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Savonlinna on Lake Saimaa: all the sights

Savonlinna on Lake Saimaa: all the sights

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The charming Savonlinna on the shores of Lake Saimaa is a destination that takes you on a journey through Finnish history. Here, you can enjoy unique traditions and experience the warmth of Finnish hospitality. The city is bustling with life, with numerous festivals, events, and activities throughout the year. Whether you are looking for a cultural city break or a relaxing stay in nature, Savonlinna has something for everyone. It is the ideal base for exploring Lake Saimaa and Southern Finland. In this blog, we will take you through the sights of Savonlinna. Experience the magic of this unique city on the shores of Lake Saimaa, just like we did!


History of Savonlinna

The city of Savonlinna has a history dating back to the 15th century. It was in 1475 that Erik Axelsson Tott, a Swedish marshal, founded Olavinlinna Castle on a narrow isthmus in Lake Saimaa. This castle formed the basis for the development of the city.

Over the centuries, the castle played an important role in the defense of Finland. Nevertheless, Savonlinna repeatedly changed rulers. The city was part of Sweden, Russia, and eventually Finland. This changing rule has left its mark on the architecture, culture, and traditions of Savonlinna.

A significant turning point in the history of Savonlinna was the Finnish War (1808-1809). After this war, Finland became an autonomous province within the Russian Empire. Savonlinna thereby lost its strategic military importance. However, the city remained an important trading center.

In the 20th century, Savonlinna experienced a period of cultural prosperity. The city became a center for Finnish opera and music. In 1912, the famous Savonlinna Opera Festival was first held. It grew to become one of the most important opera festivals in the world.


The sights of Savonlinna

These highlights are a must-see during your stay in Savonlinna:

Olavinlinna Castle

The impressive Olavinlinna Castle is undoubtedly the main attraction of Savonlinna. The castle is strategically located on a rocky island in Lake Saimaa. The name Olavinlinna means ‘Olaf’s Castle’, referring to the Norwegian saint King Olaf II. In 1475, Erik Axelsson Tott, a Swedish marshal, commissioned its construction. The three towers of Olavinlinna are defining features of the castle.

Throughout the centuries, Olavinlinna has played a significant role in the defense of Finland. The castle has withstood numerous sieges and attacks. Until the 19th century, it served as a military stronghold. It is the best-preserved medieval castle in Finland.

In 1975, the restoration of Olavinlinna was completed. From that moment, it became the city’s main tourist attraction. During our visit, preparations for the annual Savonlinna Opera Festival were in full swing. Stages were being built, rehearsals were taking place. We can imagine that attending an opera performance in this ambiance must be an unforgettable experience.


Savonlinna Opera Festival

The Savonlinna Opera Festival is one of the most prestigious opera festivals in the world. The festival takes place annually in July in the unique setting of Olavinlinna Castle. The magical combination of opera, the castle, and the beautiful Lake Saimaa makes this festival an unforgettable experience for culture enthusiasts from around the world.

The worldwide renown of the festival is due to several factors:

  • The unique location: Olavinlinna Castle provides an impressive backdrop for opera performances. The acoustics in the castle’s courtyard are phenomenal and provide a unique experience.
  • The high artistic level: the festival attracts the best opera singers and musicians from around the world. The quality of the performances is of the highest level.
  • The diverse program: the festival offers a varied program with operas by well-known composers, as well as lesser-known works. There is something for everyone.
  • The magical atmosphere: the combination of opera, the castle, and the beautiful Lake Saimaa creates a magical atmosphere that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

The Savonlinna Opera Festival takes place every year in July. For exact times, programming, and other practical information, visit the Savonlinna Opera Festival website.

Opera Festival

Riihisaari Museum

The Riihisaari Museum is an open-air museum within walking distance of Olavinlinna Castle. It is idyllically located on a peninsula in Lake Saimaa. The museum is a treasure trove for anyone wanting to learn more about the history, culture, and nature of Savonlinna and its surroundings. The museum grounds feature many historical wooden buildings located in a beautiful lakeside setting. The authentic atmosphere of the museum makes a visit a unique experience.

