23 best sights in Sortavala – descriptions and photos
Sortavala stands on the shore of Lake Läppäjärvi, which is part of the water area of the “pearl” of the north – Lake Ladoga. City streets stretch along the shores of the bay of the same name. Bridge across Läppäjärvi connects Vyborg highway with Karelian street.
The “Karelian Zoo” is situated in the depression of Lake Janisjärvi, which was formed here after the fall of a huge meteorite. These ancient landscapes are unique and very picturesque, and many note a special mystical magic of these places.
Serdobol Youth Center
Center “Serdobol” is a unique creative space for children and youth, where there is a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. Here are born the creative ideas and fresh ideas, which are then happily carried out by young researchers.
Museum of Northern Ladoga
The Museum of Northern Ladoga which is situated in the old Finnish house of the beginning of the 20th century is the main museum of regional studies in Sortavala. Its collection is quite rich for an institution working in a small regional center. But there is nothing surprising in this.
St. Nicholas Church in Sortavala
Today St. Nicholas Church serves as the main Orthodox parish of Sortavala. This is one of the first stone buildings in the city. The architecture of the building is based on the elements of Russian national style the rebirth of which in church building was in the second half of the 19 century.
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Monument to the Fleece Chant
At the beginning of 20th century when Sortavala was still a part of Finland, a sculptor Alpo Saylo got an idea to immortalize in people’s memory an image of national narrator, the rano-singer. The master realized the idea only in 1936.
Even though Vakkosalmi Park is situated in the central part of Sortavala, in some places it looks more like a typical Karelian forest with its endless pines, firs and birches. There are no rides, kiosks with cotton candy and ice cream, but the alleys are always full of people.
Park “Ladoga Skerries
The National Park “Ladoga Skerries”, on the shores of Lake Ladoga, is a unique natural complex of lakeside bays, protected by the state. Here, on the coast and rocky archipelago, the rich and pure northern nature: a huge number of trees, mosses, rare animals and birds.
Karelia captivates with its sincere northern beauty and untouched by man nature. One example is Ruskeala Falls which fascinate with their picturesqueness and power, several cascades of which are located near the road 86K-332.
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Karelia is a storehouse of natural beauty, but the northern shores of Lake Ladoga stand out against its beauty. The stone labyrinth of skerries, dense forest, rivers filled with crystal clear water, amazingly poetic. There is nothing strange that the folk epic “Kalevala” entered the treasury of world literature, the monument to one of the storytellers stands on the square named after the legendary singer and poet Väinämäinen.
Many curious artifacts of this ancient land are collected in the Museum of Northern Ladoga. Especially interesting is the mineralogical collection with samples of granite from Serdobol, marble from Ruskeala and rare sortavalite stone from nearby islands on Ladoga. The museum staff offers excursions to the Paaso ancient settlement on the outskirts of Sortavala, where many ancient Karelian jewels and tools have been found.
From the top of Paaso mountain there is a wonderful view of the surrounding forest. The road from here to the north leads to the Ruskeala waterfalls, in the vicinity of which the film “The dawns here are quiet” was filmed. Nature is full of gentle charm, forest silence is broken only by splashing water on the picturesque rapids.
But do not think that the city is frozen in memories of the past. On the shore of the bay Läppäjärvi, near the pier there is a modernist building of the youth center “Serdobol” where young Sortavala make their first steps in art, learn to make their own films and write songs. Maybe that’s why there are so many art objects like a charming couple – a dog and a cat hugging each other near the bench on the main square.
Ladoga Skerries Park
A walk from here along the promenade leads to Vakkosalmi Park. There are no rides and cotton candy here. But there is clean air, viewing platforms with fascinating views and Singing Field, the main stage for performances of folk musical groups.
Sortavala: the main architectural and natural sights of the city and its surroundings
Sortavala is a small but popular among tourists Karelian town. It was founded back in 1468.
Sortavala is justly called the second capital of Karelia, because the incredible nature, picturesque parks, forests, waterfalls, lakes and mountains surround this place and attract travelers from all over the country. In the city there is also a lot of architectural and cultural heritage, which is also worth a visit.
