Plan a visit to Turku, and surround yourself in the cradle of Finnish history and culture.
Finnish travel blogger Päivi Seppä-Lassila writes about her hometown of Turku. This is the first of two parts in the series, so stick around for some travel inspiration on the best things to do in the city. You can find out more about Päivi by visiting her IQPlanner profile page.
‘Varför Paris vi har ju Åbo?’ is a Swedish saying that means “Why Paris, when we have Turku”. The proverb was used by Swedish media referring to Finnish designer Timo Sarpaneva´s model collection in 1964. We now use the proverb when referring to Turku as a tourist destination.
Paris has the River Seine and Turku has the River Aura. Both cities are old with cathedrals and castles.
Turku, the former capital and the oldest city of Finland since 1229, is situated in Southwest-Finland. Finland celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2017. For Turku, 2011 was important, because it was the European Capital of Culture.
There are almost 190,000 inhabitants in Turku. Over 5% of them identify Swedish as a mother-tongue, so Turku is officially a bilingual city.
What to see in Turku
From cathedral to castle
The River Aura’s the heart and soul of the city.
If you explore riverside from the Turku Cathedral to Turku Castle by walking or cycling, you can see and visit many historical and modern sites of Turku. This journey is about 3.5km.
Turku Cathedral was consecrated in 1300. It’s Finland’s National Sanctuary and considered to be the country’s most valuable historical monument.
On the other side of the Cathedral Bridge is one of Finland's oldest restaurants, Pinella. In summertime, you can sit on its terrace with a drink or have a meal, while enjoying magnificent views of the river.
If you continue walking down Itäinen Rantakatu street, you’ll reach the Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova Museum, which combines history and modern art events. After the Aura Bridge, there are a number of anchored restaurant riverboats. They’re crowded on a warm summer evening, and some of them are open all year round.
The renovated Turku City Theatre, Biological Museum in a wooden art nouveau building, and the Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art are also situated along the riverbank.
If you continue walking you’ll see the little orange ferry Föri. It links the riversides and it’s free. Jump aboard. You’ll reach Itäinen Rantakatu and the Turku Guest Harbour.
Past the sailing ships and port
Moving forward, you’ll pass several sailing ships. These include the Suomen Joutsen, the Sigyn barque and other museum ships of the Maritime Centre Forum Marinum. They usually hold permanent as well as temporary exhibitions.
After the museum, you’ll come to Turku Castle and then to the Port of Turku. There are passenger ferries such as Viking Line and Tallink Silja. Ferries leave Turku via Mariehamn to Stockholm every morning and night.
Turku Castle has been a part of Turku since the 1280’s. For many centuries, it was a defensive bastion, a majestic court, an administrative centre, a prison, a storehouse and army barracks. Nowadays the castle’s a tourist attraction in Finland and a pride monument of Turku.
Return and continue towards Turku Cathedral along Itäinen Rantakatu street. If you enjoy music, be sure to head to the Vaakahuone Pavilion, which is often voted Turku’s most popular summer restaurant with free live music.
On Itäinen Rantakatu Street, there are other nice restaurants and the Pharmacy Museum. It’s housed in Qwensel House that was built in the 1700s.
Between the Aura Bridge and Cathedral Bridge are more good restaurants in Vähätori Square. There’s also the City Library, which is a combination of the old and the new, and worth visiting to see what a modern library can offer.
Food, wine and fun in Turku
Turku’s an excellent food destination for foodies. There’s something for everyone whether you prefer local delicacies or international flavours. If you want to familiarise yourself with the local food culture on foot, buy the Turku Food Walk Card.
It’ll take you straight to the heart of the restaurant culture in Turku.
Restaurant Kaskis was nominated by the Finnish Gastronomic Association for Finland’s Restaurant of the Year 2018. As you can imagine, it’s one of Turku’s most popular and famous eateries.
Market Hall and Market Square are full of fresh local products from Turku, the surrounding area, and the archipelago. The Market Hall has been serving people since 1867. There are also cafes and restaurants that are perfect for having a coffee break or lunch.
Market Square is a popular meeting place with full of fresh fish, fruits and vegetables. In summertime, grab an ice-cream from one of the many kiosks — one of them is an old tram car! You can also enjoy a cup of coffee in one of the cafes and observe colourful everyday life.
Turku Food & Wine Fest takes place in July, and The Food & Fun festival is the number one gourmet event during autumn. The event fills out the restaurants, bars and cafes in Turku, with special guests from abroad, special menus and plenty of contented people dining together.
The annual Archipelago Market and the Herring Market bring the atmosphere of fishing and the Archipelago to the Aura riverfront twice a year. There’s also the Virgin Potato Festival in spring that’s popular with the locals.
In Turku, you can find also many peculiar pubs and bars, such as a bank (The Old Bank), school (Brewery Restaurant Koulu), toilet (The WaterLoo English Pub), pharmacy (Uusi Apteekki Pub) and office (Bar Toimisto).
Why, and how to, get to Turku?
Why to get to Turku? If you still need more testimonials, here’s one from legendary Finnish rock star, and former Hanoi Rocks singer, Michael Monroe:
‘I’ve chosen Turku after living in Stockholm, London and New York. Doesn’t that say something about this city.’
It’s easy to get to Turku. There’s a passenger ferry harbour and international airport. You can arrive at Turku Airport from Helsinki, Riga, Gdansk, Stockholm, Mariehamn and Kittilä.
Passenger ferries connect Turku, Mariehamn and Stockholm. It takes around 2 hours by bus and train to reach Turku from Helsinki.
All photos courtesy of Päivi Seppä-Lassila