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Riding the Santa Claus Express in a Deluxe Double Sleeper Cabin

Though it sounds like something out of a children’s book, the Santa Claus Express is indeed a real trail train in Finland. Just as the name suggests, the train runs (for the most part) express from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, which is the undisputed home of Santa Claus. The route includes a handful of other stops, but the portion between Helsinki and Rovaniemi is by far the most popular.

It’s a 12-hour journey, and the train runs exclusively overnight. For that reason, the double decker train commits most of the space onboard to sleeper cabins. There are two categories of sleeper cabins. The most premium option is the upstairs Deluxe Double Sleeper Cabin, which has a private bathroom with a shower.

In this post, we will go over every detail of our experience on the Santa Claus Express. We’ll begin by explaining the train and the route in a bit more detail, before explaining the different ticket options and how to actually book your ticket. Then, we’ll share our personal experience on the train, including a detailed walkthrough on the cabin and what to expect onboard.

If you’re planning a trip on the Santa Claus Express, keep reading!

Santa Claus Express Route & Schedule

The Santa Claus Express is an overnight train in Finland, operated by VR. The route is named after its most popular terminus, Rovaniemi, the city famously home to Santa Claus himself. You can take the Santa Claus Express to Rovaniemi from either Helsinki or Turku.

While all trains to Rovaniemi are on the Santa Claus Express, not all Santa Claus Express trains go to Rovaniemi. The Santa Claus Express branding refers to the train and not the route. Santa Claus insignia appears on all of the newer double-decker sleeper trains in Finland, even those that don’t stop in Rovaniemi.

The Santa Claus Express also has routes from Helsinki to two other terminus cities in Lapland: Kolari and Kemijärvi. These routes do not stop in Rovaniemi. (Finnish Lapland is basically the North Pole, though, so it’s still on brand, I suppose.)

As far as tourists are concerned though, the most popular route on the Santa Claus Express is between Helsinki and Rovaniemi. So, when people say they’re taking the Santa Claus Express, they’re usually talking about that specific route to Rovaniemi. For that reason, and since that’s the route we’re covering in this post, let’s go into a bit more detail on that specific leg.

The Santa Claus Express train departs Helsinki twice nightly for most of the year, typically at roughly 7:30 PM and 11:15 PM. As you’d expect, the Santa Claus Express is particularly popular around the holiday season, so they occasionally add a third later departure during that time. The trip takes about 12 hours, and makes a handful of stops at smaller cities along the way.

Note: The added departure often utilizes some of the older train carriages that pre-date the double-decker Santa Claus Express trains. You will typically see the words “Old Car” listed on the booking page if are using these carriages.

The reverse trip from Rovaniemi to Helsinki also typically runs at the same frequency. Trains usually depart Rovaniemi at roughly 6 PM and 9 PM, with a third departure added during the holiday season. It’s also an overnight train, and the trip is about 30 minutes longer in this direction.

Buying Tickets for the Santa Claus Express

Tickets for the Santa Claus Express are released up to 10 months in advance. If you’re traveling during November or December, definitely book you ticket as soon as possible. The upstairs cabins can sell out months in advance during that time, and sometimes the train sells out completely. Outside of that timeframe, it’s not really necessary to book that early. During most other times of the year, you can find an available seat or cabin with about a month’s notice, sometimes even the same day.

The upstairs cabins with the private bathrooms are the most expensive ticket, followed by the lower level cabins and then regular seats. The exact prices of tickets in each of those three categories on the Santa Claus Express vary based on demand. For example, weekend prices are a bit higher than weekday, and December tickets are higher than June tickets. You can book the upstairs cabin for as little as $148 per person in May, but that same cabin costs $275 per person the Saturday before Christmas.

You can buy tickets for the Santa Claus Express via phone, in person at the station, or online in advance on the VR website.

If you choose to book in person, be aware that this train does sell out sometimes. Tickets in your desired travel class (or any class) may not be available, particularly during the holiday season. If you choose to pay over the phone, watch out for added costs to have your tickets printed and mailed to you. This is not necessarily.

