Gems of Karelia – Kizhi Island, Solovki and Valaam

All major sites of Karelia in one tour

Experience Karelia’s unique blend of modern and ancient Russian and Scandinavian-influenced culture.

Karelia is situated to the north of St.Petersburg: it stretches along the border with Finland up to the Arctic Circle and abandons with forests, lakes and rivers, including the Ladoga and the Onega - the two largest lakes in Europe. This singular place in the Russian North is truly the land of primordial nature. This Karelia tour will take you on a boat ride in one of the many lakes or rivers, trekking with huskies along the beautiful pine forest and picking berries in the woods; just wander around and enjoy the scenery.

In a week you will experience some of northern Russia’s most visually spectacular architecture, and find solace exploring some of the region’s most striking natural wonders, including the islands and coastline of the White Sea.

Your tour begins in Petrozavodsk, the largest city in Karelia and the gateway to Kizhi Island, the region’s most visited attraction. Here we’ll explore the World Heritage Kizhi Pogost, an elaborate collection of 17th and 18th century churches, crafted entirely out of wood. You’ll find freedom in the great outdoors in two of Karelia’s finest eco-destinations - the primordial forests of Kivach Nature Reserve, and Ruskeala Mountain Park, a former marble quarry that nature has slowly transformed into a magnificent flooded canyon. You’ll also learn about local Karelian crafts, food and language, and take an excursion to see the 6000-year-old White Sea Petroglyphs.



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3* hotels


Action rating

Group size

7 days / 6 nights


2-6 people

Itinerary View map

Day 1:Petrozavodsk and Kizhi Island

On the first day, you’ll be meeting your guide at the railway station in Karelia’s capital,
Petrozavodsk. After introductions, you’ll head to a local restaurant in the city for a welcome
breakfast. Next, you’ll enjoy a city tour of Petrozavodsk and an overview of the history and
culture of Karelia. A laidback city of around 280,000 people, Petrozavodsk is set on a quiet bay
in Lake Onega, with attractive neo-classical architecture and a distinctly European vibe.
We’ll aim for a late morning departure for Kizhi Island on Lake Onega by hydrofoil. The trip takes
around one and half hours. You’ll then spend several hours exploring Kizhi Pogost, aka the
Kizhi Open Air Museum of Wooden Architecture, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1990.
Considered one of the greatest cultural attractions in Russia, Kizhi consists of around 80
structures from the 17th to the 19th centuries, all of which have been crafted entirely out of
wood. Among Kizhi’s many treasures is the Transfiguration Church, an architectural
masterpiece featuring five tiers of 22 intricately decorated wooden domes, built in 1714 without
using a single nail. The building has withstood the elements for over 150 years.
You’ll then be taken to another side of Kizhi Island, where you’ll see some of the Kizhi Museum’s
restoration work in action, and learn some of the secrets of traditional Russian wooden
architecture. On the way back, we’ll make a stop near the highest point of Kizhi to enjoy a
panoramic view of these magnificent structures and their lakeside surrounds. After a late lunch,
we’ll take the hydrofoil back to Petrozavodsk where we’ll spend the evening.

Day 2:Sortavala and Valaam

Today we depart early for the Valaam Archipelago, a group of 50 islands in the north of Lake
Lagoda, the largest lake in Europe. From Petrozavodsk, we drive to Sortavala (250km) and
from there make the 50-minute journey to the Valaam Monastery on Valaam Island by hydrofoil. We’ll spend the rest of the day exploring inside the walls of the Central Monastery Complex,
dominated by the majestic Cathedral of the Transfiguration. Get acquainted with one of the
most scared Orthodox sites in Russia and the site of numerous clashes between the Russians
and Swedes in their struggle for power during the 16th century. Visit a skete (monastic
community) on the island and try simple monastic food in the monastery’s refectory. Depart
Valaam by hydrofoil to Sortavala and spend dinner and a night at a hotel in the lakeside town.

Day 3:Ruskeala and Kinerma

After breakfast, we make our departure for the renowned Ruskeala Mountain Park. One of
the most striking sights in Karelia, Ruskeala was formerly a marble quarry, mined by the
Swedes, Finns and Russians for around three centuries. Dynamite was used for extracting the
marble, eventually creating a vast, steep-sided canyon, which became inundated with
groundwater. The 109 metre wide canyon now stretches for 456 metres and its sides are
riddled with caves and grottoes. Tall pines sprout from the tops of the canyon walls and the
groundwater has become a river of deep emerald green, creating a truly beautiful union of the
natural and the man-made. The canyon can be traversed by boat, and some of the caves and
mine shafts can be explored with a professional guide.
We’ll make a short stop in the ancient Karelian village of Kinerma, which in 2016 was named
the most beautiful village in Russia. We’ll be met by a local resident for a personalised tour
around the village, made up of late 19th century houses and a wooden chapel to the Virgin
Mary erected in the 17th century. Afterwards, we’ll be invited to lunch in a traditional Karelian
house. Early evening, we’ll transfer back to Petrozavodsk where we’ll have dinner and spend
the night.

