The Santa Claus Express: The Perfect Guide for the overnight train to Lapland, Finland

A trip to Europe in the winter, especially at Christmas time, is not complete without a trip to Lapland.

Lapland is one of the most magical places I have ever visited and it all began with our night aboard the Santa Claus Express to Rovaniemi.

When I ever picture an over night train, my mind wanders back to the corridors lined with bunk beds hidden behind curtains on the road from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Thailand. However, the night train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi aboard the Santa Claus Express was a completely different experience.

Find out how to make your trip on the Santa Claus Express night one to remember

A pinterest Graphic for the Santa Claus Express Train

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The Ultimate Guide to visiting Santa Claus Village Rovaniemi

The Santa Claus Express Night Train

The Santa Claus Express is a train that travels from from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, Lapland in Finland. The train runs several times throughout the day and at night time.

The Santa Claus express takes 12 hours from Helsinki to Rovaniemi in Lapland.

The cost of the Santa Claus Express

If you take the train during the day you can book a seat for 160€ for two adults or you can choose to upgrade to a seat upstairs in the restaurant car from an extra 12€ per person.

If would rather travel on the Santa Claus Express at night time the train will depart from Helsinki Central Station at either 6:00pm or 9:00pm.

When booking the night train make sure you book the train that does not have any transfers. You don’t not want to be woken up along the way.

There are a few options you can book on the night train, you can choose from a seat, a sleeping berth in a male or female cabin, a sleeping cabin with a bathroom or a sleeping cabin without a bathroom.

The sleeping compartments for two people including a shower are 274€. A sleeping compartment for two people without a shower are 256€.

A bed in a compartment will cost 116€ and there is a chance that you will be sharing this with some body else.

You can book your tickets through VR Finland, I ended up booking my tickets over the phone as we were using the Eurail pass.

If you want to make sure you are getting the best setting option for your trip on The Santa Claus Express I suggest booking over the phone.

Leaving from Helsinki Central Station

Helsinki Station Central Station is easily accessible by public transport, taxi or Uber.

The Station has lockers for you to store your bags if you are arriving earlier in the day.

If you are looking for WiFi you will need to head to Burger King which is at the front entrance to the station. Just be mindful if you don’t order some food or a drink you will be asked to leave pretty quickly.

There are plenty of eateries, places to stock up on snacks and drinks, cash machines, and toilets.

The platforms are outside and in the winter it can get pretty frosty on the platform so make sure you have plenty of layers.

Travelling on the Santa Claus Express Night train

The Santa Claus express night train
All aboard the Santa Claus Express

We were travelling on the night train from Helsinki to Lapland in January. The beginning of our journey was very cold and dark as we arrived from the Ferry terminal very early.

I recommend getting to the station about 45 minutes – 30 minutes before your train departs. This will give you enough time to buy some food, go to the toilet and board your train before departure.

Our train left Helsinki at 6:49pm and arrived in to Rovaniemi train station at 7:00am.

We found this travel time worked perfectly for us because it meant we had the whole day in Lapland.

When we booked our train the lady asked us if we would like a compartment upstairs and I am so glad we did. We had a compartment for two people with a shower.

As you board the train you need to find your own compartment by yourself, we found this a little bit challenging but we did eventually find the right compartment.

The santa claus express water

Just inside the door to your room you will find two keys. Make sure you take your key with you when you leave your room.

If you don’t have a toilet or a shower in your room, you will have an extra key that will open the toilet nd shower.

Inside your room you are provided with a pillow, a blanket and a small water bottle. The beds were surprisingly comfortable and quiet.

There is a pull down table and chair to look out the window and free WiFi.

Santa Claus Express - Compartment

The compartments are small so if you have a lot of luggage you may struggle slightly to fit your luggage.

The beds do lift up so suitcases can fit underneath the bottom bunk.

We were travelling for four months so we had two large backpacks, two small backpacks and an extra bag of food.

