It is located in the province of Eastern Finland and is part of the Northern Savonia region. The municipality has a population of 23 366 (30 April 2008) and covers an area of 524,96 km² of which 139,27 km² is water. The population density is 60,6 inhabitants per km².
The municipality is unilingually Finnish. Oddly enough, 'Varkaus' translates to 'theft', even though it is not the reason for giving that name to the city. In old Finnish, the same word also meant strait, and this city is located in the lake district.
The town is located on straits between two parts of Lake Saimaa. An extension of the Saimaa Canal passes through the town. The town became an industrial center in the end of the 19th century with the A. Ahlström paper mills. During the Finnish Civil War in 1918 the town was taken over by the "Reds", but because of its isolated location in rural Finland, it was soon taken by the "Whites".