Lahti (Part 1)

Laune Park in the city of Lahti, with old radio masts of Radiomäki in the background

It’s been two months since I last visited Finland. I kind of had to save up a bit of money and Finland trips, even short weekend ones, usually end up being quite big money-sinks (even when it doesn’t really feel you are spending money on anything in particular at all). In the end though I lost my patience and made a day-trip to the city of Lahti with my friend, in early November 2017.

Lahti and Kouvola are the only two cities in Finland (apart from Helsinki) which make sense as day trip destinations when going from St. Petersburg, because these are the cities the high-speed Allegro train goes through. A car trip practically requires an overnight stay; it’s a 200 km drive just to get to the Finnish border, and then crossing the border takes some time, and then you’ll need to drive to somewhere in Finland, and if you have to make the return trip on the same day it gets very exhausting and you end up with not much time in Finland itself at all. And it’s the same with Lappeenranta/Imatra buses, although at least you do not need to drive youself.

Allegro train, first introduced in 2010, on the other hand makes the St. Petersburg-Helsinki trip in about 3 h 30 min (and the border formalities are all done on board and don’t require any extra time), and it’s even faster if you only go to Kouvola or Lahti. There are four departures every day; the first train leaves St. Petersburg at 6:40, and the last one arrives to St. Petersburg at 23:27. So you’ve got plenty of time in Finland. The only downside is that it’s a rather costly option, several times more expensive than going on own car or by bus, unless you buy a ticket well in advance (which I never do).

Still, a day trip to Kouvola on Allegro was my first ever trip to Finland (in fact my first ever trip abroad) way back in February 2012, and this time we did the same thing only to Lahti, which incidentally was the Finnish city closest to St. Petersburg that I had never visited before.

Lahti (Finn. bay) is actually quite a big city by Finnish standards, at 115,000 population, located about 100 km northeast of Helsinki. However it’s a relatively young city and, like Kouvola, it pretty much owes its existence to St. Petersburg-Helsinki railroad (or more propery Riihimäki-St. Petersburg railroad, as the town of Riihimäki was where it connected to Helsinki-Hämeenlinna line which had been the first railroad built in Finland) built in 1870. Before that Lahti had been a rather unremarkable village in Hollola parish, by the Upper Vyborg Road (Ylinen Viipurintie), an old road going from Hämeenlinna to Vyborg/Viipuri, approximately along parts of modern National Roads 10, 12, and 6. Old Lahti had some twenty houses, and also a manor belonging to the noble Fellman family.

Lahti village burned down in the 1870s (with no loss of life), and a new city was planned in its place in 1878. Modern Lahti still keeps rather closely to the city plan of 1878. The location was a really favorable one, at the crossroads of trade routes. Apart from the old road and the railroad Lahti is located on the shore of Vesijärvi Lake, which had been connected via short Vääksy Canal to the huge Päijänne Lake System in 1871, which made it an important lake harbor, connected by waterways to Jyväskylä and other relatively remote places; lake steamships were a hugely important mode of transport at the time. And in 1900 a narrow-gauge railroad (eventually converted to a regular-gauge one) connected it to the Loviisa harbor, allowing easy export of goods by sea. Industries boomed in Lahti, and it remained an industrial city throughout the 20th century, although the 1990s recession hit it hard. As of the 21st century, Lahti enjoys excellent connections to Helsinki; the entire section of National Road 4 between Helsinki and Lahti enjoys motorway standards since 1999, and a direct high-speed rail line Kerava-Lahti (bypassing Riihimäki) was constructed in 2006. Since then Helsinki center can be reached from Lahti in about an hour (via Z-line suburban trains), making Lahti effectively an outer suburb of Helsinki.

Lahti doesn’t have many historical sights or much of old architecture due to its young age, but nonetheless in our opinion it’s quite an enjoyable place to visit. It also has some very beautiful nature (Vesijärvi Lake and many steep hills, including Salpausselkä Ridge) really close to the city center; something quite common for Finnish cities, of course, but I’d say Lahti is even better than others in that regard. Lahti is also a famous winter sports center, holding world-renowned Lahti Ski Games in particular.

Lahti is located in the historical region of Häme (Tavastia). Tavastians/Häme are considered to be one of the first tribes which made up the Finnish people; they are mentioned as Yem (емь) in Novgorodian chronicles. Lahti is the capital of the modern region of Päijänne Tavastia (Päijät-Häme), named after Päjänne Lake System; this is one of the smaller Finnish regions by area. Its other towns are Heinola and Orimattila but both of these are many times smaller than Lahti.

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