Though it’s the oldest city in Finland, there’s nothing outdated about the quaint city of Turku, two hours from Helsinki. Mostly destroyed by the Great Fire of 1827, it was rebuilt a few years later, introducing much of the charming architecture that makes it a must-visit destination today. It’s no longer the country’s largest city, but there are still plenty of diverting sights, great food and opportunities to shop. Here are the top seven reasons to visit Turku.
Island hopping on the Turku Archipelago
Around 20,000 islands and skerries make up the Turku Archipelago and in the warmer months it’s the perfect place to go island hopping by ferry. There’s no shortage of activities in the archipelago: choose from biking, hiking, kayaking or fishing. Ruissalo is a popular island for biking and picnicking, and it's easily explored on foot too. For a more romantic excursion, take a pleasure cruise on the Ukkopekka steamship and enjoy hors d’oeuvres and smoked fish as it sails from the Aura River to Loistokari Island.
With 12 bridges and nine ferries, the 250km-long Archipelago Trail is a nature lover’s dream. You could complete it by car in a day, but it's also a great route to travel by bike, with no shortage of dining and lodging options available in the small villages along the trail.
Feasting on Kakolanmäki Hill
Go for the view, but stay for the food. Or the other way around. For more than 100 years, Kakola prison on Kakolanmäki Hill housed criminals, but now it’s a popular neighbourhood and the site of several eateries. Take a short ride up the funicular, which opened in May 2019, for access to the restaurants and cafes and a view from the second-highest hill in Turku. Kakolanruusu is a standout option, where meals are prepared over an open fire. Dishes are shared family style and, if you have the time, opt for the 'Feast' where chef’s-choice small plates are served one after another. Depending on the time of day, wash your meal down with a cold beer from Kakola Brewing or a warm beverage from Bageri Å, a bakery and cafe.
Uncovering stories of the past
As the country’s oldest city, there’s history everywhere you step, and the granite walls of Turku Castle give visitors a peek at what Nordic life used to be like. Currently a museum offering guided tours, the space has previously served as a court and prison. Meanwhile, Turku Cathedral, consecrated in 1300, isn’t just a treasure for Turku, but all of Finland. Refurbished after the Great Fire, the catherdral's sacred walls are painted with frescoes and it has a spire measuring just over 100m.
Taste testing at Turku Market Hall
The only problem with visiting Turku Market Hall is that you'll have to decide what you want to eat. The dine-in or takeaway options range from kebabs to sushi from Kado and chocolate treats from MBakery’s Piece of Cake, once voted Finland’s best bakery. The market spans an entire block, so come with time to spare and an empty stomach. Even if you can’t sit down to enjoy a meal, there are lots of breads and cheeses to sample and plenty of stalls selling spices and teas you can take home. Opened in 1896 and designed by Finnish architect Gustaf Nystrom, it’s the second-oldest market in Finland.
Drinking in the coffee culture
Did you really go to Finland if you didn’t drink the coffee? While you don’t have to consume as many cups as the locals (Finns drink more coffee per capita than anyone else in the world), you’d be remiss not to at least try some. Enjoy a cup at one of the city's many cafes, or visit local roastery Frukt Coffee Roasters in Kakola (open by appointment only). You can check out the space and take home a few bags of coffee from Ethiopia, Colombia or Guatemala. You can also grab a cup of their coffee from Bageri Å.
Festivals of all flavours
While Turku isn’t exactly a party capital, there’s no shortage of festivals to suit a variety of tastes. Ruisrock, on the island of Ruissalo, started in 1970 and is one of the oldest festivals in Finland. The three-day event attracts over 100,000 revellers to see a lineup of international artists. At the other end of the spectrum, in June the city welcomes the New Potato Festival, which celebrates the key ingredient of many Finnish dishes, plus the Medieval Market, a four-day historically-themed festival complete with vendors, reenactments and activities for children.
Shopping for secondhand steals
Maybe it’s the city's large population of university students or perhaps it's the Finnish appreciation for sustainability, but Turku has no shortage of secondhand shops. Try Ecolocal Market or Second Hand Ilona, which also includes a cafe. Or head to popular spot Maanantaimarket for two floors of clothes and accessories. Rummage for scarves or brooches or check the racks for some contemporary or vintage pieces in the airy premises. Look hard enough and you might even find a few items by acclaimed Finnish design house Marimekko.
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