I really couldn’t say why it took us so long to write this post, but here it finally is. A post on Turku, Finland – our home town. Seeing as it was once and for a long time Finland’s capital, it sure is full of history. Granted, it has lost a bit of its splendour after Helsinki was established as the new capital, but for us it is still a very special place. Even though Turku is a relatively small town, we still spent quite a bit of time exploring each and every corner. Whether you are moving here for studies or work, or whether you are coming to visit Turku for a single day, bookmark our local’s guide to help you explore!
When to Visit Turku
A tour operator would probably tell you that Turku makes a wonderful destination at any time of the year. As a local travel blogger I can tell you, don’t come in the winter. Winters here are miserable and all my friends who visited me here during that time came to hate Finland with a passion. Winters are mostly dark and rainy, not snowy. So don’t expect a winter wonderland. Temperatures can, however, suddenly drop to -20 C (oh, and there still wouldn’t be any snow). And if it does snow, it melts within a day and you’ll drag your feet through slushy puddles all day.
Of course, there are these few crisp winter mornings when fresh snow has fallen during the night and the sun is illuminating the whole country. Oh, how much I love these days. Really, those are my favourite days of the year. And there’s about 2 or 3 of them in the season… 😉
If you want tips for sightseeing in the cold, read more here.
Instead, come in the summer. Come when it is too hot and crowded to travel to the South. Come when the weather might be pleasant in Finland (yes, no promises here either). Come when all the attractions are open. Come when there is more than 4 hours of day light. Finland in the summer can be the most wonderful place on earth.
Alternatively, come to town during Turku Day on the third Sunday in September. During that day the city truly comes to life and many attractions offer reduced or free admission. In addition there will be a lovely firework in the evening!
What to See in Turku
Turku, otherwise known by its Swedish name Åbo and established in the 13th century, was the capital of Finland for 500 years. Unfortunately today not much of the city’s 700 year history can be observed, as the city was struck by not one but several devastating fires. The most notable fire, known as the Great Fire of Turku, in 1827 consumed about 75% of the entire town. The most notable remaining landmarks are Turku Castle and Turku Cathedral (both founded in the late 13th century).
Turku Cathedral lies in the old city centre overlooking the Aura river. The original building from the 13th century was built from wood and suffered substantially during the city’s many fires. Most of the interior stems restorations carried out in the 19th century. It is a beautiful sight not to be missed, but the interiors are rather spartan. There is also a small museum attached to the cathedral which costs 2€. During the summer there are also guided tours.
Turku Castle has towered over the harbour since the late 13th century. It has served many purposes throughout its history, but it has always been a central point in the people’s everyday lives. Admission is 10€ per person. In the summer several events take place here, including the Turku Castle Tournament.
Turku Market Square
For the city’s residents today Kauppatori (Market Square) is the centre point of their day-to-day activities. All buses pass through here and most shops, cafes, and restaurants are located not far from it. More importantly, though, it serves as an active market from Monday to Saturday where you can buy fresh produce, handcrafted goods, and more. It’s also the home of “Ratikka“, Turku’s only remaining tram carriage. It now serves as an ice cream booth. While you enjoy your ice cream, you can also enjoy a view of Turku’s Orthodox Cathedral on the square’s North end.
If the weather is bad and doesn’t allow for outdoor shopping, stop by the Market Hall. There are also several food stalls where you can grab lunch and a small cafe crafted from a former train wagon! I just love it.
Most museums in Turku are rather small and their steep admission fees can be difficult to stomach. You can come on Turku Day when admission to most of them is either free or at least discounted. Personally we would recommend:
- Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova (city museum & modern art museum). Regular admission is 10€ per adult.
- Pharmacy Museum. Small but quaint. Regular admission is 4.5€ per adult.
- Luostarinmäki Handicrafts Museum. A small open air museum. Regular admission is 6€ per adult.
If the people here love one thing, it’s their river. It almost serves as a life line throughout the city, beginning in the city’s Northern districts, all the way down to the harbour. Most of Turku’s sights lie along the way and you should definitely take the time to walk it if you can. From the cathedral to the castle it takes about 1.5 hours at a leisurely pace. Make sure to get a snapshot of yourself with the giant daisy!
If you insist on actually getting on the water, you have two options. First, you could simply cross the river on Föri, a commuter ferry which serves instead of a bridge in order to keep this part of the river navigable. The crossing is free of charge. This summer you also have the option of taking the Vesibussi from the guest harbour to Ruissalo. It is part of the city’s public transport network and runs 7 times a day. The trip from the centre to Ruissalo takes around 40 minutes and takes you past the commercial harbour. It’s a pilot project the success of which will determine whether it will be extended next summer.
