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Best things to do in Lake Saimaa, Finland

Updated On 20th June, 2024

Welcome to your ultimate adventure travel guide for Lake Saimaa, Finland.

If you’re planning your Fiinish adventure and seeking an extraordinary natural escape, somewhere you can bathe, swim and unwind beside clean fresh waters, you’ve landed in the right place.

This travel guide will reveal everything you need to know about visiting Lake Saimaa, including how to get there, the best places to stay, and the top activities you can’t miss.

I’ve just returned from 4 days exploring this area of Eastern Finland and I feel SO replenished and inspired by the people and landscapes of Lake Saimaa. It’s truly a gem and I cannot wait to share my tips with you!

Finland is a country renowned for its stunning lakes and unspoiled wilderness and Lake Saimaa is a perfect example of this. Spanning over 4,400 square kilometers, with over 14,000km of shoreline (the worlds longest lake shoreline), Lake Saimaa is Finland’s largest lake and the fourth largest in Europe.

Lake Saimaa is perfect for nature enthusiasts, adventure seekers, and anyone looking to unwind in a serene setting (think cabins on lakes and foraging in the woods for dinner vibes).

Whether you’ve heard of Lake Saimaa for its lakeside cabins, its incredible fishing or as a habitat for the rare Saimaa ringed seal, this guide will make sure you have all the juicy tips and travel information to plan your perfect trip.

Are you ready to explore the best things to do in Lake Saimaa?

The Best Way to Get To Lake Saimaa

Getting to Lake Saimaa is an adventure, but considering you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere – it’s not that difficult. It’s definitely worth it!

The nearest major airport is Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, where you can take a commuter train to Tikkurila (a few minutes) and then change to Mikkeli (around 2 hours).

Alternatively, you can rent a car for the scenic 3-hour journey to the lake region. Another option is to fly to Lappeenranta Airport, which is closer and offers direct connections from several European cities.

The Best Places To Stay In Lake Saimaa

For accommodation, the Lake Saimaa region boasts a range of options from cosy lakeside cottages and modern hotels to unique houseboats and camping sites. There is so much choice!

Staying in a lakeside cottage (locally known as a ‘mökki’) is highly recommended for an authentic Finnish experience, offering the perfect blend of comfort and immersion in nature. Elsanranta Villas and Kanava Resort are two top-notch options (that I stayed in) providing luxurious stays with stunning lake views and modern amenities.

Browse Lake Saimaa accommodation here.

The best time to visit Lake Saimaa

The best time to visit Lake Saimaa depends on what you want to do and experience here.

Summer (June to August) is ideal for water activities, hiking, and enjoying the midnight sun (yep so much time for activities!). For winter sports enthusiasts, the snowy months of December to February offer opportunities for ice fishing, cross-country skiing, and experiencing the Northern Lights.

I visited in June and we had a mixture of weather but mild temperatures perfect for enjoying the outdoors in.

The Best Things To Do In Lake Saimaa

Explore Linnansaari National Park and spot the Saimaa ringed seal!

Linnansaari National Park is a must-visit for outdoor lovers and one of the best things to do in Lake Saimaa if you love adventure!

The park is a labyrinth of hundreds of islands and offers excellent hiking trails, kayaking routes, and camping spots. One thing you must do is take a boat tour to spot the elusive Saimaa ringed seal, an endangered species unique to this region. Many companies are offering it, we did ours with Kanava Resort.

We spotted a majestic Ospray too, well our guide did. They are amazing at spotting the wildlife!

Stay at Landhaus Kekkola

Landhaus Kekkola is a pastel yellow coloured, historic manor just outside the city of Mikkeli (the perfect starting location if you get the train to Mikkeli from Helsinki!).

The property has Finnish-German hosts, Janne and Manuela, and their children are truly part of the experience. You feel like you’re arriving to their home (you kinda are) and they make you feel at home right away.

Stay here welcomes you to enjoy the classic rural lakeside atmosphere in their family surroundings, it’s a very zen experience. There are also a selection of activities and horse stables on the grounds.

