Travel in the Baltics with Train, Bus and Ferry It's not that complicated!

Travel in the Baltics with Train, Bus and Ferry

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In January 2015 I picked up a friend who was studying in Helsinki and we travelled together back home to Austria through the Baltics. On our way from Helsinki to Warsaw we made stops in Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius, the capital cities of the Baltic States. I have always been curious about these countries however since the train connections between the countries are rather obscure it took quite a while until I finally made it there. Sadly it is currently not possible to travel all the way from Tallinn to Warsaw by train so we had to travel by bus on parts of the route. Here’s a short summary on how to travel between these cities using train, bus and ferry. In case there are any updates on train services, especially regarding the reinstatement of the connection from Vilnius to Warsaw and the possible introduction of a new direct train from Riga to Vilnius, this post will be updated accordingly.

Important updates:
Since June 2016 two pairs of trains runs between Kaunas (Lithuania) and Bialystok (Poland) on the weekend, allowing travelling by train from Vilnius to Warsaw.
Since January 2018 two pairs of trains run between Daugavpils (Latvia) and Vilnius (Lithuania), allowing to travel the entire route through the Baltics by train once again.

 

HelsinkiTallinn

There are four ferry operators running services on this route: Tallink Silja, Viking Line, Eckerö Line and Linda Line. Tallink Silja, Viking Line and Eckerö Line operate all year round with large ferries that usually take between just 2h and 2h30 for the passage. Linda Line use smaller, even faster catamarans which cover the trip in just 1h30 but do not operate during winter. Overall there are up to 19 departures per day. Despite the short travel time, Viking Line and Tallink Silja even offer overnight trips where you can spend the night on board the ship in a cabin before disembarking the next morning.

Update: Linda Line finished operating in November 2017.

Prices start around EUR 19 for a single deck passage, even at short notice. However prices can vary between operators and depending on when you book. Tickets can be bought online at the websites of the ferry operators as well as directly at the ferry terminals. Viking Line and Tallink Silja both offer discounts for rail pass travellers. Read more about how to get these discounts here. For schedules, booking links and information about the location of the ferry ports have a look at the links below.

For schedules, go to the websites of the ferry companies (see links above).

 

TallinnRiga

This website being mainly aimed at rail travel we of course took the train connection between the two cities. There is no direct train but you can travel with a change of trains at the Estonian border station of Valga. Overall travel time is between 7h and 7h30. Tickets can be bought on board of each train; Tallinn – Valga is 15,30€; Valga – Riga costs 5,60€. Tickets are available at the station in Tallinn, online at Elron website (where you get a 10% discount) or simply on board the trains.

Estonia recently renewed its passenger trains completely, all service are now operated by brand new Swiss built EMU and DMU. Although mainly aimed at commuter traffic to and from Tallinn the trains offer reasonable comfort, including a well-working free WiFi connection as well as 1st class accomodation.

The train station in Tallinn is located just outside the old town and easily reachable by foot. Also if you were arriving by ferry and immediately continuing by train you can walk between the ferry port and the station for which you should calculate about 20 minutes. In Valga you have to change to the train to Riga which waits on the opposite platform. In case you take the afternoon connection from Tallinn where you have to wait for about one hour in Valga you can get food and drinks in a small shop just a few metres away from the station on the left. Tickets are simply available on board the train.

From Valga to Riga there is still an old soviet-style DMU running, however comfort is not much worse than on the previous train I’d say and regarding style – just look at the picture. There is even a flawlessly working free WiFi connection!

In Riga the central station is again just a short walk away from the historic old town. On the opposite side you can also find the huge central market which I’d definitely recommend visiting. Have a look at schedules, information about the location of train and bus stations at the links below.

If you prefer to travel directly you can of course also take the bus – there are several connections each day between Tallinn and Riga, for example by LuxExpress. For details, see below at the Riga – Vilnius section.

The best connection is available on weekends, leaving Tallinn at 13:15, arriving in Valga at 16:27. There you have a connection ta 16:38, arriving in Riga at 19:48. During the week you have to leave Tallinn at 08:13 already, arriving in Riga at 17:38 (including almost three hours of waiting in Valga – use the time for a quick walk around town).