After some rearranging our bags fit into the room without taking up all of the space.

Santa Claus Express Night Train - Bathroom

The bathroom appears to be a toilet with a sink but with the release of a leaver a door swings out and becomes a shower – make sure you ask the train staff if you cannot figure this out.

As the Santa Claus Express begins it’s journey your conductor will let you know the facilities available on the train and the stops the train will make.

The restaurant car looked very clean and had a basic menu. We had already eaten dinner and didn’t feel like eating any of the snacks available.

We did walk to the restaurant car a few times to stretch our legs and later into the journey it got busier and busier.

So if you would like to sit and eat a meal, go early!

Arriving in Rovaniemi, Lapland

The Santa Clause Express at Rovaniemi

Each bunk in the sleeper compartment has it’s own alarm clock which is very easy to use.

Our alarms went off at 5:30am to give us time to get ready and pack our bags.

As soon as our alarms went off we could see the snow falling and the ground was covered in a think white blanket of snow! We had made it to Lapland and the excitement was really building.

Due the small space you have in your room I suggest allowing a little extra time to get ready.

Rovaniemi is not the last stop for the train in Lapland so you want to make sure you are ready when the train arrives.

The conductor will make an announcement as the train arrives. Listen for the announcement, we tried to get off a stop too early!

Alarm Clock on the night train

When we stepped off the train we could not believe just how cold it was, the snow was falling and the platform was covered in snow and ice!! Make sure to have extra layers in your bag and be careful on your feet so you don’t fall!

The train station is not very big and it is easy to see where the transfers are waiting to pick you up.

If you are taking public transport to your hotel there is a bus stop just outside the train station.

However, even though we arrived at 7:00am there were plenty of people around the station to ask for directions.

The night train returning to Helsinki

This leg of the journey was less exciting as our magical trip to Lapland had come to an end!

Our train train departed from Rovaniemi at 6:00pm and the train arrived to the platform shortly before. If you are hoping to buy a meal or snacks I suggest buying them in Rovaniemi before heading to the train station.

On our return journey we were not able to book a compartment with a bathroom and as soon as we stepped into the room we noticed the difference.

The non bathroom compartments are downstairs and are smaller and the blankets and pillow didn’t seem as comfortable.

The shared facilities are clean at the start of the journey but in the morning the toilets were not very pleasant to use.

We had a shower key in our room but we could not get the doors to open using the key and we were unable to find a staff member to ask about opening the showers.

There are plenty of lockers at Helsinki station if you need to leave your luggage.

They are down stairs (the stairs are opposite Burger King) and cost 2-6€ for 24 hours.

When we arrived at 6:30am there were not many places open so we stood outside Burger King to access the WiFi to plan where we are going.

There is free WiFi on the train so I suggest using their WiFi to plan where you need to go when the train arrives.

What to pack for a night on the Santa Claus Express

I recommend having the clothes and toiletries you will want for the night packed at the top of your suitcase/backpack or in a small separate bag. This will make packing and unpacking on the train much easier.

If you are night owl, bring some entertainment. There is not a lot to do on the train and if you are travelling at night during the winter it will be too dark to look out the window. It is a long journey so you don’t want to get bored.

Bring your chargers. There are charging points on the train so don’t forget any chargers you need. You will be taking photos as soon as you step off the train (or before you even board the train if you’re like me!)

Snacks! Snacks in Helsinki will be cheaper and you have a wider range than what is available on the Santa Claus Express train. As the restaurant car gets very busy you don’t want to be starving on the train.

Things to do in Rovaniemi, Finland

Visit Santa Claus

Take a trip to the touristy but still cool Santa Claus Village. At the village you can visit Santa in office, post a letter from Santa’s post office, explore the shops and eat some tasty Finnish food.

Visiting Santa in his office is one of the highlights in Rovaniemi. Santa is the real deal, he has his Finnish slippers, the most epic beard I have ever seen and he is so tall. I felt like such a child and sat in awe staring at Santa.

