Take a train through Finland’s vast forests and frozen lakes to Rovaniemi, home of Santa Claus. It’s an unforgettable journey that almost sounds like a fairy tale.
Most passenger routes in Finland are operated by InterCity trains which feature two-story modern carriages. The state-owned rail company VR also runs a few routes that are serviced by Pendolino trains, which are shorter and have one story.
One of the best ways to explore Finnish Lapland is by train. The Helsinki-Rovaniemi line whisks you away to the north, past thick forests and vast frozen lakes 63 times as large as Lake Windermere. The train is comfortable and modern, with double-deck sleeping cars including deluxe compartments with ensuite shower/toilet and 2nd class coaches. A car carrier also runs daily on the route (wednesdays, fridays and sundays).
All trains feature power sockets, free wifi and on-board catering. Some long distance trains have dedicated compartments for passengers with reduced mobility, pets and allergies. IC and EC trains have on board ticket machines, while other trains allow ticket purchases on-board from conductors or railbus staff.
The main station in Helsinki is located in the city center at Kaivokatu 1. It offers all of the usual services, including ticket counters, left luggage, food stores and newsagents. In addition, the station is served by the Asematunneli metro station.
The main line runs through Helsinki and Kemijarvi and serves as a major route for passenger and freight trains. Its running speeds are up to 220 km/h for passenger trains and 120 km/h for freight trains.
The train ride from Helsinki to Rovaniemi feels like something out of a fairy tale. It takes less than 15 hours to travel north to a magical place where the sun doesn’t set for weeks in summer and does not rise at all in winter.
The Santa Claus Express train is a modern double-deck sleeping train with comfortable two-bed compartments, standard class and Ekstra class cars, a restaurant car, luggage and a service car. It also conveys car carriers. The trains are operated by VR and run on European loading gauge. The main station in Helsinki is a tourist attraction itself, designed by famous Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen. It has ticket counters, left luggage, food stores and newsagents. It also has a number of ferries that connect to the main islands.
Although the Finnish railways are slowly opening up for competition, there is only one operator for passenger traffic – the state-owned VR. There is however a lot of choice and a variety of schedules. Generally, trains are slow compared to other European countries. Pendolinos can drive up to 220 km/h but most of the time they operate at 160 – 200 km/h, stopping at every station.
The comfortable night train from Helsinki to Kemijarvi offers two-bed sleeping compartments, regular 2nd class coaches and a luggage and restaurant car. The train also conveys car carriers for cars from Helsinki and Tampere to Rovaniemi.
Tickets can be purchased at stations, from long distance train conductors or on board staff in main lines and from machine on regional trains (except for those travelling to/from Helsinki). Tickets can also be bought online. Within the Helsinki suburban area, tickets must be purchased before boarding. Otherwise they can be purchased on the train at a higher fare.
Although the country is slowly opening its railway traffic to competition, state-owned VR operates passenger trains and the company has a monopoly on ticket prices. That means that if you’re planning a trip, consider purchasing a rail pass instead of individual tickets.
If you’re headed to the far north, try the Santa Claus Express, a slick and efficient double-decker train that connects Helsinki with Rovaniemi in Lapland. It may not be the quickest way to get there, but the journey offers an incredible experience with views of rolling forests and glinting lakes in winter.
The train runs daily from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, with buses continuing on to Ruka and Kemijarvi. There is also a car-carrier train that leaves Rovaniemi for Kemijarvi three days a week (Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays).