photo © Visit Finland
Tourism Savonlinna & Savonlinna Guide
A nature lovers paradise or the most important stop on a culture vulture’s visit to Finland? The answer is both! Lying close to the national parks of Kolovesi and Linnansaari, being home to protected Saimaa Seals, White-backed Woodpecker and Corncrake, in the centre of Finland’s largest lake system, Savonlinna is one of the most rewarding destinations for the nature loving outdoorsy type. And as the setting for one of the world’s most renowned opera festivals, held annually in the incredible setting of a medieval castle, it has been attracting music lovers from around the world for almost 100 years.
Tourist attractions Savonlinna
Situated on four islands between lakes Haapavesi and Pihlajavesi, the delightful town of Savonlinna has long been one of Finland’s most visited towns. Steeped in history and surrounded by breathtaking scenery, Savonlinna has become famous for its world renowned opera festival held every July, and for the impressive medieval castle which hosts this annual festival. Construction began on Olavinlinna Castle in 1475, on what was then the border between Swedish controlled Finland and Russia, and by 1639 Savonlinna had been granted city rights by Count Per Brahe the Younger. The city began to truly flourish from 1856 on, when the Saimaa Canal was created, and to this day Savonlinna continues to be centre of shipping for the Saimaa region, especially since 1968 when the route to the Baltic was re-established.
Savonlinna has developed as a holiday destination of note since the 19th century, ever popular with wealthy travelers from St. Petersburg and elsewhere, in no small thanks to the Olavinlinna Castle, the Kasinosaari Spa, and the white passenger ships that arrive from towns along the banks of Lake Saima. In 1912 the first Opera Festival was held, and since then it has continued to attract visitors from all over the world. Today Savonlinna is one of the most vibrant towns in Finland, with a rich mix of cultural, industrial, and educational bases and a population of around 30,000.
Savonlinna has so much to offer, whether you are looking for a relaxed city break, to spend some time re-energising in a spa, to soak up some culture and history, or whether you want to spend your time in energetic pursuits, like cycling, hiking, swimming, kayaking, canoing, or even diving. In fact, there’s so much to do and see that many visitors to the town have already been before!
Olavinlinna Castle is one of the best preserved medieval castles in Scandinavia, and is the site of two museums outlining its history and displaying a wealth of orthodox treasures. Moored outside the museums are three historic and beautiful ships, the Mikko, the Salama, and the Savonlinna, each one housing exhibitions. The courtyard of Castle Olavinlinna is the annual setting for the world-famous Opera Festival, where for four weeks every summer in July operatic performances attract thousands of visitors and some of the best performers internationally.
Savonlinna is the perfect spot for enjoying cruises, which leave from the busy harbour, either short cruises around the castle, or considerably longer ones around the archipelago. Lake Saimaa’s archipelago is also home to the protected Saimaa ringed seal, one of the most endangered seal species in the world. Less than 300 of these beautiful animals survive, mostly in the lakes of Pihlavesi, Haukivesi, and Joutenvesi. The Savonlinna region is also home to two other protected species: the white-backed woodpecker and the corncrake.
Lovers of the outdoors are spoiled for choice in Savonlinna. There are two national parks in the region, Kolovesi and Linnansaari, which make for excellent trekking, hiking, and cycling expeditions, and situated as it is in the midst of Finland’s largest lake system, Savonlinna also has a wealth of water based activities to choose from, including some excellent fishing and kayaking opportunities in the summer, and for ice skating and ice fishing in the winter.
Finally, we should mention the unusual Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships first held in Savonlinna in 2000, where hundreds of participants from around the world compete in a number of categories, including one for children under 12!