In December we took a winter holiday to Lapland, Finland. While there are plenty of agencies running chartered services from Ireland to Rovaniemi, Finland we were looking to do Lapland on a budget and stay for longer.
Before we set out I wrote this post on our plans and costings. All the details of how we got on will be covered in the next few posts. Along with what we might consider doing when we go back ( because we do intend to go back).
In all my research before leaving and since returning I have come to realise there are a thousand different ways families can plan and book their own trip.
Our way is just one way to do Lapland on a budget.
In case you didn’t read our first post this is a quick recap of how we did it:
- Dublin-Helsinki with Norwegian Friday 1 December – 6 December
- overnight train Helsinki – Rovaniemi return with VR
- 2 nights self-catering Airbnb Rovaniemi
- 1 night Helsinki hotel
We flew Dublin to Helsinki and took the overnight train from Helsinki. This was in part to add some more adventure for the kids and also because it worked out the best option when we booked in late summer.
This was our first trip with Norwegian and I honestly can’t find fault with them. Several families on our flight from Dublin were on connecting flights to Rovaniemi from Helsinki airport. Another option is also flying Norwegian to Rovaneimi direct from Gatwick Airport.
Transfer to Helsinki
Arrival in Helsinki airport was easy and efficient. There are a number of ways to transfer from the airport to the train station in the city centre. We chose the Finnair City bus.The Finnair bus was easy to find (right outside the terminal door) and dropped us directly into the central rail station in Helsinki. Tickets were just over €6 per adult, children under 6 were free and children age 6-16 travel at a discount. There is free wifi on board. Our flight landed in Helsinki airport just after 5:00 pm and we were in the city by 6:30.
Killing Time in Helsinki
There was an overnight train that departed around 9:00 however it arrived very early into Rovaniemi Saturday morning. We opted to leave at 11:15 and arrive in Rovanieimi at 10:50 Saturday morning.
Finland is two hours ahead of Irish time so we didn’t think it would be overly exhausting for the kids. The truth is you’re caught waiting around on either side really and that is something to consider if you are planning to take the overnight train.
The train station has left luggage lockers for €4 or €6 per 24 hours depending on size. Having off loaded our luggage we headed off on foot into the city. It was dark and wet so thankfully we had planned ahead and were heading for the Hard Rock Cafe Helsinki which was a short walk from the train station.
Unfortunately for us it was closed for a private function. Having no plan B and with the kids getting hangry we had a bit of a harrowing walk trying to find food. We ended up at the Forum shopping centre at O’Leary’s Bar & Restaurant nonetheless.
It was totally fine. Free popcorn when you sat down which was a welcome sight especially to the kids. Typical pub grub at a slightly higher expense than home but we were glad to be seated and fed. The Forum has a number of restaurants and bars including fast-food chains.
By the time we had finished eating the shops were closed. While we planned on walking around the city to kill time we hadn’t accounted for the weather and ended up back in the train station.
There is really nothing in the train station and no where to sit. We did find a coffee shop for hot chocolate and coffees while we waited but even still it was a long wait. Well, what seemed like a long wait for ThisIrishDad and myself the kids didn’t mind one bit. They were happy to sit on our suitcases and make up games while we waited. When the train arrived around 11:00 we boarded easily and got our jammies on straight away. I honestly believe both kids were asleep before we were outside the greater metropolitan area.
Travel by Train
Our two berth cabin was tight but comfortable with the 4 of us. The kids of course debated over who slept where. We managed to cram most of our luggage under the bed and I was thankful I had packed our clothes and outdoor gear for Saturday all in the same bag. There was a small sink in our cabin and the shared toilets in each car. 3/4 of us slept well all night long. ThisIrishDad not so much – but he did sleep soundly on the return journey.
We read previously that the breakfast on board was much to be desired. Instead of spending the money we brought with us miniature boxes of cereals, breakfast bars and bananas. ThisIrishDad & the kids went to the restaurant car for milk, juice and coffees and we ate our cereal out of paper cups. The kids loved it! Ironically despite all his excitement at our sleeping arrangements, ThisIrishBoy was not impressed when he realised we could have sat in seats like they did on the Polar Express instead of in beds!!
(FYI- There are also closed in seats which looked to offer more privacy and possibly quiet, I imagine these were first class which might be an option too)
Arriving in Rovaniemi
On our arrival in Rovaneimi we were greeted with blankets of snow. The Rovaniemi train station is quite small (although they too have luggage lockers and even benches).
There were plenty of taxis and buses when the train arrived.
We hung around throwing snowballs for a few minutes before grabbing a taxi to our AirBnB in the city. Our host graciously allowed us to dump our luggage and we had a quick bite to eat before heading off to Santa Village. (Huge kudos to Laura and this service she provided us).
We all agree we are glad we did the overnight train experience.
None of us had travelled that distance by train before and it was an experience. While it wasn’t the worst time in the world it is important to know there will probably be some hanging around. When we arrived back in Helsinki it was 6:30 am. Early! We took in true Finnish cafe culture for the morning and the kids even fell asleep in a cafe.
The train worked out with our travel dates and allowed us to spend some time in Helsinki so we are glad for that. It also ended up being fairly reasonable overnight accommodation for the 4 of us. I wouldn’t rule out travelling by train next time but I also might consider flying too. Check out our first post for all the details on how we booked our train with VR.
Over the next few weeks we’ll be posting all about our experience. Check back for more on:
Santa Village, Santa Park, Things to do in Rovaniemi, A Day in Helsinki
Are you booking interested in booking Lapland on a budget? Stay tuned to This Irish Family.
There are so many options. Check out these other posts on booking Lapland on a budget: