Lappeenranta, Villmanstrand, Exploring Finland

Lappeenranta (Villmanstrand) – Exploring Finland

Lappeenranta is a city in the southeastern part of Finland, in the region of South Karelia. This is the border region with Russia, and the border is only about 64 kilometers away from the city. Lappeenranta is majority Finnish-speaking, but it is also known by its Swedish name Villmanstrand. The city is the seat of the 13th most populous municipality in Finland, having a population of around 72,600 inhabitants.

A Short History of Lappeenranta

The city was founded at a time when Finland was still a part of Sweden. The statesman Per Brahe the Younger became the father of the new town in 1649 during the rule of Queen Kristina. The area had previously been home to a marketplace. The young town was, however, unable to retain the town privileges. They were lost already in 1683 and Lappeenranta became a market town subordinated to the town of Viborg.

Lappeenranta regained its town status in 1721, the same year as the construction of the local fortress began. Just a few decades later, in 1743, Sweden lost the area to Russia. The whole of Finland was lost to Russia in 1809 and it would take another two years before Lappeenranta rejoined the Grand Duchy of Finland.

The city was severely bombed during the Second World War. This was close to the border both during the Winter War as well as during the Continuation War with the Soviet Union. The area remained a part of Finland after the war and Finland outlived the Soviet Union. Lappeenranta did eventually find its largest gains in peace. The city has once more become a market town after the fall of the Iron Curtain. It was until the Russian war in the Ukraine in 2022 a popular destination for Russians who travelled across the border for shopping.

Things to Do and See

Russians used to travel to Lappeenranta for shopping. Others see this as a gateway to Lake Saimaa. The city has a long history as a border town between Sweden and Russia, between Finland and Russia, and especially between West and East. The fortress includes many of the local museums and there are shops and restaurants to be found in the city center. The center is also home to the St. Mary’s Church of Lappee and its external belfry.

Lappeenranta Fortress

The Lappeenranta Fortress, or Lappeenrannan linnoitus in Finnish, dates back to the year 1722. This was when a small Swedish garrison was established here. The fortress came to have strategic importance during the wars between Sweden and Russia in the 18th and 19th centuries, most of this time under Russian control. Today the fortified garrison is home to the historical quarters of Lappeenranta. That includes several of the local museums. Collected under the Museums of Lappeenranta are the City Museum, the regional museum of South Karelia, the local art museum, the Cavalry Museum, and the Wolkoff House Museum. Surrounding the area of Linnoitus are the fortress walls and embankments.

Lappeenranta Town Hall

The town hall, known as Lappeenrannan Raatihuone in Finnish, is a yellow wooden building dating back to 1829. It is one of the oldest wooden town halls in Finland and was used by the local administration up until 1983.

Port of Lappeenranta & Lake Saimaa

The harbor, Lappeenrannan Satama in Finnish, is located on the southern shores of Lake Saimaa. The harbor has had international passenger routes, as the Saimaa Canal connects the Lappeenranta with the city of Vyborg across the border in Russia. Lake Saimaa is the fourth largest lake in Europe. The only lakes that are larger are Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega in Russia, and Lake Vänern in Sweden. The lakes connect Lappeenranta via water with a large part of southeastern Finland.

Saimaa Canal

The Saimaa Canal, known locally as Saimaan kanava, connects Lake Saimaa with the Gulf of Finland. It begins in the eastern part of Lappeenranta and continues across the border to Russia before reaching the sea near the city of Vyborg. The canal has a total of eight locks, three of which are located on the Finnish side. The canal was completed in 1856 when the whole area around the canal was a part of the Grand Duchy of Finland.

Saimaan Pallo & Kisapuisto

The Saimaan Pallo, or SaiPa for short, is the local ice hockey team. The team is currently playing in SM-Liiga, the top-tier league of Finland. It is a team with many nicknames, including “The Sputniks”. The team was founded in 1948 and performed their best achievement in the 1965-66 season when they ended third.

The team has its home at the Lappeenrannan Kisapuiston Jäähalli. The arena was built in 1972 and has a capacity of 4,820 spectators during ice hockey games.

How to Get to Lappeenranta

  • Flights: Lappeenranta Airport (LPP) is 3 kilometers to the west of the city center.
  • Car: Lappeenranta is at the intersection between Road 6 and Road 13 in the eastern part of Finland.
  • Train: There are trains to and from Helsinki, Joensuu, and Imatra.

The driving distance from 5 major Finnish cities, according to Google Maps:

  • Helsinki – 231 kilometers (2 h 38 min)
  • Turku – 390 kilometers (4 h 14 min)
  • Vaasa – 494 kilometers (6 h 7 min)
  • Oulu – 554 kilometers (6 h 33 min)
  • Joensuu – 234 kilometers (2 h 43 min)

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