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Laineensaari from the short of Papinniemi

South Karelia (Etelä-Karjala, Södra Karelen) is in Southern Finland, by the southern shores of the lake Saimaa. South Karelia's population is about 136,000.


  • 1 Imatra – an industrial town of 30,000, known for the rapids of River Vuoksi
  • 2 Lappeenranta – the regional centre of South Karelia


Map of South Karelia


The Karelians were a significant Fennic people, on the border between the Russian and Swedish realms. The Finnish part of Karelia is mostly in the regions of South Karelia and North Karelia. Most of Karelia is in Russia, mainly in the Republic of Karelia and on the Karelian Isthmus. Karelians in Finland speak Finnish and most inhabitants of the Russian Karelia are Russians who immigrated there in the 20th century. Karelian, mutually intelligible with Finnish to some degree, is still spoken by a minority; the Finnish broadcasting company sends news also in Karelian and Russian newspapers in Karelian can be found in some libraries. Much of the Finnish national epic Kalevala was collected in what is now the Republic of Karelia.

Large parts of what was the Finnish part of Karelia was ceded to the Soviet Union after World War II and the inhabitants resettled in the rest of Finland. Thus people with Karelian roots are found all over the country. There is a widespread nostalgia for the lost Karelia.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, tourists from Russia gave a much needed surge to the local businesses, especially in Lappeenranta. However, in 2022 relations between EU and Russia deteriorated and Russians are no more allowed to cross the border to EU without a "valid reason".

The region lies along the southern shores of the labyrinthine lake Saimaa, Finland's largest and Europe's fifth largest lake, with waterways covering more or less one third of the Finnish Lakeland. There are thousands of summer cottages along it shores and on its (thousands) islands.


Finnish. As elsewhere in Finland, nearly everyone also speaks English. As the area receives many visitors from Russia, service in Russian is available in some places, especially in Lappeenranta. Swedish proficiency is much weaker than in Finland in general, although anybody born after 1965 has studied Swedish in school.

Get in[edit]

Travel Warning Visa restrictions:
In response to Russia's war in Ukraine, Russian tourists are banned from entering Finland.
(Information last updated Jan 2023)

Lappeenranta airport (LPP IATA) is Ryanair's hub in Finland so there are a couple of direct flights to odd airports in Europe. Trains from Helsinki towards Russia (Saint Petersburg and Moscow) and Joensuu pass through the region. Bus routes from Russia are available, for example from Saint Petersburg and Vyborg. Lappeenranta and Imatra are connected by bus to major cities in eastern Finland as well as Helsinki, and as with most of rural Finland, car is always an option.

The following route serves the province:

  • M6 (Helsinki—Kouvola—Lappeenranta—Imatra—Joensuu)

Saimaa is reachable from the sea by the Saimaa Canal, and much of the region is along this lake and connected waterways. There are cruises from Lappeenranta to Vyborg, which you may be able to use also for getting in.

Get around[edit]

Trains of the national operator VR can be used.

Coaches are the main public transport, see Matkahuolto for timetables. Matkahuolto Reittiopas is a route planner for regional travel, except for local routes of Imatra.

By bicycle[edit]

Saimaa Archipelago Route[dead link] (Saimaan saaristoreitti) is a popular 154 km long cycling trip 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 Lakeland. It is worth booking several days for the route, as there is a lot to see, such as several Saimaa Geopark destinations. The main geological feature is the Salpausselkä ridges, formed by the Ice Age and separating the Lakeland from the coast. The route is marked with blue signs and stickers and printed with map signs. Information about cycle ferries can be found from Saimaa Cycling website and from Routes and Tickets mobile app.

By boat[edit]

There are cruises on several routes on Saimaa and the connecting waterways.

For getting around by own vessel, see Boating in Finland#Saimaa lake system.

By taxi[edit]

  • Smartphone apps: Valopilkku, 02 Taksi, Menevä, Taksi Saimaa


Imatra Rapids in the Vuoksi River
  • Imatra Rapids in the river Vuoksi (once the main attraction of the region, now free-flowing only at special occasions)
  • Kotkaniemi in Luumäki, home to P.E. Svinhufvud, president of Finland in the 1930s.
  • Taavetti fortress in Luumäki
  • Kollaa Museum — a museum in ​​Miettilä, Rautjärvi, focused on the battles of Kollaa during the Winter War; also including special exhibition dedicated to the deadliest sniper in history, Simo Häyhä.
  • Parikkala Sculpture Park — a somewhat eerie park with 550 sculptures by Veijo Rönkkönen.




The fast food in Lappeenranta has been influenced by the local university of technology, thus you can get meat pies such as vety ("hydrogen").


Stay safe[edit]

South Karelia is a safe region. Mind ice safety in winter.

Go next[edit]

This region travel guide to South Karelia is an outline and may need more content. It has a template, but there is not enough information present. If there are Cities and Other destinations listed, they may not all be at usable status or there may not be a valid regional structure and a "Get in" section describing all of the typical ways to get here. Please plunge forward and help it grow!