Introduction

If you’re looking for wilderness, powerful history and even the Finnish soul, your search starts here.

Densely forested and gloriously remote, the region is a paradise for nature lovers. Bears, wolverines and wolves roam freely across the Russian frontier, and animal hides allow visitors a close encounter. Opportunities to get active abound: the landscape is threaded by hiking routes, white-water rapids and waterways navigable by canoe, and lakes offer idyllic kayaking and boating. In winter, outdoor pursuits include fantastic skiing, dog-sledding, snowshoeing and ice fishing.

Karelia straddles both sides of the Finnish–Russian border, and has a distinct culture, language, religion, cuisine, music and architecture. In Finland's Karelian regions, lakeside Lappeenranta is still strongly connected to its sister cities that have been part of Russia since WWII. Once-battle-scarred Joensuu is now a vibrant university town, and Imatra still recalls its 18th-century golden age as a Russian aristocracy playground.

Highlights

  • Koli National Park Swooshing down the ski slopes in winter, or swooping above the tree line aboard the summer chairlift.
  • Rafting, Ruunaa Shooting Ruunaa’s rapids on a rubber raft.
  • 'Visa-free' trip to Russia Cruising from Lappeenranta to the Karelian town of Vyborg.
  • EU's Easternmost Point Ticking another 'superlative place' off your list beyond Hattuvaara at the EU's far-flung easternmost point.
  • Santa's Reindeers Walking with a reindeer in its natural habitat in the pristine Lake Pielinen region's Haapalahti.
  • Imatra Rapids Dangling upside down over torrents of water on a flying fox across Imatra's swirling rapids.
  • Paateri Being spellbound by the woodland chapel carved by artist Eva Ryynänen.
  • Erä Eero Spending the night in an animal hide near Lieksa, awaiting wolverines, lynx and bears.
  • Karhunpolku (Bear’s Trail) Hiking among this poignant trail's WWII remains.

When to Go

Mid-Apr The bear-watching season begins, when brown bears wake from their winter sleep.

Jul Joensuu's party atmosphere amps up during the international Ilosaari Rock Festival.

Dec Koli National Park's ski resort opens for business.