Karelia

 This article is about Russian Karelia. See North Karelia and South Karelia for the Finnish regions on the other side of the border.
A view of Kizhi from Lake Onega

Karelia is a region in Northwestern Russia, which borders Finland to the west, Murmansk Oblast to the north, the White Sea to the northeast, Arkhangelsk Oblast to the east, Vologda Oblast to the southeast, and Leningrad Oblast to the south.

Cities

Other destinations

Understand

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. The parts Finland lost to Russia in the Second World War are still a bit of a sore spot for the Finns.

Talk

Everybody understands and speaks Russian, although many are bilingual in Karelian, Finnish, and, on smaller scale, Veps. A traveler 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 relatively popular foreign language too.

Get in

By plane

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).

By train

There are several trains to Petrozavodsk from Saint Petersburg (7 hours; both overnight and day-time) 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. 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 traditional Russian less comfortable style.

Other trains to Kareliya run only several times a week and ofter are seasonal, or going on and off. As of January 2014, 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), Murmansk–Vologda (starts from Murmansk Fr,Su, from Vologda We,Fr).

By bus

Petrozavodsk is connected by buses with Joensuu in Finland (from Joensuu at 16:00 Th–Su, from Petrozavodsk at 6:00 Th–Su, transfer tickets to Finland buses are available), Saint-Petersburg (4–5 times a day), Cherepovets through Tikhvin (from Cherepovets at 7:30 on Fr), Vologda through Voznesenje ferry (from Vologda at 8:10 Mo,Sa), daily from Vytegra through Pudog, and on Tu,Fr,Sa from Vytegra through Voznesenje. There are also buses from Saint-Petersburg to Pudog, Pitkyaranta and Sortavala. Complete (and subject to change) timetables are on Petrozavodsk bus station site.

By car

By car there are 2 main routes to Kareliya: 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 will choose any route except M-18, do note that most Karelian roads are in bad state, rather bumpy (this includes Karelian part of R-5, though not Vologda region part), and often include unpaved stretches. There are several border crossings from Finland, most in very sparsely populated areas.

Get around

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 20km 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 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 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.

An abandoned Finnish dam at a waterfall near Ruskeala, Karelia

See

Do

Go next

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.

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