We´ve prepared a bucket list for you consisting of things you should experience during your time in Lappeenranta. The 10 sections of this bucket list will hopefully give you a better idea of what goes on in our lovely city and help you familiarize yourself with Lappeenranta. So our 10 sections will cover everything you should know from the hotspots of the city to the perplexities of our almost impossible-to-learn language.
1. Get to know the basics of your new home town
So we’ll start by covering the basics your new home town
Lappeenranta´s harbour is basically the hub of the city during the summer – less so in the winter - with varying events through out the year. In the summer, there are concerts, different fairs such as the international food fair, and summer terraces. You can even catch a visa-free cruise to Russia or alternatively cruise around the islands of Lake Saimaa. During the winter, on the other hand, you can rent skates or skiis and explore the lake on ice.
Another local favourite for getting together with friends is the Myllysaari beach. In addition to the beach, there are fields for playing volleyball and basketball. You can even try a very Finnish thing - the public sauna. If that´s not extreme enough - try ice swimming.
Iso-Kristiina is Lappeenranta´s biggest shopping mall located near the center. There you can find various retail shops, cafes, restaurants, a cinema as well as the main theatre of the city. You can also find the tourist information point there.
The Sandcastle is our beloved landmark which has been built for the 16th year already. Every summer the sculptures are made using 3 million kilograms of sand showcasing new themes each year. This year’s theme is the 370th anniversary of Lappeenranta.
Public transportation here is easy. Bus lines 1, 3 and 5 travel between the university campuses and the city center almost every 15 minutes. You can pay by either cash or card, or even get a separate bus card that you can top up. Bus cards are sold in Winkki in the City Hall. For more information on local travel feel free to ask us after the presentation or pop by the tourism information point in Iso-Kristiina.
2. Learn about the local history
The City´s history is actually pretty interesting. Lappeenranta has been under both Swedish and Russian reign. The Swedish Kingdom and the Russian empire actually fought in Lappeenranta during the Russo-Swedish war in the 18th century which resulted in Russian victory. The city was however founded by Swedish queen Christina in 1649. She named the city Vilmanstrand which means the wild man´s shore in Swedish. At the time, Lappeenranta was a rather small town and perhaps, the locals were considered somewhat barbaric, hence the city´s name and the figure depicted on the coat of arms.
Why do we call the Fortress the gate between the East & the West? Just as we mentioned a moment ago, Swedes and Russians fought here against each other and Lappeenranta was located in turns in both sides of the border. Lappeenranta is also sometimes called Bordertown.
The main street passing through the fortress has been named Kristiina Street after the Queen Christina of Sweden. Along the street you can find cafes, ateliers and museums.
Moreover, one of the gems of the Lappeenranta Fortress is the oldest Orthodox church in Finland, the Protector of the Theotokos Church (Pokrova), dating back to 1785.
In Lappeenranta, you can visit three museums in the fortress area; the South Karelia, Cavalry and Lappeenranta Art Museums. In addition to those three, you can visit the Karelia Aviation Museum near the airport, the Wolkoff House Museum in the centre and the Saimaa Canal Museum approximately 20 kms from downtown area.
3. Meet the locals
We don’t know what you think of us Finns so far, but we know that a stereotypic Finn is considered to be rather reserved, introverted, shy and modest with a deep respect for personal space.
We’re not going to lie, the two memes pictured above say it all. Indeed, your best approach to actually getting to know to a Finn is by getting drunk and naked in the sauna with them- but don’t get us wrong, there doesn’t have to be anything sexual about that and it usually isn’t.
A Finn will avoid small talk at all cost. In Finnish terms, a bus is considered full when the only options left are either sitting next to a stranger or travel standing. On that note, if you happen to travel on a “full” bus and decide to sit next to a fellow passenger, don’t be surprised if that passenger doesn’t explicitly tell you they want to get off. Instead, they might resort to grunting, coughing or putting their phone away instead to hint that they want to get off. Luckily for you, the Karelian people are actually considered amongst the more talkative of the Finnish population.
4. Try to learn the language
We don´t know if you´ve heard this but Finnish is considered to be one of the world’s most difficult languages to learn.
Here´s an example of how confusing Finnish can be. The phrase "Kuusi palaa" can have nine different translations despite being spelled and pronounced exactly the same manner.
