Karelia is a region in Northwestern Russia, known as the country of lakes. It has a strong cultural connection with Finland, with the ethnic Karelians closely related to the Finns. Much of the Finnish national epic Kalevala was collected here.
- 1 Petrozavodsk — the capital and largest city of Karelia, with a fine collection of neoclassical architecture and a summer hydrofoil service to Kizhi
- 2 Kem — a small town on the coast not far from Solovki with a spectacular 18th century wooden cathedral
- 3 Kostomuksha — a large town built as a Finnish-Russian cooperation from 1977–1985 for iron ore mining, functions also as a dacha-style resort mostly for Finns every summer and hosts a yearly summer chamber music festival
- 4 Olonets — a small historic town near the Alexander-Svirsky Monastery; the only town of size in Karelia where ethnic Karelians constitute a majority
- 5 Povenets - small town, here begins Belomorsko-Baltiyskiy Kanal (White Sea-Baltic Channel)
- 6 Sortavala — the marble canyon of nearby Ruskeala Park is beautiful, the city of Sortavala has interesting architecture, having been the Finnish showcase of functionalism and Carelianism.
- 1 Lake Ladoga — the largest lake of Europe.
- 4 Lake Onega — second-largest lake in Europe. With Besov Nos Cape — famous for ancient drawings, hammered in the rocks. These, together with petroglyphs a little south of Kem, were in 2021 inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
- 6 Kostomuksha Nature Reserve
- 7 Martial waters spa
- 8 Vodlozersky National Park
Karelia is known as "the country of lakes." One quarter of Karelia's surface is covered by water including about sixty thousand lakes. The second-largest lake of Europe, Lake Onega, is located in Karelia. The largest lake of Europe, Lake Ladoga, is partly located in Karelia (together with Leningrad Oblast). Wherever there is land, there are dense forests covering the ground.
Karelia has strong cultural connection with Finland and the Karelians, after whom the republic is named, are a Finno-Ugric group very closely related to the Finns. Much of the Finnish national epic Kalevala was collected here. The border between Sweden (which Finland was part of) and Russia has crossed the lands of the Karelians since medieval times, being moved several times (see Nordic history). The parts Finland lost to Russia in the Second World War are still a bit of a sore spot for many Finns.
Everybody understands and speaks Russian, although many are bilingual in Karelian, Finnish, or, on a smaller scale, Veps (a third Finno-Ugric language). A traveller could get by with only knowledge of Finnish, as many native ethnic Russians understand a good deal of the language.
Basic English is widely understood by young people; Swedish is also relatively popular.
As of February 2014, there only flights to Karelia from outside are from Moscow (Domodedovo) 5 times a week and from Saint-Petersburg 2 times a week to Petrozavodsk (Besovetc). The timetable changes often though (every 2-3 months lately).
There are several trains to Petrozavodsk from Saint Petersburg (7 hours; both overnight and day-time, departing from Ladozhsky railway station) and from Moscow (16 hours, overnight). Trains that go through main Karelian transport corridor: Svir–Petrozavodsk–Medvegjyegorsk–Belomorsk, are almost always bound to Petrozavodsk or Murmansk. The most popular, long-known and comfortable trains are 15/16 Moscow–Saint-Petersburg–Murmansk "Arktika", 17/18 Moscow–Petrozavodsk "Kareliya" (bypassing Saint-Petersburg), 5/6 Saint-Petersburg–Petrozavodsk (evening trains that runs 5 hours to Petrozavodsk without stops), 657/658 Saint-Petersburg–Petrozavodsk (overnight), 21/22 Saint-Petersburg–Murmansk (arriving to Petrozavodsk from Saint-Petersburg just after midnight and leaving back very early in the morning). There are several more trains from both capitals, some often seasonal or extra services. Seasonal and extra services trains, as usual, are more close to the traditional Russian and less comfortable style.
Other trains to Kareliya run only several times a week and ofter are seasonal, or on and off. As of January 2014, the following routes are operational: Minsk–Murmansk (pass Petrozavodsk south Tu,Sa, north Tu,Th). Saint-Petersburg–Sortavala–Kostomuksha (leaves Saint-Petersburg We,Fr, arrives to Saint-Petersburg Th,Su), and Murmansk–Vologda (starts from Murmansk Fr,Su, from Vologda We,Fr).
