Where and how to have a great vacation in Karelia – 10 ideas

Rest in Karelia: swim through the marble canyon and visit the Finnish villages

Karelia is one of the most beautiful regions of Russia. A country of lakes. Land of quiet northern nature. The land of craftsmen. One big nature reserve.

Here is Valaam, the unique monastery, leading its history since the 15th century. On Kizhi island, tourists will find a unique ensemble of wooden architecture. Here is the second largest flat waterfall in Europe – Kivach. A marble canyon and water walks on the Ladoga skerries will add brightness to your vacation.

Holidays in Karelia in 2022 is good in any season: in summer there are music festivals, and in winter we advise to ride snowmobiles and go winter fishing. In short, there is a lot to see and do. And if you decide to visit these places in June and July, you can watch the white nights.

The Republic of Karelia borders with Finland, this place has a rich history. In Finland, there are still two provinces – North and South Karelia. And on the Russian side there are many settlements with Finnish names: Lahdenpohja, Tyuppega and others.

Choosing where to stay, many consider the option of campgrounds. All of them are located in stunningly beautiful places. The nature of Karelia is amazing. Rooms – with everything you need, on the territory, as a rule, there is a sauna. You will be offered excursions and various activities: fishing, hiking, rafting.

We will tell you how to organize a holiday in Karelia in 2022 in an interesting and useful way, so that you will see all the most important things.

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What to see in Karelia

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Are you going on vacation to the sea, in the mountains, or planning to rush in winter to the Kuzbass? You may benefit from purchasing a unified travel card for these trips. It’s valid for flights and buses, or trains and buses at the same time. Learn where you can go on vacation with a single ticket and how to buy it.

A Weekend in Karelia: How to Experience the Region in Two Days

The northern beauty of Karelia beckons tourists; they come to the republic to see the white nights, the northern lights and unique natural monuments. The best way to make a comfortable tour is to take a tourist train of Russian Railways “To Karelia”. Every Friday it departs from the Leningrad Station and follows the route “Moscow – Petrozavodsk – Sortavala – Karelia – Vyborg – Moscow”.

5 reasons to go on vacation to Karelia

To have a walk in the capital of Karelia – Petrozavodsk

Often tourists consider Petrozavodsk only as a staging point for a trip to Karelia. And a lot of things are missed. In the capital of Karelia there is a lot to see and be amazed at: the blockade steam locomotive, fraternal sculptures, the House of Crafts. The final point of the route, whichever way you choose, becomes the embankment of Lake Onega.

To visit the Valaam monastery island

Coniferous forests on rocky shores. The bright green island in the blue Lake Ladoga. And above it rises the domes of the monastery. The Valaam Archipelago includes 50 islands, the largest and most popular among them – Valaam. Mount Tabor, monastery farm, hermitages – a lot of interesting things awaits pilgrims and tourists.

To see the “eighth wonder of the world” – Kizhi

On the island of Kizhi in Lake Onega is a historical and architectural museum of the same name. Locals call this place the “eighth wonder of the world. Here are wooden multistory churches with many domes and bell towers of the 18-19 centuries – monuments of wooden architecture. From the water they look especially spectacular.

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Take a boat ride along the marble cliffs of Ruskeala

The black and white rocks are so mesmerizing that they seem unreal. Marble was once mined here, and now the Ruskeala Mountain Park (translated from Finnish as “brown”) is open. Rent a boat and take a ride through the gorge or take a tour of the caves. Climb up and you’ll discover a beautiful panorama of the marble canyon. For an extreme thrill, ride a zipline (tied to a steel rope) or bungee jump over a cliff.

Who are Livvik Karelians in Olonets?

The main indigenous population of Karelia is Karelians, but in the Olonets region live Livviks – with their own traditions, customs and language. In Olonets there is a national museum, which presents the history and culture of this people. In addition to permanent exhibitions, there are interactive sites and workshops.

Choose the best accommodation in Petrozavodsk

Hotel Fregat 4*

Address
Phone

In the center of the capital of Karelia, on the Onega Lake shore there is a cozy hotel. You are waited by rest in an environment of stunning northern landscapes, walks on a boat and fascinating trips. From here it is convenient to get to the UNESCO memorial Kizhi island. You will certainly taste the dishes in the fish restaurant and keep the delicious impressions.