Note: If you prefer to book over the phone, be sure to call the local Finland customer care number (+358 9 2319 2902) to avoid additional fees. If you’re not in Finland, set up a free Google Voice number to make the call, instead of eating the international charges on your cell phone.

To avoid those issues, we suggest booking tickets online in advance.

How to book Santa Claus Express Tickets Online

To book tickets online, start by heading to the VR website. The website is pretty intuitive, and the experience is similar to booking a flight. Enter your route, travel dates and passenger count and hit search. You’ll see a list of all the trains available on that route.

That’s where things get a little interesting. The first thing to know about buying tickets for the Santa Claus Express is that you’ll rarely actually see the words “Santa Claus Express,” particularly during the ticketing process.

Instead, look for the words “Direct” (sometimes listed as “Express”) and “Night train.” These trains are on the Santa Claus Express. For added assurance, check the available sleeper cabins. If there are two levels of sleeper cabins, then it’s on the Santa Claus Express double-decker train.

Note: At the time of publication (May 2024), the two nightly Santa Claus Express trains to Rovaniemi are numbers 265 and 273 and the two nightly Santa Claus Express trains from Rovaniemi are 266 and 274. Train numbers are subject to change.

After you select your train, you’ll be prompted to select your seat or cabin. There are three main categories: single seat (Eko Class), downstairs sleeper (sleeps two, shared bathroom) or upstairs sleeper (sleeps two, private bathroom). In either category, you will automatically be assigned a compartment or seat location. You can immediately click to modify your seat assignment.

You can also choose to pre-order breakfast when you book your ticket. If you choose to do so, it will be delivered to your room before you arrive at your destination. More on that in the dining section.

The rest of the booking process is pretty straight forward: review, enter traveler information, pay. After you purchase your tickets, you’ll receive a confirmation email with your tickets.

Booking Santa Claus Express Tickets for Kids

If you’re traveling with a child, they may be eligible for a free or reduced fare on the Santa Claus Express.

Note: You may be asked to prove their age. This is most important for children on the older end of the cutoff. Be sure to bring a passport or official ID card with you.

Children under 4 can ride for free on the Santa Claus Express with a fare-paying adult in any travel class. If you’re traveling in a cabin, the child under 4 can share a cabin with the adult(s) for free. If you’re traveling in seats, a child under 4 is free if they sit on an adult ticket holder’s lap. Regardless of age, if a child occupies their own seat, they will need to have their own ticket.

Children under 10 are eligible for a reduced fare (40% off) when traveling in seats. They are also able to ride for free in a cabin with a fare-paying adult. Eligible children do not need a ticket, but you will need to notify customer service so they can add the child to your record. You can do this by calling or using the chat feature.

Note: If you have two adults in a cabin and want to add a child for free in the same cabin, do not add them to your travel party on the booking page. The system will not put the three of you in the same cabin and you will be charged for two cabins. Book tickets for two adults in one cabin and then chat with customer support to add the child for free.

Just because children can ride for free, doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily want them to. The beds are quite small — about 2.5 feet wide by 6.5 feet long. Sharing a bed with a child may be an uncomfortable squeeze. If you want to give your child their own bed, you can add them to the booking party to ensure everyone has heir own bed. You’ll just have to pay a little more if you need to book additional cabins.

The Journey Begins

In the section above, we covered some generic planning information about the Santa Claus Express. As we move into these next sections, we’ll shift into our own personal experience. As such, we will only be covering a specific route and cabin category.

For the remainder of this post, we will review our experience on the Santa Claus Express from Helsinki to Rovaniemi on train 265 in an upstairs deluxe double sleeper cabin with private bathroom.

Departure from Helsinki Central Station

Our train was scheduled to depart from Helsinki Central Station at 7:29 PM local time. Typically, boarding begins about 30 minutes prior to departure. There’s not really a good reason to arrive at the station much earlier than that, as there’s no security or check-in procedures like you’d see at an airport.

