Joensuu is the vibrant capital of the North Karelia region, and with almost one third of its population being made up of students it is a town where there is always something happening. The biggest event in the calendar is the Ilosaarirock Festival which attracts big international and national acts from the rock and pop world. The region also hosts two important folk music festivals, Kihaus and Neitivirtafolk, as well as the Rokumentti Rock Film Festival and Viscult, an international festival of anthropological and documentary films.
Meaning 'the mouth of the river', the city of Joensuu, which was founded by the Czar Nikolai I of Russia in 1848, has grown to become the regional capital of North Karelia, and its second largest city. Much of its importance is due to improvements in water traffic when the Saimaa Canal was completed in 1870, which has allowed a lively regional trade, and linked to the city to St. Petersburg in Russia, and via the Volga to both the Black and Caspian seas. The River Pielisjoki has always been an important route for log rafting for the local sawmills and the lumber industry.
Indeed, the closeness of the eastern border has played a significant role in the development and history of Joensuu, which now has close ties with the Russian Republic of Karelia once again. Located just an hour away, the border station of Värtsilä - Niirala was opened just over a decade ago, and already it is estimated that over a million people make the crossing annually.
But lumber and education are not all Joensuu has to offer. Every summer flocks of young Finns make their way here for the Ilosaarirock Festival in July, an open air event that attracts some of the biggest national and international rock acts. Folk enthusiasts should check out the music festival Kihaus, organised in Rääkkylä, just 30km from the city, or take a trip to Valtimo, situated on the most northern edge of North Karelia, 130km from Joensuu, where the annual Neitivirtafolk Music Festival is held.
Visitors to Joensuu will find that there is always something to do and see, and of the treats available a day spent in Perhos-Botania, the University Botanical Gardens, is highly recommended. Comprised of five greenhouse complexes, the visitor can travel through a variety of climates on Earth, from arid desert to tropical rain forest, and see a thousand exotic species from all over the globe. Particularly captivating are the giant butterflies which fly freely about the place. Joensuu also houses the Bunker Museum, and the Carelicum or North Karelian Museum, and scattered around are many old wooden churches like the pseudogothic Kirkkokatu cathedral.
Joensuu is home to numerous art galleries, museums, and many churches, both Lutheran and Russian Orthodox. Key attractions in the city are North Karelian Museum, the University Botanical Gardens, and the Bunker Museum where you can check out some of the defences used by Finland during the Winter and Continuation wars with Finland, fully equipped with original weaponry and gear.
Joensuu offers a veritable smorgasborg of activities for visitors to the region, with all the usual winter sports facilities available, with the Koli ski resort and National Park located a bus ride away in the north. Joensuu is also the home of Rally Centre Finland, and operates one of the best Karting facilities in the country.
This is a thriving University city, so there will be always be a choice of late night activities. While visiting, try the Karjalantalo restaurant for authentic Karelian fare, or visit the Kauppatori marketplace where you can choose from local and ethnic food stands, and don't miss out on 'muikku', a delicious tiny fish eaten whole!
As the capital of the North Karelian province, Joensuu is well served by a wide range of top level hotels, bed and breakfasts, camping centres, manor lodges, and even has its very own Wild West themed park, The Chippewa Range, where you can enjoy an authentic western experience!
Along with the usual department stores and large shopping malls, Joensuu has a fine selection of smaller stores and boutiques. A newer centre is the Taitokortteli Arts and Crafts Centre, where you can pick up genuine Karelian crafts very resonably, and the town's market place is also a great place to rummage for bargains.
Located just a few minutes outside the city, Liperi airport serves Joensuu with direct flights to Helsinki operated by Finncomm airlines, and Finnair. The rail services to Helsinki and to other destinations are frequent, and the city is also well connected by many bus routes. The city itself has around 10 lines, and the stops have easy to read maps to better help you find your way around.