Video tour of Karelia

Video: Olga MEDVEDEVA

Editing: Rushan KAYUMOV

What to try

The rivers and lakes of Karelia are full of fish, so don’t even doubt what to order in a cafe or restaurant in the first place: dishes from the fresh catch of course. The first course is “ukha” (ear), which is called “kalaruoka” here. Most often it is made of whitefish or trout. For the main course is maitocalakeitto, fish stewed in milk. And there is even fish filling in the pies. Try also dried fish – recipes are inherited from Finns.

Karelian cuisine is first of all fish dishes. Photo: globallookpress.com

Traditional in Karelia pastries are kalitki, open pies, similar in shape to watrushki. By the way, they also come with cottage cheese. Unsweetened ones are baked with potatoes, fish, cheese, millet porridge.

Karelian forests are rich in mushrooms and berries that will definitely be on your table. In June and July ripe bilberries, in August appears lingonberries. In these places also a lot of cloudberries, blueberries, cranberries.

So holidays in Karelia in 2022 will be also gastronomic.

What to bring as a gift

  • The most popular souvenirs are made of Karelian birch. You will find everything you want in the shops: paintings, clocks, furniture and even computer flash drives.
  • Buy embroidery: towels, curtains, tablecloths. All of them are hand-decorated with Karelian folk patterns.
  • Pay attention to souvenirs made of the mineral shungite. It’s mined only in Karelia.
  • Karelian dishes made of clay are a pleasant reminder of the trip. Fireproof red Devonian clay is rare, but in Karelia is a unique deposit.
  • It will not be superfluous to bring and local jam . Especially cloudberry, which only grows in the northern forests.
  • If you prefer serious men’s drinks, then take Karelian balsam.

Karelia is one of the most beautiful regions of Russia. Photo: Viktor Guseinov Kizhi pogost is a famous architectural ensemble in Karelia, built of wood by Russian craftsmen. Photo: Mikhail FROLOV Valaam is known for the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery. Photo: Mikhail FROLOV In Karelia houses have long been built of wood. Photo: Mikhail FROLOV Take a boat trip along Marble Canyon in Ruskeala Mountain Park. Photo: Mikhail FROLOV In June-July bilberries ripen in the Karelian forests. Photo: globallookpress.com Every summer the forests in Karelia are in bloom. Photo: globallookpress.com

Useful phone numbers

Single emergency service 01, mobile. – 112
First aid 03, mobile. – 112, 8 (814) 70-59-99
Trauma center 8 (814) 77-28-51
Bus station 004, 8 (814) 76-10-44
Railway station 005, 8 (814) 71-44-33
River station 007
Reference information of Petrozavodsk Municipal District Administration 8 (814) 71-33-55
Stomatological aid 8 (814) 77-29-64
Information on availability of medicines 003
Duty traffic police 8 (814) 78-44-44
Duty Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs 8 (814) 78-05-81
FSS telephone hotline 8 (814) 78-46-58, 78-52-03
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How to go on a trip to Karelia on a retro train

You can go on a tour around Karelia on Russia’s only regular retro train. “Ruskeala Express” is a special cruise route from Russian Railways. The train runs daily along the route “Sortavala – Ruskeala Mountain Park”. It is not driven by a modern locomotive, but by an old steam locomotive. The train compartments are made in the style of the first class of the late XIX century. Believe me, it looks very unusual.

History of Karelia

The first settlements in Karelia appeared in the 7th-6th centuries B.C. Given that there were impenetrable forests, and also spread one of the largest lakes in Russia, people lived by hunting and fishing.

For many centuries, a variety of tribes peacefully coexisted on the territory of Karelia: Korels (then they were called exactly that, with an “o”), Veps, Lops. Later, in the second century BC, the Slavs appeared here.

Karelians and Russians

The Karelian land, located at the exit to the sea, was a desirable prey for the Vikings. In the 7th century A.D. the rocks of Karelian bays and brave Karelians killed more than one brave Viking. The cherished and unruly land was immortalized by chroniclers in Swedish and Norwegian tales of that time. They called the land of modern Karelia the rich country of Kiryalabotnar.