Since all of the seats on this particular train are assigned, it’s not even entirely necessary that you are there right when the train starts boarding. That said, I wouldn’t recommend arriving much later than 15 minutes before departure. You want to give yourself enough time to get to your actual compartment, which might be a ways down the platform.

The way our travel day worked out, we ended up getting to the train station much earlier than necessary. We had already checked out of our hotel (Hotel F6 in Helsinki), and returned from an afternoon at Suomenlinna around 3 PM. After killing some time taking a final lap around downtown, we picked up our luggage from the hotel and headed to the station around 5:30 PM.

Read more! The train station is easily accessible by public transportation, as many of the tram, train and bus lines stop nearby. You can read more about how to take public transit in Helsinki in this post.

Helsinki Central Station has a handful of restaurants and shops inside, but it’s not the most impressive train station I’ve ever seen. We got veggie burgers from Hesburger, which was fine for a burger joint. In hindsight though, it’s probably better to grab dinner elsewhere. There are tons of great restaurants near the station, and with a 7:30 PM departure, there was plenty of time to eat dinner first.

There’s seating in the train station, but not a lot near the main sign board. By 7 PM, there was a crowd of people standing in the main hall waiting for the track to be announced. The track information posted just after 7:05 PM, and everyone hurried to the platform.

Boarding the Santa Claus Express

The track numbers are all clearly marked. Once the track number is assigned, the information board at the track also updates to confirm the train number and route information. On top of that, each car has a digital sign board that also lists the train number. Basically, it’s easy to confirm you’re boarding the right train.

The digital sign on each car also displays the coach number. Look for the coach number that matches the one listed on your ticket. Once you find your coach, look for your specific cabin or seat number. All of these numbers are clearly marked on your ticket and on the train itself.

There is a staircase on both ends of each coach that leads to the upper level cabins. We took our suitcases upstairs with us to our cabin. That’s probably the best option, if you’re able, as there is pretty generous storage space under the bed. However, if you can’t get your luggage up the stairs, there is luggage storage available in select locations. (Check with a conductor for your closest location.)

Boarding was very organized, but went pretty quickly. The track was announced at 7:05, and it was 7:15 by the time we got inside our cabin. The train departed promptly at 7:29 PM. It wasn’t a tight turn around if you were at the station as soon as the track was announced. However, if you arrived much later, there wasn’t a lot of wiggle room.

In most cases, there is no formal ticket inspection in the private cabins on the Santa Claus Express. Unless there is any kerfuffle with the cabin assignments or you get questioned by the conductor, it’s somewhat of the honor system. (I’m sure they know which cabins should be filled versus empty, so you couldn’t duck into an empty one from a seat.) That said, be sure to have your tickets accessible just in case.

Tour the Deluxe Double Sleeper Cabin on the Santa Claus Express

The upstairs cabins on the Santa Claus Express are all private berths with two beds (bunked), a small table, single foldable seat, and a private bathroom, with a shower. Just like a hotel room, the cabins lock and two room keys are provided.

NOTE: The cabins are only sold as private berths, and sleep up to two adults. If you are traveling solo, you can still book an upstairs cabin and will have it all to yourself. They will not sell the second bed to another traveler.

Each bed was made up with sheets and a light comforter. The top bunk was accessible by three steps, and there was also a bed rail and belts from the ceiling to keep you from rolling off. There was a panel near the head of each bed with a nightlight, alarm clock, and single outlet (that fit European style, double prong Type C plugs.) On each bed was also a bath towel, hand towel, and bottle of water.

Note: If you’re traveling with a child, you can request a safety net in advance. This net attaches to the lower bunk and helps prevent kids from rolling off the bed. Chat with customer support to request a net, and it will be installed in your room when you arrive.

Opposite the beds was the private bathroom, with a shower. The bathroom had a toilet, small sink, and mirror. To covert the toilet stall to a shower, the vanity wall (with the mirror and sink) swung out. That wall then blocked the toilet area and opened up the shower. A wrapped bar of soap and shower caps were provided. You could not use the shower and toilet at the same time.

