Leningrad Oblast is home to about 2,000 lakes, including Ladoga, the biggest lake in Europe. Attractions in the region include nobility estates, parks, museums, ancient fortresses, monasteries, churches and places one can enjoy skiing, boating, hiking and other outdoor sports. Make sure to check out the ancient Russian village of Staraya Ladoga where Prince Rurik began his rule, and historic cities such as Vyborg, Schlüsselburg, Gatchina, Kingisepp and Ivangorod. In the old European town of Vyborg, you can feel the Scandinavian spirit. Pilgrims travel to worship the Tikhvin Icon of The Mother of God. [Source: Russian Tourism Official Website]

Leningrad Oblast’s population includes dozens of nationalities, including endangered indigenous peoples: Votes, Izhors and Veps. The region has a chilly, damp climate. The average temperature in the region is -10°С in winter and +20°С in the summer. Keep in mind that the weather in the Baltic is rarely stable. The wind can change dramatically and a cloudless sky can quickly be full of rain clouds. Don’t forget comfortable waterproof shoes and an umbrella.

Accommodation: There are three options: 1) Hotels in St. Petersburg are in the very center of the region. From here you can quickly get to any point in the Leningrad region by train, bus, or car. It’s also convenient to book tours in the city. This option is usually chosen by tourists. 2) Resorts and recreation centers in the Leningrad region welcome guests all year round; and most offer sauna, fishing, spa services, and equipment rental. 3) Hotels in the cities of the Leningrad region. It is worth booking accommodation in the region only if you plan to stay somewhere for several days, but for the most part, sightseeing in each city takes only a day.

Transportation: Buses are a convenient way to travel. These days, the region is served by several hundred long-distance routes, and one can search the website of the Leningrad Regional Transport Administration for a suitable one. Travelers can also take a train; timetables and routes are available on the website of the Northwest Suburban Passenger Company . The starting point is usually St. Petersburg, which is well connected to the region by rail and bus services. Minibuses also run to nearby cities and towns. They generally run along shorter routes and make more frequent stops. The cost of tickets for suburban bus routes starts at 60 rubles; for trains, the minimum cost is about 100 rubles. High-speed Lastochka trains go to Vyborg, Tikhvin, Lodeynoye Pole and Luga from St. Petersburg; ticket prices start at 300 rubles.

E105 is part of the International E-road network and one of the main roads in Europe. Begins in Kirkenes, Norway and follows the M18, M10 and M2 in Russia and the M18 in the Ukraine, ending in Yalta, Ukraine. Some cities on its route include Kirkenes, Murmansk, Kandalaksha, Saint Petersburg, Novgorod, Tver, Moscow, Kharikiv, Simferopol and Yalta. The road may be closed due to heavy snows or rains. Long delays may occur at the border crossing. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, the road is closed to vehicles with a foreign registration

Places in Leningrad Oblast

Korobitsyno (80 kilometers north of St. Petersburg) is a popular place to enjoy outdoor winter activities. The ski center of the Leningrad region is made up of three resorts — Golden Valley, Snezhniy, and Red Lake — which have cottage complexes and recreation centers. Golden Valley is considered the most modern and largest; it includes 12 well-equipped pistes, a snowboard park, restaurants, bars, and a hotel. All resorts have their own parking lots and sports equipment rental facilities. The average cost of a hotel room starts at 3,000 to 4,000 rubles. During the peak season, including New Year holidays, it can rise to 6,000 to 7,000 rubles a night. Getting There: The best way to get to Korobitsyno is by car. Otherwise, you have to take a train from the Finland rail terminal to Sosnovo station, and from there, proceed by buses No. 645 or 646. The trip about an hour and a half.

Veps Forest has traditionally been the home of the Vep people, a Finno-Ugric people found the in Karelia, Vologda and Leningrad regions. In spring, you can enjoy whitewater rafting on the Kapsha and Pasha rivers. In summer, people come here for hiking, berry picking and mushroom hunting. In late autumn and winter, good ski trails are laid in the forest, and snowmobile rides are organized. Guest cottages and a local trout fishery are open year round. There is a museum on the park grounds that tells about the rich culture of the Veps region( known as Chud until 1917).

Gatchina (70 kilometers south of St. Petersburg) contains a palace and park ensemble by the same name used by tsars Paul I and Alexander III as a place for recreation that have become a popular destination among Petersburgers and tourists. Priory Palace is a picturesque building that looks like a classic European castle built for the knights of the Order of Malta by Paul I. The cost of visiting the Gatchina and Priory palaces is 550 rubles. (300 rubles with social benefits). Getting There: You can get to Gatchina from St. Petersburg by train from the Baltic rail terminal. Ticket price is 103 rubles; travel time is 1 hour.