Tallinn – Tartu – Valga train schedule valid from December 2018
Riga – Tallinn train schedule 2018

 

RigaVilnius

Sadly, there is no train connection on this route. There used to be an option where you could travel on the Riga to Moscow night train until Daugavpils, stay there overnight and continue with the night train St. Petersburg – Vilnius early in the morning. However, since the night train St. Petersburg – Vilnius has been withdrawn last year and you now have to travel by bus.

There have also been plans to introduce a direct train service via Siauliai, however these plans have not materialized yet. Meanwhile the best option for the regular traveller is to go by bus and this is exactly what I did on my trip.

Update: since January 2018 there are two trains once again between Daugavpils (Latvia) and Vilnius (Lithuania). These enable you to travel again by train from Riga to Vilnius. Leave Riga at 07:40 and take the train to Daugavpils where you will arrive at 11:10. Have a look around the city before taking the train to Vilnius at 15:41. Arrival in Vilnius is at 18:24.

Other trains (weekends only): Daugavpils dep 08:57 – Vilnius arr 11:39 | Vilnius dep 05:42 – Daugavpils arr 08:29 | Vilnius dep 11:45 – Daugavpils arr 14:36

The main bus operator on this route is Lux Express, offering nine services throughout the day taking all around four hours. There are two different service types:

  • Simple Express is the cheaper option, offering modern coaches with free WiFi connection.
  • Lux Express buses are slightly more expensive, offering more legroom and a personal entertainment system.
  • Lux Express Lounge class with extra-comfortable reclining seats and complimentary refreshments is available on some LuxExpress services.

Tickets are available online directly on the website of Lux Express, at ticket offices at the bus stations or directly at the driver. Prices start at 11€ for Simple Express services, 15€ for Lux Express and 25€ for Lux Express Lounge services. The bus station in Riga is situated just opposite the central market just a few metres away from both the old town and the railway station. In Vilnius, there are two bus stops: The stop Panorama (City Centre) is quite far away from the old town so I would definitely recommend to travel all the way to the bus station which is adjacet to the train station and just a short walk away from the old town. Have a look at schedules, information about train and bus stations at the links below.

Riga – Daugavpils train schedules 2018

 

VilniusWarsaw

After several years of rebuilding, the train line between Lithuania and Poland is open again since June 2016. However, there are currently only two train pairs operating on weekends between Kaunas and Bialystok so the best option still is to go from Vilnius to Warsaw by direct bus. Main operators on this route are Lux Express and Polski Bus. We chose Lux Express who operate only the Simple Express brand on this route, however with the extra feature of a personal entertainment system at each seat. Tickets start from 17€ and are available online or on board the buses.

The ride takes between seven and eight hours, depending on the connection – consider that Poland is one hour ahead of the Baltic States! Being not really fond of bus travel, this probably is about the maximum distance I am willing to endure. Luckily the personal entertainment system provides several movies of different genres as well as a number of TV series which make time go by rather quickly. In Warsaw the buses serve two stops, at Centralna and Zachodnia, both adjacent to the train stations of the same name (Central and Western Station). Normally it will be better to get off at Centralna, from where it is a short walk to the old town. Below you can find the links to schedules and information about bus stops.

Train schedule between Kaunas and Bialystok (with connections from Vilnius and to Warsaw):

daily Saturday – Monday daily daily Saturday – Sunday daily
Vilnius 0730 1550
Kaunas 0847 0915 1657 1720
Marijampole 1009 1814
Trakiszki (border) 1020 1823
Bialystok 1309 1340 2112 0517
Warsaw 1555 0725

 

daily Saturday – Sunday daily daily Friday – Sunday daily
Warsaw 2005 1205
Bialystok 2211 0729 1409 1555
Trakiszki (border) 1028 1828
Marijampole 1223 2032
Kaunas 1317 1355 2126 2150
Vilnius 1520 2303

 

Update: November 2018

Flo Weber
I like to travel by train. https://www.instagram.com/raildudeflow/
Flo Weber
- 1 day ago
Flo Weber
Flo Weber
f _at_ rail.cc

36 Comments

  1. Hi Flo, what a great overview! I was happy surprised to find something so detailed as this! thank you for that!

    I was wondering if you would advice to make this trip with two young (7&9 yr) children? I’m not quite sure yet if I would do this (as a single mom) by car, or by train/bus. I havn’t been in that area yet, so I don’t really know what to expect in terms of safety, easy acces, waiting time between connections … I know it would be a great adventure, but my kids also could get tired of it after a few hours ofcourse! 😉 We traveled by car to/trough Denmark/Sweden last year, so they are used to sit a few hours in the car. We would start off in Belgium and to Tallinn (and probably cross the ocean to visit Helsinki as well). Thanks for your advice!