Between the bathroom and bed was a small table and chair, which folded up. There was storage space below the bed, which easily fit up to four carry-on size roller suitcases. There were also hooks and hangers in the main cabin for your winter coats, and in the bathroom for your towels.

Each room had one window, with a pull-down black out curtain. This wasn’t notable for our visit in February, because it was dark out during our entire trip. However, if you’re traveling during the summer months, the black out curtain is huge. Be sure to lower it before you go to bed!

Review of the Upstairs Cabin on the Santa Claus Express

The upstairs deluxe double sleeper cabin on the Santa Claus Express was the nicest train cabin I’ve ever had. (Granted, my last overnight train was in India from Udaipur to Agra, so my bar wasn’t particularly high.) Everything was very clean, everything worked, and it was a perfectly comfortable place to sleep.

Yes, everything was a little small if you compared it to a hotel room. The cabin was small, the beds were small, and the bathroom and shower were small. However, given the fact that you’re on a train and not in a massive hotel, it’s pretty generous. Once your store your bags under the bed, there’s just enough space for everyone to move about and get ready for bed or eat breakfast in the morning.

The beds themselves were quite comfortable. The beds are only 2.5 feet wide, but they didn’t feel too small or cramped. (And no one fell off, so that’s a win!) And at 6.5 feet long, even taller travelers would probably fit comfortably. The mattress on the bed was thin, but sufficient. I didn’t note any notable bumps or bars poking me. The bedding (as well as the entire cabin) seemed very clean, and was pretty soft and surprisingly cozy.

The private bathroom was such a luxury, especially with a 3-year-old! When they had to go potty, it was so nice to just go right there, instead of having to put on shoes, walk to the end of the car, potentially wait in line, etc. It was also nice that we didn’t have to worry quite as much about them touching everything in a gross public train bathroom. Plus, it just made it so much easier for everyone to get ready for bed and ready in the morning.

We personally did not end up using the shower. It was definitely very small, which might not have worked well for everyone. It seemed fine for us, though. I probably would have showered in the morning if the train didn’t arrive in Rovaniemi quite so early.

Sharing the Upstairs Cabin on the Santa Claus Express with a Toddler

As we’ve mentioned, children can ride for free in cabins with a parent. During our trip, we were traveling with one toddler (age 3) and two adults in a single cabin.

NOTE: If you’re traveling with more than two children under 10, be sure to chat customer service about how many cabins you need. I’m not sure if they’d allow more than two children and two adults in a single cabin.

There are a few different ways to share the cabin with a toddler. They can either share a bed with an adult, or you can move one of the mattress pads to the floor and have someone sleep there. (This train was really clean, so sleeping on the floor was perfectly reasonable.) It is a pretty tight fight no matter how you cut it.

Our original plan was to put our toddler to bed in the lower bunk alone. We figured we’d let them fall asleep down there while we watched a show and hung out on the top bunk. When we were ready for bed, one of us would join our toddler and share the bed on the lower bunk for the rest of the night.

Fact! Nothing with a toddler ever goes as planned.

Our toddler had a bit of trouble falling asleep that night. (They were just so excited to see Santa!) That meant they were still awake when I was ready to join them in their bed to go to sleep myself. Getting them to fall asleep while I was in the bed was just not going to happen.

We ended up putting the mattress pad on the floor for Kenny. He slept on the floor most of the night, while I slept in the top bunk. In hindsight, we should have put the toddler on the floor from the start. I think we could have built them a perfectly comfy bed on the floor and we all could have been comfortable. Next time!

Food & Dining on the Santa Claus Express

There is a cafe car available on the Santa Claus Express. It’s usually located near the center of the train. They sell hot and cold meals, snacks and beverages, including alcohol. You can preview the menu on the card left in each room. The cafe car on the night train is open until 2 AM and then reopens for breakfast at 4 AM.

The dining car is divided into two sections. One side is more of a bar, with standing tables and a single row of seating facing outward. The other side is the restaurant side, with booths that sat up to four. The service counter was in the center.

