On a long, sandy peninsula, Hanko (Swedish: Hangö) grew up as a well-to-do Russian spa town in the late 19th century. During this period entrepreneurs and industrialists built opulent seaside villas, with fabulous Victorian and art-nouveau architectural detailing. These beauties are still a star attraction here, especially as many of them now house guesthouses and restaurants.
About 130km east of Helsinki, Kotka is Finland's only city set on an island. In Kotka's early days, the Kymijoki provided a critical transport route for logging and rich waters for fishing, so the city developed as a port – vital for shipping out those valuable exports. Nowadays it's one of Finland's most important industrial ports.
An awesome 20,000 islands and skerries (rocky islets) make up the Turku Archipelago, one of Finland's most spectacular natural attractions. This is a majestic summertime playground – just a hop, a skip and a few ferry rides away from Turku. There are no big-ticket sights, just quiet settlements, abundant bird life and ever-changing views of sea and land.
Located just 40km from the Russian border, Hamina has long been a military town. The town was founded in 1653 as a Swedish outpost, but it was largely destroyed during the Great Northern War. After Vyborg fell to Russia, Swedish king Frederick I began to rebuild the town in 1722, renaming it Fredrikshamn (as it's still known in Swedish today).
Midway between Turku and Helsinki, the seaside resort of Ekenäs (Finnish: Tammisaari) is one of Finland’s oldest towns. In 1546 King Gustav Vasa founded it as a trading port to rival Tallinn in Estonia, and the names of the streets in the Gamla Stan (Old Town) still reflect the crafts that were practised there.
Most visitors to charming Naantali (Swedish: Nådendal) are summer day-trippers from Turku, 18km east. They come to meet their friends at Muumimaailma (Moominworld) or to browse the shops and galleries in the quaint Old Town. Even the Finnish president spends his summer holidays here – at the stately mansion overlooking the harbour at Kulturanta.
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 towns along this stretch of coast, it was a pawn in Russo-Swedish conflicts, most devastatingly in 1855, when much of it burnt down. Only a vestige of the Old Town survives.
In 1743, according to the Treaty of Åbo, the Sweden–Russia border was redrawn (again), splitting the town of Pyhtää in two. West of the Ahvenkoski rapid, the town was renamed Ruotsinpyhtää (Swedish: Pyhtää). The following year, Anders Nohrström and Jakob Forsell bought the local ironworks, renaming it Strömfors after their last names.
Once a Hanseatic 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. Its quaint town centre and handful of interesting sights make it worth a quick stop before heading further into the archipelago.
The attractive town of Lohja (Swedish: Lojo) isn't on the sea coast, but it is on the coast of Lohjanjärvi – the biggest lake in these parts. The plethora of inlets and islets, and the easy access from the capital, mean that most Helsinki residents seem to have a cottage here. The limestone-rich soil around the lake is ideal for growing apples, and orchards grace the shores.