreamy countryside and pockets of urbanisation.
Travel from a European city such as Tallinn to Moscow by train and arrive in Russia in style when you travel eastwards by rail.
Tallinn to St. Petersburg by train
Picture the scene, you are sipping a strong coffee as the train gently rocks.
Then, gaze out of the window to see Russian villages and gorgeous pine forests whizz past, as stern Russian train guard gesture for your passport.
Travelling to Russia by train is a real adventure and definitely gives you the opportunity for new travel life lessons along the way.
Estonia to Russia by train
The Tallinn – St. Petersburg – Moscow route provides a direct train service from Tallinn to St Petersburg.
This journey is definitely a more interesting experience than getting the bus to Russia, that’s for sure.
The journey time is around 7 and a half hours long, though delays can happen.
Be aware that Estonia to Russia border crossing takes some time. Approximately 45 minutes on the Estonian side and 40 minutes on the Russian side.
If you are looking to travel onwards to Moscow, Vladivostok or even to Beijing, I would recommend getting a Trans-Siberian Railway travel guide.
That way you will have access to loads of highly researched and reliable Russia train travel information.
Immigration and customs officers will come to you on the train and ask to see your documents.
It can seem a little daunting but it’s pretty much standard procedure.
If you need to look up times for Russian train travel, the train time table for Tallinn to St. Petersburg can be found online.
Is it safe to travel to Russia?
If you are thinking of taking the plunge travelling to Russia then I would seriously consider booking an organised Russia trip.
Especially if you are new to travelling or travelling alone. This isn’t because travelling is dangerous, it’s that travelling in Russia can be tricky if you aren’t used to travelling.
This is about convenience and taking the hassle out of your travels. Especially as travelling to Russia includes added complications like applying for a tourist visa.
If you are a female solo traveller, I actually wrote a handy guide to Female solo travel in Russia to put your mind at rest.
Before you travel to Russia
Before you book your train tickets, you will need to first sort out things like a Russia Visa, where you plan to visit in Russia and where you will be staying?
Travelling to Russia is definitely not suitable for ‘on a whim’ style of travelling.
There is a fair bit of admin and paperwork to get through before you set foot in the country.
Train travel in Russia takes some proper travel planning and organisation.
We talk more about travel planning on my weekly travel podcast – Travel Goals. Subscribe now and catch up on all episodes.
Russian Tourist Visa
Since 2019, St. Petersburg can be visited with free E-VISA, unless you are travelling train. Which is kind of annoying.
If you are a UK citizen planning to travel to Russia by train, then you will need to apply for a tourist visa before you travel.
A Russian Tourist visa can be valid for up to 30 days and can be issued for single or double entry to Russia. I’m not going to lie, applying can be a bit of an ordeal.
You have to fill in online forms that will ask you everything from countries visited, to what your father’s occupation is and how much you plan to spend in Russia?
Russian Visa Application Centre
You then have to get yourself to the Russian Visa Application Centre, where you will have to take your documents and undergo biometric fingerprinting.
I would strongly advise applying for your visa through a specialist agency such as Real Russia.
They will guide you through the process and check for any mistakes in your paperwork before sending you off to the Russian Visa Centre.
If like me you aren’t exactly a ‘details person’, then I would totally enlist the help of professionals.
Booking Tallinn to St Petersburg train tickets online
Once you have secured your Russian Visa you will need to sort out your Russia train tickets.
This means you are free to enjoy one of the world’s greatest train rides without worrying about the admin or tricky travel details.
If like me, you love a travel challenge, then you can purchase your Tallinn to St Petersburg train tickets yourself and plan your Russia train travel adventure.
Tallinn to St Petersburg train tickets
You can buy Tallinn to St Petersburg train tickets online or at the Tallinn Train Station. Remember to take your passport if you are buying tickets at the station.
The train tickets that you can buy vary from 4 berths, 2 berths, to single seats.