As you can see Finnish is not really as simple, or as we say "yksinkertainen“, compared to other languages
Another fun fact, we have 40 words for snow but no word for please. The closest expression for please is "ole kiltti" which literally means be nice. Just like any other language Finnish has different dialects, our local dialect is called the Karelian dialect.
The best way to learn the local dialect is by checking out the Finnish crime series called Bordertown. As a matter of fact the series’ plot takes place right here, in Lappeenranta. Bordertown has been distributed to more than 180 countries and is available on Netflix. Here are a few examples of the dialect.
5. Explore Lake Saimaa
Lake Saimaa is not only the biggest lake of Finland but is also Europe´s 4th biggest lake. It stretches from Lappeenranta all the way up to central Finland. In addition to Lappeenranta several other cities are located by the Lake Saimaa such as Savonlinna, a city famous for its castle.
If you don´t feel like taking a dip there are drier ways to experience the lake for example by taking a Cruise to the canal and archipelago.
We also have visa free cruises to Russia.
Another way to enjoy lake Saimaa is by kayaking, canoeing or rowing. Stand up paddle boarding (SUP) has become increasingly popular in recent years. So why not take some time for yourself and go enjoy the beautiful nature and silence that Saimaa has to offer. You can find out more about equipment rental either by paying the tourism information point a visit or by asking us about it after the presentation.
Something a bit more extreme, ice swimming. In the winter some brave Finns like to make a hole into the frozen lake and then dip or even swim. This activity is usually accompanied by going to the sauna but some daredevils do it without it. It might sound crazy but it´s definitely something you should try if you’re brave enough, the feeling you get afterwards is almost euphoric.
This is what Saimaa looks like during winter. The frozen surface makes it possible to go on ice-skating ventures. And why not try ice fishing and prepare your own Finnish style dish while you’re at it.
Don´t worry summers don´t actually look like this. They´re actually very nice and the long lasting daylight is a big plus.
6. Get lost in the wilderness...
Our city is bicycle friendly and the streets are very safe to ride. There are plenty of trekking and bicycle trails, which typically include small camping places perfect for roasting marshmallows or grilling sausages.
A perfect way to connect with mother nature is by excersing the every-man’s-rights and maybe refine your survival skills. The ”every-man-right’s” also known as ”joka miehen oikeudet” include; the rights to camp anywhere in the forest (as long as you’re not tresspassing private property), freely pick berries and mushrooms and light fire on designated areas.
7. Indulge yourself in sports and recreation
Here you can see Lappeenranta´s pride and glory, our ice hockey team SaiPa. Unlike other countries where the most popular sport is football in Finland its ice hockey. SaiPa plays in the top division and this city is crazy about the sport so watching a game the following season which starts in September is definitely a must.
On a nice winter day, the slopes of the fortress are filled with people enjoying the snow with their sledges known as “pulkka”. Alternatively, you can enjoy a full workout by skiing around the airport.
As we mentioned, ice hockey is popular but so is ice skating so you´ll see plenty of outdoor rinks in the winter providing an alternative to ice skating on the lake. If you´re interested in downhill skiing, Lappeenranta has the place for you – the Myllymäki skiing center includes six slopes of various levels, from beginner to advanced.
For those interested in rock-climbing or perhaps are in just trying out something new, Boulder Saimaa is the perfect place to test out your bouldering skills. Boulder Saimaa is located near the university, roughly a 15-minute bike ride from the campuses
As you might have figured, Lappeenranta is a rather student friendly city – for example students can enjoy a swim at the Swimming Hall at a discount price
Kimpinen´s sport center is located near the center and includes tennis courts, a free outdoor gym and a track and field stadium.
You might have come across this picture on the internet about a Finnish breakfast consisting of coffee vodka and a cigarette but thankfully this isn´t the case, however, the rumors are true about us being heavy drinkers and hardcore coffee lovers.
You cannot leave the city without tasting our specialty Vety & Atomy - translated as hydrogen and atom. They are local meat pies filled with egg or ham or both. Luckily, vegetarians and vegans can also enjoy plant-based versions. You can try them at Lappeenranta Market Square (Kauppatori). Another specialty of our’s is Karelian pies with egg butter paste.
Other local favourites include smoked salmon, Marianne candies, salted liquorice and berries. You should definitely give them a try.