Bird’s Eye Views
Mihir will probably never stop complaining about the fact that you can’t climb the tower of Turku cathedral, but there is one spot from which you can get a decent view. That spot is atop Vartiovuori, a small hill not far from Turku Cathedral. It’s also the home of Vartiovuori Observatory, completed in 1819 and now belonging to the Swedish-speaking Royal Academy of Turku. Should you be visiting during Vappu (read more here), you will find 99% of the city’s population picnicking here.
The town of Naantali is not technically part of Turku proper, but is an important part of greater Turku. You reach it by taking bus 6 from the Market Square. Naantali is one of the oldest towns in Finland and lies on the shores of the Baltic Sea. It is the president’s official summer residence and well worth a visit. The harbour is quite charming and it also makes a great starting spot for exploring the Turku archipelago.
What to Do in Turku
What I love most about Turku is its close proximity to nature. Below find our recommendations on what to do once you are done sightseeing. Try one or two of these and enjoy the Finnish way of life 🙂
One thing you simply HAVE to do, is take an archipelago cruise. There are several operators departing from Turku that can take you out for a quick trip around the islands. You could also venture out much further into the archipelago, e.g. to Utö, but really it isn’t necessary. Most of the cruises also include a lunch. Admittedly, those lunches are nothing too special (small buffet excluding drinks), but the views truly make up for it.
Personally we have travelled with M/S Rudolfina. Be sure to make reservations during the weekend as we once had our evening plans shattered because the ship was full. The prices vary, but for a lunch cruise expect at least 30€ per person and more for dinner departures. The whole cruise takes between 2 and 4 hours, depending on the operator. Most of them travel in the direction of Naantali.
Uittamo has a small beach you can visit, but the only reason I have ever come here for is the sauna. And I have only ever come here during the winter. The access to the sauna and locker rooms costs 5.2€. You change into your bathing suits (no nudity here) and then make your way to the communal sauna. Here you will heat up as long as you can bear it and then you will run along the pier until you reach the so-called “avanto”, a whole in the frozen sea-water. You will quickly take a dip and make your way back to the sauna. Repeat as many times as you can take it and you will have had a truly Finnish experience 🙂
Swimming at Ekvalla Beach
There are a couple of beaches including the aforementioned Uittamo beach, but our absolute favourite is Ekvalla beach. It’s popular with locals and not many foreigners know about it. Like most Finnish beaches it’s quite small and you can expect the water to be very cold. But hey, no pain – no gain! 😉
Hiking in Ruissalo
Ruissalo is a beautiful place to barbecue, swim, relax, take a walk. For anything, really. But you can also spend a whole day here hiking through the island. You will pass pretty 19th century villas and sturdy oak forests. You can also camp here at Ruissalo Camping in Saaronniemi, at the outermost tip of the island.
Floats and Drinks
One reason for why you should come in the summer is the city’s river boats docked on Aura river. Most of them have been converted to bars and not much is better than enjoying a cool beer with the cold stream below you. If staying in one place is too boring for you, check out Jakke, a small boat cruising up and down the river with plenty of alcohol on board. It docks in several spots along the way and admission costs between 6€ and 9€ per adult.
If the bars are too expensive for your liking (expect around 7€ per drink), do as the locals do. Get yourself a couple of chilled cans from the nearest supermarket and plant your behind in the grass while you soak up these rare sun rays!
Events to Mark in Your Calendar
There are only few events held in Turku which are really worth mentioning, but if there is one that I absolutely adore, it is the Tall Ships Races. I first witnessed the ships in 2011 when Turku was the European Capital of Culture, but the actual event happened to return this year for Finland’s centennial celebrations. The Tall Ships Races is the biggest sailing event in Europe and features some of the most beautiful sailing ships you will ever see. Should Turku be hosting during your visit, make sure to allow time for the Parade of Sails, a truly spectacular event!
Other events you might enjoy
- Paavo Nurmi Games & Marathon (early June): The city exploring its athletic side.
- Kesiaikaisetmarkkinat (late June): Medieval Market with extensive programme on the Old Market Square and along the river.
- Ruisrock (early July): One of Finland’s biggest music festivals.
- Portsan Pihamarkkinat (mid-August): A large flea market in the neighbourhood of “Portsa” (Port Arthur) where locals sell their goods in their yards.
- Turku Day (third Sunday in September): A way for Turku natives to celebrate their city.
- Joulumarkkinat / Christmas Market (every advent weekend): Local vendors selling goods on the Old Market Square.
The City’s Oddities
Of course, the longer you live in a place, the more normal certain things seem which appeared strange in the beginning. But until today there are two things about this city which I personally find rather odd.
