North Karelia – captivating national parks and traditional culture

3 minute read

Credits: Harri Tarvainen

Discover some of the natural and cultural highlights of the vibrant region of North Karelia

The easternmost part of Finland, North Karelia, is famous for its natural attractions, food traditions, and slower pace of life. With about 2,000 lakes and 24,000 holiday cottages, this is where Finns go when they want to relax and enjoy nature. 

North Karelia is the perfect vacation spot for nature-lovers who want to experience Finland’s rugged ridges, crystal-clear rivers and lakes, and islands of magnificent flora. It’s a place where artists have been coming to be inspired for centuries – the famous Finnish national epic, Kalevala, was written in Karelia.

Did you know that there are over 170,000 islands and isles in Finland? Most are uninhabited, leaving room for visitors and residents to explore nature.
Credits: Vastavalo / Juha Määttä

Mesmerising Finnish landscapes: Koli National Park

Koli has attracted artists, photographers and nature-lovers like no other place in Finland. You’ll understand why once you stand on top of Ukko-Koli hill with its Tolkien-style scenery of hills, lakes, and tiny islands unfolding before you. Given its landscape, Koli offers lots of outdoor activities, from winter skiing and snowshoeing to hiking, canoeing, rowing, and cycling in the summer months. Don’t forget to pick some berries and give thanks for Finland Everyman’s Rights!

Visit National Parks site to learn more about the Koli National Park.

A famous painting by Eero Järnefelt of the iconic Koli landscape is in the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki.
Credits: Harri Tarvainen

Ice Age scenery: Petkeljärvi National Park

Petkeljärvi is famous for its sand and gravel esker ridges, which rise majestically above clear, blue lakes – scenery that was formed during the Ice Age. This national park is ideal for a day trip and offers marked trails that range from two to seven kilometres long. You’ll feel like you’re walking in a postcard as you meander over flood meadows, beaver dams, and picturesque ridges. You can also rent a canoe and take a short trip around Lake Petkeljärvi or a longer one to Patvinsuo National Park.

Credits: Harri Tarvainen

Miniature trees and marshland: Patvinsuo National Park

Patvinsuo’s marshland looks like a pocket-sized world with its tiny spruces and pines and small ponds and rivers. Marked trails that run through large swamps and duckboards that take you across wetter stretches make these trails surprisingly accessible to walkers. There is also a can’t-miss lake, Suomunjärvi, with beautiful white-sand beaches.

Paddler’s paradise: Kolovesi National Park

At Kolovesi, rocky cliffs rise over narrow channels covered in ancient rock paintings by Finland’s earliest settlers. This park, located by Lake Saimaa, is the perfect place to paddle – you might even see a Saimaa ringed seal. If you’re more into walking, there is also a nature trail and two hiking trails, enabling you to immerse yourself in Kolovesi’s natural splendour.

The Saimaa ringed seal is one of the most endangered seals in the world. It’s been protected since 1955 and efforts to conserve the species remain ongoing.
Credits: Teuvo Juvonen / Vastavalo

Poem-singing and Karelian cuisine: Parppeinvaara

Parppeinvaara takes you inside ancient Karelia through historic buildings showcasing local traditions. There is the Rune Singer’s House, with its traditional kannel music and exhibits; Restaurant Parppeinpirtti, which offers an authentic Karelian menu; the Border General’s Cabin, which served as a war-time headquarters, and even a small Orthodox chapel.

Introduction to the Eastern Orthodox Church: Valamo Monastery

Located in beautiful Heinävesi, Valamo Monastery is Finland’s active epicentre of Orthodox religious life. In addition to a permanent exhibition of historical church items, there are temporary exhibitions. Trapesa, the monastery’s restaurant, serves delicious food and monastery-created wines. You can even spend a night in the monastery’s accommodations, where you can unwind in peace and quiet.

Traditional Karelian architecture and culture: Bomba Village

Bomba Village is a Karelian replica that was built to mirror those of the past. Here, you’ll find Bomba House, a majestic wooden villa with grand decorations, as well as a hotel, restaurant and spa. During the summer, there’s a market and a theatre. Grab the kids and head to Laitala’s Bun Workshop, where you can learn to bake traditional Finnish delicacies.

Credits: Harri Tarvainen

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