Founded in the 13th century, Turku is the oldest city in Finland and in 1640 was home to Finland’s first university, The Royal Academy of Turku (now the University of Helsinki). While the large student population lends a youthful vibe to the city, most students are on summer holidays in the warmer months when the city really comes alive. The best place to take in Turku’s relaxed atmosphere is along the banks of the Aura river, where trendy cafes and restaurants abound. If you do happen to get to Turku, here are some things I’d recommend doing over a weekend.
Friday Night: Dinner by the Aura river
With the Turku Cathedral in the background and a refreshing evening breeze, dinner by the Aura river is the perfect way to spend your first night in Turku. Some popular options include Pinella– the oldest restaurant in Turku, Smor, and the extremely popular Kaskis (be sure to book a table). For more of a budget dinner, there are market stalls all along the main river area during summer weekends with a range of savoury and sweet options.
Saturday: explore the old buildings of Turku
Spend the morning wandering the streets of the old town and river area. Highlights include the central market with local produce and flowers, the temporary weekend food and handicraft market along the river and classy shops and outdoor clothes market in the Old Great Square. During the last weekend of June there is also a traditional medieval market in the Great Square.
Some of the more beautiful old buildings to explore include the Turku City Library by the river, the Turku Art Museum perched on a hill overlooking the city and of course the 700 year old Turku Cathedral, Turun Tuomiokirkko.
From the Cathedral it’s a 10 minute stroll to the 200 year old handicraft cottage museum of Luostarinmaki, which miraculously escaped the fire of 1827 that ravaged Turku. Here you can explore a collection of old small wooden houses, including 30 artisans workshops, such as a silversmith, painting and weaving studio, a printing press and post office. The houses are set amidst tiny lanes and grassy courtyards, full of flowers and garden beds. Entrance is €7 for adults and the museum is open daily from 10am to 6pm.
Sunday: wander along the Aura & visit Turku’s castle
Turku’s most famous attraction is the castle, Turun Linna, which was founded in 1280 at the mouth of the Aura river. It’s a 45min walk each direction along the river from the Turku Cathedral, so if this is a little much in the summer sun, there are public bikes for rent for €5/day that make for a much faster trip. The fee is paid by credit card directly on the bike and there are numerous spots to pick up and drop off the bikes.
Entrance to the castle is €10 for adults, €5 for kids and is well worth the fee, as you are able to explore much of the castle and learn fascinating details of the history of the building and surrounding area from the museum and displays. The castle is open 10am- 6pm daily through the summer months of July and August and everyday excluding Monday from September to May.
After working up an appetite exploring the castle, it’s the perfect time to indulge in the Finnish weekend tradition of brunssi– brunch! We loved Tiirikkala, a contemporary Nordic-style cafe, located on the river bank near the library. There’s plenty of outdoor seating at the front of the cafe, beautiful decor inside and a wonderful rooftop-terrace. The cafe has various meat, fish and vegetarian brunch menus, all including tea/coffee and desert for €19 pp.
If you still have energy in the afternoon then wander along the river in the opposite direction of the castle to Padolla– a perfectly picturesque cafe with hammocks, chair swings and stand up paddle boards for hire. The cafe is 3km from the Cathedral and along the way you’ll pass the ruins of the bishop’s palace and Koroinen Cross which marks the site where the pope decreed the bishopric of Finland should move to in 1229.
Getting There: Turku is easily accessible by bus or train from Helsinki. The journey takes around 2 hours and will cost roughly €10 for a bus ticket with Onni Bus. The bus station in Turku is a 15 minute walk from the main tourist area by the river.
Getting Around: Once you arrive in Turku it’s easy to get around by walking or renting one of the public bikes, which cost €5 a day (discounted for longer stays).
Cost: Our AirBnB was located near the bus station and a 25min walk from the river. At €130 for 3 nights, the place was cosy and clean. Food and drink is expensive in Finland but there are many cheaper options like the river’side markets.
Best time to go: Summer!
Length of stay: There’s plenty to keep you busy over a weekend and many sites further afield if you have more time to spend around the greater area.
I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about Finland’s oldest city, I’d love to hear about your experiences traveling in Finland.