Some of the best restaurants *in our opinion* include Wanha Makasiini, The Kitchen, Lalo and a veggie favourite, Avot Sie. Our restaurants strive to use organic ingredients supplied from local producers. The fish, for example, is typically caught in Lake Saimaa. (So these are perhaps the “fancier” options to take your parents to if they´re visiting).
Don´t worry we know you guys are on a student budget. You can find pretty much every bigger fast food chain such as McDonalds, Burger King and Subway or the Finnish chains of Fafa’s and Hesburger. In addition, Turkish doner kebab has become increasingly popular so, you can find plenty of kebab/pizza restauranta around the city.
9. Get out and visit our best cafes and bars
As you can see Finns are Europe´s top coffee consumers. When you hear someone asking you to come over for a coffee, they are literally inviting you for a coffee (and nothing else). In general, Finnish people tend to take pretty much EVERYTHING quite literally.
In Lappeenranta we have our very own roastery LEHMUS and the “best Finnish café of 2018” Satamatie 6. It is definitely worth giving this very modern café-roastery a go.
We said earlier how Finns are perceived as shy and reserved. Well, this changes after a few drinks and when Finns plan to drink they normally drink a lot. There is even a word for drinking at home without the intention of going out, in your own underpants called "Kalsarikännit". One of the words for cheers is also quite amusing "Hölökynkölökyn" there is however, an easier alternative "kippis".
Summer terraces are a big thing during the Summer as people like to go outside and enjoy a drink or two. Here for example is Princess Armada’s boat terrace, Don Papa’s roof and Kasino terraces in the harbor and the popular all-year-round bar and brewery Teerenpeli.
On to partying. You´ll probably have a lot if different parties near campus but it’s worth mentioning the main night clubs quickly. There´s Giggling Marlin which has dance music and a DJ – it’s popular among teenagers and young adults. Las Palmas is a karaoke bar which is perhaps favored by older people. And finally, Amarillo which is somewhat of a hybrid of the other two.
10. Don’t miss the events
On the 6th December we celebrate our Independence. Festivities are organized around the city to pay respect to the veterans and the people who died in the Independence war.
During December there is a Christmas fair in the city center. Consisting of a Christmas market, decorations, ice sculptures and even a visit from Santa Claus and Russia´s grandfather Frost.
New Years eve is the time for big celebrations just like anywhere else. Usually that means music and a big firework display at the harbour. Almost the whole city gathers together to welcome the New Year.
Bench press day is an event in February where high school seniors celebrate the end of school By dressing up and throwing Candy to people from trucks. Sounds kind of weird but it´s a fun event to watch. It´s called bench press day because it´s their last push as high school students.
Labor day is a pretty beloved and awaited holiday especially among students. So awaited in fact, that the festivities take place for three weeks here in Lappeenranta. People gather to the Fortress slopes for a picnic and some drinks –naturally-. There you can see students dressed up and getting wild.
Lappee Fest is a music festival that takes Place in the city center in the end of June featuring typically Finnish artists.
Midsummer festivities take place on the 2nd last weekend of June. It celebrates the longest day of the year. Celebrations go on the whole weekend as the sun barely sets at all, depending on the year and geographic location of course. Every year the bonfire, a typical tradition of Midsummer, can be seen from Myllysaari beach or the harbor.
Surprise! Because we are so happy to have you guys here that we decided to add a bonus section to our bucket list.
The Saimaa ringed seal is one of the most endangered seal species in the world. They can only be spotted in Lake Saimaa and there are only roughly 400 of them left. Only a lucky few have ever encountered our city mascot in the wild however, you can spy them during nesting season in spring from this link.
If you´re lucky you could see an elk, which is one of our biggest wild animals. You probably have already noticed some warning signs along the highways.
Finally, you might already be aware that Finland is one of the best countries to catch the Northern Lights . The Northern Lights are a natural light phenomenon that is caused by solar winds and different particles. They most commonly appear near the poles during winter time. The following video was in fact taken near the Lappeenranta Campus around 4 years ago.
Finally seeing the Northern Lights which is a natural light phenomenon (caused by solar winds and different particles. They are most common near the poles during winter.) This video was actually taken near the Lappeenranta Campus 3 years ago.
So that was it! Start crossing off things from this bucket list today!
By Veronica and Eero