photo © Visit Finland / Julia Kivelä
Tourism Imatra & Imatra Guide
On the southern shores of Lake Saimaa, close to the Russian border, and dominated by the River Vuoksi and the incredible Imantrankoski rapids, Imatra is often considered the first tourist town in Finland, thanks to the 1772 visit by Russian Empress Cathering the Great. Indeed, the area was so popular with Russian royalty that in 1842 Tsar Nicholas I ordered Kruununpuisto Park into existence, making it the oldest nature park in Finland. There are numerous museums in Imatra, and it is also home to two very striking, and totally different, architectural gems – the Church of the Three Crosses by Alvar Aalto, and Imatran Valtionhotelli, a Jugendstil building built in 1903 which resembles a medieval knight’s castle.
Other notable people to visit the town include the composer Richard Wagner and the writer Alexander Dumas, and Imatra is also mentioned in the Finnish epic poem, the Kalevala. Imatra received its town charter in 1971, but the region has been populated since the Stone Age and there are several Stone Age settlements within the borough. Tourism peaked in the 19th century, the town was a short journey from St. Petersburg and the Imatrankoski rapids were a popular attraction for Russians who would also have enjoyed the far superior infrastructure, travel services and shopping facilities, as compared with those of their homeland
Tourist attractions Imatra
Imatra is situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty, a wilderness waiting to be explored. There are no less than five nature trails which begin within the town limits, the Mellonlahti, River Vuoksi, and Tainio nature trails, the Muinaisuoma nature and culture trail, and the Vuoksenniska forest trail; trails which allow you to enjoy the beauty of Lake Saimaa’s shores and bordering forests, and of course the fantastic Imatrankoski rapids. The truly adventurous might like to experience ‘The Imatra Express’, where you can glide suspended from a steel cable 20m above the rapids! Kruununpuisto Park is the oldest nature park in Finland, which occupies the area around the Imatrankoski Rapids, and was founded in 1842 by order of Tsar Nicholas I.
Museum lovers have plenty to distract them in Imatra, and should start their investigations in the Imatra Cultural Centre. As well as housing the Karelia Hall, a venue for classical music performances and much more, this impressive modern building also houses the Imatra Modern Art Museum, which focuses on 20th century Finnish art and has over 1,400 items on display, and the Town Museum of Cultural History with its rather extensive photo archive. The historical, and cultural, importance of Finland’s border with Russia is reflected in The Border Museum, located in the Immola Barracks of the Border Guard of South-East Finland. The permanent exhibition here traces the history of Finland’s frontiers, and gives an insight into the lives of the guards since independence in times of war and peace. In Piponius House, an attractive neo-classical stone building dating back to the beginning of the last century, you’ll find the Veteran’s Home Museum featuring a variety of memorabilia from the Winter War and Continuation War, including a special corner devoted to legendary Finnish sniper, Simo Häyhä. Other museums worth a visit are The Industrial Workers Housing Museum, situated on the River Vuoksi, and the delightful Karelian Farmhouse Open Air Museum, just a stroll away.
Imatra is also the location of one of Alvar Aalto’s more imaginative buildings, the Church of the Three Crosses. The slender belfry describes an arrow shot into the ground, among the 103 windows of the church only 2 are identical, and instead of an altar painting there are three crosses. Completed in 1957, the church has a stained glass ceiling, likewise designed by Aalto. Finally, travelers to Imatra should pay a visit to Imatran Valtionhotelli, located near the rapids. This Art Nouveau, or Jugendstil, castle was built in 1903 for tourists from the Imperial capital in St. Petersburg, and resembles a medieval knight’s castle. It was originally named Grand Hotel Cascade d’Imatra.