Disappearing Ragusha River (near Kolbeki and Mozolevo, 170 kilometers east of St. Petersburg is so named because the the river goes underground for about 1.5 kilometers through sinkholes and emerges was as powerful jet in the spring and early summer. In lat summer and fall the river is often dry.

Shlisselburg Fortress: Where Lenin’s Brother Was Hanged

Shlisselburg Fortress (30 kilometers east of St. Petersburg) was founded in 1323 on an island by the prince of Moscow Yuri Danilovich, the grandson of Alexander Nevsky, Also known as Oreshek Fortress, it been repeatedly rebuilt and taken different shapes over the centuries.. Initially it was made of wood. In 1352 after a fire, it was rebuilt with stone. In the late-15th, early 16th centuries new stone walls and tower were added in accordance with demands of imminent war. The fortress at that time was a an elongated polygon with seven external and three internal towers. The wall was 4.5 meters thick, 740 meters long at 14-16 meters high.

During the 17th-18th centuries, Oreshek fortress was at the center of dramatic and heroic events in Russian history. In 1612, after a long siege the castle was captured by the Swedes. For 90 years the area around the fortress present-day St. Petersburg was controlled by the Swedes. In 1702, Peter the Great defeated the Swedes. Russian troops under Boris Petrovich Sheremetev stormed the fortress and the city Noteburg, capturing them and renaming them Schlisselburg — "Key-City". Over the next 200 years Shlisselburg Fortress served as a prison and earned the notoriety of being one of the worst prisons of the Russian Empire.

Shlisselburg town is located at the head of the Neva River on Lake Ladoga. Lenin’s brother Alexander Ulyanov and four others were hanged at Shlisselburg Fortress on May 1887 after being arrested conspiring to assassinate the tsar Alexander III . the plotters planned to throw bombs into the Emperor's carriage (similarly to way tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881). The attempt is known[citation needed] as "The Second First of March". Alexander Ulyanov was both the main ideologist and bomb-maker for the group, In court Ulyanov gave a political speech. After he was hanged he was buried behind the fortress wall in a mass grave.

Aleksander's execution is believed to have driven his younger brother Vladimir Illich Ulyanov (Vladimir Lenin) to become more radicalized. Upon hearing of his brother’s death, Vladimir Lenin allegedly said: "I'll make them pay for this! I swear it." Vladimir was already active in politics prior to his older brother's arrest. Vladimir admired his older brother; however, he was quite dismissive of his political attitude. He once remarked, "Aleksandr will never be a revolutionist. On his last summer visit home he spent his time preparing a dissertation on Annelida and worked constantly with his microscope. A revolutionist cannot possibly devote so much time to the study of Annelida." The Soviet film “Executed at Dawn,” dedicated to Alexander Ulyanov and his comrades was released in 1964.

Lake Ladoga

Lake Ladoga (near St. Petersburg) is the largest lake in Europe. Fed by water from 3,500 rivers and dotted by more than 500 islands, it covers 18,130 square kilometers (7,000 square miles) and is about 245 kilometers (150 miles long) and an average of 80 kilometers (50 miles) wide. The lake is slightly elongated from north to south. The maximum length is about 200 kilometers; the maximum width is 130 kilometers. The greatest depth is 230 meters. It is best to explore the Lake Ladoga by car as the sights are located far from each other and public transportation is not convenient. .

The lake is surrounded by flat expanses of beech, willow, fir and spruce trees that stretch as far as the eye can see. There are sandy, rocky beaches along its southern shore. The 75-kilometer (46-mile) -long Neva River connects Lake Ladoga to the Baltic Sea and St. Petersburg. The lake is an inexhaustible source of drinking water for St. Petersburg. During World War II, Lake Ladoga saved hundreds of thousands of lives. When it froze in the winter it became the "road to life" allowing convoys of trucks to break the Nazi blockade and bring food, ammunition and supplies to Leningrad during the 872-day Leningrad Blockade.

Lake Ladoga was created by glacial activity that scoured away rock and soil and left a large depression that filled up with water. The northern part of the lake lies on the Baltic crystalline shield, a geological formation which dates the earliest eras of the history of the Earth's development. The rocks forming the shield are represented mainly by granites, gneisses and crystalline schists of the Archaean age. These rocks come out of the surface and are only partially covered by a thin layer of sediments from later times.