    • Hi Anja!

      Thank you!
      No problem to travel there with small children, even as a single parent. Trains are an interesting mixture of old and new and your children will surely enjoy travelling with them. Journey times also are not too long, journeys longer than two hours are quite unusual.
      The only issue might be longer bus journeys which can be necessary especially between Latvia and Lithuania as well as between Lithuania and Poland. Between these countries it is again possible to travel by train but only during weekends.
      The direct bus ride from Vilnius to Warsaw takes about seven hours which can be long even though we had small displays with entertainment system at each seat in our Luxexpress bus.

      Flo

  2. Thanks Flo, it was a great help! I had been reading some arthicles about the 3 capitals of Baltic and I will do that trip in October.
    And what about kaliningrad? It´s a safe trip there, easy to pass the boarder? And how can I do it?
    As I’m so close I would like to go there.. Trying to met a litle of Russia!

    Thanks , Leo.

    • Hi Leo,

      to visit Kaliningrad you will need a regular Russian visa; there are several (transit) trains from Moscow (and maybe other destinations in Russia, especially during summer season) to Kaliningrad via Vilnius which you can take to get there.
      However, the price is rather steep on this “international” section compared to ticket prices eg from Moscow to Kaliningrad directly – you actually pay more for Vilnius – Kaliningrad than for Moscow – Kaliningrad…
      There are no trains running only from Vilnius to Kaliningrad – only the RZD transit trains from the Russian mainland.
      Of course, buses should be available too and might be cheaper.
      Anyway, since you will need a regular visa (depending on your nationality of course…) I think it is quite complicated and expensive to go there only for one or two days or so.
      You can check ticket prices and schedules on https://rail.shop/tutu/ or https://rail.shop/rzd/
      Flo

  3. Good day Flo, thanks for reply and sorry for delay. Lots happening family wise and planning took a back seat but now on it with a vengeance. I have now got ourselves from Helsinki to Vilinius using ferry then Luxe Buses. However stumped on how to get to Warsaw. Would like to use train if possible as we don’t fancy the ice 7 hours bus version?
    Your advice appreciated.
    Then I have changed plan of going from Warsaw to Wroclaw I think there is train??? Then into Vienna and I thought getting to Bratislava from Vienna? Is this feasible?
    Again advice appreciated Jenny

    • Hi Jenny,

      sorry for the late reply.
      Vilnius to Warsaw by train works on weekends only (Saturday to Monday) as described on the blog: Leave Vilnius early in the morning at 07:30, change in Kaunas and Bialystok.
      Frequent, comfortable and modern trains are available between Warsaw and Wroclaw, tickets are available at https://rail.shop/pkpic/ or https://rail.shop/polrail/
      From Wroclaw it is a bit complicated to get to Vienna; best option is to go to Katowice, then change to a direct train to Vienna (three daily trains). Tickets for the international part of this journey are not available online, you would have to get them locally at a train station in Poland. To get cheaper prices I recommend to buy in advance in Warsaw.
      Vienna to Bratislava is easy, hourly trains on the route to Bratislava hl st (central station) as well as to Bratislava Petrzalka (south of the Danube/city centre but proper connections by public transport). Buy tickets locally in Vienna.

