Together we will create the Saimaa phenomenon

Saimaa Phenomenon 2026 tells the story of Finnish Lakeland

We want to be the European Capital of Culture 2026, because we are phenomenal!

People who reside here are known for their endearing characteristics of joviality, hospitality, open-heartedness and perseverance. During our year as European Capital of Culture (ECoC) we plan to share our attitude towards life - which we refer to as “Eastern Joy” - with all of Europe.  We are convinced that eastern Finland and the Saimaa region offer the world’s best place to live and thrive.

You can read our first bid book HERE



From the very beginning, Saimaa Phenomenon 2026 has been a joint effort of the four provinces of North and South Savonia, North and South Karelia, and their respective capital cities: Kuopio, Mikkeli, Joensuu, and Lappeenranta; with Savonlinna as the centre point. The creation and starting position of Saimaa Phenomenon 2026 is the word “phenomenal”. This may well be the first time in the history of The European Capitals of Culture initiative that larger cities of one region have come together to support the smallest city as a candidate for ECoC. At the heart of Savonlinna’s application to become European Capital of Culture are the central themes and elements which bring the people in eastern Finland together: the Power of Water, Connecting Bridges, and Eastern Joy. 



Since the ice-age, the Power of Water has moulded landscapes and provided the people living in the area with a special kind of daring and ruggedness. The Power of Water has taught people the value of nature and has led them to settle in congenial places to build villages, towns and cities. Water has provided a strong foundation for the creation of eastern Finnish arts and has led to ground-breaking innovations. The Saimaa waters connect the four provinces of North and South Savonia, North and South Karelia and the cities, municipalities, towns and villages – and above all - the people.



Together with the four major cities of Joensuu, Kuopio, Lappeenranta, and Mikkeli, Savonlinna will build a totally new way of working together, which will strengthen the entire Finnish Lakeland. Our way of Connecting Bridges brings the residents in the Saimaa region together to create a new tomorrow. Bridges signify meeting points; whose impact is evident in the area’s rich culture. This way of working together will become part of everyday life within the four provinces, even after the European Capital of Culture year has ended.

Our Connecting Bridges theme will cross over the international border to include Russia, as well. A mere 200 kilometres separates the southern shore of Saimaa from
the St. Petersburg metropolis. Cities and municipalities within Saimaa partake in many joint projects with their Russian partners; we frequently travel to Russia, and
the people of Russia often come here to enjoy the clean nature and peaceful, quiet life Lake Saimaa offers.



Saimaa Phenomenon 2026 offers us an opportunity to examine and appreciate our folk music, cuisine, and dialects, and to use all of these as a foundation for innovation. We want to demonstrate this wealth of ours to the whole of Europe.

In our area, especially in North Karelia, an ancient folk music tradition thrives, based on the Finnish national epic Kalevala, and the national instrument, the kantele. Singing is still the strongest form of human expression, and playing music is an extension of words. Saimaa Phenomenon 2026 will bring the region’s own musical heritage into modern-day times to make it visible, and will bring players across musical genres together, generating a platform for new musical innovations.

Food has always been a matter of honour for a hostess or host in eastern Finland. Our cuisine is based on seasonal harvests, revealing a story about our way of life, cultural heritage and hospitality. We bake, roast and prepare food of many varieties - from game to fish, to berries and mushrooms. Traditional foods are highly valued, and recipes are customarily passed on from one generation to the next.

Communal spirit is also an integral part of everyday Saimaa. Under this theme we will explore new ways of creating communal work. We will include people of all ages, from the very youngest to the oldest. We value competence, skill and tacit knowledge, which we wish to pass along to future generations.



Savonlinna, founded in 1638, is the oldest city in the region. The city lies in the centre of the Saimaa lake basin and features a more extensive shoreline than Spain - totalling over 6,000 km. Savonlinna is a place where you are likely see one of the world’s rarest seal species, the Saimaa Ringed Seal, swimming in the water or basking in the sun – right in the centre of the city.

More info on Savonlinna