Lake Ladoga is especially nice in summer when there are opportunity to sunbathe on the sandy beaches and party late during the White Nights. Monuments tell the heroic story of the defenders of Leningrad during the siege years. The island of Konevets is popular with tourists and pilgrims to Konevsky Monastery, with a its churches and an on-site hotel.

Lake Ladoga is an important commercial waterway but since ancient times, sailing on the lake has been associated with great risk. Thousands of ships have perished in its waves. At one point the situation was so bad not a single insurance company in Russia wold insure vessels carrying cargo on Ladoga. Why? “The lake is stormy and filled with stones,” the well-known researcher A.P, Andreev wrote. The problem was particularly acute in n the 18th and 19th centuries when an increase in low water years, bringing dangerous rocks closer to the surface, coincided with increased economic development and commerical traffic on the lake. Low water in Ladoga canals and the Neva River made navigation difficult and caused heavy losses as delivery of goods and food was slowed.

Lake Ladoga’s Water Ecosystem and Waves

Solar energy, penetrating the water column, sets the water masses of the lake in motion. Even in short periods of calm, when the surface of Lake Ladoga is still and mirror-like, there's a movement of water masses both horizontally and vertically at the depths. This phenomenon contributes to the redistribution of heat in Ladoga, the gradual enrichment of ever deeper layers. The accumulation of solar heat and its distribution in water during the day, season, year determines the temperature regime of the lake. Ladoga has its own spring, summer, autumn and winter.

The water reserve in Ladoga is 908 cubic kilometers. This number doesn't remain constant, it grows during some periods and declines during others. However, such fluctuations don't exceed six percent in relation to the total mass of water in the lake, at least for the last 100 years. They appear in changes in the water level and sometimes are so significant that they even cause low-water and high-water periods in the Ladoga regime.

In the old days, a long low water level was often explained by the influence of supernatural forces. There were various legends among the inhabitants of the villages scattered along the shores. Maybe because the number 7 was considered to be lucky in Rus, there was a belief that the water level on Lake Ladoga grows for 7 years and declines for another 7.

Lake Ladoga can have fairly big waves. The reason for this lies in the structural features of its basin, the distribution of depths and the outline of the lake. A sharp change in the bottom profile during the transition from the large depths of the northern part to the shallow depths of the south prevents the formation of a “correct” wave along the entire length of the lake.

Such a wave can appear only in the northern part. When the winds drive it to the south, it retains its shape only over great depths. As soon as it gets to the 15-20-meter-deep area, the wave breaks. It becomes high, but short. Its crest overturns. It forms a complex system of waves going in different directions, the so-called “crush”. It's especially dangerous for small ships that experience unexpected and rather strong jolts. There is a case when a research vessel, working at a wave of 3 to 4 points and a wave height of 0.8 meters, experienced a blow, which caused the doors of the wall cupboard to be loosened from the hinges, and the dishes that had flown to the floor of the mess-room broke to pieces. In the old days, such unexpected strikes apparently ruined the steering or damaged the hull of the ship, which led to its imminent death.

Another feature of the churning on the lake is that During the storm, the waves alternate: a group of 4 — 5 high and long waves is replaced by a group of lower and shorter ones. The ship acts like its on a bumpy road when the water churns like this. It causes side rocking, which adversely affects the ship's hull. It's very difficult to study the churning of the lake. The highest measured wave on Ladoga was 5.8 meters. According to theoretical calculations, the height of a wave during a storm can be even greater here. The relatively quiet area of Ladoga is the southern lip, where a wave of 2.5 meters occurs only in very strong winds. The quietest month on Lake Ladoga is July. At that time, the lake is mostly calm.

Lake Ladoga’s Fish and Seals

The fish life of the Ladoga Lake is represented by 14 families: minnow, sturgeon, salmon, grayling, smelt, pike, carp, true loach, catfish, eel, cod, stickleback, perch and cottid. There are a total of 53 species of fish in lake. In the lake, its canals and the lower sections of the tributaries, the following fish are found in the order of the Berg Ichthyological system: river lamprey, European brook lamprey, sterlet, European sea sturgeon (uncommon), sea salmon (as a rarity), Atlantic salmon, brown trout (in Ladoga lakes), Arctic char, vendace, Ladoga vendace, Vuoksa whitefish, black whitefish, Valaam whitefish, common whitefish, Coregonus lavaretus baeri, lake whitefish, grayling, smelt, European smelt, northern pike, common roach, Eurasian dace, European chub, ide, Eurasian minnow, common rudd, asp, tench, gudgeon, common bleak, white bream, common bream, white-eye bream, blue bream, vimba bream, sabrefish, crucian carp, stone loach, weatherfish, spined loach, wels catfish, European eel, burbot, ninespine stickleback, three-spined stickleback, zander, European perch, Eurasian ruffe, fourhorn sculpin, cottid.