Adds Sortavala popularity and proximity to major national parks in Karelia (such as Ruskeala Mountain Park, Valaam Island, and many other equally important tourist sites).
Where is it located in Karelia and how to get there by car?
Sortavala is a part of the Karelian Republic and the administrative center of Sortavala District. The town is located along the northern shore of Lake Ladoga. The area of the city is about 10 square kilometers.
General information about the city
In spite of such an abundance of sights, Sortavala is quite a tiny town.
Sortavala is located at the intersection of several countries, which makes the city unique in its own way. At different times it was a part of Finland, Sweden and Russia. And each of these countries has had its influence on the appearance of the city.
Since the only tourist route to the Valaam Island (the main holy place in Karelia) passes through Sortavala, this place is considered to be the second tourist center of Northern Ladoga.
History of origin and why is it so called?
The name “Sortavala” the city inherited from the Finnish language. It can be pronounced both with the stress on the first syllable, and on the third. There are two variants of translation of the name of the town:
- In the first case, “Sortavala” is translated as “the power of the devil.” This is due to the legend that it was on the territory of the future city docked unclean force, which was expelled by the monks from Valaam.
- Another version says that “Sortavala” translates as “dissecting” because the city was dissected by the Gulf of Lake Ladoga into two halves.
The history of Sortavala goes back to the Stone Age. On the territory of modern tourist center at that time lived hunter tribes.
For a long time the town has changed hands (it has been part of Sweden, Finland and Russia). But finally Sortavala became a part of Russian Empire only in 1721. The city began to grow and develop fast. Already in the XIX century there was a railway route, which connected the city with St. Petersburg. At the same time steamship service and trade developed.
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Where to go: photos and description of interesting places
For such a small town in Sortavala quite interesting and rich history. So its attractions are definitely worth a look.
The central square of the city. A picturesque place, which is surrounded by other attractions. The square is carefully cared for, so the whole area is surrounded by abundant greenery, blooming flowerbeds, there are benches where you can sit and relax before a long journey.
Here, by the way, you can see the Lovers’ Bench, a funny sculpture depicting a cat and a dog hugging each other. Also on the square is another remarkable object – the Wishing Tree.
Leander House and other Finnish houses on Karelskaya Street
Special interest for all architecture lovers must be the central street of Sortavala, which has collected all the most striking cultural and historical monuments.
One of these monuments is Leander’s house that was built in 1905. Its unusual appearance immediately catches the eye: high chimneys stove heating, originally shaped windows, facades decorated with floral ornaments and much more.
Now in one of the stone buildings, reminiscent of a small castle, is a branch of the Finnish National Bank.
St. Nicholas Church
St. Nicholas Church is the main temple of the city. It was built in the second half of XIX century. According to archival records, this church is one of the first buildings erected in the settlement. The building combines elements of Russian baroque and classicism.
During the Soviet Union it was used as a stable, but in 1943 it was rebuilt and began to be used for services again.
The Lutheran church is one of the youngest buildings in the city. When in 1990 ethnic conflicts between Finns and Karelians started in Sortavala, it was decided to create a lutheran community again. The community gradually became a part of Evangelic-Lutheran Church of Ingria.
On the place of the wooden Lutheran church, destroyed during the World War II, a new stone church building was erected. Now the Lutheran church works as usual. Here regularly divine services are carried out at once in two languages – Karelian and Finnish.
Wooden Town Hall
One of the iconic sights of the city. Wooden Town Hall was built in 1885. The monument of architecture is surrounded by beautiful trees, which are more than 170 years old. The trees were once planted by the local apothecary. He was actively helped by the townspeople, who were promised a small reward for each tree planted.
The town hall combines elements of eclectic carpentry. The entrance is framed by several columns and is decorated with a variety of decorative elements. The center of the facade has a mezzanine, which is crowned by a small tower with a weathervane.
This is perhaps one of the most unusual buildings in Sortavala. It seems that the water tower came into the city straight from a science fiction movie. The construction was built in the thirties of XX century. You better see it once, than hear about it a hundred times.
