The historic castle and cathedral point to the city’s rich cultural history when it was capital, and contemporary Turku is a hotbed of experimental art and vibrant festivals, thanks in part to its spirited population from its university (the country's second largest), who make Turku’s nightlife young and fun.
On a long sandy peninsula, Hanko (Swedish: Hangö) recalls the past grandeur of its heyday as a well-to-do Russian spa town in the late 19th century, and its opulent seaside villas from the era remain a star attraction. Visitors still flock here for the sun, sand and party atmosphere of the huge Hanko Regatta.
Just 40km from the Russian border, Hamina (Swedish: Fredrikshamn) has long been a military town. Founded in 1653 as a Swedish outpost, its fortifications were begun in 1722 after Vyborg fell to Russia but they were unable to prevent Hamina's capture in 1743 and were never completed.
Twenty-thousand islands and skerries make up the Turku archipelago. The five largest inhabited islands – from east to west, Pargas, Nagu, Korpo, Houtskär and Iniö – are clustered in a tight crescent, and are known collectively as Väståboland (Länsi-Turunmaan). There are no big-ticket sights, just quiet settlements, abundant birdlife, and ever-changing views of sea and land.
Kotka is Finland's only city set on an island and its fortunes have long been tied to the sea. The Vikings used the archipelago to launch themselves eastward into Russia, and the Kymijoki was once an important transport route for logging. Today it's a major industrial port, with some superb sea-focused attractions.
Midway between Turku and Helsinki, the seaside resort of Ekenäs (Finnish: Tammisaari) is a magnet for summer holidaymakers. Ekenäs is one of Finland’s oldest towns – in 1546 King Gustav Vasa envisioned it as a trading port to rival Tallinn in Estonia. Its fortunes failed and many of its artisans were moved to Helsinki.
Named for Swedish Queen Lovisa Ulrika in 1752, Loviisa (Swedish: Lovisa) had its glory days as a Russian spa town in the 19th century. Like many of the coastal towns, it was a pawn in Russo-Swede conflicts, most devastatingly in 1855 when much of it burnt down – only a small vestige of the Old Town survives.
Kimito Island & Archipelago National Park
Kimito is the jumping-off point for the Archipelago National Park, a scattering of islands that stretches south of Korpo. Kasnäs, the harbour on the southern extreme of Kimito island, is the best place from which to explore the park. It’s worth breaking your journey at central Kimito village and Dragsfjärd, a quiet, rural settlement in the island's southwest.
Once a Hansa League port, Pargas (Finnish: Parainen) is the de facto ‘capital’ of the archipelago. It still has a substantial port and its limestone quarry – Finland’s largest – is a major employer. There's a lack of good sleeping or eating options but a handful of interesting sights make it worth a quick stop before heading further into the archipelago.
The archipelago scenery really picks up once you reach Nagu (Finnish: Nauvo) – an idyllic island nestled between Pargas and Korpo. Its lively Swedish-style guest harbour has a string of shoreside huts selling souvenirs and designer sailor-wear, and attracts yachties and cruise ships. Pleasant little walking trails fan out around the harbour.