Only a dozen or so species are of commercial importance: whitefish, smelt, perch, roach, pike perch, vendace, bream, pike, salmon, trout and ruff. Salmonids — salmon, trout, palia, vendace, several whitefish species, grayling and smelt — make up a third of the species and varieties of fish found the lake’s cool and clear waters. Another large group — carp fish — also make up a third of the species of Ladoga fish. They are more common in ponds with warmer water than Ladoga, but have adapted to living in Ladoga. Some of them — roach, ide, pasture, bream and to a lesser degree vimba bream — live in large schools.

Ladoga ringed seal is a freshwater subspecies of the ringed seal (Pusa hispida) which are found entirely in Lake Ladoga. The subspecies evolved during the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago. As the glaciers retreated and water levels changed, the Baltic ringed seal (including Ladoga seals) was trapped in freshwater lakes and separated from the Arctic ringed seal. It is related to the even smaller population of Saimaa ringed seals in Lake Saimaa, a lake that flows into Ladoga through the Vuoksi River. The adult Ladoga seal grows to about 150 centimeters in length and weighs approximately 60–70 kilograms. Females are pregnant for about 11 months. In February-March, they give birth to usually one pup in a burrow dug in the snow on ice hummocks. There are about 2,000–3,000 of them, down from approximately 20,000 at the beginning of the 20th century. Hunting took its toll on the these animals and was banned in 1980. Today they are threatened by fishing nets and other fishing gear and disturbances from motor boats and snowmobiles where the seals breed and rest.

The Ladoga seal is the smallest of all subspecies of ringed seals. It and the Baltic and Saimaa subspecies are products of the postglacial period after the last ice age. The Ladoga seal, Saimaa seal, Lake Baikal seal and manatees are the only marine mammal whose entire life cycle takes place in freshwater. The best time to see Lake Ladoga seals is during ice-free times when they rest on land, particularly in the Valaam archipelag on the islands of Naked, Holy, Black, Big Bayonne, Pine, East Pine, Lembos, Extreme, Cross and Fox. In calm weather 600 - 650 seals can be found resting at different spots on the shores. Tourists can reach the islands by boat; and see the seals from boat tours.

Islands and Rivers of Lake Ladoga

Lake Ladoga’s 500 islands have an area of about 300 square kilometers and located almost exclusively in the north of the lake. Out of all of them, the Valaam islands with their coastal slopes descending to the water stand out by their size. Some of the other major islands are Konevets, Vossinansaari, Heinäisensaari, Mantinsaari, and Lunkulansaari. The few islands in the southern part of the lake — like Zelentsy in Shlisselburg Bay and Ptinov in Volkhov Bay — tend to small in size.

Ladoga skerries is a chain of islands, separated by a labyrinth of straits, stretched along the northern shore. Some of them have granite cliffs that drop down the cold depths almost vertically. Others have stone backs that protrude above the waves. Small islets covered with green trees hide deep in the bays. Polished boulders are found on the western shores. Stony ridges called “fences” extend far into the lake. Sandbanks and dunes, overgrown with red pine, can be found on the eastern shore. The Valaam archipelago, where the medieval Spaso-Preobrazhensky monastery is located, is an integral part of the Ladoga skerries. The monks played a big part in spreading the the Russian Orthodox faith to people in of distant Russian Alaska. Now Valaam is a popular tourist spot.

Thirty-two rivers carry their waters to Ladoga. These vary from the powerful Svir, to the small meandering rivers of the northern shore’s forests and meadows, to the the rectilinear Volkhov, flowing through many Vuoksa lakes. There are short rivers, whose sources are 20 to 40 kilometers from Ladoga. Others extend for more than a hundred kilometers, and their waters come a long way before they enter the lake. These rivers are the main sources of the lake's water supply. They bring in 68 cubic kilometers of water (more than 70 percent of the lake’s annual water supply), over 100 cubic kilometers In high water years. Rain and snow account for 15 percent; groundwater, only 2 percent of the total inflow.

Many rivers connect Ladoga with lakes: Volhov — with Ilmen, Svir — with Onega, Vidlitsa — with Vedlosero, Tulema — with Tulmosero, river Lyaskelja or Janisjeki — with lake Janisjärvi, Vuoksa — with large lakes of Finland (Saima lake system) , Taipale — with the lake Sukhodolsky (Suvantoyarvi).