In the 12th century, the Karelians, whose lands were then already part of the ever-growing Novgorod Republic, tired to defend themselves, attacked Sweden themselves. The Sigtun campaign is one of the saddest pages of Swedish history, although there is no evidence that it was Karelians who attacked. However according to a legend the gates set at the entrance to the main temple of Novgorod – Hagia Sophia cathedral – were taken away from the devastated Sigtuna by Karelians in 1187.

Karelian land, located near the exit to the sea, was a welcome prey to the Vikings. Photo: globallookpress.com

But Novgorod princes also had to suffer with their northern possessions: Karelian tribal nobility was stubborn, freedom-loving and often ignored the requirement to pay tribute. Prince Dmitry of Novgorod decided to tame the rebellious Karelians in 1277. This campaign ended with great diplomatic success for the new prince: Karelians were defeated and ten large tribes were united into one town – Korela, which the Novgorod prince appointed a Russian voivod to govern.

Just a few years later Karelians rebelled against their prince Boris Konstantinovich, and defected to the side of their other neighbors – the Swedes. This attempted coup was suppressed by the Novgorod prince, but a few years later a new revolt awaited the Novgorod princes.

Peter’s Karelia

Under Peter I Karelia began to return to Russia piece by piece, and after the Great Northern War completely joined the new state – the Russian Empire.

At the first stage of the Great Northern War the territory of Karelia was used as a foothold for military operations. In 1702 Russian troops carried out an operation to capture the fortress of Noteburg, located at the source of the Neva River from Lake Ladoga. During this campaign the future emperor visited the Karelian lands for the first time. And he liked them.

Marcial springs were discovered in the times of Peter the Great. Health resorts in these places exist to this day. Photo: Oleg Zoloto, “KP” St. Petersburg.

In 1702 by order of the tsar at the mouth of the river Syas, running into the Ladoga at the southern borders of Olonets district, a shipyard was founded. Another year later Olonets and Lodeynopol shipyards were founded. To provide these enterprises with iron supplies on the territory of Karelia were founded Petrovsky Olonetsky factories, among which the main one was Petrovsky cannon foundry.

In 1714 in the Konchezers region were discovered mineral ferrous (“marcial”) springs, and Peter ordered to build a resort there. By the 1720s three wooden palaces had appeared there (they did not survive till our time). Peter came here to rest four times.

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Imperial Karelia

On May 12, 1782, Petrozavodsk was confirmed as the administrative center of the region instead of Olonets.

During the Age of Enlightenment thanks to Catherine the Great the interest in Karelia arose not only as a piece of land, but also as a region with its own language, customs and way of life. At that time historians visited the Karelians in their homes, scrupulously and attentively listening to their legends and songs, writing down recipes and studying the unusual language, laden with suffixes.

In the Russian Empire, the Karelians seem to have finally felt at home, beginning to settle all over the country. Along with Russia in the 20th century, Karelia also embraced World War I. Access to the White Sea was crucial for Russia: thanks to it, when the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea were blockaded, the country still received uninterrupted shipments from the Entente.

During the Enlightenment, thanks to Catherine the Great in Karelia awoke interest not only as a piece of land, but also as a region with its own culture. Photo: globallookpress.com

The revolution seized Karelia in March 1917, when in the evening during a concert at the Public Assembly building in Petrozavodsk, a group of Baltic sailors announced the manifesto on the czar’s renunciation, and the next morning they had already begun to disarm the police and gendarmerie.

On June 8, 1920 the Karelian Labor Commune, a national autonomy within the RSFSR, was established in Karelia. And here the history of 600 years ago was repeated: the Karelians, dissatisfied with the status quo, turned to their Finnish neighbors for help and in the autumn of 1921 revolted, quickly capturing a large part of North Eastern Karelia. In February 1922 this first Soviet-Finnish war ended when 20,000 troops of the Red Army were sent to Karelia. But without accepting the new government, more than thirty thousand Karelian refugees emigrated to Finland forever. On the contrary, the Finns who couldn’t put up with the failed workers revolution in their own country started to arrive to the Soviet Karelia.

