How to get from Helsinki to Lapland, where to find Santa Claus and what to see in Rovaniemi apart from santaclausness and the Moomins.
Departing from Helsinki
The building of Helsinki Central Station looks impressive after sunset. It is the time when its sculptural giants light up their earth-shaped lamps (LED since 2013, hooray to energy saving!). From here I start my journey to Rovaniemi of Lapland — a place with a frosty weather and a warm heart.
It’s late Sunday evening. I wait for my train in a motley crew of strangers (there is a noticeable number of Chinese tourists here — keep reading, we will meet them again later). The majority of cafes and shops are already closed, but it is still not a problem to find some coffee, or sandwiches, or French fries and hamburgers (the first hall by one third is a restaurant of one popular fast-food chain).
The train is here. It is cold outside, and, together with other passengers, I am trying to make my short race from the waiting hall to my car as fast as I can.
Riding through the winter: the night train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi
My sleeping compartment is on the lower deck of a double-deck car. It’s not very spacious, but warm and rather cosy. It has two beds, a sink, a small table and an additional seat. The number of sockets in the compartment will be a pleasant surprise for device addicts — there are six of them! Speaking of device addiction, there is Wi-Fi on the train, which does not ask for a password and works perfectly (for free, needless to say).
I find my pleasure in charging all my gadgets simultaneously and in taking a closer look at the details. There is also a temperature control, personal lamps for each passenger, clothes hangers, a trash bin, and a couple of built-in alarm clocks.
After being outside, on a cold winter street, it’s hard not to feel sleepy here. The bed asks me to lay down. I can’t resist, switch off the lights and start falling asleep.
Still, I have a tireless companion who does not sleep at all — it’s the blue night light near the door.
While it is dark outside and my window shade is closed, let’s talk a little about the route. The departure from Helsinki is at 23:13. Then the train goes up north through almost the whole Finland, towards Arctic circle. The trip takes about 12 hours, and you set your foot on the land of Lapland before the midday.
There is a number of stops on the way. Most of them fall on the night — so it’s no wonder if you miss all the stations while sleeping (that’s exactly my option). However, you can catch the last big stop in the morning — it’s Oulu, the northernmost among Finnish large cities.
To Finnish North’s credit, it captures my attention right away. I sit near my window and watch. The sun plays its light games with tops of fir-trees, covered in snow. Small hills and frozen rivers appear and disappear. From time to time various buildings show how colorful they are in a winter landscape.
My observation point is comfortable and I decide that there is no harm in spending some more time looking out of the window.
I am carried away by the sights of beautiful nature and almost lose my chance to properly discover the train itself. However, I make a quick run through the corridors and check out some things before the arrival.
Alongside with double-deckers, like the one I ride, there are a couple of different seat cars. One of them has walls of a nice and deep green color. The other one is equipped with doors of fancy design with diagonal lines and impressively wide windows.
I stuck near the big windows for some time and then realize that the train is about to arrive to Rovaniemi. Now I have to get back to my cabin, collect my belongings and prepare myself for getting off.
Arriving to Rovaniemi
It’s really cold, but sunny and beautiful. The snow crunches under my feet. I watch how passengers leave the train. Remember those Chinese tourists? We’ve met again!
The railway station of Rovaniemi has a stylish sign on its facade (what a lovely letters!) and looks welcoming in general. There is a bicycle parking, which is well-packed and seems to be in high demand even in this time of the year.
Inside the station you can find a number of benches, a room full of various luggage lockers and a Chinese cuisine cafe.
There are quirky winter scenes, painted on the glass of station windows, which look like they were made by kids. Snowy hills are inhabited by squirrels, foxes, bears, hares and snowmen. The additional cultural layer is scratched through the paint.
These childlike characters are supposed to create a festive mood, the feeling of everlasting Christmas. This, together with Chinese cuisine, is no accident and has a reasonable explanation — which follows.