Typical train prices range from approximately €60 to €25, depending on what type of seat you choose and whether it’s a return journey? Check current ticket prices online.
Registering your passport in Russia
If you plan on staying in Russia for more then 7 business days your passport needs to be registered with the authorities.
The hotel or hostel management is responsible for the registration upon your check-in.
When I stayed in St Petersburg the reception staff at my guest house suddenly remembered they had forgotten to register my passport.
The sound advice I was offered in broken English was “If the police ask, you stay with a friend, say you can’t remember where it will be ok.”
I’m sure no one has ever gotten into any problems telling straight-up lies to the Russian authorities right?
Make sure to remind your hotel or guest house to register your passport when you check in.
Travel insurance for Russia
Having comprehensive travel insurance for your solo Russia trip is an absolute must.
Check out World Nomads for insurance designed for travellers. You can get travel insurance for durations of 1 week to a year with World Nomads.
Their cover includes a huge amount of eventualities and medical support should you get sick on your travels.
Start your train journey in Tallinn
Start your Russian train adventure in the beautiful, medieval city of Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.
Tallinn is a vibrant mix of old and new with contemporary hotels and shopping centres next to the impressively preserved, cobblestoned medieval Old Town.
Visiting Tallinn in winter is a magical time, especially if it’s snowing. This city is definitely one of the best fairytale locations in Europe.
I travelled by train from Estonia to Russia in January, one of the coldest times of the year.
It was around -5°C when I arrived in Tallinn at the start of January, the air was bitingly cold but the sky was a gorgeous, clear blue.
Visiting Tallinn in winter has its plus points, the biggest one being that there are few tourists around.
This means Tallinn old town is gloriously peaceful and you can take uninterrupted snaps for Instagram all day long.
Things to do in Tallinn
I would spend at least 2 days in Tallinn before you rush off to Russia. Tallinn is Estonia’s cultural hub, where history meets hipster.
It has a beautifully preserved walled, cobblestoned Old Town that’s home to cafes and shops.
There are also plenty of attractions and activities to keep you entertained, as well as great cafes, restaurants and bars.
Guided tour of Tallinn Old Town
“Tallinn’s Old Town has the accolade of being the best-preserved Hanseatic town centres in the world” enthused my Estonian tour guide.
“Mmm, indeed” I nodded, immediately making a mental note to slyly google ‘What is a Hanseatic town?’ as soon as his back was turned.
Booking a guided tour of the Old Town is one of the best ways to put this historic city into context.
Yes the buildings are Instagrammable and the cobbled streets are adorable, but you can get some much more out of a city when you learn about its battles, its architecture and touch upon its politics.
Private guided tour
On my private guided tour on Tallinn, we wandered around the hidden corners of the Old Town, as well as learning about the most popular spots.
I saw the House of The Great Guild, the Alexander Nevsky’s, the St.Mary’s Cathedral, the oldest cafe in Tallinn and was shown around the oldest, continuously running chemist in Europe.
After a few hours of wandering the town, it quickly became clear that everything is old and I mean, really old.
It’s definitely worth doing a guided tour as you can learn so much about the city and gain real inside knowledge.
Walk Tallinn’s city walls
The Walls of Tallinn are the medieval defensive walls constructed around the city of Tallinn, that are remarkably preserved.
You can actually walk on Tallinn’s city walls to get he best views of th city. ideal for those who live travel photography.
This fun little walk atop the city walls is not very well publicised from what I could tell.
I paid a mere 3 Euros to climb the stairs and to walk a small, covered section of the wall.
From there I was treated to fabulous views of the old town and Toompea.
Photograph amazing views from Toompea Hill
Toompea Hill is an oblong-shaped hill that houses many churches, embassies and colourful buildings.
There are also several viewing platforms which offer smashing views of Tallinn.
As it was January and bitterly cold, I found myself alone on one of the viewing platforms.