Old Ladoga

Old Ladoga (120 kilometers east of St. Petersburg, 10 kilometers south of Lake Ladoga) is small settlement on the banks of the Volkhov River not far from the place, where the it flows into Ladoga Lake. Ladoga was the first capital of the incipient Old Russian state. Founded not later than 753, Ladoga it is the oldest city of Northern Rus and the first port city on the route to the Viking Route from Scandinavia and Byzantium and the Middle East.It was mentioned first in the “The Tale of Past Years” in 862, when the Varangian Rurik reigned here and was the first residence of Duke of Rurik.

The first settlement was founded by the Scandinavians. Even then, it was an important trade and craft center of Eurasia. Here the paths “from the Varangians to the Greeks” and “from the Varangians to the Arabs” began. By the middle of the 9th century it was the important international port and an important stop for Silk Road goods. the largest point of caravan trade. Places of interest include pre-Christian burial hills and remains of pre-Mongolian churches, monastic ensembles, and fortifications from the 12th-16th centuries.

The first stone fortress was built by the Prophetic Oleg. It is said Oleg’s grave is a large earthen mound on the left bank of the Volkhov River. For more than two centuries the fortress of Ladoga helped defend the northern borders of Russia. More than once the town was attacked by neighbors to the north. During this time the fortress was destroyed and restored several times. In 997 the first fortress was destroyed by the Norwegian army. By 1116, a new stone fortress was laid by the Posadnik Pavel.

Along with the expansion of trade, the fortress itself grew. Less than half a century later, the new fortress had to stand the test of the battle. In 1164, the city withstood the siege of the Swedish troops. After this church of St. George the Victorious was built inside the walls of the fortress.
During the Russian-Swedish wars, Ladoga passed from side to side until at the end of the war of 1613-1617, Sweden abandoned claims to Ladoga. The city lost its military significance when Peter the Great founded Novaya Ladoga at the mouth of the Volkhov River. Since 1703 Ladoga was called Old Ladoga and became a quiet provincial village. By the end of the 19th century, the fortress was largely a ruins with several churches inside. Today you can visit the Old Ladoga Museum-Reserve, which embraces the ruins.

Staraya Ladoga Reserve Museum

Staraya Ladoga Reserve Museum ((120 kilometers east of St. Petersburg, 10 kilometers south of Lake Ladoga) is officially known as The Staraya Ladoga Historical, Architectural and Archaeological Reserve Museum. It consists of 133 monuments (67 architectural monuments, 57 archaeological monuments, and nine natural monuments). These include the Sopka and Pobedishche mountain areas, the Vasilievsky burial ground with the church of St. Basil of Caesarea, Zemlyanoy town by the southern fortress wall, and certainly the Staraya Ladoga fortress itself. In the house of P.V. Kalyazin there is a permanent exhibit on the archaeology of Ladoga, and another permanent exhibit is in the fortress's Vorotnaya tower. Temporary exhibitions are also arranged.

On a cape formed by the Volkhov and Ladozhka rivers, a stone castle was built in the late 15th century and modernized in the 16th century. The fortifications were built in the era of firearms, which explains the seven-meter-thick walls and small firing ports. During an expedition in 1972, it was discovered that the existing fortress had been built atop earlier structures from the late 11th and early 12th centuries. This helps explain its distinguishing features — a curved fortification plan, and exterior sides in the form of earthen ramparts.

Staraya Ladoga Local History Museum as well as the historical and cultural monuments in Staraya Ladoga village were made into a reserve in 1984, in order to preserve the complex of monuments, to protect the natural and historical environment, and to explore and promote this national heritage. One-hundred and ninety hectares of territory were put under special protection. In 2016, the Staraya Ladoga Museum celebrated its 45th anniversary. Over this period, the museum-reserve has accumulated a rich collection of exhibit items. The museum collection also includes artifacts connected with the beginning of the formation of Russian statehood in the 13th-15th centuries. Items from the collection have been displayed at museums in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.


Valaam (on the northern end of Lake Ladoga about 200 kilometers from St. Petersburg) is a 50-island archipelago, scattered across 52 square kilometers (20square miles), known for its forest and lake scenery and famous monastery, also called Valaam, located on the largest island, also called Valaam. The name Valaam is derived from the old Finish word for "high ground." Most of the islands are comprised mainly of granite.

Russia, Finland and Sweden all fought for possession of Valaam, which lies within the Republic of Karelia and have a total area of 32 square kilometers (12 square miles). Tchaikovsky visited the main island in 1866 and was so taken by it he based his First Symphony “Winter Dream” on it. The great Russian painter Vasily Shiskin also found inspiration here. The island was visited repeatedly by emperors Alexander I, Alexander II, and other members of the imperial family.

