Located in the eastern region of Karelia near the border with Russia, the small harborside town of Lappeenranta (140 mi/225 km northeast of Helsinki) was originally a trading center. It holds the remains of a late-18th-century Russian fortress. Worth a visit is the South Karelian Museum, which gives an overview of the history of the region and shows how many of the towns passed back and forth between Russian and Finnish hands.
You can also take a day cruise across the border to the Russian city of Viipuri, a thriving Finnish commercial center until ceded to the Soviet Union after World War II. Visa-free visits are possible if you take the MS Carelia cruise boat through the Saimaa Canal, which allows Finnish lake traffic to pass through Russian territory to the Baltic. For longer visits to St. Petersburg and other parts of Russia, you'll need to apply at the Russian embassy for a visa at least a week in advance. Better still, have your travel agent make the necessary arrangements.
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