I sipped my hot wine, which I had bought from a nearby stall and enjoyed the view in blissful solitude.
Train From Tallinn to St Peterburg
After 2 days in Tallinn, it was time for me to get the train to St. Petersburg.
The 380km Tallinn to St Petersburg rail route has had a rather haphazard existence over the years, with the service being withdrawn and reinstated several times.
Thankfully the service is running, for now, so you can experience arriving in Russia by rail!
I went to search for my train at the revamped Tallinn Pas train station, located just outside of old town.
Train travel in Russia
Whilst there are a few modern trains in the station, the train to Russia is something of a cold war throwback, stern guards will study your ticket and passport before you enter a basic carriage.
If you are expecting tables, plug sockets, wifi and a trendy train cafe, you have boarded the wrong train my friend.
On this particular route, you will find second-class coaches with sleeper berths and third-class coaches with rigid seating.
This ain’t no luxury travel, this is an adventure on the railroad.
Russian train facilities
Whilst there is a distinct lack of ‘dining car’ on this service, you can buy tea, instant coffee and noodles and then fill your cup or noodles up from an ancient looking hot water tap.
It all adds to the retro and slightly surreal experience of Russian train travel.
Once you are settled, inevitably next to a large sleeping Russian woman, the guards will check your tickets again and also take your passport away.
Tallinn to St Petersburg journey time
My train journey to St Petersburg took around 7 and a half hours, and this included the time spent when the train stopped at a remote station for sniffer dogs to board.
‘Ooohhh doggies, how lovely’, I naively thought, until one grabbed ahold of my rucksack and started shaking it violently.
Needless to say, I went into a blind panic that unbeknownst to me someone had stuffed my bag full of drugs and I was about to be carted off to Russian jail.
Russian train guards
The steely faced train guard made me empty the entire contents of my bag in the middle of the train as bemused passengers looked on.
I reassured myself during this process that at least I would be able to write a book about my Russian Imprisonment.
Maybe it would be a bestseller? Maybe Phil and Holly would interview me on ‘This Morning’ and I could laugh about the state of the prison toilets and my 2 stone weight loss?
Luckily it was a false alarm, there turned out to be a half-eaten biscuit in the bottom of my bag.
The thing to remember about Russian train travel is that anything could happen, so kick back, have a coffee and try not to worry too much.
Two days in St Petersburg
The grandeur and culture of St Petersburg are sure to dazzle you. From the moment you arrive at the station, you are surrounded by a mixed bag of unique architecture.
St. Petersburg’s unique architecture includes both Baroque-style buildings and imposing Soviet-era structures.
Things to do in St Petersburg
There is so much to see and in St Petersburg that I recommend two days minimum here.
If you have limited time in the city, I suggest trying to hit a few of the highlights as well as the charming off-beat places.
I would definitely recommend doing a guided tour of St Petersburg, to get to know the city better.
It’s a great option if you have never visited St Petersburg before. It can help you feel safe and at ease in the new surroundings and you also get to see the best sights in the city.
Visit beautiful churches in St Petersburg
There are many gorgeous churches in St Petersburg and the prettiest and most popular has to be Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood.
The elaborately decorated Russian orthodox church has a whimsical exterior and ornately decorated interior, with fabulous mosaics.
Ticket prices for Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood are RUB 250.00 [About £3], for an adult ticket.
If you want an audio guide to learn more about the varied history of the church, it’s a mere RUB 100.00.
This glorious and iconic church is a definite must-see in the city for history, art and of course, enviable Instagrams!
Watch a Russian Ballet show
No trip to St Petersburg is complete without watching a Russian Ballet performance.
Watching ballet in st. Petersburg is an expensive activity but so worth it if you have the budget.
I would recommend booking the classic Swan Lake ballet show in The Mariinsky Theater.
The Mariinsky Theater is one of the oldest and leading musical theatres in Russia.
The theatre’s history of its origin dates back to 1783 and to this day, drama, opera and ballet companies still perform at this theatre.