In 1923 the All-Russian Central Executive Committee and the Soviet of the People’s Commissars of the RSFSR passed a decree to transform the Karelian Workers’ Commune into the Autonomous Karelian Soviet Socialist Republic (AKSSR) and formed there a new administration, consisting of Karelians and Finns.

Soviet Karelia.

To the bleeding and devastated by the war and mass emigration, Karelia began to attract immigrant Finns from all over the world, including the US, China, Italy and Canada, to build a Soviet Finland as an alternative to the neighboring bourgeois Finland. In five years Karelia was filled with people from all over the world who worked tirelessly for a common socialist future.

In Karelia’s Sortavala, the Memorial Complex “Cross of Sorrow” to those fallen in the Soviet-Finnish War of 1939-1940 was erected. Photo: Alexander GLUZ, “KP” – St. Petersburg

But in 1939, Finland and the Soviet Union entered the war, on the very brink of World War II. Once again, the dispute between the two countries revolved around a common border: the Soviet leadership wanted to strengthen the USSR’s northwestern border, which required Finland to make some room for itself. Finland was offered the usual bargaining chip – most of Karelia – in exchange for a part of Hanko Peninsula and some islands in the Gulf of Finland. Finns were not satisfied with the proposal, but the Soviet ruling elite was not going to retreat either. As a result, when the whole world was already engaged in World War II, the two countries began to fight each other. Finland, whose forces were much more modest, soon ceded to the Soviet Union and lost not only the lands demanded by the Soviet Union before the war, but also the Karelian Isthmus.

Modern Karelia

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Karelia remained as part of Russia as a republic. In 1992, according to the signed Federative Treaty and the Declaration of the State Sovereignty of the RSFSR, Karelia became the sovereign state within the Russian Federation. In the same year it was endowed with its own Constitution, and later its own flag, coat of arms, and anthem.

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Modern Karelia has its own constitution, flag, coat of arms and anthem. Photo: Oleg Zoloto, “KP” – Saint-Petersburg

Centuries-old history shows that all attempts to harass the population of Karelia ended in failure and wars. And only one variant of existence of the region during these hundred years turned out to be successful: Karelia was given full autonomy with all the state power and support of its national language and traditions. Even in own hymn 600 thousands people of one of the first inhabited territories of modern Russia call their republic no less than “country” and “brotherly peoples of one family”.

How to get there

The airport of Karelia is in Petrozavodsk and there are direct flights only from Moscow. Website of the airport: karelavia.ru

10 things to do in Karelia

Nina Akimkina

Petrozavodsk is a small cozy city. Its main attraction, the Onega Lake embankment, is perfect for a walk, and numerous sculptures from its twin cities beg to be photographed with them. Cafes and stores can be found on Lenin Avenue, and Karl Marx Avenue is an example of an ensemble building of the 50’s, and is included in the list of monuments. This is a great place to visit, especially on Kirov Square (formerly Sobornaya), where the Musical Theater is located now and where previously there were three cathedrals, but none of them survived. After having visited the city it is worth to drive 14 km along the Onega lake shore to have a walk in the Botanical garden and Devil’s chair tract, where on a clear day you can enjoy the view of the lake, and Petrozavodsk is seen in the distance.

2. To visit Kizhi

Kizhi is the world famous open-air museum of wooden architecture, located on an island in Lake Onega. Kizhi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Kizhi pogost complex consists of two churches and a bell tower of the XVIII-XIX centuries. Nails were not used during the construction of the Church of Transfiguration, they are only in the 22 cupolas that crown it. The church has long been under restoration, part of the walls is surrounded by scaffolding. On the territory of the museum you can see peasant huts, chapels, mills and other buildings brought from different regions of Russia.

3. To see the marble canyon

Ruskeala is a mountain park formed on the place of former quarries. Marble was extracted in Ruskeala back in the time of Catherine II and used in the decoration of many buildings in St. Petersburg: the Hermitage, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Mikhailovsky Castle and others. Marble walls of the quarry frame the lake, the water transparency of which reaches 15-18 meters. In the park there are laid hiking trails, there are viewing platforms and recreation centers. The distance from Petrozavodsk is about 260 km, so it is better to come to Ruskeala not for one day to enjoy the northern nature and explore the surroundings. In Ruskeala there is a lot to do: to take a boat trip on the lake, to fly over the water with insurance, to test your dexterity in the rope park. In winter, there is an ice rink and dog sledding in the park, and the ice in the grottoes creates bizarre shapes. From March to November, the canyon is illuminated in the evening.