Many of the island’s residents live a simple life without cars, telephones and stores. They grow most of their own food and heat the homes with firewood from trees they chop down themselves. In 1999, there were about 600 residents on the main island; including army service personnel, restoration workers, guides and monks. Other names islands are: Skitsky (second by size), Lembos, Sviatoy, Bayonny, Moskovsky, Predtechensky, Nikonovsky, Divny, Emelyanov, Oboronny, Goly, Savvaty's, Zosima's, Skalisty, Lukovy, Ovsiany, Rzhanoi, Nikolsky. Website:

Visiting Valaam

Most visitors to Valaam take an overnight river-lake cruise that departs from the St. Petersburg's River Terminal (Proletatskaya Metro Station). The journey in the 320-passenger, East-German built ship leaves at 9:00pm from St. Petersburg, travels two hours on the Neva River before reaching Lake Ladoga and arrives at Valaam around 8:00am in the morning. After breakfast the visitors are ferried to the island. They return to the ship for dinner and return to St. Petersburg.

Boat tours run from mid-May to September. The cruise lines do no sell ticket directly. The tours are organized mainly through tour companies in St. Petersburg. The cost for a two night cruise with one day in the islands, including meals, is US$100 for a berth in a three-person cabin, US$130 for a berth in a double cabin, and US$170 for a single. The trip can also be done as part of a three-day, four-night trip to Kizhi Island, which costs from US$200 to US$4500 for the entire trip including meals. Helicopter tours are organized during winter and spring during religious holidays. The cost is around US$200 for foreigners.

The cabins on the ships are relatively spacious and have their own toilet, shower and air conditioning. The decks are spacious and there are several lounges. The meals are provided on board after arriving in Valaam. The food is not inspiring but not awful either. The trips are popular in the summer and tickets often sell out.

Valaam Monastery

Valaam Monastery(on Valaam Island) is a working monastery and Russia's most important center of Orthodox education. Founded in the mid 10th century and developed into a fortress against the Swedes in the 14th century, it is Russian Orthodoxy's oldest existing monastery. Valaam Monastery is one of the few church-run monasteries that is open to tourists and one of the few places where visitors can observe monks going through their daily routines and duties. Over 100 monks live on the island. They are organized into small, secluded religious communities called sketes which are scattered over the islands. About 10 sketes live on Valaam in addition to the monastery. Visitors are welcome to visit them.

Valaam Monastery is officially known as the Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration of the Savior. It went through periods of destruction and renewal. In 1611 it was destroyed completely by a fire and rebuilt with money from Peter the Great who opened part of it as a prison. Valaam Monastery experienced a golden age in the 18th century. Many of its present structures were built then. From 1918 to 1940 the monastery was in Finnish territory and many treasurers were moved to Finland. Many buildings were destroyed during the 1939 war between the Soviet Union and Finland. After World War II the monastery became an "urban-type settlement.” In 1989 it was reopened to mark the 1,000th anniversary of the introduction of Christianity to Russia.

The island is irregularly shaped and mostly flat, eight kilometers (five miles) at its longest and five kilometers (three miles) at its widest point. The buildings are protected landmarks but some have been neglected. The large monastery is comprised of two rectangle-shaped buildings, one inside the others, with the cathedral in the middle. The main building houses living quarters for the monks, a refectory, library, hospital, and church administration offices.

The cathedral is a neo-Byzantine structure made up of two churches perched on a granite cliff. It features blue mosque-like domes and a 230-foot-high turquoise-and white belfry. The original cathedral was disassembled in 1794. Work on the present structure was not completed until 1892 but it managed to survive bombings in 1939. Most of the treasures once owned by the monastery were lost in raids by the Swedes and confiscations by the Soviets.

The monastery is surrounded by a nature preserve, where monks have transplanted trees from all over the world and Russian tourists pick berries and mushrooms. Motorboats can be rented for about US$15 an hour for tours of the coves and shores of the island. Horse-drawn carriages are also available for hire. Part of the monastery is occupied by 400 lay residents. They arrived after the 1950s when the monastery was a home for the disabled. They include restoration workers, army service personnel and guides.

History of Valaam Monastery

The islands were inhabited as early as the 10th century. Not long after thatm Orthodox monks settled on them. The Valaam monastery was ravaged by the Swedes in 1611. The Russians regained control in 1751. In 1754 the wooden structures burned again.

In the 18th-19th centuries, churches, chapels, sketes (monastic communities), and household and service buildings were constructed here. Roads were laid, dams were built, bridges were erected, drainage structures were equipped, and canals were dug. Valaam monks persistently and patiently, literally with their bare hands, created a fertile soil on the rocks, transferring soil from the mainland and growing exotic garden trees and plants. Watermelons were grown on Valaam in open fields as far back as half a century ago.

