Better than any of the museums reviewed, we like to take summer boat tours of Lake Saimaa. The most visible of the boat operators is Karelia Lines (tel. 05/45-30-380). Between June and August, a 2-hour tour of the lake, priced at 18€ ($29) per person, departs every evening from the lakefront piers between 6:30 and 7pm. On board is a restaurant, with sit-down service by an elegant waitstaff.
You can also visit the 48km-long (30-mile) Saimaa Canal, dating from the mid-1850s. The canal leads from the edge of Lake Saimaa through Finnish and Russian territory to Vyborg, the former capital of Finland's lost province of Karelia. Built during the 19th century, the canal is famous for its changing elevations and the complicated series of locks that makes navigation possible. Boat trips and cruises can be arranged through the tourist office.
The Lappeenranta Outdoor Marketplace is the most colorful in eastern Finland, with everything from fresh produce and berries from the swampy wetlands around Lappeenranta to cheese and "Finnish fast food" (sandwiches, sausages, wok-fried rice dishes). Between June and August, it operates daily from 7am to noon from a location on Kievarinkatu near the junction of the Sammonkatu, very close to the Hotel Cumulus Lappeenranta, about a block from the town's main street (Valtakatu). Vendors operate from beneath tented protection from the rain or from within boxy-looking kiosks.
Between September and May, the market is conducted at that location only Saturday and Sunday 7:30am until around 1pm. The lakefront area of Lappeenranta is active every summer evening with additional purveyors of handicrafts and fast food and, to a lesser degree, Friday and Sunday evenings during clement weather in spring and autumn.
This also a cultural town, with summer concerts held in the parks and summer theater at Linnoitus Fortress. Cavalrymen dressed in traditional skeleton tunics and red trousers (the uniform worn in 1922) ride in the fortress and harbor area in summer. Guard parades and evening tattoos (outdoor military exercises performed by troops) are held several times during the summer months.
In the Fortress
Linnoitus, the fortress of Lappeenranta, on Kristiinankatu, was begun by Sweden and continued by Russia as a link in its chain of defenses. The entire chain fell into disuse after the Peace of Turku in 1812, when that part of the country known as "Old Finland," including Lappeenranta, was reunited with other Finnish territory. The fortress was turned over to the town in 1835, and the defenses slowly deteriorated; restoration began in 1976. There are pottery and other handicraft shops in the fortress area. The location is a 5-minute walk west of the town center.
The following attractions -- the Orthodox church, the South Karelian Museum, the South Karelian Art Museum, and the Cavalry Museum -- are all inside or near the fortress. The old orthodox church, or Ortodoksinen kirkko, Kristiinankatu (no phone), was completed in 1785, but only the high and narrow nave belongs to the original building. The most valuable icon here is the 200-year-old Communion of the Holy, found in the middle of the north wall. The Orthodox Church of Finland owes its allegiance to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Admission is free, and the church is open from June to mid-August Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm.
The Etela-Karjalan Museo (South Karelian Museum), Kristiinankatu 15 (tel. 05/616-22-55), is at the northern end of the fortress in the 19th-century artillery depot. Museum displays include a model of the former Finnish town of Viipuri (Vyborg). The model features the city as it was at midday on September 2, 1939, at the outbreak of World War II, complete with models of people, cars, ships, and trains. When Finland was forced to give Vyborg to the Russians, many artifacts from that ancient city were transferred here. The textile department of this museum is worth visiting since it has examples of traditional Karelian folkloric clothing. Admission is 5€ ($8) for adults, 4.50€ ($7.20) for students, and free for children 15 and under. The museum is open June to August Monday to Friday 10am to 6pm and Saturday and Sunday 11am to 5pm. In winter it's open Tuesday to Sunday 11am to 5pm.
The Cavalry Museum, Kristiinankatu 2 (tel. 05/616-22-57), is in the oldest building in Lappeenranta, the former guardhouse of Linnoitus by the town gates, built in 1772. The history of the Finnish cavalry from the hakkapeliitat (the cavalry in the 1618-1648 war) until modern times is depicted through uniforms, guns, and items related to horse care. The museum is open June to August only, Monday to Friday 10am to 6pm and Saturday and Sunday 11am to 5pm.
Outside the fortress, the Wolkoff House Museum, Kauppakatu 26 (tel. 05/616-22-58; www.lappeenranta.fi), which opened in 1993, was a Russian-born merchant family's home with interiors and furniture from the 1890s to the 1960s. The house was built in 1826, and the Wolkoff family lived here from 1870 to 1983. The interiors are shown only on a guided tour. Admission is 4€ ($6.40) for adults, 3€ ($4.80) for students, and free for children 15 and under. It's open June to August Monday to Friday 10am to 6pm, Saturday and Sunday 11am to 5pm. Off-season hours are only on Saturday and Sunday 11am to 5pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.