      Flo

  4. Hola Flo.. .en el mes de agosto 2018 viajo con una amiga a lituania,Letonia y Estonia. Hasta allí llega la excursión (Riga ) luego haríamos el cruce a Helsinki por un día. Quiero saber si para ir a Helsinki es a través de un ferry? O se puede ir en tren?.Podrías adelantarme precios de cada uno ?.Gracias.Alicia

    • Hi Alicia!
      There is no ferry from Riga to Helsinki; you would have to go to Tallinn (Estonia) first. From Tallinn there are frequent ferries (about two hours travel time) to Helsinki. Quickest option from Riga to Tallinn is by bus (https://rail.shop/luxexpress).
      Going by train from Riga to Helsinki is possible but takes waaay too much time if you just want to go to Helsinki for a day.
      Flo

  5. Good day,
    Thanks for detail Helsinki to Warsaw. Your trip advise has been a godsend! We are in our mid 60 but still keen on independent travel whilst we are still fit and able to carry our own bag!
    However we would like to get from Warsaw to Bratislava? What would be your recommendation please?

    • Hi Jenny,

      thank you!
      From Warsaw to Bratislava you can use this night train: https://rail.cc/en/night-train/warsaw-budapest-en-407-477/182 or travel during the day. There is a direct Eurocity train (express train) from Warsaw to Budapest via Bratislava.
      Tickets are available online only on https://rail.shop/polrail/ however you cannot (yet) purchase cheaper advance fares there – only full fare tickets. If you want to save money you will need to buy tickets locally (risking that all cheap advance fare tickets are sold already and that you have to buy the full fare tickets anyway).
      However, you can also try and save money by splitting tickets. For instance, you could buy cheaper online tickets from any Czech station (Bohumin or Ostrava) to Bratislava here: http://rail.shop/cd – you would then need another ticket from Warsaw to Bohumin/Ostrava. You could buy a domestic Polish ticket online at https://rail.shop/pkpic/ or https://rail.shop/polrail/ to a city close to the border (Chalupki), then purchase an international ticket Chalupki – Bohumin locally at the station (in Warsaw) and use the online ticket from CD from Bohumin to Bratislava.
      Another option altogether (if you want to spend more time) would be to travel via Zwardon – Skalite – Zilina. Tickets to Zwardon should be available online at https://rail.shop/pkpic or https://rail.shop/polrail/, the remaining tickets can be bought on board the onward train from Zwardon to Zilina (and on to Bratislava). This would be quite an interesting option through some rather scenic areas. 🙂
      Flo

  6. Flo, thanks for all the good information.
    My companions and I will be arriving in Helsinki in the spring (May 2018) and plan to see Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Gdansk, then Rostock (or possibly Kiel) before winding up in Copenhagen. We were intending to travel by Ferry and Rail but are kind of stuck on the best way to proceed from Vilnius to Gdansk. There are some interesting ferry options but we still want to get to northern Poland.. any fun suggestions? The three of us are well seasoned travelers and trying to get the most out of our travels before we are too old to carry our own luggage!

    • Hi Roger!

      There is the Klaipeda – Kiel ferry of DFDS, however this would require you to skip Gdansk.
      Instead, you could go by train from Kaunas to Bialystok on weekends. See schedule in the blog. From Bialystok it should be possible to continue to Gdansk within a day if you take the early train from Vilnius, but why not stay overnight there. The most interesting route from Bialystok to Gdansk would then be through Masuria via Elk – Korzse – Olsztyn. Maybe also stop at Malbork to visit the castle.

      To continue from Gdansk to Germany you could then go by train again – there are no ferry options IMO. Either take the direct EC Gdansk – Berlin, then continue to Kiel/Rostock; or travel along the northern coast (the railway line actually runs in the hinterland though) to Szczecin; then either cross the border to Germany here or continue to the port of Swinoujscie and continue your trip on the island of Usedom to Stralsund – Rostock – …

      Flo

      • Flo,

        Thanks again for all this information and for your timely updates of the train schedule. We are mid-trip in Tallinn (having spent 2 days in Helsinki and traveled by Viking Ferry to Tallinn) and I just booked our travel from Tallinn to Valga via Tartu on this website: https://pilet.elron.ee/en
        However I could not book our travel on to Riga from there. Fortunately, this website: http://www.pv.lv/en/
        Allowed me to book the travel from Valga to Riga. I will post as we book train travel throughout our trip.

