Republic of Karelia, located 200 km north of Saint Petersburg, covers a distance of 700 km, spanning from the Arctic Circle to the Finnish border. 85% of the region’s territory is covered by forest. The rest is a vast labyrinth of 60,000 lakes and whitewater rivers. You won’t find any place more untamed within reach of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, so if you are longing for wild forests and blue lakes you should travel to Karelia! Orthodox monks in quest of solitude have founded insular monasteries here. Lake Ladoga, the largest in Europe, is home to the Monastery of Valaam. 500 km north, in the icy waters of the White Sea and close to the Arctic Circle, is the Solovetsky Monastery.
How to get to Karelia?
Petrozavodsk, the capital of Karelia, is 700 km north of Moscow and 400 km north of Saint Petersburg. The region is still on the same time as Moscow (UTC +3). Petrozavodsk is on the railroad that goes from Moscow to Murmansk.
The most comfortable solution is the night train from Moscow to Petrozavodsk. Leaving the capital at 20h23, it arrives in Karelia at 08h33, allowing you to plan a weekend trip: leave Friday and return on Monday at 10h00.
From St Petersburg
The fast train “Lastochka” can take you to Petrozavodsk in 5 hours, leaving at 18h00 and arriving at 22h55 the same day. The return trains leave at the same time: 18h00–22h55. In summer when the days are long, you can enjoy the Russian countryside from the train. Save a night’s accommodation by taking the night train from Saint Petersburg (departure 23h20, arrival 07h00). Taking a night train is also the best option if you want to reach the Solovki archipelago: it leaves St Petersburg in the evening and reaches Kem in the morning.
How many days should I spend in Karelia?
If you live in Moscow, take a weekend (2 or 3 days) by night train to Petrozavodsk.
Kizhi and Valaam from May to September
Spend a weekend on Kizhi, an island just 68 km for Petrozavodsk on Lake Onega. From May to September, hydrofoils link Petrozavodsk to Kizhi in only 1h15. The frequency makes it possible to visit the island and come back on the same day.
You can also escape to Valaam for a weekend and even include Kizhi in your programme. If you want to get to Valaam, you need to reach Sortavala from Petrozavodsk (200 km, 3h by car). The road to Sortavala is good but it will still take a few hours to get to this town on the lakeshore. From here, catch a hydrofoil (May–September) to Valaam.
Solovki Islands from June to September
From June to September, take at least 3 days to visit the Solovki Islands. Located 500 km north of Petrozavodsk, they are part of the Arkhangelsk region. Nevertheless, it’s still easier to get to the Solovki archipelago from Karelia. From Kem (on the railroad Moscow–Murmansk), get to the Port of Rabocheostrovsk on the White Sea where the boat leaves for Bolshoy Solovetsky. These boats only circulate for 3 months, from June to mid-September, and the trip lasts just 2 hours. Due to the many pilgrims and visitors, we recommend booking this trip in advance.
To the Solovki Islands from Moscow by night train
The train ride lasts nearly 24h and covers a distance of nearly 1,500 km. The Moscow–Murmansk train leaves Moscow in the evening and after one day and one night, you arrive in Kem. The next day, you will venture out to the Solovki Islands. If you want to spend 3 days on the island, you must plan for a total of 5 days including travel.
To the Solovki Islands by plane from Arkhangelsk is another solution to reach this archipelago. From Moscow, you can reach Arkhangelsk by plane or train (22h–24h trip). In winter, the only way to reach the Solovki Islands is by plane when maritime navigation is not possible on the White Sea.