Thursday, February 20, 2014

Kuopio in your pocket

This is the first blog of the series "In your pocket" in which I will tell you about 10 interesting places to visit in Finnish cities. It is easier, in my opinion, to look at one article that summarizes all main ideas when you are on the road. It is dedicated to Kuopio, the 8th biggest Finnish city, that I've visited seven times between 2005 and 2013.

Located at almost 400km North from Helsinki in the Savo region (or Savonia) in the middle of the Lakeland, the city of 106.000 inhabitants is a gem. Once there, it feels like visiting a village surrounded by the Kallavesi Lake, thousands of islands and small hills. The center counts a lot of old wooden houses, nice bars and friendly inhabitants. In Kuopio, you feel like at home!

1. Sightseeing in street train or in horse cab

In summer time (May to August), the best way to visit the main sights is to take a tour on board of the street train that starts on the market square and pass by all the most interesting and famous sights. But having a ride on the horse cab is another great experience. At slow pace, you can admire more in detail the architecture and spot the shops windows and people.

Read more about the street train

2. Beach of Väinölänniemi

The beach is free of charge, and equipped with changing rooms and showers. It also offers four jumps. The water is quite shallow and it is ideal for families. As it is shallow, the water is very warm. On the sand, some people are playing beach volley. Do not hesitate to ask if you can join the team! It is everybody's responsibility to take its trash away.

3. Wanha Satama and the harbor square

Formerly used for the harbor administration, this lovely wooden building painted in blue is a restaurant and a bar. The cuisine is simple but very good. It is one of the best places to taste local delicacies. The Kalakukko (loaf of bread filled with vendaces) is the local specialty from the Savo region. Kuopio claims to be the capital of the dish. The other fish specialties are delicious as well!

Kalakukko at Wanha Satama

Especially during summer, there is always something happening on the harbor square from concerts to theater and from local food markets to bigger fairs. I also recommend having a walk along the shore behind the Wanha Satama to see another part of Kuopio.

Wanha Satama restaurant website (only in Finnish)
Read also "Finnish Food in a Beautiful Place"

4. Boat trip through hundreds of islands

Many sightseeing boats offer trips on Kallavesi. I took the short one (1.5h on M/S Koski) as my time was limited and I was surprise to discover how big Kuopio was. The new area is much extended, and it is very beautiful and modern. There, you can admire a very long bridge that connects "both" parts. It is also part of one of the longest streets in Finland. But you can also travel on board of M/S Puijo, a ferry that travels from Kuopio to Savonlinna (10.5h). It is an extraordinary trip where you can admire the very rare Finnish ring seals. If you want to do a trip during weekends, I strongly recommend booking your tickets in advance in order to avoid disappointment.

Local cruises timetables
M/S Puijo Kuopio-Savonlinna timetable

The tallest residential building in Kuopio

View on the Puijo and Kuopio's city center

Summer cottage on a peaceful island

5. Puijo hill: sports center and its tower

It is the name of the highest hill at the North of the city. It is a winter sport resort with cross-country skiing tracks or downhill slopes, and ski jumping facilities. In summertime there is a public golf course with 9 holes. It is also a great place to enjoy Finnish Nature on one of the three Nature paths. At the top of the hill, there is the Puijo's tower (150m high from the lake level) where you can look at the view. When the sky is clear you can see as far as 200km! Absolutely breathtaking! Unfortunately, it is not free. An adult ticket costs 6€ (4€ if you have a student card). There is also a restaurant at the top of the tower that serves local food.

Website of Puijo's tower, restaurant and Puijon Maya hotel
Address: Puijontie 135
Phone +358 17 255 5253

View from the tower on the city center and Kallavesi Lake

6. The market hall

As in many Finnish cities, the market hall is a great place to discover local food and crafts. Located on the market square, the hall built in 1880 has been renovated in 2011-2013. The bakery is a must. Ideal for a snack or to try unknown pastries. The sauna shop is worth a visit. There is also a shop selling handicraft which is really great. My favorite piece of art is a ceramic little troll. The legend says that if the troll is well treated, he will protect the house.

Website of the market hall (only in Finnish)

The trolls

7. Shopping at the market alley of Pikku-Pietari

"Little Peter" is a very narrow area a few blocks behind the market square. It is full of little stores in old wooden stables where you can buy local handicraft, antiques and local furniture. There is also a little café with its own terrace. In my opinion, it is the best place to buy a unique souvenir of your trip!

Pikku Pietari website (only in Finnish - the opening days and hours 2014 are not published yet)
Address: Puistokatu 21

8. Malja, the beer and wine bar

One day I asked a local celebrity, the ski jumper Matti Hautamäki, for a good place to have a beer. He recommended the bar called Malja as it has a wide range of beers and a wine bar upstairs. The place is not easy to find at first as the entrance is quite hidden on Kauppakatu, Kuopio's bars street. Downstairs there is the beer bar and Matti was right. There were so many beers that I had to ask the barman for a recommendation. I got a special blond beer from a local producer (unfortunately I don't remember the name) for less than 5€. Very different prices than in Helsinki. The bar has a quiet place where you can drink your beer in sofa and read book. Perfect after a long day. During weekends there are often bands performing and the place is crowded.

Website of Malja beer and wine bar
Address: Kauppakatu 29
Phone: +358 17 123 4567

9. Oldest stone house in Kuopio

This house is a hidden gem. Built in 1850 it is one of the oldest stone buildings of Finland (the oldest is in Helsinki - 1757). Inside there is a bar called Helmi (pearl) where you can play pool and watch sports. It is a very manly place but girls are welcome.  It is also a nice place for a coffee served in a glass without handles. According to the barman, it is a tradition from the old times. There is also a restaurant serving pizza.

Website (in Finnish)
Address: Kauppakatu 2
Phone: +358 17 261 1110

10. Time to sleep at Hotel Scandic Kuopio

Personally I haven't slept in many hotels in Kuopio but I really loved this one. It is located on the lake side and offers an astonishing view. If you are lucky enough to have your window on the lake, you can wake up with the sunrise. The breakfast buffet is one of the largest I have ever seen! There is almost everything you can dream of, sweet or salty. The Wi-Fi is free, just ask the friendly and helpful staff for the code at the reception. One night costs about 100€ (double room - average price for this hotel category) but sometimes there are good deals and you can sleep for less than 80€.

Website of the hotel
Address: Satamakatu 1
But if your budget is tight, you can book a room for 79€ at Kuopio Asemagrilli (only in Finnish)

Main events in 2014
19-22 February Finland ice marathon
3-4 March Ski jumping World Cup
12-16 June Kuopio Dance festival
27 June - 5 July Wine festival (with many famous Finnish singers!)
25-26 July Kuopio Rockcock (music festival)
Games of the local ice hockey team KalPa

Need any help? Do not hesitate to contact the very friendly staff at the tourist office:

Have a pleasant stay in the capital of the Kalakukko!

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