        Roger

        • Hi Roger,

          thanks for the update! 🙂
          Yup, Elron is the Estonian railway operator, selling tickets for travel within Estonia. As there is no “real” international service between Estonian and Latvia (you have to change trains at the border), they do not sell through tickets and for onwards travel within Latvia you have to buy tickets from PV (or vice versa). Of course it is also possible to simply buy tickets onboard the trains.
          The only real international service in Estonia is the Tallinn – St Petersburg – Moscow train which is available online via https://rail.shop/gorail
          Flo

      • So, it appears that the train connection from Riga–Daugavpils–Vilnius is only available on weekends so I have been forced to use the LUX Express to continue on to Vilnius because we need to travel mid-week so we can take the Train from Vilnius–Kaunas–Bialystok the following Saturday. Not a total loss as the coach will save us both a very early morning and a few hours travel time.

        • Yes, the recently introduced trains Daugavpils – Vilnius currently run only at weekends.
          The Lux Express buses are a good alternative for anyone who doesnt want to travel with these trains/cant plan his/her journey accordingly. 🙂

      • Forum post:
        Can we buy a train ticket on the Train or at the Szczecin Glowney station at Szcecin Poland for travel tomorrow to Rostok?
        28-05-2018 – 09:22
        So, did I wait too long to try to buy the DB ticket from Szczecin to Rostock? the DB site has referred me to a registered travel agent and the online one . Can we buy the tickets at the train station or onboard the train? I saw a warning that it would cost 40 Euros if you board a regional train without a ticket would that still work?

        Thanks,

        Roger

      • response from the train ticket forum:
        Szczecin to Rostock Train Ticket
        28-05-2018 – 13:18
        Hi Roger and welcome to rail.cc

        There are local regional train passes available from German railways Deutsche Bahn. In your case the “Mecklenburg-Vorpommern-Ticket” is your choice.

        Available for regional trains from 09:00h in the morning until 03:00 the next morning. For the first person it is Euro 23 in second class (it’s okay for regional train travel). Up to 5 persons can travel in total. Each additional person is +4 Euro. Means, the ticket price is for two persons 27 Euro, for three 31 Euro and so on.
        This ticket is even valid to travel the route from “Szczecin Glowny” in Poland to “Grambow” in Germany (which is on your route).

        Connection for you for tomorrow, 29 May 2018

        Szczecin Glowny dep 09:00 – RE 4 (5354) in direction Bützow
        Güstrow arr 11:53

        Güstrow dep 12:14 – S 2 in direction Warnemünde
        Rostock Hbf arr 12:43

        This connection is available every two hours. See here: plan.rail.cc

        The ticket itself is available online here: rail.shop/mecklenburgvorpommernticket
        You can download it as PDF file on your mobile phone – it’s easy.
        Here a map where it is valid: http://www.bahn.de/p/view/mdb/bahnintern/angebotsberatung/regio/regionale_tickets/2018/mdb_266327_171210_mv_171106.pdf

        Note: it might be the case that you can also buy it at the ticket window in Szczecin or at a “Deutsche Bahn” ticket machine in Szczecin (not sure if they have one there).

        Pete

        Done and Done!
        Thanks people, you are an awesome resource!

      • Flo,
        So just to summarise our travel/booking arrangements– All travel in Poland was booked and bought using the Bilcom.pl site and app. The http://rozklad-pkp.pl site was useful for looking up connections on my Chromebook computer but the booking engine was not functional. Fortunately the Bilcom application was fully capable of both looking at travel options and booking them. For travel in Germany we used the “Mecklenburg-Vorpommern-Ticket” referenced earlier and downloaded to my smart phone which always brought a smile and nod of appreciation from the train staff. It is brilliant. We used the regular DB site (https://reiseauskunft.bahn.de) to figure out the timetables.
        This got us seamlessly and easily across Germany from Szczecin Poland to Rostock to Lubeck where I sit today.

