Defined by the Baltic Sea and surrounding archipelago, Kotka is a picturesque town with a rich maritime tradition. It is home to the Maritime Museum of Finland and the Maretarium, and the Kymijoki River flowing through it is renowned for having the best salmon fishing in southern Finland, and for Langinkoski, the old Imperial Fishing Lodge located upstream. The most popular activities here are cruises around the archipelago, rafting and kayaking through the rapids of the Kymijoki, sailing and fishing.
Kotka is situated in the Kymenlaakso region of southern Finland, 130km east of Helsinki, and the city boasts two centres, Kotkansaari on the Isle of Kotka, and Karhula on the mainland to the north. It is a major Finnish port, the second largest export port and the biggest transit port in Finland.
Although the town was only granted its charter in 1878, Kotka has a rich history and played an important role in the many struggles between Sweden and Russia down the years, especially in maritime battles. The towns identity is in part defined by the Kymijoki River, the Baltic Sea, and the archipelago around it, and most of its area is in fact water.
With water playing such an important role in Kotka's history, and its present, it is no surprise that the city has such a rich variety of water-based activities and attractions for the visitor. Cruises around the archipelago, rafting and kayaking through the rapids of the Kymijoki, sailing and fishing opportunities all vie for your time. The modern Maritime Centre is home to numerous exhibitions devoted to the sea and seafaring traditions of the region, with collections on display from the Maritime Museum of Finland and Museum of Kymelaakso. The building itself is extraordinary, resembling a large wave in design, designed by Professor Ilmari Lahdelma. The museum quay is the mooring place of notable ships, including the Icebreaker Tarmo, the oldest of its kind in the world, and the coast guard vessel Telkkä. Adults and children alike will enjoy Maretarium, with 22 different tanks and more than 50 species of fish, including every species native to Finland's rivers and lakes. Travelers should also drop into the Finnish Wooden Boat Centre, where they can learn all about the rich heritage of wooden boat construction and use in Finland down through the years, and see boats being worked on by skilled craftsmen.
Kymijoki River is renowned for its fishing, having the best salmon fishing in southern Finland, but there are plenty of other fish to catch too, such as pike, perch, whitefish, and zander, or walleye. For those who prefer a lot more action, the river contains exciting rapids which can be rafted, canoed, or kayaked down. Take a trip upstream to see Langinkoski, the old Imperial Fishing Lodge which now serves as a museum. It is unique in that it is only building outside Russia that was once owned by Emperor Alexander III of Russia.
Another museum worth visiting id The Aviation Museum situated at the Kymi airfield, where you see 15 planes, including the rare Harakka elementary training gliders, a Fouga Magister, a MIG-21F jet fighter, and the world's only flying Glouster Gauntlet fighter from the second world war.
There are some beautiful churches to visit in Kotka, including the Church of St. Nicholas which was completed in 1801 from designs by Jakov Perrin, home to one of the country's most beautiful icons, depicting St. Nicholas in Kotkansaari with a view of the Ruotsinsalmi naval battle. Outside this beautiful neoclassical church there is a statue of Maria Purpur who is claimed to have saved the church from destruction during the Crimean War. In 1898 the Church of Kotka, designed by Josef Daniel Stenbäck in the Neogothic style, was inaugurated. The spire reaches 54 metres in height, and the church contains beautiful stained glass, an altarpiece painted by Pekka Halonen, and an organ built after the famous baroque organ in Freiburg Cathedral. The stone church in Kymi was inaugurated in 1851 and was designed by C.L. Engel in the Empire style. The altar houses a facsimile copy of the first Bible in Finnish printed in 1642, the year when the Parish was established. The altarpiece (Jesus in Gethsemane) was painted by Berndt Godenhjelm in 1865. Finally, the Church of Haapasaari, the easternmost island church in the Gulf of Finland, was completed in 1858, and contains an altarpiece by Frans Lehtinen.
With so many museums and a selection of fine galleries, Kotka offers a rich cultural experience for the visitor. The city is also home to Kymi Sinfonietta, which gives many classical performances throughout the year, and theatre thrives in the town. View our list of top tourist attractions in Kotka.
The active traveller will find plenty to do in Kotka, with excellent facilities for swimming, bowling, golfing, skiing, or any of the numerous water based activities for which the region is so well known, including rafting, sailing, kayaking, fishing, or enjoy a relaxing cruise around the many islands of the archipelago.
No matter your taste, or budget, you'll find a great choice of restaurants in and around Kotka, with the chance to experience some excellent seafood fresh from the river, lakes and the sea around the city. Night owls will find plenty of lively pubs and bars, and quite a few nightclubs.
Kotka offers the traveller a fine selection of accommodation, no matter their budget or preference. Hotels range from top-class to mid-range, and there are villas to rent, self-catering apartments, rental cottages by the sea, and a fine youth hostel for budget travellers.
There are four main shopping areas in Kotka, on the main island of Kotkansaari, and in Karhula, Sutela, and Jumalniemi. The city is also famed for its numerous interior design and handicrafts boutiques where you can pick up aome delightful souvenirs from the region.
Kotka is not on the main line to Helsinki, but you can get there by rail by changing trains at nearby Kouvola. The city is well connected by bus to Helsinki and other cities in Finland, as well as to St. Petersburg in Russia. The nearest airport is in Helsinki-Vantaa.