Seeing Swan Lake at this incredible theatre is definitely one of the best things to do in St Petersburg.
Explore Peter and Paul Fortress
The Peter and Paul Fortress was one of the first places to be built in St Petersburg.
It has had a wildly varied history, from housing government buildings to serving as a prison and a military base.
This is a ‘must-see’ place for history fans and photographers with a keen eye for architecture.
Today you can enjoy the stunning panoramic views from on top of the fortress walls and visit the various buildings, such as the Trubetskoy Bastion and the Cathedral.
There is also a little riverside beach you can walk on and take dreamy photographs of St Petersburg.
Have a coffee in a cat cafe
If you are looking for unusual things to do in st. Petersburg, then definitely have a coffee at a Cat Cafe (Кото Кафе) in St. Petersburg.
Here, you pay for time spent in the cafe, sip a coffee and chill out with a wide range of cuddly cats.
After a particularly boozy dinner of vodka and Russian dumplings, I messaged long-suffering husband Luke.
I wanted to assure him that I would let him know when I had arrived back at my accommodation safely.
I then spotted a small cafe with cats in the window, obviously, I had to go and investigate.
Cat cafe St. Petersburg
That is how I ended up drinking coffee with a cat on my head at almost midnight. Only in Russia right?
Inevitably when husband messaged to asked if I was alright, he was sent a barrage of cat selfies. Perhaps being married to me isn’t quite the treat I think it is?
One of the most popular cat cafes in St Petersburg is ‘Cats Republic‘. It’s the largest and most vibrantly decorated cat cafe in the city.
Train from St Petersburg to Moscow
After spending a few days in St Petersburg, you can either fly home or continue your train journey onto Moscow.
The fastest train from Moscow to St. Petersburg takes around 4 hours. A train ticket from Moscow to St. Petersburg costs about €50 for a 2nd-class one-way ticket if you buy it early.
Taking the train from St Petersburg to Moscow can also be a minor ordeal if you aren’t fully prepared.
One of the main things to be aware of is that the entire Russian Railway operates on Moscow time.
This means that Russian rail timetables usually show Moscow time throughout.
Make sure you factor this in when working out when to arrive for your train.
I decided to go onwards to Moscow, spend a few days there and then fly home from Moscow.
Getting the train to Moscow
There appeared to be several trains running to Moscow when I arrived bleary-eyed at 7:30 am.
This meant that I had to try and work out the correct train to be on with a severe lack of caffeine in my system.
I then realised departures are also shown in Russian and English, which made things a little easier.
There are a few key Russian words that will aid you in your quest to navigate the train station.
Вокзал [or Vokzal] meaning Station, Поезд [or Poyezd] meaning Train, Касса, [or Kassa], meaning Ticket Office.
Look at the departures board carefully to work out which platform your train will be leaving from.
St Petersburg to Moscow train route
Once you have found the correct train and your correct coach [look for Вагон or Vagon], you go through the usual process of showing a grumpy guard and ticket and passport.
They will then scrutinise your documentation in a manner that suggests they are expecting you to be a double agent before allowing you to board.
The St Petersburg to Moscow train is actually a much more modern train than the Tallinn to St Petersburg route. Here you will find tables, plug sockets, a train cafe and much more plush seating.
You can then settle and gaze at forests and adorable Russian Towns whizzing by.
The journey took around 4 hours and was a rather pleasant train experience. There’s nothing nicer than a lovely little coffee looking out to pretty scenery.
Two days in Moscow
Russia’s cosmopolitan capital is rich in history, culture, art and architecture.
It is a breathtaking city, especially at night when many of its grand buildings are beautifully lit.
When I visited in mid-January there were still lots of Christmas trees and decorations around.
This is due to the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas around January 7th, though the Christmas date can vary a little amongst churches.
Winter is Moscow is truly a magical time and is one of the best Christmas destinations in my opinion.
