If you’re going to Lapland, what could be better than taking the Santa Claus Express, an overnight train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi?
Imagine boarding the train in Helsinki in the evening. You seek out your bed, go to sleep, and when you wake up, you’re already in Lapland. And you didn’t even have to pay for an expensive hotel or flight! Not to mention that train rides are much more sustainable than flights.
If you’ve been thinking about taking the Santa Claus Express, then you’re in luck. Not only have we put together everything you need to know about the overnight train, but we are also going to talk about our own experience. That way, you will exactly know what to expect.
The Santa Claus Express – Overnight Train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi
What is the Santa Claus Express
The Santa Claus Express is an overnight train that connects Helsinki with Rovaniemi. While most people get off in Rovaniemi, some of the trains continue to Kemijärvi, another town in Lapland.
The train ride takes about 12 hours.
Why is it called the Santa Claus Express? Because in Rovaniemi, you can visit Santa Claus in his village! No matter at what time of the year you go, up there, it is always Christmas.
How to book the Santa Claus Express
If you try to book the Santa Claus Express, you will often find the information that you need to call the Finnish train company VR Rail. Fortunately, you can now book your ticket online.VR Rail is in the process of improving their website. Currently, you need to make a booking for sleeper compartments through their old website. But don’t worry. During the booking process, you will see a notification that directs you to the old website.
If you’re travelling for the holidays, make sure to book your ticket well in advance. As you can imagine, the Santa Claus Express is popular in December, and even though up to three trains depart every day, these can book out weeks in advance.
Timetable and pricing
The overnight train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi takes around 12 hours, with multiple stops in between. The first train leaves Helsinki at 18:49 and arrives in Rovaniemi at 7:29. You can also take the later train, which leaves Helsinki at 23:13 and arrives in Rovaniemi at 11:13.
The earlier train, leaving at 18:49, offers the option of taking your car. Instead of driving 811 km, you can load your car on the train, go to sleep in your cabin and wake up the next day when you’ve arrived. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?If you take your car, you need to board early. You can find more information about boarding times for cars, including the exact time when you need to be at the Helsinki central station, during the booking process.
Tickets are available starting at 69€ for your own cabin. If you’re travelling with two people and share a compartment, that price goes down to 49€ per person. The sooner you book, the better. VR Rail only offers a limited amount of saver tickets. Once those are sold out, you will have to pay the full price.
When looking at the prices, keep in mind that you save money by not needing a hotel that night. The Santa Claus Express is one of the most affordable ways of travelling to Lapland.
Inside the Santa Claus Express
What kind of compartments are there?
When booking the Santa Claus Express, you have the choice between three different tickets.
The cheapest one is the basic ticket. It gives you a seat reservation in a regular seating compartment. We do not recommend this ticket unless everything else is booked out and you cannot go on a different day. You will not get a bed, just a seat – and the whole point of taking the Santa Claus Express is that you can sleep at night and wake up in Lapland.
For the sleeper cabins, you have the choice between a downstairs cabin and an upstairs one. Both have bunk beds for two people. The upstairs compartment costs a little bit more but comes with an en-suite bathroom. That means you have your own toilet and also your own shower.
If you book a downstairs cabin, you can use the public restrooms that you will find in every waggon.
If you’re travelling as a family, you can book two adjoining downstairs compartments with a partition in between that can be opened. You won’t have a private bathroom, but you will be together as a family.
How does the sleeper cabin look?
We have taken a few pictures for you so you can get an idea of what to expect.
Inside each compartment, you will find two beds. These bunk beds are surprisingly comfortable and come with blankets and pillows. We were on the upper floor and even had towels and water bottles supplied to us.
In your compartment, you can find plugs for charging your equipment. Make sure to double-check if you need an adapter for European plugs before you leave home!
You can use your phone to set up an alarm so that you wake up on time to leave the train, but just in case, you’ll also find an alarm clock in your compartment.
The en-suite bathroom looks like a small bathroom with a washbasin and a toilet at first. However, it converts into a shower easily. The only disadvantage is that after you take a shower, the floor will be wet. Therefore, we recommend taking a pair of flip flops or other waterproof slippers for using the bathroom.
Next to your door, you can find two keys. These allow you to lock your cabin door while you are walking around the train, so you don’t need to worry about leaving your luggage behind.
Amenities on the train
You can find multiple amenities on the Santa Claus Express. As the overnight train takes around twelve hours to travel from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, there is, of course, a restaurant cart. They offer meals, small snacks and an all-day breakfast.
To give you an idea of prices, a plate of meatballs with mashed potatoes was 12,90€, a slice of pizza 4,60€ and the all-day breakfast 7,90€. The restaurant also offers take-away as well as pre-packaged sandwiches.
Besides that, the night trains are also equipped with baggage lockers and paid baggage storage space. The latter is useful if you want to take your ski, for example, or even just a large suitcase. We only had our backpacks, but the compartments are small enough that we could barely fit them in there.
Packing for a night on the Santa Claus Express
Talking about luggage. As we just mentioned, the sleeper cabins are small enough that you will barely fit your luggage. That’s why it pays off to pack a few items separately before you board the train. That way, you won’t have to go through all of your luggage just to find your toothbrush.
The easiest way to think about it is as if you were boarding a plane, where you would also pack your hand luggage items separately. Take a small backpack and put everything you need:
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- All toiletries you usually need in the evening or morning (moisturiser etc.)
- Fresh clothes for the next day
If you travel to Lapland in winter, make sure to pack warm clothes! When we went, the temperatures dropped down to below -20ºC, so you want to be prepared.