First, Turku’s very strange and very unofficial mascot – the pig duck. The statue known as Posankka was conceived by Alvar Gullichsen in 1999 and originally floated on the Aura river. It’s now found between the university grounds and Student Village. During vappu it receives a white hat and during Christmas time it is crowned with a Santa’s hat.
Turku <3 Hesburger
Another thing that stands out to me and which you might notice yourself: You can find outlets of the chain Hesburger on almost every street corner in the city. I mean, honestly. From my house to the market square I probably pass around 10 of them. At the same time there is only one McDonald’s and one Burger King. It probably has something to do with the fact that Hesburger was founded in Turku and the company’s headquarters remain here until today. Finns swear it’s the best fast food. Whether I agree or not is irrelevant, because you haven’t really been to Finland until you’ve tried it at least once!
Our Picks for Turku
During the years we have lived in this city we made it a point to explore as many different establishments as was humanly and financially possible. If we recommend any place, it is with full conviction. For your convenience we have tried to include a variety of places and different price ranges. We hope you will enjoy them as much as we have!
Ravintola Pinella: Upscale dining with a more affordable but equally delicious lunch menu. We celebrated our wedding here <3
Pub Niska: They serve a Finnish archipelago pizza, known as Plåtbröd. Prices are reasonable and views refreshing.
Yangtze Kiinalainen Ravintola: Best Chinese food in town with outstanding service! Always packed during lunch.
Gelateria Nuvole: Hands down the best ice cream in town. Period.
Cafe Eino: The only place to grab a bite and a good cup of coffee at 6am!
Cafe Fontana: A little expensive perhaps, but super comfy atmosphere in the city centre. Our go-to café.
Cafe Qwensel: Located in the pharmacy museum and a true piece of history.
Cafe Art: Cozy cafe on the river side, awarded with Barista of the Year several times over.
Best Bars & Pubs
Panimoravintola Koulu: Located in a converted school building oozing of charm and with a fantastic beer garden!
Uusi Apteekki: Pick your poison at this former pharmacy. Absolutely love this place.
The Cow: Very extensive selection of drinks and cocktails.
The Monkey: Smack in the city centre. Popular amongst students.
Forte: Just off the market square. For a slightly more mature crowd.
Skärgårdsbaren: Equally central as the others. A more relaxed atmosphere.
Practical Tips for Visiting Turku
Below find assorted practical tips to help you with the planning of your trip to Turku. If you need any help, don’t hesitate to drop us your questions below!
How to get to Turku
Reaching Turku is really relatively easy. Most likely you will come here from either Helsinki or Stockholm. Alternatively you can also fly into Turku Airport (served by Finnair, AirBaltic, SAS, WizzAir).
- By Ferry (Viking Line or Silja Line. Both run twice per day; approx. 10 hours)
- By Bus (Several long-distance buses, e.g. Onnibus. Dozens of departures per day; approx. 2 hours)
- By Car (Via road E18; approx. 2 hours)
- By train (VR, several departures per day; approx. approx. 2 hours)
How to Get around Turku
If you are only here to see the main sights, you may very well just walk. It’s a little further to the castle, but it can still be done quite easily. If you’re planning to go, for example, to Ruissalo or Naantali, you should consider taking the bus. A single ticket costs 3€ and is valid for 2 hours. Car rentals are available at the airport and the train station. Taxis start at 5.9€ (Night time & weekends: 9€) and each kilometer runs you at around 1,6€.
Don’t Forget to Pack
- jacket (any time of the year)
- sleeping mask (for short summer nights)
Where to Stay in Turku
There are a couple of hotels in town. If you want a spa access we would recommend the newly renovated Holiday Club Caribia. If you are insisting on staying very centrally, check out Centro Hotel. If you’re on a budget, consider Omena Hotel. And if you want to splurge a bit and be close to the sea, consider either Ruissalo Spa or Naantali Spa.
Shopping in Turku
There are a few small boutique shops around Turku. However, we have done most of such shopping in Helsinki. That’s why we will only point you to the main shopping outlets in the city.
- Kauppakortteli Hansa (in the city centre)
- Skanssi (take bus 9, 60, or 99)
- Mylly (technically in Raisio, take bus 220, 221, or 300)
Exploring beyond Turku
If you’re staying in town for a little while longer, why not consider a day trip beyond Turku city limits?
- Visit the colourful UNESCO World Heritage Site of Old Rauma. Read more here.
- Get in touch with nature at Kurjenrahka National Park. Read more here.
Now, what do you think? Have you been to Turku before or would you like to visit? Is there anything else you would recommend, anything that we have left out, or questions which remain unanswered? Share your thoughts and pictures with us in the comments below!