Having been to Lapland with the kids, we loved it so much we said we definitely wanted to go back. Having read about the Night Train (or Santa Claus Express Train as it's known) from Helsinki to Lapland I knew that was something I wanted to do with the children.
So we booked our first family holiday abroad in around three years and excitement levels were off the scale.
Booking the Train
We booked our accommodation in Lapland first, then cheap flights to Helsinki. Next we had to book an overnight train. We had now booked flights to the south and accommodation in the north ha ha, so needed a way to join it up! We had 1000km to cover.
I had done a fair bit of research on how to do this. I called the Finnish Railways (VR) customer care as I felt it would be easier to actually speak to someone (internationally the number is +358 9 2319 2902). The easiest way I found to do it was via Localphone.com. VR matkalla were also very helpful, answering my questions via Facebook and being extremely helpful with their Customer Service number in Finland.
With the Santa Claus Express Train children 10 and younger are able to travel free of charge as long as they are occupying the same sleeping compartment as you. Just tell the reservation line when a child is travelling with you. They will issue tickets for children 4-10 years old. Request adjoining rooms with a bathroom if you can.
Being a bigger family with three children, instead of the 'usual' two we didn't fit into two cabins but as my boys are young and small they were allowed to share a bed, which they easily fit into.
If you fly into Helsinki airport you will need to get a train from the airport station to the city centre station.
If you get into Helsinki during the day with luggage cases, as we did, don't worry. There are large lockers at the city centre station where you can store cases for €6.
Before the shops shut it's a good idea to buy some snacks from one of the supermarkets. Train snacks make it more fun and exciting for kids (and cheaper!). We bought croissants and pastries plus orange juice for breakfast in the morning.
When we departed in the evening at 7.30pm all the restaurants and cafes in Helsinki shut at 6pm due to covid. This meant we had nowhere to go for an hour and a half so we just had to hang around the station. Luckily you can get on the train 15 minutes before it departs. We were very glad to get out of the cold!
Tips for Travelling on the Train
Pull down the window covers so that the light doesn’t wake you in the morning
You might want to bring extra pillows and blankets for the kids. We didn't as were trying to travel light.
There are a few power plug-ins, take multi USB adapters to make use of them. Make sure chargers are easily accessible.
FREE wifi! Make the most of the time and look up anything you need to for the rest of your journey. A great way for kids to have some down time on phones or tablets too.
You can request nets on the beds when you call the reservation line. It’s great for small children and even adults. You can take them off easily if you decide they don’t work for you.
There is quiet time between 11pm and 6am/ The toilet flushes are really loud so remember that!
You can travel with a pet. Pets travelling in sleeper car have their own water bottle, water bowl and towel in the cabin.
There is a tiny seat and table, otherwise you sit on the bed. Handy for a child for breakfast though, as demonstrated in this pic!
Breakfast costs around €9 from the restaurant car for porridge and berries or croissant with jam, orange juice and coffee or tea. It is around €5 for children's breakfast. You can order breakfast the night before to be delivered to your cabin in the morning.
The first thing I would say is be prepared for cold in the winter time! Part of the appeal for us of going in January was that there would be snow in Lapland! We were obsessed with the idea of travelling overnight and waking up to lots of snow. The kids absolutely loved opening the window blind to see snow.
Lots of people take the train to Rovaniemi, home of Santa Claus. As we had been there before we chose to continue on until Kemijarvi, Finland's most northern city.
It will be very cold when disembarking. Therefore make sure you have easily accessible warm clothing. A good rule of thumb is to have lots of layers. For example, a merino wool or thermal base underlayer, tshirt, then fleece or wool mid-layer and ski/warm jacket. We wore normal socks and a pair of woollen/thermal socks on top with snow boots. We also had toe warmers and heated insoles (very cheap from Home Bargains and stay warm for 8 hours) for really cold days. A warm hat was essential and a scarf or neckwarmer/snood. We finished with gloves underneath ski gloves.
The tannoy will tell you when it is time to get off but make sure you are packed and ready to go in time.
Hopefully you have arranged for your hire car, taxi or other transport to be there ready. You can wait inside the station in the warm if not.
I hope this blog helps if you decide to take the train. It's such a lovely way to travel without having to drive or fly. It is exciting for children too! Especially if your children like trains.
Let me know in the comments if it is something you fancy!