Things to do in Rovaniemi
So now that you know how to get there, why should you visit Lapland?
You can find lots of things to do in Rovaniemi, from visiting Santa Claus or a reindeer farm to learning more about Sami culture. Here are three highlights that we think you shouldn’t miss on your trip:
See the Northern Lights
Seeing the Northern Lights is, without a doubt, the highlight of a trip to Rovaniemi. If you visit in autumn or winter, don’t miss out on this unique opportunity!
The best time to see the Northern Lights is not, like we intuitively thought, in the middle of winter. Instead, try going at the end of September or the end of March, when solar activity is at its highest.
You can also multiply your chances by joining a guided tour. On most days, even if the Northern Lights are dancing above you, you won’t be able to see them. Why? Because in Lapland, most days are cloudy.
The tour guides know exactly where to go to escape the cloud cover. They communicate with each other and can find the best spots where you have a chance of seeing the aurora. While a Northern Lights tour might not be the cheapest activity in Rovaniemi, it was the highlight of our trip, and we were insanely glad that we went.
Check out this tour to see the Northern Lights. It takes you into the countryside, away from Rovaniemi, to see and photograph the Aurora.
Visit Santa Claus
No trip to Rovaniemi is complete without a visit to the Santa Claus Village. Right here, at the Arctic Circle, you can meet up with Santa Claus or visit his post office. And the best part? Santa Claus is here all year long, so it’s always Christmas!Santa Claus would not be complete without his elves. Find out what it’s like to work for Santa Claus in our
Besides visiting Santa Claus, you can do lots more exciting activities in his village. Don’t miss the reindeer, for example. Or go on a ride on a husky sleigh. The village is also a great starting point if you want to go for a short walk through Lapland’s forests. Plus, you can find a few traditional dishes in the restaurants here, so this is your chance to eat reindeer meat.
Explore the Arktikum
If you want to learn more about Lapland and Sami culture, then you need to visit the Arktikum. This excellent museum, which is linked to the University of Lapland, features exhibitions about everything you could ever want to know about the region.
Here, you can learn about Lapland’s unique ecosystem and nature and how the people living here have adapted to its harsh conditions. Plus, from the glass corridor, you can enjoy the view of the river and the lakes north of the Arktikum and get a glimpse of Lapland’s nature yourself.
Where to stay in Rovaniemi
Even though Rovaniemi is a small city with only around 60,000 inhabitants, you can find lots of great hotels here.
You will have to choose whether you want to stay in the city or whether you prefer a hotel in the countryside. Staying in a remote place can be very beautiful and there’s less light pollution, so if the aurora is active, you have a chance of seeing it.
On the other hand, you will need a car to reach most of the remote hotels. Some of them offer a shuttle service, but those quickly get expensive and you’ll be better off with a rental car.
That said, here are some of the best hotels in Rovaniemi and the surrounding area:
Mid-range in the city centre: The Crystal Arctic Suites offers stylish hotel rooms in the middle of Rovaniemi. From here, you can walk to the Arktikum and you can also easily reach the bus that takes you to the Santa Claus Village. Check out availability and prices here!
Budget in the city centre: In the centre of Rovaniemi, next to the river, you can find the Hostel Café Koti. The rooms are very clean and the hostel consistently receives great ratings from travellers. Depending on your budget, you have the choice between a bed in a dorm or a private room with your own bathroom. Click here to read reviews and check availability!
Stay at the Santa Claus Village: If you want to stay in an unusual location, consider booking a cottage at the Santa Claus Holiday Village. Not only will you feel the holiday spirit during your whole stay, but you also have a private sauna in your cottage! Plus, you can find lots of opportunities for skiing or hiking nearby. Click here to book your stay now!
See the Northern Lights from your glass igloo: Have you seen pictures of the glass igloos you can find in Lapland? You will stay in your own igloo, which features a glass dome, so you can watch the night sky without having to go out into the cold. If you’re lucky, you might even see the Northern Lights! Sounds good? Then consider staying at Santa’s Igloos Arctic Circle. Check out reviews, availability and prices now!
What other ways are there of travelling to Rovaniemi
The Santa Claus Express isn’t the only way of travelling to Rovaniemi, even though it is the one we recommend most.
If you want to go by rail, you don’t have to take an overnight train. Trains also go during the day and take slightly less time than at night. They might not be as convenient, since you can’t sleep while you’re going there, but depending on your plans, they are a good option.
You can also drive up to Rovaniemi by car. If you’re coming from Helsinki, you will have to drive 811 kilometres. While this is a chance to explore Finland, we only recommend this option if you’re planning on making lots of stops along the way.
If you are limited in time and only want to travel to Lapland, you can either rent a car in Rovaniemi or take your car on the train.
The last option, which is also the fastest one, is to take a plane. Most flight connections go via Helsinki, although, depending on the season, you might even catch a direct flight from the UK. This could be an option if you’re coming from abroad. If you’re already in Finland, though, consider taking the Santa Claus Express as a more sustainable method of transport.
Have we answered all of your questions about the Santa Claus Express? If you need to know anything else, please leave us a comment so we can find an answer for you!
We have put together a guide with everything we wish we had known about the Northern Lights before setting out to find them. Go and take a look if you want to increase your chances of seeing the aurora!
While you’re here, also check out our interview with one of Santa Claus’ elves, to learn what it’s like to work for Santa Claus!
If you’re in Finland, you can also combine your trip with a visit to Tallinn. The ferry is fast enough that you can go there on a day trip! Find out more about the most amazing things to do in Tallinn!
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