Most passenger rail services radiate from Helsinki Central, operated by the state-owned Valtion Rautatiet (VR). From here, trains run south to Tampere and Turku. There are also limited overnight trains to Rovaniemi and beyond to Kemijarvi.
Alternatively, you can drive Finland’s uncrowded roads – though this is an adventure in itself with its ponderous pace and scenic lake-filled interior.
The station is served by trains from Helsinki, Tampere and Turku as well as through services to Rovaniemi and Kemijarvi. The latter is the northernmost railway station in the country. There are also two airports in the region. One is in Rovaniemi, while the other is in Kuusamo.
The passenger line from Helsinki to Kemijarvi is run by the national rail service VR. It offers modern double-deck sleeping cars with comfortable two-bed compartments and 2nd class coaches as well as dining and luggage cars. The train is operated daily except for a few days in winter when it operates only from Rovaniemi to Kemijarvi.
Though it may not have the glitz and glamour of some of Europe’s best-known railway systems, Finland’s vast network carries passengers at a surprisingly relaxed pace. It whisks you past thick forests, frozen lakes 63 times the size of Lake Windermere and clusters of wooden cottages painted in classic Nordic colors.
The train ride from Helsinki to Rovaniemi may sound like a magical journey from a children’s fairy tale, but it is very real. The train is comfortable and fast, with a maximum speed of 220 km/h. It is a great way to spend the night in Lapland, and it will leave you with plenty of time to explore Santa Claus Park, Ranua Zoo (home to polar bears) and to live out your festive dreams.
Until recently, the train line to Kemijarvi was not electrified and a direct overnight service to Helsinki could only operate with a diesel locomotive driving a generator car that provides hotel power. However, the line is currently being doubled, and the electrification reached Kemijarvi in March 2014, allowing seamless service from Helsinki to Rovaniemi.
The station is located in central Helsinki, and the main entrance is towards Kaivokatu 1. The tracks funnel into separate express and local tracks, with the local tracks aligning with their respective platforms. You can find up-to-date route-specific timetables by using the HSL trip search tool.
Ticket prices vary depending on the train’s popularity. It is a good idea to book early to secure your tickets. You can purchase them at station machines or with a credit card from the conductor of long-distance trains. If you buy a ticket on board, the conductor will add a service fee of 3 euros. Local trains do not require reservations.
The Santa Claus Express, as it’s known in Finland, is a magical double-decker train that whisks you from Helsinki to snowy Lapland, stopping at Rovaniemi – home to Santa and his reindeers – and Kemijarvi. It’s the perfect way to experience Finland’s northernmost region.
The rail network in Finland consists of two-track lines, most of which are standard gauge. Most passenger trains are operated by the state-owned VR Group. However, some routes are owned by private operators. The VR Group’s network is expanding. New lines are being built to connect Helsinki to Tallinn, while existing lines are being refurbished.
Trains in Finland are designed with the traveler in mind. The country boasts a well-developed network that connects bustling cities and charming villages. The network extends far into northern Lapland, where Kemijarvi and Kolari act as railheads (although Rovaniemi has better onward connections).
There are three types of trains in Finland: commuter trains, regional trains, and InterCity and Allegro express trains. Commuter trains travel at low speeds and stop in smaller towns. InterCity trains are faster but less comfortable than commuter trains. Regional trains stop in more towns and are less expensive than IC trains.
The Santa Claus Express, a double-decker night train that travels from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, is one of the most popular ways to visit Lapland. The train includes modern sleeping cars with two-bed compartments and 2nd class coaches, and conveys car carriers.
If you’re planning to book a cabin on the Santa Claus Express, be sure to book well in advance. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only four-bed cabins are available and tickets cost a bit more than in the past. You can purchase tickets for long-distance trains on the VR website.