Renowned for its natural beauty, a region of fells and forests in an almost untouched wilderness adorned by lakes, rivers and rapids, Kuusamo is one of Finland's major holiday destinations, attracting almost a million tourists annually. Many of these arrive in winter to enjoy the excellent skiing available at the nearby ski resorts, especially Ruka Ski Resort, one of the largest in Finland, and of international standing. Indeed, Ruka hosts numerous international competitions in ski-jumping, cross country skiing, and nordic combined - in 2011 it will host the opening of the FIS World Cup in those disciplines. In 2005 Kuusamo hosted the World Championships in Freestyle Skiing.
However, Kuusamo attracts more than just skiers. The city is situated on a plateau approximately 250m above sea level, and from here the waters flow in five different directions, connecting it to the Barents Sea, the Gulf of Bothnia, and the Baltic. Surrounding Kuusamo there are literally thousands of lakes, rivers, rapids, canyons, and ancient forests that have remained untouched, all hemmed in by some of the most striking fells in all of Finland. This beautiful wilderness is home to some Finland's rarest species of animals and plants, including the large predators of the forests such as wolves, bears, and wolverines, and provides the nature lover with the chance to experience something truly unique. Because of its proximity to Russia, fauna and flora are diverse, comprising arctic, Siberian, and Southern species. One of the key areas in the Kuusamo region is the magnificent Oulanka National Park which covers 270 square km, and stretches to the Russian border.
In Kuusamo, the contrast between the seasons is sharp. The winter is long, cold, and very snowy, but as summer arrives the region becomes sun-drenched and the average temperature climbs to a respectable 20 degrees Celsius, causing an explosion of greenery and growth under the light of the midsummer sun which doesn't sink below the horizon. The Midsummer Night festivities of June 21st last throughout the night well into the following day, and is a much loved celebration for locals and tourists alike. Nights remain bright right into August, and as they finally darken the landscape undergoes its most beautiful transformation, with nature dazzling and delighting as it dons a myriad shades of yellows, oranges, and reds. This is the most popular time for Finnish travelers to visit Kuusamo, and is known as ruska, or russet in English.
Partly because of the wealth of natural beauty surrounding the town, and partly because it suffered so badly during the wars of the 1940s, the town of Kuusamo itself is not exactly inundated with landmarks or attractions. The city centre was destroyed by retreating German forces in the Lapland War, and rebuilding had to be economic and quick, so it is largely irrelevant from an architectural point of view. However, that is not to say that its citizens don't enjoy a rich cultural life - they do! Primarily this cultural life centres on Kuusamo House, a modern building which acts as a conference centre and a cultural centre. Regular musical performances, theatrical performances, and ever-changing art exhibitions ensure the small local population are always kept entertained, and there is also a cinema on the premises. The Museum of Kuusamo is housed in an historic farm house, although much of the museum is open air, and in the old school of Kirkkoketo you'll find a quaint school museum.
In the centre of town you'll find Kuusamo Church, rebuilt in 1951 on the same spot as the original wooden church of 1802 which had been razed to the ground at the end of WWII. The bells of this church were buried in 1944 by SS troops fleeing the Russians as they didn't want them to fall into Russian hands, and in 1959 surviving SS Engineers returned to unearth them.
Kuusamo is not known for its cultural diversity, nor for its wealth of architectural delights, but there will always be something to enjoy at Kuusamo House, whether it be a musical performance, theatre, an art exhibition, or simply enjoying the latest movie releases. View our list of top tourist attractions in Kuusamo.
Although Kuusamo is best known for its world renowned Ski Resort at Ruka, there are plenty of other options for the winter visitor, such as enjoying a reindeer or dog-sled safari, snowshoe excursions, snowmobile trips, or viewing the Northern Lights. In summer there are plenty of options such as hiking, fishing, canoeing or rubber rafting down the rapids.
Travellers to Kuusamo shouldn't miss out on the Lapp delicacies on offer, such as sauteed reindeer with a wild berry sauce, or Leipäjuusto which is also known as Finnish squeaky cheese! There are plenty of restaurants to choose from, and the region is renowned for its Karaoke nights in many of the bars and clubs.
Kuusamo is primarily a holiday resort, and as such it offers the traveller a wide range of accommodation choices to suit. There are top class hotels, Spa hotels, rental apartments, cottages and cottage villages, or remote lakeside cabins to choose from.
There are numerous shops and stores in Kuusamo and Ruka which specialise in local handicrafts and Lapp products such as reindeer skins. Fishermen will be delighted to browse in the factory shop of famous spoonbait manufacturer Kuusamon Uistin which is located on the plant.
Kuusamo has good air connections. There are several round-trip flights a day between Helsinki and Kuusamo. The nearest rail connection from southern Finland is in Oulu or Rovaniemi, from where you can take a bus to Kuusamo.