The collection is varied and extensive, shedding light on a wide range of topics: from archaeological finds to traditional crafts and contemporary art. An additional bonus is the museum’s beautiful location. With plenty of greenery and water around, you can enjoy a leisurely walk and take in the beautiful views.

Promotion of Savonlinna

Kauppatori, Vibrant Heart of Savonlinna

Kauppatori is the bustling heart of Savonlinna. The market square is the central point of Kauppatori. Here, you’ll find various stalls selling fresh local products, artisanal souvenirs, and delicious local dishes. The market is surrounded by beautiful historical buildings, including the Town Hall and the Gunpowder Cellar.

The Town Hall is a beautiful building in the Neo-Renaissance style dating back to 1888. It houses the city government of Savonlinna. The Gunpowder Cellar is an 18th-century building originally used as a storage place for gunpowder. Nowadays, the Gunpowder Cellar is a museum that highlights the history of Savonlinna.

In addition to these and other attractions, Kauppatori is also a pleasant place to relax and enjoy the atmosphere of Savonlinna. There are several cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy a cup of coffee or a delicious meal.


Orthodox church

The Orthodox Church in Savonlinna is a unique attraction. Built in 1877, the church is one of the finest examples of Russian architecture in Finland. The richly decorated dome, icons, and frescoes create a breathtaking and spiritual atmosphere. Besides the beauty of the church, it is also an interesting place to learn about the rich history of Savonlinna. The church was and remains an important religious center for the Russian minority in the city.

Orthodox church


To the south of the city lies the district of Pihlajaniemi. This part is an idyllic paradise on Lake Saimaa. The district is surrounded by pristine nature and offers an oasis of peace and tranquility. Here, you can enjoy delightful walks and bike rides along the shores of the lake, or indulge in a picnic in the park. Pihlajaniemi is more than just nature. The district also has a charming marina, where you can enjoy a bite to eat and a drink with a view of the boats. Various festivals take place in the district during the summer months.


Cruise on Lake Saimaa

For a completely different perspective of Savonlinna, the castle, and other attractions, take to the water. A cruise on Lake Saimaa is an unforgettable experience that takes you past idyllic islands, charming villages, and stunning landscapes.

Various shipping companies offer cruises, from traditional steamboats to modern ships. In the peak season in July, the boats sail regularly from early in the morning until late in the evening. However, it can be busy during this period. Therefore, it’s advisable to reserve your ticket for a cruise on Lake Saimaa in advance.

Cruise on lake Saimaa


The most beautiful street in Savonlinna is Linnankatu. This street is located near Olavinlinna Castle (Linnankatu means castle street). From Linnankatu, you have a stunning view of the lake. At the intersection of Linnankatu and Eerikinkatu street, you can see some of those traditional historical Finnish houses. Due to its grandeur in the 19th century, Eerikinkatu street was also called Pariisinkatu (Paris street). The streets are scattered with colorful cobblestones. Here, you will find a number of delightful design shops, restaurants, and galleries.


Walking along birdhouses

Marko Ruuskanen is an artist and resident of Savonlinna. He has created over 100 unique birdhouses and hung them around the city. These birdhouses were initially small, enveloped in metal ornaments. Later, he focused on creating replicas of iconic buildings from the past. The term “birdhouse” does not do justice to the size of these structures. It’s better to refer to them as impressive “bird villas.” Each replica hangs at the location where the original building once stood. Fortunately, some of these buildings have been preserved. It’s immediately noticeable how true to nature and detailed the designer has made the replicas. The Savonlinna Tourist Information provides a route for walking along the birdhouses.


Taste Muikku at Muikkuterrassi

Muikku is a small fish that lives in the Finnish lakes and rivers. The fish is approximately 10-15 cm long and has silver-colored scales. Muikku is a popular delicacy in Finland and is eaten in various ways, fried, smoked, or baked in the oven. Muikkuterassi is a restaurant in Savonlinna specializing in muikku. The restaurant is located on the top floor of a hotel building on the shores of Lake Saimaa, providing a beautiful view while you enjoy a Finnish delicacy.

Another place for a high-quality culinary evening is Olavinlinna Castle. In a splendid ambiance, you will be served the most exceptional specialties. And who knows, you might be as lucky as we were. During our dinner, a Finnish baritone sang beautiful songs at the top of his voice.


