Situated 215km equidistant from Helsinki to the west and St. Petersburg to the southeast on the southern shores of Lake Saimaa, Lappeenranta is the second most visited town in Finland. It is a town rich in cultural history, with numerous museums and Finland's oldest orthodox church located within the Fortress of Lappeenranta, and possesses ten different choirs or orchestras, as well as the largest sandcastle in Scandinavia, and excellent skiing on the slopes at Myllymäki and Konka.
Thanks to its location in the heart of South-East Finland, Lappeenranta has had a long and colourful history, one dominated by its standing as a border town between two different cultures. Since the early seventeenth century it was a significant trading place, and was granted town privileges in 1649 by Queen Christina of Sweden.
Today Lappeenranta is a vibrant international university city, situated in the midst of a stunning landscape at the southern end of Europe's fourth largest lake, Saimaa. It's historical fortress and streets lined with linden trees, combined with a wealth of cultural and natural attractions, make it both a Summer paradise and a Winter wonderland, for both locals and the many visitors and travellers who arrive here from around the world. 215 km away from both Helsinki and St. Petersburg and close to the Finnish border with Russia, Lappeenranta is the second most popular tourist site for foreign visitors.
Following the period known as 'The Great Hate' in 1721 the Swedes began the fortification of the town, with little success - the fortress fell in the Battle of Lappeenranta in 1741 in five hours! Shortly after, it fell under Russian rule, almost 100 years before the rest of Finland. In 1811 'old Finland' and the rest of the country were reunited, and this saw Lappeenranta enjoy a long period where it was no longer the centre of battles, but instead a peaceful lakeside district.
Lappeenranta today is the administrative, cultural, and commercial centre of South Karelia, a modern, thriving town and a hub for tourism. Situated at the southern end of Finland's largest lake system, Lake Saimaa, it is the second most visited city in the country, thanks in no small part to the Russians who love to shop here. The easy-going Karelian locals are among the friendliest in all of Finland, and have an obvious love for music which you'll hear almost everywhere you go. There are over ten different choirs or orchestras in Lappeenranta, including a permanent orchestra and theatre, and numerous museums to visit, including the South Karelia Art Museum, the Cavalry Museum, the Wolkoff House Museum, and the Museum of South Karelia.
Most of these are located in and around the Fortress of Lappeenranta, which is one of the most visited attractions in Finland. Surrounded by the ramparts, this historic district represents the original town which began as a medieval trading centre during the Swedish regime in 1649. However, the majority of the buildings date to the period of Russian rule which lasted from 1741 to 1917. Since renovation, these buildings are now a mix of private residences, handicrafts workshops, museums and other cultural premises. It is also the site of Finland's oldest orthodox church, completed in 1785, where visitors can view the 200 year old icon known as the Communion of the Holy which you'll find in the middle of the north wall. With such a rich mix of fascinating history, wonderful scenery, delightful handicrafts shops and workshops, and so many museums, it is hardly surprising that the Fortress of Lappeenranta is one of the most visited and popular sites in all of Finland.
The city is also famous for its sandcastle, the largest in Scandinavia, and a real favourite for families with children . Every summer artists gather on the northern end of the harbour to build an ever-increasing sandcastle (using over 3 million kilos of sand), with a different theme every year, and within which a small theatre group perform for children and families. In fact, the harbour area in general is a fun-packed spot to bring the kids to, with numerous free rides and activities for children of all ages. Water lovers can hire paddle boats, or go kayaking or canoing. In the summer and autumn the harbour is also a busy point of departure for numerous boats an ships, some sailing on cruises, perhaps on a Viking styled boat, among the labyrinth of islands on Lake Saimaa, others to more distant towns and cities further up the same lake, and others through the Saimaa Canal where travellers can visit the Russian city of Vyborg without needing a visa.
Lappeenranta has a vast selection of activities for visitors, whether they prefer adventures in the outdoors, or relaxing by the side of the lake enjoying peace and quiet in a serene environment. All the usual water sports are available here, and the region is a haven for fishermen, horseback riders, nature enthusiasts and bird watchers, golfers, swimmers, cyclists, and even dancers. Whether you've spent the day laying on the beach at Myllysaari, or playing beach volleyball, you should take the opportunity to enjoy a traditional wood burning sauna there, or visit one of the many smoke saunas in the region.
In winter, visitors throng to try out the skiing on the slopes at Myllymäki and Konka, or to skate at the Kisapuisto Skating rink or at the city harbour where skates, snowshoes and sledges can be rented, or to take to the many forest paths aboard a rented snow mobile. Ice fishing is also a popular winter activity, and one of the most peaceful pastimes in the world, unlike the rather perilous activity of ice swimming, where Finns plunge through a hole cut in the frozen lake surface and into the icy waters. Without being coerced, apparently.
With more than 10 choirs and orchestras, an assortment of theatres, and numerous museums and churches to visit, Lappeenranta is the cultural capital of South Karelia, with more than enough to keep even the most inquisitive of culture vultures happy. View our list of top tourist attractions in Lappeenranta.
With a fine assortment of spas and adventure activities to choose from, you'll never be bored in Lappeenranta! Motorised safaris, trekking and cycling paths, canoeing and kayaking, skating, skiing, snowboarding and driving a snow mobile, golfing, horse riding, or relaxing while fishing the plentiful lakes: the choice is yours.
There are many fine restaurants in Lappeenranta, and in the surrounding countryside, catering to every taste and palate. Numerous cafes and bars abound in the harbour area, and while visiting you should try the local delicacies Atomis and Vetys. Night owls can discover a wealth of bars and nightclubs simply by strolling from downtown to the harbour area, or enjoy the exotic Lavatansit summer dances at open air dance floors like Iitiä.
As Finland's second most visited city, Lappeenranta knows how to provide accommodation suited to every budget. From top rated hotels to hostels, from fully serviced cottages to bed and breakfasts, from farm and manor house accommodation to camping and caravan sites, Lappeenranta has it all.
In addition to the numerous famous brand named stores, Lappeenranta is also known as a city where you can find great antiques, and there are delightful boutiques in and around the Fortress where local handicrafts are on sale. Or travel the short distance to Ylämaa's Kivikylä, the Stone Village, where you can pick up all manner of gems and even spectrolite.
Lappeenranta has the oldest airport in Finland, and there are 4 flights a day to and from Helsinki. There are even more rail connections between the cities, and it is also well serviced by buses. Cruise boats operate between the city and other destinations in the Lake Saimaa region, and also to Vyborg in Russia via the Saimaa Canal.