The stone monastery became the center of the archipelago. Construction began in the first decade of the 19th century and it was finally completed by the architectam Gornostaev in 1845-1862. The Central Estate consists of the Savior-Transfiguration Cathedral and its monastic cells and hostel for pilgrims, the Holy Gates with the Gate Church of St. Peter and Paul, and the Assumption and Holy Trinity cathedrals.

Seven sketes were built around the central estate and on the islands: Nikolsky skete, Bely (Vsesvyatsky), skete of Alexander Svirsky, (Gefsimansky), Krasny (Voskresensky), Predtechensky, Smolensky and Pokrovskaya chapel, the church of the Reverend Father (in whose walls monastery abbots are buried), and other buildings.

The nature around the monastery is so diverse that in the 19th century many graduates of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts came to Valaam. Famous painters like I.I. Shishkin, A.V. Gine, F.A. Vasiliev, and others frequently came here and immortalized the landscapes of the island in their paintings, many of which are now kept in the world's most famous museums. In the post-war period, the great American painter Rockwell Kent came to Valaam for a holiday. Charmed by Valaam's nature, he jokingly remarked that “he would consider it an honor to become the mayor.”

Ruskeala Mountain Park and Marble Canyon

Ruskeala Mountain Park (40 kilometers north of Lake Ladoga) is a unique park that lies Marble Canyon, an abandoned quarry that yielded marble for almost three centuries. This huge marble bowl is 456 meters long, 109 meters wide and 50 meters deep. The water is clear and emerald-green water. The visibility is up to 18 meters. Marble cliffs that reach a height of 25 meters are mirrored in the water.

The marble mine has been exploited vy four peoples — the Karelians, Swedes, Russians, and Finns. The sides of the canyon are cut with open, underwater galleries, drifts, and shaft, some of which extend several hundred meters. However, only trained divers can explore the underwater mines. . Around the canyon there is a network of footpaths.

The marble deposit was discovered in 1766 by S. Apelius, a pastor and ethnographer from the local town of Serdobolya. The quarry was founded by the order of Empress Catherine to supply marble to St. Petersburg, which was still under construction during here reign in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Marble from this quarry was used in the decoration of the Marble Palace, Winter Palace (the Hermitage) and St. Isaac's Cathedral.

Four varieties of marble was mined: 1) ash gray, 2) gray and green, 3) white streaked with gray, and 4) white, gray and blue. Marble from the quarry was used in the decoration of architectural structures of St. Petersburg in the second half of the 18th century-mid 19th century, as well as in Sortavala and Valaam in the late 19th-early 20th centuries. After marble production was stopped, the canyon filled naturally with water.

Lake Onega

Lake Onega (connected to Lake Ladoga by the 224-kilometer-long Svir River) is the second largest lake in Europe after Lake Ladoga and one of the purest and cleanest as well. It to is surrounded by beech, willow, fir and spruce forests. On the weekend hydrofoils with tourists zoom around at 80 kilometers per hour (50 miles per hour)

Lake Onega borders three regions: Karelia, Leningrad Oblast, and Vologda Oblast. The name is taken from old Russian literary texts. Like Lake Ladoga, Lake Onega was created by glacial activity that scoured away rock and soil and left a large depression that filled up with water. Many fish inhabit the lake, and fishing is quite popular. In total almost 47 species can be found, including lake salmon, lake trout and brook trout, whitefish, grayling, pike, sander, and eel.

Lake Onega spreads from the south to the north for 245 kilomateres. Its maximum width is about 92 kilometers. The average depth is 30 meters, with a maximum depth of 127 meters. More than a thousand rivers run into the lake, and there are over 1,500 islands on the lake. The biggest one has a small town and a school.

The only outgoing river from Lake Onega is the River Svir, which marks the southern boundary of Karelia, runs from the southwestern shore of Lake Onega to Lake Ladoga and continues as the Neva River to the Gulf of Finland. This serves as an important waterway connecting St. Petersburg to Lake Ladoga, Lake Onega and beyond.

The White Sea–Baltic Canal runs through the lake from the White Sea to the Baltic Sea. The Volga–Baltic Waterway connects Onega Lake with the Volga River, Caspian Sea and Black Sea. The Onega Canal, which follows the southern banks of the lake, was built in 1818–1820 and 1845–1852 between Vytegra River in the east and Svir River in the west. The canal was part of the Mariinsk Canal System, a forerunner of the Volga–Baltic Waterway, and aimed to create a quiet pass for boats avoiding the stormy waters of the lake. It is around 50 meters (160 feet) wide, and lies between 10 meters (33 feet) and 2 kilometers (1.2 mi)les from the shores of the lake. The canal is not used for active navigation at present.


