With wide birched streets and a small terraced Puu-Nurmes (Old Town), the Russian heritage of this town, founded in 1876 by Tsar Alexander II, is clear. Oddly, the biggest sight in town is a Sokos hotel restaurant. The imposing Bomba House (2.5km southeast of the centre), with high roof and ornate wooden trim, is a 1970s replica of a Karelian family house originally built in 1855 by Jegor Bombin, a farmer from Suojärvi, now in Russian Karelia. Surrounding it is Bomba Village, a kitsch reconstruction of a Karelian settlement that has a cafe and craft shops.
Back in town the massive brick Lutheran Church dates from 1897 and is the largest in North Karelia, with around 2300 seats. Inside are several models of Nurmes’ previous wooden churches that burnt down, earning this part of town the name ‘Ash Village’.
Nurmes’ location at the northern tip of Lake Pielinen makes it an excellent base for dog-sledding, snowmobiling, ice-fishing and cross-country skiing from January to the end of March, and canoeing, rapids-shooting (at Ruunaa) and farmhouse tours from June to the end of August. Karelia Expert takes bookings (at least 24 hours in advance) for most services and has the latest details. You can hire a bike to explore town from Kesport Konesola, and this place can also arrange fishing permits for Pielinen and fishing trips. There’s a good chance you’ll hook salmon at Lokinlampi, a stocked pond north of town.
Hyvärilä Holiday Centre and Sokos Hotel Bomba offer a huge list of high-energy activities.