The Kerimäki church

About 15 kilometers from Savonlinna lies Kerimäki, a small rural town with a beautiful location by the lake. Here, you will find the largest wooden church in the world. The Kerimäki church is a symbol of Finnish architectural tradition. The church is 45 meters long, 42 meters wide, and 37 meters high. A total of about 240,000 beams were used in its construction. The church can accommodate up to 5,000 visitors.

Kerimaki church

Outdoor activities around Savonlinna

Savonlinna is an ideal base for exploring the vast Lake Saimaa and its surroundings. Enjoying nature and being active go hand in hand here. For example, you can take beautiful kayak trips on the lake. Or go in search of the rare Saimaa ringed seal, a species of seal that is only found in this area.

There are plenty of hiking opportunities along Lake Saimaa. The same goes if you want to explore the area on a mountain bike. With an e-bike, even a steep climb is no problem. In the forests, you experience the silence of nature because it’s certainly not crowded. And after an exerting trip, you can relax in one of the many saunas. In our blog about Lake Saimaa, you can read all about the activities you can undertake.

Southern Finland

Frequently Asked Questions about Savonlinna

Where is Savonlinna located?

Savonlinna is situated in the south of Finland, on the shores of Lake Saimaa. Helsinki is over 300 kilometers away from Savonlinna.

How do I get to Savonlinna?

The most comfortable way to reach Lake Saimaa is by air. You would first fly to Helsinki. From there, domestic flights depart to Savonlinna.


If you prefer to travel by car, you can take the ferry from the German city of Travemünde to Helsinki. From the Finnish capital, it is a little over three hours' drive to Savonlinna.

What are the highlights of Savonlinna?

Savonlinna is a charming city on the shores of Lake Saimaa. The main attraction is the impressive medieval Olavinlinna Castle. This magnificent structure serves as the grand backdrop for the annual Savonlinna Opera Festival. Over the years, this event has grown to become one of the most prestigious opera festivals in the world. Savonlinna also features a beautiful open-air museum and delightful neighborhoods with attractive wooden buildings. A cruise on the vast Lake Saimaa offers an unforgettable experience, providing a stunning view of the city and the castle.

When does the Savonlinna Opera Festival take place?

The Savonlinna Opera Festival is held annually in July. The festival is world-renowned and attracts visitors from around the globe. For current information about the program and schedules, visit the Savonlinna Opera Festival website.

What should I definitely do in Savonlinna?

A visit to Olavinlinna Castle is a must. If you are an opera enthusiast and visiting Savonlinna in July, you can enjoy two experiences in one, as the castle serves as the setting for the prestigious Savonlinna Opera Festival during this time. A boat trip on Lake Saimaa provides an unforgettable experience, allowing you to admire the city from the water. One of the most unique city walks can be taken in Savonlinna, passing by numerous beautiful birdhouses. Don't forget to try the local specialty, muikku, a white fish delicacy.

Where can I find good dining options in Savonlinna?
  • At Muikkuterassi, you can enjoy the local specialty, muikku. This small white fish is a favorite among the residents of Savonlinna. In addition to delicious food, the spectacular view from the terrace is a great bonus.
  • Ravintola Majakka is another place where you can enjoy delicious muikku.
  • Various local specialties can be savored at Museoravintola Lusto.
What are good places to stay in Savonlinna?
  • Original Sokos Hotel Seurahuone Savonlinna: You couldn't ask for a better location. Situated in the heart of the city with beautiful lake views and excellent rooms. The Muikkuterassi restaurant is located above the hotel.
  • We stayed in a brand new and comfortable apartment of the Sokos hotel chain. It was fully equipped, within walking distance of the city center and the castle, and offered a splendid view of the lake from the apartment.
  • Hotel Hospitz is housed in a historic building from 1930. Beautifully renovated while retaining its original details.

This is an overview of all accommodations in Savonlinna.

We visited Lake Saimaa at the invitation of the Dutch travel organization Voigt Travel and Visit Savonlinna. The content of the blog was independently and objectively compiled based on our own impressions.