Santa Express Train to Rovaniemi

The Santa Express VR Helsinki
The Santa Express

Traveling from Helsinki to Rovaniemi

 On our recent epic adventure to visit Santa in Lapland we flew into Helsinki, Finland, then needed to head up north Rovaniemi, the official home of Santa Clause.  

After spending the day exploring Helsinki on the Panorama Sightseeing bus tour we headed to the main train station at Helsinki to board our train, the Santa Express.


There are a few ways to get from Helsinki up to Rovaniemi including flights, train travel or driving.  In terms of price at the time I was booking the cost of a plane ticket was comparable to the train ticket, but this can fluctuate depending on timing. 

Traveling by train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi

We decided to travel by train for a few reasons;

1) The experience of it.  We have never traveled on an overnight train before and it was something I had always wanted to try ever since hearing my parents regal me with tales of their EuroRail adventures following the 'Europe on $10 a Day' guide back in the 1970s.

2) The kids LOVE the movie 'The Polar Express'.  The idea of catching a train to the North Pole to see Santa was the adventure of a lifetime. 

3) By traveling on the overnight train we were able to save two nights accommodation costs by sleeping overnight on the train there and back, which was a significant saving.

4) The trains are very reliable.  We were concerned that if we flew there might be itinerary changes due to weather, whereas the train is less affected by weather.

5)  We didn't feel like hoping straight in a hire car and driving on the wrong side of the road, in the snow and pitch dark  (we have made that mistake previously on a motor-home holiday in Germany with disastrous results, but that is a story for another day!).  Having said that I do know people who have done the drive and loved it. 

Traveling by Airplane from Helsinki to Rovaniemi

If you are short on time when planning your itinerary then flying might be the better option, as the train is 10-12 hours, but the flight is only one hour.  A friend who flew up to Rovaniemi around the same time though advises that you should book more time than the 45min connection between flights as suggested by Finnair.  They nearly missed their flights both ways due to snow delays. While they manged to make it to the connection - just - the luggage didn’t make it, which caused further delays.

Booking the train travel was quite easy via the VR Rail website.  All up it was $AUD 990 for the return journey with 4 berths in adjoining rooms.

Helsinki Train Station

The station it departs from is the main one in the center of Helsinki.  There are a few coffee shops and a Burger King at the station, as well as lockers which we stored our bags in all day while we went on our adventures.  The lockers are down in the basement at the western end of the station.  There is a set of stairs and an elevator down to the basement where there is a range of lockers of different sizes ranging in price from €4 to €8 for 24 hours depending on size.  The lockers take coins only.  There is a coin machine down there that dispenses coins, but wasn't working the day we were there.

Boarding Santa Express Train

When we arrived at the station to board the train we were advised that train would arrive and be available to board anywhere from 30mins before departure through to just 10 mins beforehand, depending on the schedule.  On the train departure board I was searching for the platform we were leaving from.  I was expecting it to say 'Santa Express' or 'Rovaniemi' at least.  When I couldn't find anything like that on the board I freaked out momentarily, then found our train number IC 265 and the corresponding departure platform

Helsinki Train Station Departure Board

We boarded the train in a bit of a rush, and settled in.  I headed back onto the platform to try and get some cute shots of the kids from outside the train.

This is the photo that almost ruined the entire holiday....

Kids on the Santa Express Train

The Santa Express - Don't miss the train!!!
Mum, stop taking photos and get back on the train!
Just a brief Public Service Announcement here.  DO NOT leave the train to just get one more adorable picture of the kids - even if it is the trip of a lifetime!!  According to the clock on the platform I still had a couple more minutes until it was due to depart.  The kids started to get worried that I was out there with the imminent departure so I headed back to the door to our carriage to hop back on the train.  Except that I couldn't open any of the doors.  By this stage the whole family were on the inside of the train looking back at me through the glass doors and desperately pushing the open button to no avail.  Cue the children starting to scream hysterically.  And to be honest I was starting to panic a little on the inside too, as the platform was deserted and there was no one there for me to flag down and get help from. 

There was no call of 'All Aboard' or anyone signalling it is time to go.  Just the very silent and swift locking of all the doors.

I ran along the train, and a few carriages down managed to find one of the conductors in the corridor of the train, getting her attention by frantically banging on the windows.  It took her a few minutes and a couple of phone calls to get the door open for me, and I re-entered the train apologizing profusely. 

The children were completely inconsolable by the time I got to our cabin.  It had been a few minutes since I had disappeared from view and they were sure that I was going to be left behind.  It took several minutes to get them to calm down from hysterical crying to gentle sobbing.  Once they could breath again we only had a few minutes to get them to the toilet and showered before they fell into a deep sleep - with the jet lag, excitement of seeing real snow for the first time, a whole day of touring Helsinki and the train departure drama crashing over them. 
Sleeping on the Santa Express
Once they were asleep I explored the train.  There are several different options when booking tickets, including sleeper cabin with ensuite, sleeper cabin without ensuite, and regular seats.

Sleeper Cabins of Santa Express Train

We chose the sleeper cabins on the lower level that didn't have an en-suite for a few reasons.  We were not keen on lugging our mountain of luggage up to the top level of the train.  There was also the added benefit that the door between some of the compartments on the lower level can be opened up.  The doors are locked when you board the train, but as the conductor comes around and checks your tickets ask them to unlock the door for you.

The shared toilets and showers were perfectly fine, and we were never waiting to use them.  The rooms were well equipped with bedding, a half size towel and water bottle on each bed.  There was a clock and alarm built into each bed as well.  There was a hand basin in each room, a window  and a thermostat so it was always the perfect temperature (and quite toasty warm).

Helsinki Santa Express Sleeper Berth
Downstairs Sleeper Berths
Technically children aged 10 and younger can travel free of charge on night trains with a parent in the same sleeping compartment if a bed is not booked for the child and they share with the adult. You just need to call VR when booking your tickets and tell them.  However we ended up buying tickets for 4 bunks, and I am glad we did.  In one room we had the lower bunk for our mountain of luggage and one adult in the upper bunk.  In the other room the eldest child went in the top bunk and the bottom one was shared by an adult and the youngest child.

Below are the photos from the upstairs sleeping berths with the en-suite.  These can not be linked together to make a room of four. There is a small ensuite with its own toilet and shower, and when you pull back a partition it is also a shower.
Upstairs Ensuite Sleeper Berths

Corridors, Stairways and Communal Toilets

Communal Disabled Toilets
Seats on the Rovaniemi to Helsinki VR The Santa Express

On the return journey we went into the restaurant car and had a nice dinner, although the 'Giant Meat Pie with Frankfurters' was a lot different than we expected and is a bread roll with frankfurts in it.
The Santa Express Dining Car

Departing Santa Express Train

When arriving at Rovaniemi we had about 20 minutes to depart the train.  An announcement that you are getting close to the stop is made 30 minutes prior to arrival.  So there was plenty of time and disembarking was an easy process.

Overall we loved our travels on the Santa Express.  The conductors in particular went above and beyond to make the journey a safe and comfortable one.  We certainly all had a very good sleep.  The kids loved traveling on a sleeper train, it is definitely something we want to do again one day!

I have written a definitive guide on everything you need to know about traveling to Lapland from Australia over at Bubs on the Move.  The post will be there in a few weeks time once the photos are edited (there are a LOT of photos)!

Leaving Rovaniemi to Helsinki VR The Santa Express
Leaving Rovaniemi to Helsinki VR The Santa Express


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