Karelian Bridge and Quay
Karelian Bridge is located over the bay, so it connects the two parts of town. The length of the bridge is about 220 m, but the width – 11 meters. The design is quite impressive, but elegant and functional. The bridge was built in 1932.
The left half of the bay is an extensive pier. Here are all the piers, lifeguard station, places for mooring passenger and fishing boats. From here also depart tourist boats, going to Valaam.
Quay and the Stone of Wishes
The quay in Sortavala is situated near the pier, from which all the tourist ships to Valaam leave.
Near the quay is a small park, where you can see a few granite boulders. One of these boulders is called the Stone of Wishes.
Finnish School for Boys
The building of the Finnish School for Boys was built in 1901. Later the school was converted into a lyceum.
However, the educational organization itself appeared in 1892. The lack of a permanent “place of residence” for the school and its students prompted the local authorities to organize the construction of their own building for the school. The case was entrusted to the architect Y. Arenberg, who erected a structure in pseudo-gothic style on Kowlukatu Street (now Gagarina Street). The three-story school includes decorative elements made of brick, which perfectly contrasts with the snow-white walls.
Next to the building of the Finnish Lyceum for Boys there is also a building of the women’s school. Its unusual asymmetric facade immediately attracts the eye.
The school was built in 1911 by the same Arenberg. In the 30s of the twentieth century the women’s school of Sortavala was one of the 20 best in Finland. Here girls were taught housekeeping, languages, accounting, chemistry, mathematics, literature.
Väinämöinen Square and the Monument to the Fleece Singers
Try to pronounce the name of this square – Väinämöinen – the first time. You failed? Well, nothing, you will have time to learn how to pronounce it. The square and the main square of the same name refer tourists to the famous hero of the Karelian-Finnish epos “Kalevala”. According to this legend, he was a real hero, a wise man and a rune-singer (as the monument tells us, located here, it depicts an elderly man with a musical instrument in his lap).
Väinämöinen Square is quite small, but cozy. It is surrounded mostly by government buildings.
Mount Kuhavuori and Vakkosalmi Park
Kuhavuori Hill was formed more than 2 billion years ago due to tectonic movements on the surface of the earth. If the city existed then, there would not be a trace of it left after the earthquake.
First of all, the view from the top is spectacular with forests and lakes. And secondly, the air on the mountain is simply amazing. It fills you with energy and charges you with power.
Vakkosalmi can hardly be called a park in the literal sense of the word. It is, rather, a small forest, which is an ideal attraction for those who want to see all the beauty of Karelian nature in one place. Coniferous and deciduous species of trees, a convenient location (on an elevation), an excellent natural viewing platform, the construction of stones – all this makes Vakkosalmi an ideal place for meditation and unity with nature.
In a historical museum “Bastion” you can see an unusual exposition – a reconstructed reconstruction of a fortified settlement of the Viking Age, built on the shores of Lake Ladoga. Entering the museum building you can not only see the way of life of medieval epoch and learn what crafts the local residents were engaged in, but also be allowed to touch and taste everything.
Here you can try on heavy armor, take part in a medieval coin minting class, go sailing in an ancient boat and shoot a bow. Be sure to take your kids, they will definitely enjoy this history lesson!
Local History Museum
Regional History Museum of Northern Ladoga offers its visitors to plunge into the depth of the history of Sortavala and its surroundings. The exposition of the museum is amazingly diverse: here you can find an ancient weapon, armor, ancient artifacts, articles of clothing and everyday life, and much, much more. There is even an antique bell, which in the XVII century was presented to the city by the Swedish king.
Museum of private collection of Kronid Gogolev and official website
Kronid Gogolev, who has lived in Sortavala since 1961, was an artist and woodcarver. He began by carving sculptural ensembles, but gradually moved on to more complex work and began creating relief images. His works have been to many museums, but the main part of the collection is kept in Sortavala in the museum named after the artist.
Here you will find scenes of peasant life, and urban sketches, and natural landscapes. Each work is impressed with the quantity of details and the warm and cozy atmosphere. Learn about opening hours and ticket prices on the official website of the museum.
To get in touch with the history of the city that changed three names and to enjoy the nature of Northern Ladoga Lake you can take a guided tour Sortavala – the most Finnish city in Russia.