I would recommend spending at least two days in Moscow befoe moving on, or returning home.
Things to do in Moscow
Visiting Moscow in Winter means that you will have to plan your time carefully.
The temperatures can be freezing in the city during the winter months, so you need to plan logical routes.
This will mean you avoid spending hours walking around in -25°C conditions.
You want to try and reach destinations by Metro if you can. This is to avoid super cold temperatures, to travel cheapy and to admire the incredible stations.
Discover the Red Square
The Red Square is surely Moscow’s most famous landmark and is at the very core of its history.
Here you will find the state history museum, the glorious St. Basil’s Cathedral and Lenin’s Mausoleum.
I would recommend doing a guided tour of the Red Square, to learn more about its history and significance.
If you are visiting near the Orthodox festive period you will find a Christmas market, rides and Christmas decorations in the Red Square.
It’s quite a sight to see the square lit up by twinkling lights, whirling rides, stalls selling Russian dolls and giant, illuminated Santas.
You can release your inner child by riding on a carousel, skating on the outdoor rink, or sip hot coffee as you admire the dazzling lights.
Go shopping in incredible malls
There are some incredibly ornate and glittering shopping malls in Moscow, including the GUM department store, on the east side of the Red Square.
This incredibly stylish mall has several floors connected by bridges, a stunning glass ceiling, as well as pretty hanging decorations.
Shopping in Moscow
This shopping mall looks more like a regal palace than a place where you might come and buy some trainers.
There are numerous shops, cafes and restaurants to look around and you will spot many famous brands selling their wares here.
Anyone who knows me is fully aware that I am not a shopping fan, but it is hard not to be impressed with the gorgeous architecture, sleek shops and beautiful decor at GUM.
Adjacent to the GUM mall is Nikolskaya street, which has a stunning array of hanging lights around the Christmas holidays, we are talking serious Instagram goals here.
Spend some time after your shopping trip snapping away to get some incredible festive photos.
Feast on Russian Cusine
Hearty Russian cuisine should keep you warm and full with its emphasis on meat and potatoes.
There are lots of places to eat in Moscow, from fine dining, grand cafes and cafeteria-style dining.
Some traditional Russian dishes you should try are Borscht [beetroot and cabbage soup], Shashlik, [roasted meats or fish on skewers], or Pelmeni [Russian Dumplings].
I would recommend doing a Moscow food tasting and walking tour, to learn about Russian food, culture and history while sightseeing around the city.
Authentic Russian cusine
Cafe Pushkin: a fine dining establishment with a traditional Russian menu.
Grand Cafe Dr Jhivago: an ultra-modern restaurant serving Russian cuisine
Grabli: a popular self-serve canteen with very reasonably priced Russian and European food.
Is it worth taking the train from Estonia to Russia?
At the end of your Russia adventure trip, you can either take the train back to your starting point or fly back home as I did.
Remember to download the Skyscanner app to find the best flight deals to and from Russia.
I had an amazing six days travelling from Tallinn to St.Petersburg and then onwards Moscow.
If you love adventure travel, I would really recommend travelling to Russia by train.
There is honestly something rather grand about pulling into a Russian railway station. Especially as there was an actual trumpet fanfare over the station tannoy as our train arrived at St Petersburg.
Whilst this trip does have difficulties you might not find travelling in European countries, everyone should experience the delightful absurdity of travelling in Russia at least once in their lives.
What did you think of my guide to Tallinn to St Petersburg by train? Let me know in the comments below!
Planning your trip to Russia
Ready to book your trip to Russia? Use these awesome travel resources to get you started:
- Search for the best flight deals with Skyscanner
- Search for the best hotel deals on HotelsCombined
- Get the best travel tips with a travel guidebook
- Book an Airbnb and have £25 towards your first booking
- Get the best destination recommendations from TripAdvisor
Check out all the best travel resources on my bumper travel resources page!
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