Vyborg (132 kilometers northwest of St. Petersburg, near the Finish border) is located in the northwest of the Karelian Isthmus, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland,. Vyborg was founded in the 13th century by Swedes as an outpost on the border of Russia’s Novgorod territory. During its history, the city has repeatedly changed hands as was conquered by Russian, Finnish and Swedish troops.

At a time when the Karelian Isthmus belonged to the Finns, Vyborg was the second largest city in Finland. It was also deservedly considered to be the most beautiful city in Finland due to its magnificent Northern Art Nouveau architecture. The great architect Uno Ulberg created his masterpieces here. The Vyborg port was used to export timber, and the approaches to the city were serviced by the Mannerheim Line. As a result of the World War II, the territory of the Karelian Isthmus and the city of Vyborg became part of the Soviet Union.

Vyborg is one of the main tourist destinations in the Leningrad region. The medieval part of Vyborg lies on a small peninsula, stretching from the southeast to the northwest between the bays of the Big Bucket and the South. Both gulfs are connected by the Serf Strait. In the middle of it is a small Castle Island, where Vyborg Castle is located. Some of its best examples of Northern Art Nouveau architecture are found in Old Vyborg, which is a nice place to stroll around. Vodnoy Zastavy street is the most spectacular of the all the city streets, going uphill at a 20-degree angle at the very beginning, and ending with the Clock Tower.

Getting There: The regular train to Vyborg from St. Petersburg takes two to four hours; by high-speed Lastochka train departing from the Finland rail terminal the journey takes 1 hour 15 minutes. By bus from Parnas and Devyatkino metro stations it takes about two hours. Tickets for all types of transport start from 300 rubles.

Sights in Vyborg

In the old part of Vyborg, each building is an architectural landmark: from the Gothic town hall, where a market is now located, to the City Dweller’s house, a residential building dating back to the 16th century. Especially popular with tourists is the old Vyborg castle where knightly tournaments are still held, and the tower of St. Olaf that offers stunning views of the city. On a sunny day, it is nice to go for a walk in the Mon Repos landscape park, an old estate with meadows, pines, and rocky beaches.

The Church of Hyacinth in the Old Town dates to the 16th century. Nearby is the house of the merchant guild — a 14th century building. The Round Tower from the fortress wall, built by the Swedes in 1550, has survived until the present-day. The construction of the Horn Fortress, as it was called back then, started in 1564, now the Panzerlax bastion is the only thing left of it. The 16th century, two-story medieval house on Krepostnaya street is built of stones similar to those of the fortress wall tower.

One of the few surviving monuments of the 18th century bastion fortress is Annenkron (Anninsky fortifications). It construction was started under Peter th Great in the early 18th century and was finished in the 1840s under Empress Anna Ioannovna. There were four gates in this defensive line, but only the Friedrichsgamme gate is well preserved. Another attraction of the city is the Monrepo park, situated on a picturesque island in the Vyborg Gulf two kilometers from the city center. Monrepo has a rocky landscape park and occupies an area of 180 hectares. The park is one of the largest manor ensembles of the 18th-19th centuries in the northern Leningrad region.

Vyborg Castle located on a small island in the Gulf of Finland is the oldest of Vyborg's fortifications, dating back to the 13th century. The castle is one of the few surviving European-type castles in Russia. It hosts historical reconstruction festivals as well as jousting tournaments, theatrical performances and interactive tours, known as “Medieval Shooting”, “Knightly Entertainment” and “Minstrels” Performance” and others.

The Vyborg Castle Historical and Architectural Museum has a total of 14 collections, including “Karelian Isthmus during the Second World War” and “The fauna of the Karelian Isthmus.” The largest collections are: “Photographs and photographic negatives”, a collection of documentary materials with unique drawings and maps of the 18th century; “Numismatics”, “Rare books”, “Art materials” and a natural science collection, and others. In 2007, the museum created a unique collection called “Underwater Archeology”, holding a collection of almost 500 items from Swedish ships destroyed during the Battle in Vyborg Bay in 1790. Fifty Swedish ships sank in that battle, while the Russian side did not lose a single vessel. The exhibition illustrates the life of Swedish sailors of the time. The museum organizes over 30 exhibitions a year, and it is also a venue for international, Russian and regional scientific conferences.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation (official Russia tourism website ), Russian government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in September 2020

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