A small modern city, Varkaus is especially popular with nature lovers and outdoors enthusiasts who enjoy its easy access to the National Parks of Kolovesi and Linnansaari, whose islands are home to the endangered Saimaa ringed seals, and Kämäri island and Ämmäkoski rapids within the town which are ideal for quiet exploration and fishing. Despite its small size, Varkaus has significant museums and hosts the Joroinen Music Days festival.
Idyllically located on straits between two sections of Lake Saimaa, with an extension of the Saimaa Canal passing through the town, Varkaus was recognised as a market town in 1929 and granted city status in 1961. Varkaus played a significant role in the Finnish Civil War, in 1918 the town was taken over by the Reds but because of its isolated location in rural Finland it soon fell to the White Guard, who proceeded to execute every tenth Red soldier. Today, the town is characterised by the lakes and canals which surround it, and is a popular holiday spot for the many Finns who travel through the Lake Saima system.
Varkaus is home to one of the most unique museums in Finland, the Museum of Mechanical Music, which houses the largest collection of mechanical musical instruments in the Nordic countries. Included here is the world's largest orchestrion, the 75-man Popper Goliath, an extraordinary Amadeus Street organ. This internationally significant collection also contains music boxes, mechanical pianos, violins and accordions, hurdy-gurdies, small hand organs, and lots of gramophones and juke boxes. Another treat for music lovers is the nearby Joroinen Music Days festival where visitors can enjoy some of the finest chamber music in historic settings or in a more traditional rural setting. Joroinen is just a little to the south of Varkaus, and the festival begins at the end of July every year, lasting for 5 days.
Travelers to Varkaus should visit the Taipale canal area and the Varkaus Canal Museum. The old canal is over 170 years old, and presents its history in a series of information boards placed along the canal path, and in the exhibitions displayed in the Canal Museum. Elsewhere in the town you'll find the local history and art museums housed in the former factory hotel which was built in 1914. The upper level houses an exhibition entitled 'City in Layers' which outlines the history of Varkaus, while downstairs there are changing art exhibitions. A short stroll will bring you to Taidekeskus Väinölä Art Centre, a delightful wooden building housing changing exhibitions and a café where you rest while enjoying a coffee. From there, the visitor can walk to the Water Tower, which was Finland's tallest inhabited building when it was built in 1954, and the viewing platform, at a height of 45m, offers a fine panoramic view of the town and the surrounding lakes. There are also some lovely churches in Varkaus, chief among them being the Evangelical Lutheran Church which contains the largest altar fresco in Scandinavia, 'Thy Kingdom Come', covering an impressive 240 square metres.
For nature lovers, or outdoors enthusiasts, the region offers some of the best hiking and canoing trails in Finland. Right in the middle of the city you'll find Kämari island, an untouched green area where a 3km nature path winds it way between the Ämmäkoski rapids and the Taipale canal. Further out, there are bird watching towers at Lake Ruokojärvi and Lake Mula, 6m in height and accessible by wheelchair. These are ideal for spotting the Eurasian bittern and the Western marsh harrier.
The Härkämaki Observatory at nearby Kangaslampi has the latest telescopes, and at 160m above sea level in an area devoid of light pollution is ideal for observing the heavens. There is also a Lapland hut, a lean-to, and a camp fireplace for visitors to avail of. Varkaus is also the perfect starting point for anyone wishing to explore the Linnansaari and Kolovesi national parks. Linnansaari is a paradise for canoeists, kayakers, and boaters in general, and the islands here are home to the endangered Saimaa ringed seals, and many ospreys. Kolovesi is likewise popular with everyone who travels over water, its landscape dominated by the 40m cliffs which were carved out in the last Ice Age.
Finally, we should mention the Orthodox Monastery of New Valamo in Heinävesi, just 45 minutes from Varkaus, as it has become a significant centre of Orthodox culture in Finland over recent decades. The monks who live here communally ascribe to the principle that the monastery should be self sufficient, and as a result it has become an important tourist attraction, providing accommodation and a fine restaurant, as well as a crafts centre where hand made items can be bought as souvenirs.
The main shopping street of Varkaus is Kauppakatu where you'll discover a wide range of brand name stores alongside smaller boutiques selling handicrafts, jewelry, textiles, souvenirs and gifts. Elsewhere in the city you'll find a shop specialising in woodwork made to order, and an ecological gift shop where all materials are natural or recycled.
Although the chief attractions of Varkaus relate to the wealth of natural beauty of the Saimaa Lake system where it is located, there are still plenty of cultural attractions for the visitor, with museums and galleries complimented by classical music festivals and concerts.
Sports and nature enthusiasts are well catered for in Varkaus and the surrounding region, with excellent golfing facilities, horse riding, sports centres, indoor and outdoor swimming, two ice hockey rinks, numerous hiking and paddling trails, and a cross country skiing track.
Varkaus provides plenty of dining opportunities, catering to all tastes and every budget. Whether you'd prefer to sample Thai cuisine, local fish delicacies, full a la carte menus, or tuck into American styled bbq, steaks, or even sample some Cajun dishes, it's all available here.
Varkaus has a number of fine hotels to accommodate visitors to the city, and has recently opened one of Finland's best equipped camping and caravan sites. In addition, the lake shores are dotted with delightful holiday cottages and bed and breakfasts.
Varkaus has its own small airport with connections to Helsinki, and is also on the main Helsinki to Joensuu rail line with many daily trains. Many visitors arrive by boat, and there are fully serviced guest harbours in the city.