Recently we managed to go to Russia by car for a long weekend. This was a trip to my husband’s and my hometown Petrozavodsk (Petroskoi in Finnish). Trips to there are quite a challenge as the trasport connection is not the best. Apparently the go-by-car option turned out to be the most comfortable. I recommend all my Finnish friends to have such a trip, at least once in a lifetime. You will see the Russian region which is far different from the metropolitan Moscow and St. Petersburg. And to do so it worths to get some tips.
Why by car?
First of all, let me motivate the choice to go by car. This is indeed not the only option. However in my opinion this is the best. You can find other options with Rome2Rio.
The cheapest and fastest is going by direct bus. They are operated by Russian-based companies, and every day there is a bus going back or forth. Sometimes 2 or 3. However the bus trip takes up to 13 hours. If they depart at 8 in the morning, this means arriving at 8 in the evening. So, you will need to spend whole day there. There are also night trips from 8pm to 8 am. But sleeping in the bus is not the best experience of my life. Usually the next day is all dedicated for rest.
The buses are comfortable, they provide toilets and blankets. But it is still a bus with not that much space, especially if you get a neighbor. Also, they operate only in Russian, and non-Russian speakers may find difficult to communicate. However I believe this is still doable.
The good thing is that busses go through the border with no queue. The border stuff must not take more than an hour for all the passengers. You can be sure that you arrive in time.
Another connection is by train through St. Petersburg. This is more expensive but comfortable. However the needed transfer in St. Petersburg destroys the comfort level. So, I would recommend this only if you are planning to stay there for 2-3 days for some touristy.
The recommended route from Helsinki region is like that:
Helsinki — Lahti — Lappeenranta — Kitee — Niirala (cross the border here) — Lyaskelya (Läskelä) — Kolatselga (Kolatselkä) — Pryazha (Prääsä) — Petrozavodsk (Petroskoi).
Your navigator or Google may build another route. Do not believe them.
Better to go through Lahti than through Porvoo. Numbers say that Porvoo-way is faster. But the difference is only 10 minutes, whereas road to Lahti has 4 lanes and does not take all the traffic to St. Petersburg. This ensures the fastest speed and more comfortable drive.
Closer to the border take a short cut through Kitee. After the border take the route to Kolatselga (Kolatselkä). There is another road to Petrozavodsk, through Suoyarvi (Suojärvi) which is shorter, but not faster. The roads’ condition in Russia is legendary, so it matters to take the better route.
Such a long drive requires several stops. Here are the recommended:
- ABC Viipurinportti near Lappeenranta
- Jänismäki Ravintola in
Värtsilä (the Russian one)
You can find it right after crossing the border. This is a good place to take full meal.
Cafe in Kolatselga
It’s not even in map, take the coordinates
[61.678716, 32.228778]. You will have the cafe to the right side of the road. Don’t miss. This might be your only chance to go to normal toilet before you reach Petrozavodsk. Not a joke.
At the border
The Niirala-Vyartsilya check point must not take you a lot of time, it doesn’t have a lot of traffic unlike the way to St. Petersburg.
If you bought your car with a loan and you still pay it, you will need a written permission from the financial company to take the car outside Finland. They call it “proxy”. You can order this by phone. They usually require a fax message from the insuarance company that your KASKO is also valid in Russia. This can also be ordered by phone.
Having arrived at the Finnish side of the border, you should stop your car near the special line in front of the toll barrier. Than go inside the building for the passport control. The car documents should be given to the pasport control officer. After they let you pass, your passengers and you can sit into the car and as the bar gets lifted go forward.
To cross the Russian border you will need to present 2 filled copies of the custom
declaration. Also, they ask to print it 2-sided. They will take
one copy and give another one with their stamp back to you. It will be needed to present on the way back.
You also need to have a “green card” insuarance for such a trip.
To drive into the Russian checkpoint territory, you need to presend the passports of the driver and all the passengers at the entering point. You do not need to leave the car, just pass the documents in the opened driver’s side window.
At the Russian checkpoint stop in front of the line on the road, or in the queue. You can move forward when a border officer waves you. There are usually several paths open, they will show where to drive. First stop in the beginning of ath. Here you and your passengers can go to through the passport control in the first booth.
After that the passengers should go trough the building with their luggage, which goes to X-rays. You can also keep the luggage in the car, but in this case declare the number of suits in the custom declaration mentioned above. The driver goes to the second booth which is in 20 meters forward. In there you need to present the custom declaration and the car documents. They take one copy and give back another one with a stamp. Having gotten this, drive the car forward to the next line (these 20 meters), than open all the doors and the trunk. I also recommend to open the hood. This is not obligatory but can make things faster if they want to look there. The cars are examined, sometimes with a dog. They may ask what is inside the suits. As a result of examination you get another stamp in the custom declaration. This means that you have passed. While this proccedure goes, the passengers who have alredy passed the border control are expected to wait you on the side of the road after the border path. Pick them up from there.
When leaving the theritory, they will want to check all the passports at the exit, similar to what happened at the enterance.
That’s it. You are in Russia.
When arriving to Petrozavodsk, you may be suggested to go right at this point.
I recommend to keep driving to the big road junction and then move towards the city. Better road, you know.
At the border when going back
Going back happens in reverse order.
When getting closer to the Russian checkpoint, take the curved side. The straigh one is for the tucks. And there is no sign about it, yes :-)
At first, you drive to customs where you need to present your copy of the custom declaration. Then the car examination with opening all the doors and a dog (if you are lucky). Having passed the custom control, drive to the border control in 20 meter. A driver is allowed to go out of the car only if he or she is first in the queue. Once you are in front of the stop line, leave the car and pass the passport control in the booth.
Your passengers should leave the car when arriving at the custom control. They go through the building. Once the driver has finished their business, paggengers can be picked up from the side of the road.
The next stop is the Finnish border control. It goes exactly as on the way in. Stop in front of the bar. Then all the people go through the building for the passport control. The driver also presents the car documents to the officer. Having passed the control, all can sit into the car and drive as the toll barrier is lifted.
Our first car jorney took 13 hours one way and 11 hours back. We drived from morning to evening. Now I don’t think that this is a best solution. However the woodland scenery is very nice, sad to spend whole day only for driving. Also, from October to April it is becoming quite dark when you arrive to the Russian part. The road there is curvy, which is not very comfortable in the darkness.
The better schedule would be like that:
Head from Helsinki at 17:00 or a little bit earlier. In 6 hours you are at the border. There must not be a long queue at night, so you will pass it faster. Then you can have rest night in a hotel which you book in advance. This might be the hotel in Vyartsilya village right after the border, or something closer to Pitkyaranta (Pitkäranta) if you will stong enough to drive 2 more hours.
In the morning you can make the rest of the drive. With the breakfast at Kolatselga this must take 3-4 hours, which means that you can arrive by the noon. I belive this is the best option.
Overnight staying at the Finnish part can be an option as well.
As for the way back, in the winter time it woulr be better to depart from Petrozavodsk in the morning. So the driving will take a day. However in summer the overnight staying scheme can be used here as well.
Bring your car to the Tikkurila station in the morning. Then you can pick it up after the working day and start your trip. This saves 20 minutes and becomes one more reason for going trough Lahti.
Do not eat long. Half an hour must be the upper limit for your stays.
Do not bring a lot of petrol in Russia, better take on fuel there. There is a petrol station right after the border. We prefer Lukoil a little bit father the Jänismäki cafe. Draw the full tank on the way back.