Republic of Karelia is located 400 km north of Saint Petersburg. It is a land of virgin forests and crystalline lakes spread over an area of 700 km along the Finnish border. This snow-covered territory in winter has thick forests and 60,000 lakes, a perfect destination for nature tourism. Imagine walking on crisp ice, bathed in winter sun and white silence, dominated by a 22-dome cathedral. Karelia is the embodiment of Russian fairytales. Welcome to the true North!
The island with a magnificent cathedral is Kizhi on Lake Onega. No roads lead here – only snowmobiles can make it. So wrap up warm in an arctic outfit, get on your helmet and glide along the glacial plain until you see the domes of the Cathedral of the Transfiguration on the horizon. Alternatively, an airboat can also make the trip.
After Kizhi, visit the neighbouring island for a steamy Russian banya (sauna). Relax to the gentle crackle of the hearth, immersed in the enchanting aroma of local wood. And when you leave the thick steam of the banya, you can follow the locals for a quick dip in the nearby icehole. A shot of vodka from local berries (cranberries, blueberries and mountain ash) will also help get the blood flowing.
The forests of Karelia cover over one quarter of the whole region. It’s the true taiga of the North. The only way to travel between the thick pines is by dog sleigh. It is a necessary skill that you will learn – you will even be taught how to strap in your children for the ride. What better way to get them off their tablets and take a tour into a novel by Jack London.
After your dog-sledding expedition, cosy up to the fire with your family in a log cabin surrounded by snow-laden firs. And before sleeping, don’t forget to take in the most memorable spectacle of the region: the Northern Lights! Dress up warmly and head outside to experience the emerald, purple and red glow that can only be glimpsed near the North Pole. Make your Karelia holidays magical! The best time to see the aurora borealis is in spring when the nights are cloudless.
How to get to Karelia?
Petrozavodsk is the capital of Karelia. It is located 700 km north of Moscow and 400 km from Saint Petersburg. It is in the same time zone (+3 UTC). Petrozavodsk can be reached by night train from Moscow.
The most comfortable solution is by night train from Moscow to Petrozavodsk that leaves the capital at 20h23 and arrives in Karelia at 08h33 (transfer 12h) - making it a weekend trip option. For example, you can leave on a Friday night and return on a Monday - by 10h00, you would already be in Moscow. The night train from Moscow to Murmansk also stops at Petrozavodsk but is less suitable due to the departure and arrival times: it leaves Moscow at midday and arrives later.
From St Petersburg:
Catch the express day train, called the “Lastochka”, to Petrozavodsk. It takes 5h and has seating, rather than bunks. The train leaves at 18h00 and arrives at the capital of Karelia at 22h55. The return trains work on the same schedule. In summer, when it is still day late into the night, you can enjoy the beautiful scenery as you travel.
Save money. Instead of booking a hotel, take the night train from Saint Petersburg to Petrozavodsk that leaves at 23h20 and arrives at 7h00 (transfer 7h40).
There are no flights from Moscow or Saint Petersburg to Petrozavodsk “Besovets” airport at the moment. In any case, it is often more convenient to travel by train.
Explore Karelia on the weekend (2 or 3 days) The best time to go is from mid-December. Karelia is one of the best places to truly immerse yourself in the Russian winter with many activities like dog-sledding, snowmobiles and airboats. If you only have 2 days, you can take the night train to Karelia (departure from Moscow at 20h23 and return to Moscow at 10h00).
After visiting the palaces and museums of Saint Petersburg, Karelia is a great way to get acquainted with the Russian wilderness, travelling by snowmobile to Kizhi (2 days) or a multi-activity trip with snowmobiles and dog-sledding (3 days). Visit the ancient (but still inhabited) settlement of Kinerma where your hostess will teach you how to make traditional kalitki in a typical wood oven.
Important! You must reserve in advance! If you are thinking about visiting Karelia on the weekend or the Russian holidays (New Year or national holiday), you need to contact us well in advance (1–2 months before the departure date) so we can find you the best accommodation. Karelia is very popular with Russians and the trains are usually fully booked a week or so before departure.
From mid-December, when the snow has already set. This is the best time to visit Karelia. You can choose a tour with multiple activities for 2 days or more. One day for snowmobiles and one for dog-sledding. Such tours are suitable for children over 6 years old. The only way to get to Kizhi during this period is by helicopter.
Catholic Christmas is not a holiday in Russia and the end of December is a great time to visit and celebrate with your family in the unique atmosphere of Karelia.
Thinking about Karelia for the New Year or Orthodox Christmas? The Russian holidays (usually from January 1–11) are a time when many Russians travel and Karelia is one of the most popular destinations. So you must reserve well in advance (at least 6 months).
From mid-January, Lake Onega is completely frozen and you can finally visit the famous pogost of Kizhi and its Cathedral of the Transfiguration. You can get there by airboat (transfer 40min–1h depending on the wind). You will need one day to visit Kizhi. The next day, you could dedicate to a snowmobile adventure or dog-sledding.
From the beginning of February to mid-March, the ice on Lake Onega is hard enough to make the crossing to Kizhi. The snowmobile tour over 2 days is our most popular in winter! You can discover this UNESCO heritage site and visit the old settlements around the lake. Spend the night on Kizhi in a log cabin with a Russian banya and the optional ice-fishing activity.
From March to April, the days become sunny but it’s still winter. All snow activities are still possible, but you won’t be able to visit Kizhi by snowmobile because the crossing is closed.
Scandinavian-style chalets for trips with family or friends on the bank of the Chuya River. It is easy to get to by car, just 30 km from Petrozavodsk on a good road.
This modern hotel opened in 2015 on the shores of Lake Onego, just 100 metres from the departure point of water planes to Kizhi Island.
Two brick houses in the village below to a couple from Solovetsky: Roman et Ludmila. The kind owners, homemade food, simple and luminous rooms offer great quality for money.
Guest house in an idyllic place, quiet and remote, on Bolshoy Klimetsky Island by the shore of Lake Onego.
One of the best hotels in the Russian countryside located on the picturesque northern shore of Lake Ladoga. The hotel is near the town of Sortavala, departure point for water plane excursions to Valaam Island.