Saimaa (Saimen in Swedish) is a lake in south-eastern Finland. At 1,147 km² (443 square miles), it is the largest lake in Finland, and the fifth largest in Europe. There are 13,710 islands in Saimaa and the connected waterways.
- 1 Joensuu in North Karelia
- 2 Lappeenranta in South Karelia
- 3 Imatra likewise in South Karelia
- 4 Savonlinna in South Savonia
- 5 Mikkeli likewise in South Savonia
- 6 Varkaus in North Savonia
The Saimaa Canal from Lappeenranta to Vyborg binds Saimaa to the Gulf of Finland. Other canals bind Saimaa to smaller lakes in the eastern parts of the Finnish lakeland, forming a network of waterways. These waterways are mainly used to transport wood, minerals, metals, pulp and other cargo, but also tourists use the waterways.
The Saimaa Canal was built to connect the Saimaa to the Baltic Sea at the dawn of industrialisation. The canal was modernized in the 1960s. Finland pays rent for the Russian parts of the canal. The canal itself connects to the Gulf of Finland, on Russian territory, close to Vyborg (Finnish: Viipuri). The canal is mostly used by cargo ships, but there were also passenger boats operating from Lappeenranta to Vyborg until 2022. It is also used by private boats from Finland and abroad.
The egress of Saimaa in Imatra is an impressive rapids (when let free), a famous tourist attraction in the 19th century. The river Vuoksi flows from there to Lake Ladoga.
Finnish is talked by the locals. English skills are good as in the rest of Finland. Swedish is taught in schools, but results are varied. Russian is known in many tourist businesses and shops with tourist shoppers, especially by the Russian border, such as in Lappeenranta.
See the region and city articles for details.
Saimaa is accessible from the Gulf of Finland (and thus from the oceans) through the Saimaa Canal locks, by own yacht or by cruise.
By bus and train
By small cruise ship
- VIP cruises is one of several companies arranging tours with historic steamers or newer vessels.
- Saimaan Laivamatkat Oy, Olavinkatu 35 A, Savonlinna, ☏ (landline), (mobile), email@example.com. Cruises with m/s Puijo, built 1914, including Lappenranta–Puumala–Savonlinna and Savonlinna–Varkaus–Leppävirta–Kuopio and shorter trips. Optionally meals and guiding. Optionally lodging in cabin or hotel (with price given as "from") on the two-day cruises. Some cruises include return by coach. Day cruises €60–100, two-day cruises $150–200.
- Main article: Boating in Finland#Saimaa lake system
The fairways for larger freighters, with endpoints in Mikkeli (Ristiina), Kuopio and Joensuu, guarantee enough height and depth for any yacht. Past these cities (and in many minor channels) height is restricted to 12 meters; the waterways available by yacht extend to Iisalmi in the northwest and Nurmes (at Lake Pielinen) in the northeast. The smaller your craft, the more options you have, but even with a big yacht there is enough to explore for weeks or months.
Saimaa is a good sailing destination, but most will choose to use the motor quite a lot, and also some who sail at sea prefer a motorboat here.
The weather forecast for mariners include forecasts for Saimaa. The Saimaa VTS (VHF working channel 9) handles traffic in the main fairways, including distress calls, but 112 is mainly responsible for emergencies in the area. Also channel 16 on marine VHF can be used.
Saimaa Archipelago Route[dead link] (Saimaan saaristoreitti) is a traditional and popular 154 km long cycling route in the southern Saimaa region. The route passes through the centres of Taipalsaari, Ruokolahti, Imatra and Lappeenranta and offers cyclists numerous great views of the Finnish lake district. It is worth reserving several days for the route, as there is a lot to see, such as several Saimaa Geopark destinations. For those who have interest to geology it is interesting to cycle along Salpausselkä, large edge formations of the Ice Age glacier. The route is marked with blue signs and stickers and printed with map signs.
- The landscape (lakescape) is the main sight. If coming by car, take a rest at some of the places with good views (often marked on road maps but not necessarily obvious when driving). Coming by train, having a map handy can help being alert. And if possible, you should of course get on a cruise of some kind.
- One of the two fresh water seal species, the Ringed Seal, lives in Saimaa. The subspecies in Saimaa (Saimaa Ringed Seal, Phoca hispida saimensis, in Finnish: saimaannorppa) is not found elsewhere and is among the most endangered seals in the world, having a total population of only about 400 individuals.
Cruise around the many islands with a sailing boat, motor boat or canoe (see Boating in Finland#Saimaa lake system).
Rent a cottage at the shore and enjoy! Many cottages have rowing boats or similar for also doing trips.
Enjoy a performance at the Savonlinna opera festival in the court of a medieval castle.
There are two national parks in the archipelagos of Saimaa, and one more at the shores of the connected lake Pielinen:
- 1 Linnansaari National Park (see Rantasalmi, Savonlinna and Varkaus). Lush islands and rocky islets. Best explored by boat or canoe, but there is a boat service to the main island and taxi boats available. Nature trails, an old croft, Saimaa seals and osprays. Tour skating in winter.
- 2 Kolovesi National Park (visitor centre in Enonkoski, 33 km from Savonlinna centre; boat, bike, car or taxi needed to reach the park from there; reachable by boat from the Heinävesi route, which passes Savonlinna). A labyrinth of islands with rocky cliffs by narrow channels. Ancient rock paintings and the Saimaa ringed seal. Best explored with a canoe. Motor boats are off limits in most of the park.
- Kalakukko is vendace and bacon wrapped into rye bread dough and baked for hours on low heat. Delicacy of Savonian origin.
- When in Lappeenranta it is good time to try vety or atomi or vetyatomi, the local fast food filled pies available from all grillikioski.
Saimaa region has some nice small breweries such as Saimaan Juomatehdas in Mikkeli
- Stay afloat. Especially in small boats you should follow safe practices.
- If swimming at unofficial beaches, watch out for (half) sunken trees and trunks.
- Go boating on the Baltic Sea or on Europe's largest lake Ladoga.