Day 4:Trekking with huskies and Elama cultural centre

This morning we drive 30km to the Karjara Park Husky Farm. Learn about this iconic Siberian
working breed and get introduced to the individual dogs, who will take you on a soft trekking
experience through the silent and beautiful Karelian forests. You will be instructed on handling
your new fluffy friend. Once the dogs are harnessed up, they’ll be ready to take you on a
picturesque hike through one of the area’s most scenic routes. Afterwards, wind down from
your adventure with a relaxing hot tea in a classic reindeer skin hut.
Next, we make to the centre for Karelian culture, called Elämä. This centre is dedicated to
preserving the everyday lifestyle of Karelian people, helping to revive and develop local crafts,
music and cooking. You will take lunch in the customary style for guests and get acquainted
with local traditions, crafts and symbols, which people in Karelia used to bring about luck, love,
well-being and good health. Try your hand at cooking traditional Karelian food and after, taste
tea with herbs and Karelian pies. In the evening, return to the hotel accommodation in

Day 5:Kem, Kivach and White Sea petrogyphs

After breakfast, we transfer to Kem, 450km from Petrozavodsk. Here, we visit the Kivach State
Nature Reserve. The Reserve was established in 1932, making it one of the oldest in Russia.
Spanning roughly 11,000 hectares, the reserve is vital for protecting Karelia’s primordial forest,
a fragile ecosystem home to 197 species of birds, 48 mammals, 18 species of fish and 569
plants including the Karelian birch.
In the heart of the reserve is the Kivach waterfall, the second highest plain waterfall in Europe.
Flanked on either side by magnificent pine forest and dark basalt rocks, the roaring cascades
are an inspiring showcase of nature’s handiwork.
Next, we make the several hour journey north to discover the rarely seen White Sea
Petroglyphs, located where the forest meets the coast. These rock paintings and carvings,
considered among the most complex and expressive examples of rock art in northern Europe,
date back to the New Stone Age (4th to 2nd century BC) and depict elaborate scenes of
hunting, warfare, religious rituals and seafaring. In the evening, transfer back to the town of
Kem, around 108km from the main petroglyph sites.

Day 6:Solovetsky and Zayatsky islands

After breakfast, we check out of our Kem hotel and depart for the Solovetsky Archipelago by
slow boat. The trip takes around two hours, after which we’ll check into our hotel on
Solovetsky Island and begin our exploration.
The legendary Solovetsky Monastery was once one of the richest monasteries of Russia, with
fortress walls so thick no enemy could overcome them. Dig deep into the amazing history of the
15th century complex, which was once one of the largest Christian citadels in Northern Russia
before being converted into a Soviet prison and labour camp.
From Solovetsky Island we boat over to nearby Big Zayatsky Island. Once home to a
mysterious pagan cult, the stone labyrinths found on the island are rare and valuable
archaeological monuments, although much of their purpose and meaning remains unknown.
You will have a chance to observe the prehistoric beauty of this small island, whose climate is
so severe that it is covered mostly with a variety of moss species and low-lying shrubs. Return
to Solovetsky Island by boat for dinner and a night’s rest.

Day 7:Departure from Petrozavodsk

Today after breakfast and check-out, we’ll cruise over to Big Solovetsky Island to the climb
its highest point, Sekirnaya Hill. Perched on the hilltop is one of the strictest sketes (monastic
communities) on the island, with a unique lighthouse church. During Gulag times, the skete had
a reputation as one of the cruellest of all the Soviet detention centres. Today it is a functioning
skete again and a tranquil, meditative place offering fantastic panoramic views over the island. Next, we’ll visit the island’s Botanical Garden, one of the most northerly botanic gardens in
Russia and a living document of the various types of plants established by numerous settlers
during the history of the Solovestsky Islands.
After lunch, we’ll transfer to the pier and make the journey back to Kem by slow boat.
After a final dinner in Kem, you’ll be transferred to the railway station, where there are regular
long distance train services back to St Petersburg.



3* hotels


Breakfasts in the hotels

Some meals during day excursions (see detailed itinerary)


Train station transfers

All transportation according to the itinerary


Local professional English-speaking guide

Experienced driver

Activities and sights

All excursions and sites according to the itinerary


Russian visa support document

*Russian visa can be arranged by 56th Parallel for an additional cost (for Australian citizens only). Apply for comprehensive visa service here.

Not included

Travel insurance, visa, optional excursions, tips

If you have any urgent questions or enquiries, please give us a call +61 2 9388 9816