My favourite part? The lakeside sauna and private lake for swimming. Book here.

Visit Olavinlinna Castle

Olavinlinna Castle is located in the town of Savonlinna and is one of Finland’s most iconic landmarks. This medieval fortress, built in the 15th century, sits majestically on a rocky islet in Lake Saimaa. A super beautiful location indeed and a chance to dice into some history.

I recommend you take a guided tour to learn about its fascinating history and enjoy views from the towers.

Go on a canoeing or kayaking Adventure

Canoeing on Lake Saimaa to enjoy the crystal-clear waters and countless islands is one of the best things to do in Lake Saimaa.

There are numerous rental services and guided tours available, catering to all skill levels. You won’t be stuck for choice!

Paddle through narrow straits, alongside forests and discover hidden beaches. Getting on the water is the perfect enjoy the peace of the Finnish wilderness.

Try the fish caught in the lake!

During the winter months, many will drink from the lake because of how clean the water is.

This makes for a healthy ecosystem and some of the freshest catches out there. Two of the most popular (and abundant) fish in the lake are Vendace and Pike.

Most of the restaurants we ate at in Lake Saimaa featured these locally-caught fish on their menu!

One of the best things to do in Lake Saimaa is to try the local delicacies!

Relax in a Traditional Finnish Sauna

No trip to Finland is complete without experiencing a traditional Finnish sauna. Seriously.

Many accommodations around Lake Saimaa offer private saunas so opportunities are sure to arise on your adventure. Alternatively you can visit public saunas like the unique floating sauna in Savonlinna.

After heating up, I always opt for a refreshing dip in the lake – an invigorating tradition loved by locals and visitors alike.

Hike the Punkaharju Ridge

The Punkaharju Ridge is a natural wonder and one of Finland’s national landscapes located just under four hours northeast of Helsinki. Punkaharju is a tranquil land of birch and spruce trees, pristine waters and clear, crisp air – all the good things in live (is it a wonder Finland have been voted the happiest country in the world 7 years in a row?).

This narrow strip of land lies between two lakes and offers scenic trails for hiking, walking and cycling. The views are said to be outrageous!

The Harjureitti Trail is a trail you can do here that is 4 km long and easily accessible for the majority of the route. The trail will occasionally elevate and offer stunning views of the Punkaharju national landscape so that you can get different perspectives on this wonder!

Experience Ice Fishing in Winter

If you’re visiting during winter, ice fishing on Lake Saimaa is an experience not to be missed. Local guides will provide you with all of the necessary equipment and expertise to help you catch fish through the thick ice. Fishing lover dreams!

Ice fishing a unique and serene way to connect with Finnish culture and the natural beauty of this frozen lake.

Book a spa day at Järvisydän

On the shores of Lake Saimaa, adjacent to Linnansaari National Park, you’ll find a wellness lovers paradise in the form of Järvisydän.

We took a boat taxi from Kanava Resort (30 minute boat or 1.5 hour drive) and spent the day bathing in the outside pools, multiple saunas, rainforest shower and steam rooms. I have to say, architecturally, its ones of the most beautiful spas I’ve ever been to.

They have weaved nature into every element with the majority of the spa and restaurant composed of wood, stone and natural elements.

Aside from the spa amenities, the resort also provides comfortable unique lodging in villas, Scenery Suites, and houseboats so this is a great option for accommodation!

The history of the resort dates back to 1658 and has been passed down through the generations so the staff have many a story to tell!

Travel tip:

The lunch here is buffet style and is WELL worth staying for after your spa day.

Attend the Savonlinna Opera Festival

Held annually in July, the Savonlinna Opera Festival is a cultural highlight in the Lake Saimaa region so if you’re planning your trip in the summer – it might be worth adding this to your itinerary!

The festival takes place in the historic Olavinlinna Castle (the one on the island i mentioned previously), offering a magical setting for world-class opera performances.

