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GABRIELLA © Jukka Huotari

GABRIELLA © Jukka Huotari

Viking Line’s Helsinki-Stockholm link celebrate 50 years and 45 million passengers

FerryViking Line’s service between Helsinki and Stockholm began in the middle of the 1970’s oil crisis but nevertheless got off to a flying start. The route, which has already served 45 million passengers, was a key player in creating the tourism and later the experience industry in Finland.

“The maritime transport that connects the centres of these capital cities is very important for tourism and the vitality of Helsinki as well as for the city’s attractiveness,” says Juhana Vartiainen, the mayor of Helsinki.  

Viking Line’s Helsinki service began in July 1974 when VIKING 5 headed for the first time from the Katajanokka district in Helsinki to Stadsgårdshamnen wharf in central Stockholm. At the same time, a route between the two capitals was launched.

“Service from one city centre to the other was our comparative advantage even back then, and it still is. Right away, our Helsinki route was a big success in its first few years. In the 1970s, Sweden was still an exotic place for Finns, where people sought out Western influences as well as butter and sugar. Tax- and duty-free alcohol, tobacco and sweets could be purchased in the tax-free kiosks. Today the route primarily serves passengers who want to enjoy the cruise experience as well as ever-trendy Stockholm,” notes Viking Line’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications, Johanna Boijer-Svahnström.

Over five decades, the Helsinki route has served 45 million passengers, making it a significant part of Helsinki tourism. Nowadays, about a third of passengers on the route are Swedes visiting the city for the day. The share of international tourists is also on the rise again, and the possibility of experiencing both Stockholm and Tallinn through good maritime shipping connections is important for Helsinki tourism.

“Scheduled passenger and cruise service between Helsinki and Stockholm are crucial for Helsinki’s tourism, vitality and attractiveness. The interlinkage between Helsinki and Stockholm also strengthens cultural ties between the two capitals. And many of us have travelled on work trips in both directions on Viking Line’s vessels,” notes Juhana Vartiainen, the mayor of Helsinki.

From oil crisis to consumption boom

The years during which the Helsinki-Stockholm route was established were characterized by great social upheaval: emigration to Sweden was at its peak in the early 1970s but collapsed in 1973 with the start of the oil crisis. 

“In the early 1970s, we had targeted our services at families who had moved to Sweden and offered them inexpensive, quick transport to the other side of the Gulf of Finland. In conjunction with the oil crisis, mass immigration to Sweden collapsed and the focus of traffic shifted from transport to holiday travel. With urbanization, families who had moved to the Helsinki metropolitan area started to want to spend their holiday in Sweden, and our new route from Helsinki to Stockholm met this new need. Buffet dining, entertainment and shopping became part of the cruise. The concept of cruises was born, and instead of car ferries we started talking about cruise ships,” says Risto Peltola, who led marketing at Viking Line for 40 years.

In the early 1980s, when the Finnish economy and the popularity of cruises were both growing, Viking Line introduced a new pair of vessels, VIKING SAGA and VIKING SONG, on the route. For the first time, all passengers were offered a cabin. Already in 1985, the next new vessel on the route was launched. MARIELLA, built at the Wärtsilä’s Perno-based shipyard, was the company’s first real cruise ferry ship. Construction of its sister ship, OLYMPIA, was completed the following year.

“Everything was new on MARIELLA and OLYMPIA – there were gourmet restaurants and top-notch entertainment. There was seafood as well as an aquarium from which people could choose their lobster. There were many theme weeks: Indonesian weeks, Hungarian weeks and Greek weeks, which offered something exotic for Finns who had not travelled much back then. During MARIELLA’s first summer months, passenger volume in our Helsinki traffic increased by nearly a third,” says Johanna Boijer-Svahnström.

In the late 1980s, CINDERELLA, also built in Perno, was launched on the Helsinki route. The vessel, an even bigger and better version of its predecessors, became a legendary entertainment vessel that brought top performers from Paula Koivuniemi and Danny to Toto Cutugno and Ricky Martin to the stage.

“In the 1990s, we went from being a holiday industry to an experience industry, with the emphasis now on entertainment and creating social contacts. The number of people living on their own in Finland and Sweden continued to grow, and singles became the most important target group for CINDERELLA’s entertainment cruises,” says Risto Peltola.

The latest major upheaval on the route was experienced in the spring of 2020, when the Covid pandemic put a complete stop to vessel traffic between Helsinki and Stockholm. Viking Line’s GABRIELLA was the first vessel to return to service on the route in July 2021 – after a shutdown of nearly a year and a half.

Viking Line’s daily service between Helsinki and Stockholm has been under way since early March this year when CINDERELLA, which had sailed in Swedish cruise traffic for 20 years, was reflagged under a Finnish flag and returned to its original berth at Skatudden in Helsinki.

“The past few years have been exceptional, and it was fantastic to have CINDERELLA back in Helsinki and for the route’s 50th anniversary. We invested nine million euros in the vessel’s renovations and our customers have been enthusiastic in welcoming CINDERELLA. Together with the Turku route, the daily connection between the Swedish and Finnish capitals is still really important to us,” adds Johanna Boijer-Svahnström. 

The following vessels have served the Helsinki-Stockholm route: 

  • VIKING 5 1974–1980
  • VIKING 6 1974–1980
  • VIKING SAGA 1980–1986
  • VIKING SONG 1980–1985
  • MARIELLA 1985–2020
  • OLYMPIA 1986–1993
  • CINDERELLA 1989–1994, 2024–
  • ISABELLA 1994–1995
  • GABRIELLA 1997–

Jun 27 2024

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