When you think of Finland, do you immediately either think of Helsinki or Finnish Lapland? Basically, you just don’t know what else the country has to offer?
Trust me, I’ve been there! Up until I first visited Finland as part of the Nordic Bloggers’ Experience last year, I had no clue what else is out there either. Turns out, though, Finland has loads of places that might surprise you. After having had a blast in the small town of Lahti, as well as Ruka-Kuusamo last year, I decided to head west this time around, to visit Turku - Finland’s oldest and third largest city!
Needless to say that Turku is one of those Finnish places that might totally surprise you. Read on to find out what there’s to do and see when you visit Turku.
*I was a guest of Visit Turku on this trip and this article contains affiliate links; however, all opinions are my own.
Turku can easily be reached by train or bus from Helsinki or by ferry from Stockholm, and, coming summer 2019, also by WizzAir from London Luton Airport.
All transport options are relatively cheap as Helsinki and Stockholm are both big enough airports to make it easy to find a good deal. Once landed, you can make use of Onnibus for the cheapest way of travelling to Turku from Helsinki, or you can check out Viking Line for affordable ferry tickets from Stockholm to Turku.
8 Reasons to Visit Turku
1. A glimpse into medieval Finland at Turku Castle and turku cathedral
As Finland’s oldest city, travelling back in time to see what medieval Finland was like, is a definite must when visiting Turku! I have to admit, I’m usually not the biggest fan of history but give me a castle and love story and I’m all in - lucky that Turku has to offer both!
Turku Castle is an absolute gem and visiting almost felt like diving into the Romeo and Juliet story - only that Romeo in this case was John (or Juhana as the Finns say) and Juliet was Catherine (or Katarzyna as she was actually called). You see, even though their marriage was an arranged one, the two deeply cared for each other.
Shortly after their wedding, the story goes, John was thrown into prison by his brother, and even though Catherine was given the choice to go home to her native Poland, she chose to accompany John in prison and even gave birth to their first child there. Legend has it, she had the Latin “nemo nisi mors” engraved on her wedding ring, translating to “nobody but death will part us” - a sentence that’s apparently still popular among many Turku brides today!
Apropos weddings, if you’re really interested in Finland’s history, you should also stop by Turku Cathedral. Here, Karin Månsdottir is buried - former Queen of Sweden and wife of John’s half-brother Eric, who was responsible for throwing Catherine and John in jail.
I know, I know - this all sounds like a telenovela but it’s actually true!
2. Taking in the views at Kurjenrahka National Park
There are 40 national parks in all of Finland, stretching over an area of almost 10.000 square kilometres, and Kurjenrahka, less than an hour’s drive (40 km) from Turku, is one of them.
In Finland, national parks aren’t just established to preserve the local nature and wildlife, but also for people to enjoy and make the most of the wilderness that surrounds them. Therefore, you can find plenty of hiking trails, as well as shelters and toilets in all national parks, so that anyone can visit for as long as they like.
I have to say I’m really glad to have visited Kurjenrahka in late March, as that meant that there was still snow around and the lake was still frozen - an absolutely stunning sight and one I’m craving every winter now that I live in Stavanger, Western Norway, where we rarely get any snow.
I was actually accompanied on the hike by the local guide Juhana who knew absolutely everything about the area - from the latest wolf sighting (!) to where to find the coziest lunch spot. Lunch, by the way, consists of a grilled pork sausage on the open fire in Finland. The Finns call it “makkara” and it seems like the mandatory choice of food whenever one’s out and about in the wild!
3. Indulging in Turku’s culinary treats
Speaking of food, the restaurant and cafe scene of Turku is booming at the moment - so much so, that the city often gets the nickname of “Finland’s foodie capital”. If you’d like to treat yourself on holiday and try all that Finnish cuisine has to offer, Turku really is the perfect place.
You can get the Food Walk Card at the local tourist information Visit Turku, which enables you to pick 5 restaurants from a list of 10 to eat one dish for free! All restaurants are located within walking distance from each other, so that you can get to know the city better while popping into one restaurant for dinner and another one for dessert.