The cafe car on the Santa Claus Express can get really crowded. It’s the busiest at the start of the trip, when people rush in for a late dinner before going to bed. However, lines tend to die down after that. By 9:30 PM (on the 7:30 PM departure train), there was no line and there were a few empty seats available.

The cafe car does serve breakfast, but you can also pre-order breakfast to be delivered to your room. You can order your breakfast delivery when you buy your ticket online. There’s a few different options, all of which are vegetarian, plus a gluten free option, and include a beverage. With the early arrival and toddler in toe, pre-ordering breakfast was the obvious way to go.

The website says that breakfast will be delivered 30 minutes to 120 minutes before the train arrives at your destination. (That’s a pretty wide window, and could be a difference of waking up at 5:20 AM or 6:50 AM.) In our case, our food arrived just before 6:30 AM, which was pretty perfect for us.

Breakfast was good, and it was amazing to have hot coffee immediately upon waking up. My only complaint was that the croissants were so messy! We did our best, but left more croissant crumbs than we’re proud to admit. (But also, maybe they shouldn’t serve croissants on a train where people don’t have a proper table?)

The Journey to Rovaniemi

The train ride on the Santa Claus express from Helsinki to Rovaniemi was dreamy. It was definitely not a Christmasy experience inside, but the landscape outside (at least in February) sure felt like one.

Our journey began in Helsinki. There was very light snow coverage at the time, given that we caught a rare, rainy warm front.

As soon as we got settled into our cabin, we started bedtime for our toddler. We knew that the conductor doesn’t typically check tickets in person. It was nice that we didn’t have to stay up late waiting for that or risk a loud banging at the door to wake up our little one. (No one ever checked our tickets.)

One common complaint on the Santa Claus Express is the noise. From inside the cabin, you can easily hear any sound coming from the hallway or the the neighboring cabin. Fortunately, in the upper cabins where everyone has their own bathroom, there’s much less through traffic than the lower cabins and seats.

The hallway was pretty quiet on our trip, but it was the neighboring cabin that got us. Someone in that room was violently coughing the entire night. It was gross and annoying, but it wasn’t loud enough to wake me up once I fell asleep. I could imagine a dog barking in the neighboring cabin would cut through just as loudly.

The train itself is loud, but in a white noise kind of way. We hardly noticed the blow of the horn over the steady rumble of the train over the trains. It’s also a pretty smooth train. It does make a few stops overnight, but it didn’t really lurch or jerk so much that it woke us up. Overall, we slept pretty well through the night.

When we woke in the morning and looked out our window, it was like we’d traveled into a snow globe. This was the moment that felt most like I was living inside the pages of The Polar Express. Everything was covered with snow, and we traded in city lights for towering spruce trees. We also happened to be traveling during a full moon, so everything had a tint of sparkle to it.

They didn’t announce all of the station stops overnight, but they did make an announcement over the loud speaker before we arrived in Rovaniemi. (I believe they announced it 30 minutes out and when we arrived.) It’s not the last stop, but it is the most popular. They do their best to make sure no one misses the station.

By the time we finished our breakfast, we were just about 15 minutes from Rovaniemi. We packed up our things and headed down toward the lower level to get ready to depart.

Is the Santa Claus Express a Christmas train?

No. It’s definitely important to understand that the Santa Claus Express to Rovaniemi is not a Christmasy experience onboard. The rooms aren’t decorated, no one is going to bring you hot chocolate, and there’s no Christmas music playing. You could make it Christmasy, especially if you had a little kid, but you’d need to make that magic on your own.

The only thing Christmasy about the train is the Santa Claus insignia on the livery — and the fact that it goes to Santa Claus’ hometown. Otherwise it’s just a train. It’s a very nice train, but just a train.

Arrival at Rovaniemi

We arrived at Rovaniemi at 7:15 AM — five minutes earlier than scheduled.

The train station is small and all one level, so it’s easy to quickly get oriented and find your way. When we got off the train, we were on the main platform. It was adjacent to the station building and the parking lot. There was a line of taxis waiting in the lot when the train arrived.