Petrozavodsk is connected by buses with Joensuu in Finland (from Joensuu Th–Su at 16:00, from Petrozavodsk Th–Su at 06:00, transfer tickets to Finland buses are available), Saint-Petersburg (4–5 times a day), Cherepovets through Tikhvin (from Cherepovets F at 07:30), Vologda through Voznesenje ferry (from Vologda M Sa at 08:10), daily from Vytegra through Pudog, and on Tu F Sa from Vytegra through Voznesenje. There are also buses from Saint-Petersburg to Pudog, Pitkyaranta and Sortavala. Complete timetables (subject to change) are on Petrozavodsk bus station site [dead link].
By car there are two main routes to Karelia: through M-18 from Saint-Petersburg (from Moscow you can get to M-18 bypassing Saint-Petersburg through A114 Zuevo–Volkhov–Novaya Ladoga), and by M-8 and R-5 from Moscow via Vologda. An alternate route is via R-37 Lodeinoe Pole–Vytegra and then on to R-5 (this route is informally called Arhangelsk trakt), but this route contains enough unpaved stretches. If you choose any route except M-18, do note that most Karelian roads are in a bad state, rather bumpy (this includes Karelian part of R-5, though not Vologda region part), and often include unpaved stretches.
There are border crossings from Finland, in very sparsely populated areas: Vartius (in Kuhmo) between Kajaani and Kostomuksha and Niirala (in Tohmajärvi/Vyartsilya) between Joensuu and Sortavala. The latter is quite busy, with a million passages a year.
Most public transport in Karelia runs along part of bus and train routes from Saint-Petersburg to Murmansk: on M18 from Olonets, and by rail from station Svir' near Podporogye further north through Petrozavodsk, Kondopoga, Medveg'yegorsk, Segezha, Belomorsk and Kem'. M18 runs to the west of most of those towns, with distance of 3 to 20 km from them.
Other relatively popular bus routes are to Sortavala (through Olonets, or via more direct route through A121), Suoyarvi and Spasskaya Guba. There are quite a number of suburb buses, starting from Petrozavodsk.
Apart from these routes transport (including buses to Kostomuksha and Pudozh among others) is quite scarce, and the number of local buses is small.
To get to Valaam you'll have to get on public or private boat from Sortavala. To get to Kizhi in navigation period, you can get on boat or hydrofoil from Petrozavodsk or Velikaya Guba village. In winter there may be an occasional connection to Kizhi via cushioncraft or helicopter from airport "Peski" in Petrozavodsk. Sometimes there may be a helicopter to Pudozh, or in summer a boat to the opposite shore of Onega, not far from Pudozh.
- 1 Valaam Monastery. The monastery of the Finnish Orthodox Church. Originally Valamo was built on an island of Ladoga but was evacuated during war with the Soviets in the 1940s. The monks fled with their icons and rebuilt Valamo close to Heinävesi, a bit west of Joensuu. The monastery is visited by many Finns, Orthodox or not, and is featured in most tourist guides as well. Pilgrims come to see the ancient icons from the old Valamo monastery. Boats full of tourists leave during the summer months from Sortavala, Lakhdenpokhya, and Pitkyaranta, as well as big river cruise boats from Saint Petersburg and Moscow. It's also possible to travel here by helicopter from Petrozavodsk. The trip by boat from Sortavala costs 750 руб one way. The journey takes 40 minutes. A boat leaves at 09:00. You get an excursion for 1500 руб (the boat leaves at 09:30), which includes visits to other sketes. There is a marshrutka on Valaam, which charges 70 руб for the 6 km (3.7 mi) between the Monastirskaja landing and Nikolovskaja landing. Walks on Valaam, visiting the sketes and crossing the bridges to some islets are pleasant. There is a small fjord north of the Nikolovskaja landing.
- 2 Kivach waterfall.
The Solovetsky Islands and Monastery on the White Sea are another nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site in Arkhangelsk Oblast and can be reached by boat from Karelia.
Trains head north from Petrozavodsk to Murmansk.