Following the beaten path
Rovaniemi is a popular tourist destination, and Santa Claus is the first who is in charge of this. Of course, there are lots of things which Lapland offers its visitors: reindeer farms, husky sled rides, ice fishing, hunting for northern lights aka aurora borealis, and whatnot. Yet the main (and the easiest to get) attraction is the place called Santa Claus Village. Good old-fashioned whitebeard starts to greet you already on the way here — for example, from this bottle of still water in a train compartment:
Anyway, all the fellow tourists from my train are on their way to Santa Claus Village. So am I. It’s an easy mission: I just need to use bus number eight, which stops right near the railway station.
The bus goes every 45 minutes and costs 3.5 Euro (tickets are at the entrance, sold by a driver). The ride lasts for 25 minutes. The desired stop is the last one, it’s called Arctic Circle.
The thing I like about this bus is that it has a regular town route, which means a kind of sightseeing tour in a company of local residents (I recommend to intentionally miss the first bus after your arrival — full of tourists, of course — and get on the next one). My bus for most of the ride is full of young students, smiling and chatting. I admire the city views and reach my destination in a good mood.
Santa Claus Village is an amusement park, built, if I may say so, in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing around it, just fields of snow and the high clear sky. However, this is probably the best surroundings for the place like this — it looks here more joyful, bright and happy.
Mostly, this village is a gift shop and a restaurant. But also there are free Wi-Fi, friendly staff and an enormous outdoor thermometer — which makes it perfectly clear that it’s freezing cold here.
On the other side, what else to expect? I am at the Arctic Circle. This place has to be frosty!
Another spot in the village is Santa Claus’ Main Post Office, a building made of stone and pine trees. You can do a lot here: send greeting cards to your friends and relatives (there is a special stamp, which makes your postal item more valuable in terms of collecting), or pin your place of origin on a world map, or buy a toy Santa of a convenient size and format.
Oh, yes. Of course, the Moomins come into the picture. They have their own business here too.
Everything is fun and cute, and there are colorful lights everywhere, but it’s getting dark rapidly. The time is right to leave. Hello again, bus 8!
Getting some rest
I am at Railway Suite, a spacious apartment near the railway station. It has everything I could possibly need and even more: there is a comfortable balcony with sofas (alas, not for this weather) and a real sauna (right inside the apartment, can you imagine that?). Anyway, I am here to have a proper sleep before tomorrow — the day I plan to spend walking around the town. By the way, I will get all the reasons to leave a positive note in the landlady’s guestbook.
Discovering something else
Rovaniemi is tourist-oriented, no question about that. It’s Santa-adoring and Moomins-stuffed. But besides that it is a charming small town, where you can have an unhurried stroll in a fresh air.
The town is situated at the confluence of two rivers — Kemijoki and Ounasjoki. It is always a good idea to build a city on a river, right?
There are a number of quaint objects on the streets. They definitely have some stories behind them. I decide not to search for facts, but to leave a field for imagination.
The mood of Rovaniemi is relaxing. There are not many people outside. It is rather quiet here. I start feeling that the more I walk the more rested I get.
Finally, my curiosity is amply rewarded — I am at Korundi. Korundi is a cultural center, occupying a renovated building of a former post bus depot. It consists of a concert hall and an art museum. I visit the latter (the ticket is 9 Euro, worths every cent of its price).
Not surprisingly, the number of tourists I meet here is zero. There are even more current exhibitions — four of them. The museum is truly impressive, and sparing the details, I highly recommend it for those who are interested in contemporary art.
Full of impressions, I leave Korundi and go towards the railway station. My visit is over. The next train is already waiting for me. Stay tuned for more richly illustrated and unbearably long texts!
Summarizing the experience
Good train. Nice route. Fun village. Cosy apartment. Lovely town. Incredible museum. Well-spent time. Make no mistake and book tickets to Rovaniemi at ACPRail or VR. There is no need to wait for a warm season — this place and winter suit each other perfectly.