Turku also has its own market hall where you get to pick between 25 different stalls, serving anything from traditional Finnish cuisine (such as rye bread, reindeer meat or local cheese) to Sushi and Vietnamese take-away. The market hall itself first opened in 1896 and still has much of its original charm!
As someone who can’t have gluten or dairy, I devoured the cupcakes of M Bakery who always offer plenty of vegan/gluten-free options and can be found not only in Turku’s market hall, but also at Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova (Turku’s history and modern art museum).
Another restaurant I absolutely enjoyed was Bassi - the city’s newest seafood restaurant, right by the river Aura. Their fish of the day is usually gluten and lactose free and they can also serve it as a dairy-free option on request. If you’re having lunch here, a starter of bread and salad from the buffet is included, as is coffee and tea.
4. Worth the climb up 1 of Turku’s 7 hills - Turku Art Museum
I personally absolutely love art museums and Turku Art Museum was no exception to this! Situated on a hilltop with a view of the city from above, you can enjoy a variety of different exhibitions there - from stunning paintings of Finnish nature (my personal favourite!) to temporary exhibitions of modern Finnish artists.
Make sure to check the program before your visit, to find out what’s on display exactly!
5. Not your usual history and Art Museum - Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova
When medieval building structures were discovered during the renovation of Rettig Palace in Turku, in order to establish a new modern art museum, plans changed and two museums were established in one. On the ground and lower floors of Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova, you can find Turku’s history museum Aboa Vetus where you can quite literally visit medieval Turku (or the remains of it) and learn more about life back in the day.
On the upper floor of the building, you’ll then find Ars Nova, the contemporary art museum with changing exhibitions. The entrance fee of 10€ gives you admission to the entire building and if you’re planning to visit more than just 1 or 2 museums in the city (which might be a good idea if the weather is really nasty during your stay), then you can also get the Museum Walk Card at Visit Turku, which grants you free admission to 12 museums (among others, Turku Castle, Turku Art Museum and, of course, Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova).
6. A glimpse into the archipelago - Forum Marinum
Another museum worth visiting, which also is part of the Museum Walk, is Forum Marinum - the maritime museum of Turku. Thanks to the city’s location right by the archipelago, Turku has a very rich maritime history and Forum Marinum will tell you all about it - from what it’s like to live in the archipelago when the tourists are gone for the winter and you get to hear nothing but silence, to how sailing vessels are being built, and what role the Finnish navy played during WWII.
The museum displays actual boats and ships in all kinds of sizes and can easily keep you busy for some 2-3 hours!
7. Strolling along the river Aura for the best photo spots in Turku
Anyone who’s ever visited Turku in the summer seems to remember river Aura most about their trip. Granted, sipping a glass of wine in the sunshine with a view of the river does sound absolutely lovely, but the Aura makes for a stunning stroll in winter as well.
Not only that, but it seems that Turku’s best photo spots (aka Turku’s most instagrammable places…) are located either right by the river or just a stone’s throw away from it. Like Luostarin Välikatu - Turku’s most picturesque alleyway that makes you feel like you were transported to Stockholm’s Old Town.
Or Katedralskolan i Åbo, the city’s Swedish-speaking high school that’s painted brightly orange - a colour that pops even better on a rainy or snowy winter day!
8. Shopping for local design and handicraft
Another alleyway that might totally surprise you, can be found right behind Visit Turku and the town hall of the city. Klo and Kui Design both sell Finnish design at its best, with designs that not only come from, but also reflect Turku in a very good way.
Klo Design is a family company with a focus on Finnish clothing and accessories that are made to last, while Kui Design features handmade and locally produced souvenirs. bags and decor. Whether you’re looking for a gift for someone back home or want to dress as colourfully as Finnish women tend to do, this little design cluster in the heart of the city is the place to be!
>> Not enough reasons to visit Turku? My blogger friend Silvia has even more!
Where to stay in Turku
I stayed at Radisson Blu Marina Palace right next to the river Aura, just a short walk from the city centre. Their rooms are super cosy and their in-house restaurant Grill it! Marina is even part of Turku Food Walk.
Celiac or travelling with food allergies/intolerances? No problem. The breakfast buffet at the Radisson Blu in Turku offers a special section with allergy-friendly food and has plenty of gluten and dairy free options available.
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