Helsinki to Rovaniemi train, Santa Claus Express
The Santa Claus Express, (or Helsinki to Rovaniemi train) almost doesn’t sounds real, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a magical train ride from a children’s fairytale. However, it’s very much a real thing, and is one of the most exciting and comfortable train journeys to take in northern Europe.
The train is a Finnish-run double-decker night train, travelling from Helsinki to Lapland’s Kemijärvi in the far north. On its journey to Kemijärvi the train make a stop at Rovaniemi, the fictional home of Santa Claus, where tourists can explore Santa Claus park, Ranua Zoo (home to polar bears) and live out their festive dreams (whatever the month). Ride the train in summer and you’ll experience the mind-boggling midnight sun, while a winter journey could allow you to see the famous Northern Lights.
Prices from: €36
Departing from: Helsinki
Journey length: 1 night
Helsinki to Rovaniemi train route
The train runs one route between the Finnish capital Helsinki and Kemijarvi in the far north, stopping at Tampere and Oulu along with Rovaniemi. It’s operated by the Finnish national rail service VR, taking an average of 12 hours to reach Santa’s homeland and offering guests two different departure times depending on day – 7pm and 9pm. Travel during the summer and you’ll be treated to a whole night of daylight, perfect for gazing out the window at Finland’s countryside and snow-covered landscapes, before arriving in the Arctic circle. The train can also be super economical, depending on how you choose to travel.
Helsinki to Rovaniemi train
Not only is this train named after Father Christmas, it even has a giant sticker of the man itself on its green, white and red livery, stirring up feelings of nostalgia and excitement in both adults and children. Inside the train things are rather space-agey, with a green and white colour scheme, curved-walled corridors and en-suites that transform from a toilet and sink to a full-sized shower. Facilities and amenities are excellent, from air-conditioning throughout to disabled facilities and compartments, luggage racks, power sockets, showers and free-wifi. There’s also an on-board restaurant/bistro car, serving up snacks and hot meals and acting as the social hub of the train – often packed with travellers. Being large and double decker cars can also travel on the train for an extra cost.
Cabins on the Helsinki to Rovaniemi train
Accommodation on the train is of a really high standard, and there are two different options of compartment to choose from – en-suite or standard. Sleeping cabins without an en-suite are located on the bottom level of the train while sleeper cars with private shower rooms are located on the top level.
Each sleeper compartment comes with bottled mineral water, towels, bedding, plug sockets and wi-fi. In true Nordic style, even the en-suites are super trendy, transforming from a sink and toilet into a full-size shower, and standard sleeper passengers have access to showers and toilets in the carriages. Children age 10 and younger are able to travel for free if staying in a compartment with their parents/family, a great money-saver if travelling as a small family.
Food and drink
Unlike many overnight trains in Europe, the Santa Claus Express has a bustling restaurant and bar car, serving up late-night dinners and snacks. The menu features crowd-pleasers like pasta dishes and sandwiches and breakfast is also available – a small menu with teas and coffees. You can also bring your own food on board and enjoy a picnic in your compartment. Either go to the dining car immediately after boarding or wait until later in the night as it can get very crowded.
At 12 hours the Santa Claus Express is a long train ride, so make sure to bring comfortable clothing and pyjamas. Weather outside can be chilly so arrive wearing warm clothing. The train itself is toasty and warm.
Included in the price of a sleeper ticket is accommodation, mineral water (one bottle per passenger), a towel and wi-fi. All food and other drink can be purchased from the train’s café car.
Pros and cons
The train is clean, safe, comfortable and runs extremely smoothly – with some fantastic scenery rolling past its windows. Pet and car owners will appreciate the train’s policy of allowing both animals and vehicles on board, at an extra cost. Kids under 10 can also go free if sharing a compartment with adults, just remember to get a ‘free’ ticket issued. The timetable is also flexible, with two departure times available. As the train gets very busy in high season bookings should be made well in advance.