Kayaking at Pistohiekka Resort

Pistohiekka is actually part of the Saimaa UNESCO Global Geopark and is one of the finest beach resorts on the shores of Lake Saimaa.

The surrounding nature is uniquely beautiful, offering a multitude of activities to enjoy for days or even weeks. You can indulge in hiking, kayaking, cycling, fishing, or sailing. However, there is also nothing wrong with simply relaxing on the beach and taking in the stunning scenery.

The resort comprises two main buildings (see picture below taken from the restaurant) and ten cottages for accommodation. The beach restaurant, boasting a fantastic lake view, is renowned for its Finnish wood architecture and is a popular attraction in its own right. Opened in June 2022, the resort has already been featured in major international architecture and design magazines – it is not hard to see why!!!

Note: try one of their Finnish cardamom buns!

Book your stay here.

Stay at Elsanranta Villas

For a luxurious stay and a retreat from the sounds of the city, consider Elsanranta Villas. These weren’t cheap but they were INCREDIBLE. The attention to detail was insane and I can imagine coming here for a week to just totally switch off in luxury.

Each Elsanranta villa offers an unobstructed view of Lake Saimaa, allowing you to immerse yourself in nature while relaxing in the villa, pool, or sauna.

The lounge area features a luxurious double bed a sofa and all the details to nourish your mind body and soul. Theres a private sauna in the bathroom, a coffee machine with some incredible beans and… even a soda stream!!!

There was a B&O speaker to animate your stay and also a pair of binoculars on the table when you arrive so you can keep an eye out for the rare Saimaa Ringed Seal.

The expansive deck is furnished with a seating area and a deluxe drop pool (pictured below), where you can admire the starlit sky and, if fortunate, witness the northern lights.

It was a true pleasure to stay here – the kind of place you don’t want to leave.

Have dinner or lunch at Koskivahti Restaurant

Just a 5-minute walk from the villas mentioned in the previous highlight is this gorgeous little lakeside restaurant. Sahanlahti Resort dining is founded on high-quality, fresh, local products and a commitment to ethical and responsible farming and it was evident in every mouthful we enjoyed.

The skill and dedication of those growing and preparing your food are evident in every dish served up. The restaurant is a five-star D.O. Saimaa ‘We Support’ establishment, and Koskivahti has been voted as having the most beautiful terrace view in Finland.

Below you’ll see the fresh fish dish of the day, the INSANE tomato salad and the view from the outside deck.

Book a foraging experience with Uhkua

When you book a foraging experience, Asta and Ilkka warmly welcome you to their charming lakeside farm Uhkua, where you can experience the rural life of the Lake Saimaa region. They live here off the grid with no water and have created a simple but nourishing life utilising the forests and soils that surround them.

During a guided wild food experience, you get to taste the finest cuisine the region has to offer and we cooked ours up on the outdoor fire.

Chef Ilkka Arvola, a pioneer of local cuisine, is a patron of Finland’s first designation of origin label, D.O. Saimaa and guides the experience seamlessly, sharing wisdom generously to help you connect with the land around you.

This was one of the best things to do in Lake Saimaa – 100%.

Relax at Kanava Resort

Kanava Resort offers a perfect blend of comfort and nature. Located right by the water, the resort features cosy cabins, a restaurant with local delicacies, and various outdoor activities that you can engage in. Time here for guests is spent hiking, fishing, or simply relaxing by the lake, and your evenings? Unwinding in the sauna of course.

We stayed in one of the lake front cabins here and the private saunas were insane. Think floor-to-ceiling glass windows with views across the lake.

My favourite part though, the way the beds are designed to face out to the forest and you can wake up to the lake every morning. One of my favourite places I’ve ever woken up, see below!

This resort is where we booked our Ringed seal boat trip and where we took the boat over to the spa!

The restaurant, though quaint and quiet – served surprisingly wonderful food!

Have you been to Lake Saimaa in Finland?

What are the best things to do in Lake Saimaa? Anything you’d add to this Lake Saimaa bucket list?

Love as always and happy adventuring… 

Mollie Bylett





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