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Best of SPB, Tallinn and Helsinki Tour

Just returned from this tour and want to share some information with others who are already booked or considering it. There is not much information on the forum regarding this itinerary, and hopefully this will assist someone in their planning. I highly recommend this tour as it increases your knowledge about the history and current life in places that you may not have ever considered exploring. Each location was unique with distinct cultures, traditions and food. This diversity of experiences makes this tour well worth your time and money (in our opinion).

The hotels we stayed at were My City Hotel (Tallinn), Rivoli Jardin (Helsinki) and Pushka Inn (SPB). I realize hotels may change for each group, but checking these hotel websites will give you a clear idea about the type of hotels used. They were all in perfect locations, comfortable and clean. They all had elevators, albeit small-to-tiny ones. They all had hair dryers and washcloths. (I know some of you want to know these minute details.) They were all nonsmoking and all had opening windows. Tallinn and SPB hotels had restaurants which were excellent not only for the provided breakfast but for other meals as well when you are just too tired to explore to find somewhere else.

Because this is not a "bus" tour, there is a LOT of walking involved. Expect 5+ miles every day. We had perfect weather, but it was clear that was the exception rather than the rule. Bring a packable rain jacket with a hood.
Our tour leader was exemplary in every way, and the local guides in Russia were all topnotch. Every individual need was attended to quickly and without fuss; from food preferences/needs to logistics such as safe ATMs and quality souvenirs.
I hope this helps those of you already booked, and clarifies for those of you who might be considering this tour. Feel free to private message me for more specifics. Happy travels!

Posted by
672 posts

Thanks so much for posting this! We're on this tour beginning June 26 and I'm delighted to hear how much you enjoyed it. I used to use the RS tour reviews to help prepare for tours and I've really missed them. Your post helps fill in some of the gaps, especially since we're staying in the same hotels. I'll be sure to pack a rain jacket. Did you, by any chance, have Etelka Berecz for a guide?

Posted by
401 posts

TravelingMom - Thank you for sharing this because as you say, there is not a lot of info on this tour and the book seems a little thin. Sounds like you stayed in the same hotels that we will be staying in. We will be spending a couple of days in Helsinki before the tour and then taking the ferry to Tallinn. Would love it if you would share some of the things you did in your spare time that you enjoyed and any other restaurants that you found.

Nancy - two friends and I will also be on the June 26th tour. We had Etelka as a guide for the Eastern Europe tour about four years ago and she is excellent. Looking forward to meeting you.


Posted by
438 posts

We had Estzer as our tour leader. She is the main reason we would consider taking another RS tour. She was that good. I don't think she is leading this particular tour again until the end of summer, so you may well have Etelka.
We flew in and out of Helsinki. We recovered at the airport Hilton there, which is comfortable and convenient. We took the Viking line ferry to Tallinn. The group took the Silja line which is a much nicer boat.
Tips :
If you are interested in souvenirs buy in Taillin. There are stores/outdoor markets that sell only locally made products. They are a bargain, good value and support the economy of this (as you will discover if you aren't already aware of) amazing country which has only had independence for a handful of years. We had dinner at Vanaema Juures ( Grandma's Place). You will see it on your first night's orientation tour and remember it because there is a big frying pan with an egg in it on the outside. It is in a small basement, but the food was delicious, well-priced and the atmosphere quaint. You might want to call ahead to make a reservation. We got lucky and snagged a table by promising we would finish in 90 minutes. Another couple in our group called ahead and got the last table. Another couple just showed up like we did, and although we offered to share our table they were declined because they couldn't be finished in time for the next party that had reserved a table.
In Helsinki there are many restaurant choices. It is a MUCH more expensive location. Some of our group went to a local place to try specialties like bear heart and reindeer. We were not so adventurous, but had an equally interesting experience. Tired of looking, we defaulted to a Tex-Mex (yes really) place right across the street from the hotel. The food was not great, but the atmosphere was memorable and the place was definitely full of residents instead of tourists. The Rivoli Jardin is also across the street from a grocery store, so picking up "picnic" supplies and eating in your room is something to consider. There is also a take-out place called Pic Nic right next door to the hotel.
In SPB, we ate (at the recommendation of our tour leader) at Stolle. Their specialty is pirogies, but I would describe them as fillings in pizza dough. Fresh-baked bread with intricate designs filled with everything from mushrooms to salmon. We chose beef and chicken and shared. We also ate at the Pushka Inn restaurant for lunch and dinner. The food was good, the tap beer was cheap and cold and the prices were spot on. Again, it was the default for many of us on the tour because we were tired and it was steps from our hotel rooms. In SPB the best souvenir option is at the outdoor markets attached to your trip to Katherine's Palace. I tell you this in restrospect, because I waited and ended up buying lower quality and more expensive nesting dolls at the Singer store on Nevsky in SPB.
For extra excursions: We opted to do the trip in Helsinki to the Suomenlinna Fortress. It was most memorable, and for our tour was paid for. We opted for the added afternoon (at our expense) excursion to Petershof (the summer palace). It was well worth it, and very relaxing to stroll in the gardens of the park. We didn't buy admission to the palace and the park admission was just fine. I would only do this if the weather is good. In SPB we also bought tickets for the offered tourist Russian folklore program. Many people opted for the ballet. Both are "tourist" type performances and since we didn't bring formal clothes we opted for the folklore dancing. The caliber of the performers was very high, and we are glad we did it. It cost $59 pp and was about 1.3 mile walk each way, but in a very safe and direct route. If you want true ballet/ opera/concerts you would do better to book that on your own ahead of time. By looking at your itinerary you can figure out which are the "free" nights for your specific tour and book accordingly.
Hope this helps.