Train station of Lulea

Switzerland – Finland – by Train

In February 2020, I went from Zurich, Switzerland, to Ivalo, Finland, by train and bus. My intention was to find out how easy it is to do so with public transport and without taking a flight. A lot of people talk about this since the advent of the “Flugscham” – so I thought “let’s give it a try”. Here comes my story about this trip.

Statistics

Distance if you travel by car (Google Maps): 3264 km
Countries I crossed: Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland
Public transport I used: Train (4x), Bus (4x)
Duration: 4 days (1 day stopover in Stockholm)
Costs (Train+Bus only): 160 EUR + 45 EUR + 90 EUR + 65 EUR = 360 EUR
Hotel Costs & Food: 100 EUR + 50 EUR = 150 EUR
Total Costs Trip – 1 way: 510 EUR
Total Cost Flights (2-way) – ZRH to IVL and return: ca. 600 EUR

Luggage for 1 Week in Finland
Luggage for 1 Week in Finland

Core Challenges

  1. No centralized booking system
    It’s a sad story that basically no central booking system exists which I could use in order to purchase the tickets for the complete distance in one row. Neither SBB, nor Deutsche Bahn or OEBB offer this. This required me to invest various hours into the planning of this trip and use half a dozen different booking systems.
    Additionally, you risk over 4 days of travel that trains & buses are delayed – this would screw up your whole planning and you will not get any money back in case you pre-book tickets via different providers.
  2. Luggage
    In case you intend to travel with heavy bags for multiple day holidays, including skis etc. most of the trains are not made for this. Only the Swedish trains have specific cabins in each wagon where you can put your skis during night travels.
  3. The price is not competitive
    The whole trip was too expensive compared with (already quite expensive) flight tickets (ca. 600,- Euros). This needs to change – it needs to be cheaper to go by train than by plane. Perhaps also the price for traveling in general is too low and all prices need to go up – I don’t know.

Trip Journal

Day 1

I started with the nightjet train from Zurich to Hamburg in Germany operated by the OEBB (since the Deutsche Bahn sold their night trains some while ago). I booked a bed in a 6-bed compartment and prayed for not having strong snorers in the room. The compartment was fully booked mainly by people in the early-mid twenties and it got way too hot with quite muggy air throughout the night.
Keep in mind that the OEBB train does not have a board restaurant on the train – they serve breakfast though and you can order some snacks as well.

So the train left at 8pm on day 1 and arrived at 7.52am on day 2 in Hamburg. Breakfast gets served around 7am – all “professional” nightjet folks in my compartment told me that they normally order tee instead of coffee (quality reasons they mentioned).

Hamburg Central Station
Hamburg Central Station

Costs:
160,- Euros – Zurich to Copenhagen via Hamburg

Tips:
– Most of the people told me that early booking in advance increases a lot the chance to get cheap tickets.
– Book the top row bed in case you don’t care about muggy air but prefer to have some more space (above the entrance is more space for luggage)

Day 2

After arriving at 7.52am in Hamburg, I took the direct train to Copenhagen in Denmark. I arrived there on time at 1.33pm and wanted to jump directly on the SJ train to Stockholm at 2.10pm. Problem: this one is already fully booked and you cannot simply jump on. I didn’t pre-book my ticket since I didn’t trust that the trains from Zurich to Hamburg and from Hamburg to Copenhagen were on time. So I got a ticket for the 6.20pm train to Stockholm instead. You can book the ticket online via the SJ website or use the green ticket machines in Copenhagen central station.

I arrived in Stockholm Central at 11.30pm and just had a few meters to my hotel.

Costs:
45,- Euros – Copenhagen to Stockholm

Tips:
– Doing a stay-over for 1 night in a real hotel bed is recommended in order to stay relaxed / get proper sleep if you are not used to sleeping on trains.

Day 3

I spent day 3 in Stockholm and took the night train at 6.10pm to Lulea close to the Finnish border in the north. Again I had a cabin with 6 people but the whole train was more modern, included fuse boxes in the compartment that basically worked as intended (OEBB didn’t have any). Finally, also the air conditioning was working way better. It seemed to me that the Swedish folks in my compartment generally were very advanced night train travelers of mixed age who knew how to handle such travels.

Costs:
90,- Euros – Stockholm to HaparandaTornio via Lulea (train + bus ticket)

Tips:
– SJ train beds are longer and better suited for folks around 190cm – OEBB trains don’t offer that comfort.

Day 4

At 7.15am I arrived in Lulea (45 min delayed). I took the bus to HarandaTornio at 8.20am and arrived there at 10.30am. HaparandaTornio is the border bus station where I needed to switch to Finnish buses. This is also where I needed to adjust my clock – Sweden time: 10.30am and Finnish time: 11.30am.

The next bus was to Kemi from HarandaTornio (Finnish side) took me 40 minutes. Arriving at 12.45pm in Kemi, I left with the bus to Rovaniemi where I arrived at 2.45pm. The bus to Ivalo left at 5.20pm so I had plenty of time to get some food. Finally, I arrived in Saariselkä, close to Ivalo, at 8.30pm on day 4.

Time differences between Finnish and Swedish times
Time differences between Finnish and Swedish times

Costs:
65,- Euros – HaparandaTornio to Ivalo

Tips:
– Be extremely careful with the day time changes between Sweden and Finland
– All Finnish buses can be booked here for this area

Conclusion

It was a nice trip which I mostly enjoyed. You get a sense for the distance you are traveling – this is completely different via plane. From a financial perspective, it was an epic fail and way too expensive. This should change rather soon, otherwise people will not consider train&bus as a serious transportation alternative.

In case people are in a hurry, you can speed up a little bit and skip the full day off in Stockholm – therefore, perhaps reducing it down to 3 days instead of 4. But this should be researched properly.

It’s spooky that you need in Scandinavia basically no more coins/notes – you can buy everything with a creditcard. A rare exception is the bus station toilette for which you need 1 EUR coins.

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