The train station is about a mile from “downtown” Rovaniemi, where most of the hotels in town are located. You could potentially walk (it’s about 20 minutes), but with snow and bags you might still want to take a taxi.

If you’re looking for Santa Claus himself though, the trip is a bit further.

Note: If you haven’t taken a photo in front of the Santa Claus insignia yet, now is a great time to do it!

Getting to Santa Claus Village from the Rovaniemi Train Station

Santa Claus village is about 6 miles north of the Rovaniemi train station. There’s a few different ways to get there.

  • Bus: The Omni Flex bus (F42) will get you to Santa Claus Village in under a half hour. It only runs once per day, and it costs about €5. You can buy tickets online in advance or with card when you board. You can also take the #8 local bus, which takes about 10 minutes longer and costs about half the price. You can buy city bus tickets on board with cash or card.
  • Taxi: You can also jump in a taxi at the station and pay the metered rate. The tip takes about 10 minutes by car, and usually costs €20 – €25.
  • Pre-Scheduled Transfer: If you want to ensure you have a ride ready and waiting for you when you arrive, you can schedule a taxi in advance through Lahitaksi. This costs a little more; expect to pay closer to €30 – €35.

We weren’t sure what the taxi situation at the station would be when we arrived, but we knew we didn’t want to have to wait in a long taxi line. At the time, we also thought that if we beat the rush to our hotel, we might luck into early available room. For those reasons, we chose to book in advance and paid €31.

It worked out fine. As soon as we got off the train, we called our driver and easily found him in front of the station. He helped us load our luggage into the trunk, and he had no problem waiting for us while we installed our portable car seat. After a short drive, we arrived at our hotel in Santa Claus Village.

We were happy with our taxi service, but I don’t think it was necessary. As we discovered, there were plenty of taxis available at the station when we arrived. It might have even been faster to jump into one of those instead of trying to coordinate with our specific driver.

And despite being one of the first people to arrive at our hotel, even in the off season, there was still no rooms available when we got there. We had to wait until 3 PM to check in just like everyone else. There was really no need to rush. But now we know, and you do, too!

Tips for Riding the Santa Claus Express

  • Buy tickets online. You can buy tickets over the phone or in person, but you risk extra fees and trains selling out. Booking online is just the easiest way to do it.
  • Check for pet cabins. When you book a cabin, you will automatically be assigned a compartment number. However, you can immediately click to modify your assignment. Be on the lookout for the dog icon, which indicates a cabin that allows pets. If you have pet allergies, be sure to avoid these rooms! It’s also a good idea to pick a room a few doors down from a pet cabin, so you don’t have to worry about a noisy pet keeping you up.
  • Pre-order Breakfast. If you’re planning to eat breakfast at all, just pre-order it. It’s not significantly more expensive, and it’s nice to not have to worry about it.
  • Use the chat feature. If you need customer service for any reason, like adding a child to your cabin or requesting a safety net, use the chat feature. The icon is located on the lower right corner of the website, and agents are available weekdays from 6 AM to midnight and weekends from 9 AM to midnight.
  • Eat dinner before you board. The cafe car does serve food, and by all accounts it’s good. However, the cafe car is really crowded and the wait times are long at the start of the evening. Instead, eat dinner at the station before you board and then grab a drink in the cafe car later.
  • Arrive 30 minutes before departure. Tracks are usually announced 30 minutes before departure, so try to be at the station by then. That will give you enough time to get to your cabin, without spending too much unnecessary time at the station.
  • Pack a white noise machine. If you’re a light sleeper, bring a portable white noise machine. (Or play white noise on your phone.) It really helps block out the noise from the hallways and neighboring cabins.
  • Bring a bottle of water. The tap water in the private bathrooms is not safe to drink. One bottle of water is provided on each bed and you can of course buy water in the cafe car, but it’s still a good idea to bring some extra. Either bring a bottle of water, or fill up a reusable bottle from the water fountains at the station.