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 This article is about Russian Karelia. See North Karelia and South Karelia for the Finnish regions on the other side of the border.
A view of Kizhi from Lake Onega

Karelia is a region in Northwestern Russia, which borders Finland to the west, Murmansk Oblast to the north, the White Sea to the northeast, Arkhangelsk Oblast to the east, Vologda Oblast to the southeast, and Leningrad Oblast to the south.



  • Petrozavodsk — the capital city, the biggest city of Karelia, with a fine collection of neoclassical architecture and a summer hydrofoil service to Kizhi
  • Kem — a small town on the coast not far from Solovki with a spectacular 18th century wooden cathedral
  • Kostomukhsa — a large town that functions as a dacha-style resort mostly for Finns every summer and hosts a yearly summer chamber music festival
  • Olenets — a small historic town near the Alexander-Svirsky Monastery; the only town of size in Karelia where ethnic Karelians constitute a majority
  • Povenez - small town, here begins Belomorsko-Baltiyskiy Kanal (White Sea-Baltic Channel)
  • Sortavala — the marble canyon of nearby Ruskeala Park is beautiful, the city of Sortavala has interesting architecture, having been the Finnish showcase of functionalism and Carelianism.

Other destinations

  • Kivach waterfall
  • Lake Ladoga — the largest lake of Europe
    • Valaam Archipelago — famous for its monastery
  • Lake Onega — second-largest lake in Europe
    • Kizhi island — famous for beautiful wooden church and other buildings, the whole architectural ensemble of Kizhi island is a UNESCO Wold Heritage Site
    • Besov Nos Cape — famous for ancient drawings, hammered in the rocks
  • Martial waters spa
  • Vodlozersky National Park


Karelia is known as "the country of lakes." One quarter of Karelia's surface is covered by water including about sixty thousand lakes. The second-largest lake of Europe, Lake Onega, is located in Karelia. The largest lake of Europe, Lake Ladoga is partly located in Karelia (together with Leningrad Oblast). Wherever there is land, there are dense forests covering the ground.

Karelia has strong cultural connection with Finland and the Karelians, for whom the republic is named, are a Finno-Ugric group very closely related to the Finns. Karelia is a relatively recent Russian/Soviet conquest from Finland, and a bit of a sore spot for the Finns.


Everybody understands and speaks Russian, although many are bilingual in Karelian, Finnish, and, on smaller scale, Veps. A traveler could get by with only knowledge of Finnish, as many native ethnic Russians understand a good deal of the language.

Basic English is widely understood by young people. Swedish is relatively popular foreign language too.

Get in

There is a daily overnight train from Saint Petersburg, which leaves around 22:00 and arrives in Petrozavodsk around 07:00.

Get around

An abandoned Finnish dam at a waterfall near Ruskeala, Karelia


  • Valamo Monastery - the monastery of the Finnish Orthodox Church. Originally Valamo was placed on an island of lake Ladoga in Karelia but was evacuated whilst in war with the Russians in the 1940s. The monks came with their icons and rebuilt Valamo close to Heinävesi a bit west of Joensuu. The monastery is visited by many Finns, orthodox or not, and is featured in most tourist guides as well. Almost all buildings though are post war and one can't suppress the impression that there is a commercial streak somewhere. However most people come to see the ancient icons from the old Valamo monastery. Boats full of tourists leave during the summer months from Sortavala, Lakhdenpokhya, and Pitkyaranta, as well as big river cruise boats from Saint Petersburg and Moscow. It's also possible to travel here by helicopter from Petrozavodsk.



  • Rafting.



Stay safe

Get out

The Solovetsky Islands and Monastery on the White Sea are another nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site in Arkhangelsk Oblast and can be reached by boat from Karelia.

Trains head north from Petrozavodsk to Murmansk.

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