        Tomorrow we will depart for Copenhagen. I looked at using the DB to get to the Puttgarden–Rodbyhavn and buying ferry tickets then travel on the Danish system but I spoke to a couple that had just made the trip from Copenhagen to Lubeck and they highly recommended using the Flix bus which uses the same ferry connection, manages your luggage takes about 4 hours and cost less than just the ferry tickets (as priced by aferry.com) so that is how we will conclude our journey.
        And finally a review:
        This website and it attendent gurus 5 stars
        Helsinki 5 stars for the airport to downtown connection by train
        Viking ferry to Tallinn 5 stars
        Tallinn 5 stars for being a beautiful and walkable city
        The same 5 stars for both Riga and Vilnius
        The connection by train from Tallinn to Riga via Valga 4 stars (but make sure you walk to town and get lunch at Lilli restaurant–5 stars)
        The connection from Vilnius to Bialystok 5 stars
        Bialystock 4.5 stars and rising (a very cute little city with friendly inhabitants).
        Polish rail in general 4 stars and rising
        Gdansk a surprising 5 stars for a beautiful, relatively clean city and the friendliest people we have encountered in Poland
        German rail (DB) as usual a solid 5 stars.
        Rostock 4 stars
        Lubeck 5 stars
        I feel confident giving our total trip 5 stars and am sure that Copenhagen will not drop our impression a single bit.
        Regards always,
        Roger

  7. If coming from Germany, would you recommend leaving your car in Poland and using the train the rest of the way? Or would you simply drive?

    • Hi Jaquelyn,

      if you are going by car I would recommend taking it with you to the Baltics – or leave it at home altogether.
      You could also have a look at the Kiel – Klaipeda ferry of DFDS Seaways.

      Flo

  8. Hi. Your blog is really useful. We are planning a trip in the northern autumn and your observations are of great help.

  9. Is it possible/practical to hire a person as a guide to travel with us though these rest countries?

    • Hi,
      unfortunately we do not offer guided tours so I cant help with that issue. If you just want to visit the capital cities it is sufficient to book all needed bus/train tickets buy yourself and maybe look for a guided tour throug each city locally.
      Flo

    • Hi,

      thank you very much! I hope you’ll have a nice trip and it would be great to hear your experiences!

      Cheers,
      Flo

  10. Advice! If you could only go to two of the cities, between Tallin, Riga and Vilnius, which two would you pick? Thank you!

    • Hi!

      Personally, I wouldn’t want to miss Riga. Depending on my overall route, I would then add either Tallinn or Vilnius.

      Have a nice trip,
      Flo

  11. Tallinn is nice at night when less people so try to spend one night there and have some cheat soup in the restaurant inside the city hall, small door. Riga s bigger and bit less exotic to me but worth one full day and night as quite lively, then Vilnius us 2 small days and you can a visit of Trakai castle easily reachable by bus and definitely worth it. last time we did Helsinki to Berlin in 11 days with a stop in Krakow and Zakopane. all was cheaper in 2006 but still impressed by well preserved cities like Tallinn. have fun.

    • Trakai can slso be reached by train from Vilnius Main Station – there is 2-300 m between the train- and the busstation in the town where Trakai Castle is. Anyway you have to walk 20-25 minuttes from the bus/train up to the castle, but there is some interesting churches on the way.

      Travel by bus from Wilnius to Warsaw can also be done with Ecolines – they hve nice busses with personal entertainment system, and they do serve hot and cold food onboard – still not as nice as a train journey, but ok. Price is 16 €

      • Hi Kim,

        it could be possible to travel again by train from Warsaw to Vilnius very soon – at least on weekends.

        Flo

  12. Hi, I was basically planning the exact same route as this one, so all this info is extremely helpful! I was wondering if you had any recommendations of things i should do whilst I’m in these cities?
    Thanks for your help,
    Jack

    • Hi Jack,

      sorry for the late reply. In general, I prefer walking and exploring on foot (and taking photographs), so I do not have many particular sightseeing tips.
      In Tallinn, the old town is very small and compact. In principle, one day is enough to see everything.
      In Riga, we havent only been to the old town but also to the old jewish quarter as well to the art-nouveau district which was quite nice. Dont miss the large market just behin the railway and bus station, located in old airship hangars.
      In Vilnius, the bohemian/artist quarter, Uzupis, is quite interesting and you shouldnt miss going to one of the Snekutis restaurants.

      Cheers
      Flo

  13. Hi!
    How many days did you spend in each one of the capitals?
    regards

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