4. Go to Valaam

The Valaam archipelago is situated in the Ladoga Lake and consists of more than 50 islands, the largest of them is Valaam. You can get there by boat from Sortavala, only 42 kilometers away. The island has rocky shores, most of its territory is covered by coniferous forests, and its gardens, which are more than 150 years old, are preserved. There are 30-35 more sunny days in summer on Valaam than on the mainland. The date of the foundation of the Valaam Monastery is unknown, tentatively it is the end of the XI – beginning of the XII centuries. The monastery went through more than one rebuilding, and after the October Revolution, it was left to Finland. In 1940, the monks left the island, and a military school was organized in the monastery. After World War II, the Invalids’ Home was established on Valaam, and it was only in 1989 that the monastery began to revive and the monks began to come here again. It is worth climbing up Mount Eleon and enjoy the opening view of the expanse of Lake Ladoga, the largest in Europe.

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5. Refresh yourself at the Kivach waterfall

The famous Kivach waterfall is located in the reserve of the same name, 80 km north of Petrozavodsk. The reserve is one of the oldest in Russia, here you can see Karelian birch and pine trees 150-200 years old. The length of the waterfall is 170 m, the main stream overcomes four rocky ledges. In winter, the waterfall jets freeze, forming an ice crust. A trip to the falls, as a rule, is combined with a visit to the nearby Marcial Waters and the Church of the Assumption.

6. To touch frozen lava

Village Girvas appeared in the 30s on the river Suna in connection with the construction of a dam for the Kondopoga hydroelectric power station. Later the Paleozerskaya hydroelectric power plant was built here, with which the “disappearance” of the Girvas waterfall is connected. In spring and after heavy rains they dump water at the hydroelectric power station, due to which the waterfall is filled with gurgling streams, overcoming the height of 30 meters, but most of the year Girvas is dry. More than two billion years ago there was an active volcano, which is reminded by frozen lava flows.

7. Feeding bears

There is a zoo complex “Three bears” on the shore of Syamozero, 70 km from Petrozavodsk. It is not a simple zoo, but a scientific and educational activity and monitoring of the natural environment is carried out here. The animals are in spacious enclosures and you can feed them (there is a list of allowed products). What can you see here? Bears, lynxes, eagles, wolves, badgers and many other animals.

8. Go rafting.

Become closer to nature, get energized and get a dose of adrenaline – all about rafting on the rivers of Karelia. The season of such entertainment lasts from May to September. You can choose from rafts, kayaks and catamarans on which you will overcome the rapids of the rivers Shuya, Uksa, Keret and others. There are one-day rafting tours which are perfect for those who come for a weekend and multiday tours with overnight stay in tents.

9. Learn the history of the Karelian village

Kynerma was named one of the eight most beautiful villages in Russia in 2016. It is located 110 km from Petrozavodsk near Lake Vedlozero. For the first time the village is mentioned in 1563, houses and chapel of the XVIII century have been preserved till nowadays. It is noteworthy that Kinerma is not a tourist attraction, as it often is, but a real village with indigenous people who have preserved the traditional way of life. Visitors can take part in master-classes on making Karelian toys, baking and tasting kalitok (open pies with stuffing), take a steam bath, and listen to a tour about Karelian life.

10. To uncover the mystery of Vottovaara.

Vottovaara is the highest point of West-Karelian uplands (417 meters), 230 km away from Petrozavodsk. There are a lot of legends, tales and mystical stories connected to the mountain – one look is enough to feel the mystery of this place. As if polished, huge boulders, dry curved trees, 1600 rocks, laid out in a bizarre way, a swamp, a ladder carved in the rock – how not to be impressed? It is believed that the mountain was a cult place, and ancient tribes made sacrifices here. Despite the difficulty of the road, come here is definitely worth it – this is one of the “wild” places, which have not yet reached the buses with tourists.

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