Many Finns travel long distances to spend Christmas with relatives
About 800,000 Finns cram into trains, hit the road, or fly to the south
This is the busiest period of the year for the Finnish Railways, VR. Today and tomorrow, a total of 50,000 passengers a day will travel from Helsinki towards the north.
”The trains are crammed. The Christmas traffic actually began on Monday”, estimates a conductor in the Helsinki Central Railway Station.
On Tuesday evening, there are still a few seats available on the Intercity train to Oulu.
The Virtanen cousins who are also travelling on that train bought their tickets in time - two months ago - but they only just managed to catch the train.
What makes their progress difficult is a suitcase that is almost as big as the women themselves.
”The airline lost my suitcase in Paris. I only got it back today”, pants Suvi Acuna Virtanen, who lives in Spain.
In their home district, the women will celebrate not only Christmas, but also the wedding of a relative.
All their gifts and fine dresses are in the suitcase that they almost lost.
Now they can already sigh with relief. It will take four and a half hours for the train to reach Pietarsaari.
”We could go to the restaurant car. I fancy some glögi [”mulled wine”], suggests Emma Virtanen.
The loudest compartment on the train is on the upper deck of Carriage 7. Shouts of joy can be heard from the slide upstairs.
”We managed to get the last adjacent seats”, says Mari Mäkinen, a mother from Espoo.
Four persons and three generations have squeezed in beside each other on two seats: in addition to Mäkinen, her mother and two children are on the train.
The family with children open their meal box right away. After the Pasila railway station, a bare few kilometres from Helsinki, maize crisps and plastic spoons are already dropping on the floor.
Mäkinen has started her Christmas in the same way all her adulthood, watching the station signs. Helsinki-Tikkurila-Riihimäki-Hämeenlinna, and then Toijala.
In Tampere they change trains, and a local train will take them to their home district in Pori.
This year, people started to buy train tickets for Christmas earlier than usual, VR estimates.
The reason for this is the new system: a ticket is cheaper if it is bought a week or more prior to the trip.
The most popular train leaves for Oulu on the day before Christmas Eve at 3:30 pm.
It is no longer possible to buy a standard ticket for the train.
However, one can enter the train if he or she can put up with standing for several hours and paying a surcharge of five euros.
All night trains to Lapland are crammed full, even though they were provided with 7,000 extra beds.
The heaviest traffic on the roads will be experienced on Friday December 23rd, even though some people start off already on Thursday.
The Finnish Transport Agency estimates that during Friday’s rush-hours, a total of around 5,900 cars per hour will leave Helsinki for the north along Highways 1, 3, 4 and 5.
The forecast for Friday’s weather predicts rainfall, sleet, and snow, from the afternoon onwards. The temperatures are expected to vary above and below zero.
The returning traffic will peak on Boxing Day between 2:00 pm and 6:00 pm.
On the rails, the peak times are expected on Thursday and Friday.
On night trains from Helsinki to Lapland, all passenger seats and car spaces have almost been sold out.
Only some scattered seats are available for the night trains to Rovaniemi.
Most Pendolino and IC trains to the north and east for example in the afternoon on Thursday are fully booked.
The returning traffic from the north will become heavier on Boxing Day, but there are still tickets available for trains.
At Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport, traffic is expected to peak in the morning hours of Thursday and Friday. Passengers are advised to arrive in the airport in time.
No congestion is expected at other domestic airports.
Finnair will reduce its services on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
The holiday air traffic will continue through Christmas. It is possible to avoid the queues by checking in on the Internet or using a mobile phone already on the previous evening.
Should anything happen on the road, travellers are advised to dial the emergency number 112.
The Road Service of Autoliitto (The Automobile and Touring Club of Finland) will help all motorists in urgent cases (tel. 0200-8080).
The services are subject to a charge.
Motorists are advised to make sure that there is enough petrol in their car. Warm clothing is also recommended.
And the most important advice is: keep calm! Delays are part of the equation at this time of year.
The weather prospects for the festive season can be found from the Finnish Meteorological Institute site linked below.
Finnish Transport Agency: Road Web Cameras
Finnish Railways, VR
Finnish Meteorological Institute
Autoliitto (The Automobile and Touring Club of Finland)