You can visit Santa Claus for free but you will need to pay if you want photos or a video. We paid 40€ an digital copy of our photos and the video of our meeting with Santa.

Chase the Northern Lights

Seeing the Northern Lights is another reason many people head to Lapland. To watch the sky light up in bright colours and see the lights dance across the sky is a once in a life time opportunity.

If you are lucky, you might be able to see the lights from the center of town or your accommodation but the light pollution can make it harder to see the lights.

Instead, you might like to choose a Northern Lights tour to take you out of the city and away from the light pollution to get the best chance to see the Northern Lights.

Visit the town center

Rovaniemi is a small city center but it is worth visiting. There are plenty of restaurants and some shops to look at.

The city center was completely demolished during World War II so it does not have the charm of an old European city but it is the capital of Finnish Lapland.

Today, it serves as the business district for Finnish Lapland

Stay in an Arctic Tree House

The Arctic Treehouse Hotel Rovaniemi, is like a slice of heaven on earth located on the Arctic Circle. From the moment you check in to the moment you leave you will feel as though you are on cloud 9.

Imagine staying nest like treehouses surrounded by the snowy arctic forest.

From the moment the doors opened you will be startled by the beauty of the nests. The design is simple but everything is immaculate and absolutely beautiful.

Every nest has a full rectangle window which looks out onto the gorgeous arctic forest.

Despite having another nest next door and surrounding you, you feel as though it is just you in the remote arctic forest. Before we arrived, we emailed (okay I probably emailed too many times) asking for a room with a complete view of the Arctic Forest and I could not have been happier with the room we were in.

Overall thoughts on the Santa Claus Express from Helsinki to Lapland

We loved our journey to Rovaniemi the upstairs compartments with bathrooms are extremely comfortable and well worth it. If you can afford the slightly more expensive room I recommend booking a bathroom. It just makes the 12 hour journey that little bit more enjoyable.

We also noticed when we were walking around the trains that if you book a corner room due to the shape of the room you get a little extra space. When booking online you can’t choose your compartment so if you have a request I would book over the phone.

We stayed in Lapland for three nights but we found that getting in at 6:30am on the morning we arrived and leaving at 6pm on the day that we left gave us four full days, rather than the two full days you normally get when you stay in a place for three nights.

Lapland Packing List

Have you been on the Santa Claus Express? What are your tips for having the best journey? Let me know if the comments below

Fiona xoxo

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My BEST Travel Resources

Here are my favourite travel resources for planning travel like a pro

Flights: To find the best flights I always search on Google Flights or Skyscanner. For even cheaper flights, fly mid week and pack in a carry on!

Accommodation: I always use booking.com (I love their price match and flexible cancellation policies) or Airbnb (if I want a little more space) to book trip. If you prefer hostels, I suggest Hostelworld.

If you are new to Airbnb you can get an awesome discount using this link

Travel Insurance: After a few hairy moments on my travels, I ALWAYS purchase travel insurance. It may seem like a big cost now, but if the worst happens, it will save you a lot of money and heartache. I personally use World Nomads (and love them!), but I recommend that you do some research to find the insurance company that suits your needs.

Tours: While I prefer to travel independently, I do love doing some tours once I’m in a destination. It is a great way to find out history, hidden gems, taste local food and get a local insight into your destination. I always use Viator to book my tours.

Train Travel: If you are planning on taking the train in Europe, I cannot recommend the Eurail enough! Check out The Ultimate Guide to the Eurail Pass to find out why

Car Hire: Planning an epic road trip across the US or through Europe, or anywhere! Check out Europcar, they are my go to for car hire all over the world!

Luggage Storage: Some times when we are travelling our check in and check out times don’t match with our departure times so we have to put our luggage into storage. Stasher Luggage Storage is the biggest Luggage Storage Network across the UK, France and Germany

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