Find the option of suitable lodging in Sortavala here:
What to see nearby in the vicinity?
If you have already managed to see all the suggested sights in the city, it is time to pack your things and go out of town. There are even more interesting things to see near Sortavala.
Ruskeala Marble Canyon and Ahinkoski waterfalls
These two iconic sights are known to almost any traveler. Marble mines of Ruskeala Nature Park is an amazing natural monument, which every tourist should look at least once in his life. Stunning mountain and underground landscapes, clean air and excellent locations for photo sessions.
Not far from the marble springs are the Ruskeala waterfalls. This is where the Soviet film “The Dawns Are Quiet Here…” was shot. These streams can’t be called waterfalls completely (they are rather wild streams), but it’s still worth seeing them. Read more about the park and Ruskeala waterfalls in this article.
The main holy place of Karelia is the island of Valaam. The island is located in the northern part of Lake Ladoga, so you can easily reach it by tourist ship, going from Sortavala. The main attractions are St. Vladimir, Vsekhsviatsky and Gefsimansky sketes, the Chapel of the Ascension, Mount Olives and others.
Not far from Winters’ Dacha, there is the Sortavala Arboretum and the Sortavala Botanical Reserve. There are about 250 species of plants on the territory of the preserve, as well as 76 species of acclimatized woody introductions (20 of them are considered rare for the region).
The ancient settlement of Paaso
Paaso mountain, where in ancient times was situated the ancient settlement of Finno-Ugric people, is situated in the suburbs of Sortavala. Of course, it is not a mountain in the full sense of the word (its height is only 79 m), but anyway it offers an impressive view of the nearby lake, forests and even the river. To get to the top is not so difficult (the slope is gentle). Before the ascent it is worth getting comfortable shoes and taking something to drink and eat.
Owl Mountain is located in the southern part of Karelia in the town of Lahdenpohja. The place welcomes tourists since 2016. On the territory of the hill there are military-historical and geological museums.
The mountain is unique in that, in fact, is a large man-made bunker, which was created in the depths of a powerful granite rock. There are two entrances leading inside. It is one of the largest underground museums in Northern Europe, its area is about 750 square meters.
Check the official website for opening hours and ticket prices.
White Bridges Falls
White Bridges Falls are sometimes also called Yukankoski. They are located in the southwestern region of Karelia (on the territory of Pitkyaranta district). Since 1999, this natural monument belongs to the list of specially protected natural sites, and since 2011, the waterfalls are managed by the Directorate of SPNA of the Republic of Karelia.
What to do?
In addition to sightseeing, tourists are offered other kinds of entertainment in Sortavala.
Fans of fishing should go straight away with all their equipment to the Ladoga skerries or Lake Janisjärvi. These are two of the largest bodies of water, suitable for different types of fishing. Here you can catch roach, pike, bream, pike perch, salmon, trout and other fish. The best way to catch a big fish is to rent a fishing boat, but you can also try to fish from the shore, but don’t count on big fish.
Rafting in Karelia is directly connected with Janisjoki river. It is her turbulent streams are ideal for fans of extreme recreation. Rafting on the river is usually part of the weekend tour in most tour operators, so that you have no problem with ordering excursions should not arise.
Before starting on the river you need to prepare for the fact that on the way you will face a lot of rifts, rapids and even completely destroyed dams.
At the end of the trip will be a hearty ear of trout, a rest by the fire in a great company and a sea of impressions.
There are no beaches in Sortavala and its surroundings. Anyway Karelian climate is not suitable for swimming even in the height of summer months. You can, of course, look for sandy beaches, most of which are spread along the coast of Lake Ladoga. However, you should not swim in the lake for a long time, the water is still cold.
Use the map to get to the interesting places in the city and its surroundings, listed in the article. You can download a map here.
See the winter city and take a short tour around Sortavala by video:
Sortavala is a unique city with a rich and interesting history. Even if you are only going to visit Valaam Island or Ruskeala, still find time and walk around the “second capital” of Karelia. Believe me, you will have only pleasant impressions about this cozy town.