Imatra (population ca. 30 000) is an industrial town in South Karelia. It is dominated by Lake Saimaa, the River Vuoksi and the Finnish-Russian border. Imatra’s over 300-year-old history of busy tourism is greatly attributed to the attraction of the spectacular rapids of the river Vuoksi which have enticed many illustrious personas to visit the area throughout the ages. Visitors have included such people as Russian Empress Catherine II, Alexander Dumas Senior and Richard Wagner.
Imatra is situated about 250 kilometers east from Helsinki and the trip takes three hours (or more in the winter). The city is situated near the Russian border and you can cross the border at Svetogorsk just 7 km from Imatra.
Plane is not a good way to get into Imatra. The closest airport in Lappeenranta isn't served by passenger flights any longer. Your best bet would be to fly into Helsinki and travel the rest by bus or train.
Trains between Helsinki and Joensuu stop at Imatra. The duration of the trip is about three hours and there are about ten daily departures. From Russia, it's a bit more complicated; get off at Vainikkala at the Finnish side of the border, take a bus to Lappeenranta and from there by bus or train up to Imatra.
Another alternative is to travel by bus. Timetables for normal intercity buses can be found at Matkahuolto's website. Also budget bus company Onnibus connects to Helsinki, Kouvola and Joensuu among others.
Downtown can be covered by foot or bike. The city also has a small public bus network of three lines. The other alternatives are car and taxi.
Imatra is even mentioned in the Kalevala, the epic poem of Finland (compiled from oral poetry in 1835):
- Imatrankoski Rapids. These rapids are Finland's first ever tourist attraction. The Russian Empress Catherine the Great and her retinue visited the rapids in 1772. Next to the rapids is hotel resembling a medieval knight's castle - the Imatran Valtionhotelli. The original name of the hotel was Grand Hotel Cascade d'Imatra.
- Kruununpuisto Park. The oldest nature park in Finland, occupying the area around the Imatrankoski Rapids, was founded in 1842 by order of Tsar Nicholas I.
- Church of the Three Crosses (Kolmen ristin kirkko) (in Vuoksenniska district). Open: 1 Sep - 31 May daily 10AM - 3PM, 1 Jun - 31 Aug daily 9AM - 8PM..
- Imatra Big Band Festival.
- Rock to the River. Rock festival.
You can find all sorts of small shops in the pedestrian area (along and next to Koskenparras street). If you prefer shopping malls, head to the Mansikkala district, where you can find Rajamarket, Citymarket and a brand new Prisma.
- Buttenhoff, Koskenparras 4, ☎ +358 5 476 1433. Monday - Friday: 11AM-11.30PM Saturday: noon-11.30PM. 100 seat upscale restaurant. Á la Carte menu consists of Finnish, French and Russian dishes. Fair selection of European wines and beers. During lunch hours Buttenhoff has business-lunch selection with salads, soups, main course and coffee included in the same price. During the summer months, if the weather allows, you can also opt for a table outside by the Koskenparras pedestrian street.
- Ravintola Xiangfu, Tainionkoskentie 10, 55100, ☎ +358 5 436 80. Currently the only Chinese food serving restaurant in Imatra. Fast and easy lunch offered on weekdays for 8 €. Beyond lunch hours serves good Chinese style dishes, but prices tend to be a bit high.
- Kent Pizza & Steakhouse, Koskenparras 7. Really hungry? This restaurant at the pedestrian zone offers huge pizzas, steak and kebab servings that would feed three. €8-20, lunch specials for €10.
- Hotelli Imatra, Kanavakatu 9, ☎ +358 10 666 5700, fax: +358 10 666 5709. This new economy hotel is situated only 500 meters from the famous Imatra Rapids and the center of Imatra town. Hotels motto is: Sleep and save. Very good breakfast, large rooms and sauna.
- Imatran Kylpylä Spa Hotel, Purjekuja 2, ☎ +358 20 7100 500, fax: +358 20 7100 519, e-mail: email@example.com. The old Spa Hotel and the new Promenade Hotel. Promenade Hotel offers good rooms for families. The spa department named Taikametsä (literally Magical Forest) has large swimming pools, saunas, whirlpools etc., from time to time with an artificial thunderstorm.
- Hotel Cumulus Imatra, Koskenparras 3, ☎ +358 5 627 2200, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 68 rooms with TV,minibar, hair dryer and free broadband connection."
- Imatran Valtionhotelli, Torkkelinkatu 2, ☎ +358 5-625-2000. The offputting name of the Imatra State Hotel hides a wealth of history: this castle-like hotel by the Imatrankoski rapids was built in 1903 for Russian nobility, and for several generations of Finns a suite here was the place to spend your honeymoon. Now privately run, the hotel was reopened in 2005 after extensive renovation and is, by Finnish standards, surprisingly cheap. Even if you don't stay overnight it's worth seeing from the outside. 95€-.
- Lappeenranta - Imatra's bigger cousin with a fortress and better shopping.
- Punkaharju - The ridge bisecting Lake Saimaa is one of the most famous Finnish landscapes.
- Savonlinna - A medieval castle, an opera festival and freshly fried fish.
- Russia - If you have a valid visa (or if you don't need one), Svetogorsk is close by. If you only have a passport, during the summer months, you can travel to Lappeenranta and take a visa free cruise along the Saimaa Canal to Vyborg.