A guide to visiting Turku, Finland's old capital
August 13, 2019
by Kirsi Nykänen
For anybody visiting Finland or Scandinavia Turku is an obvious choice. This beautiful city used to be Finland’s capital before Helsinki and between all the busy cities of Scandinavia, it’s a small haven that has it all: history, nature and culture. It’s easy to reach and easy to get around and even though more and more tourists are finding this small get-away, it’s still an ideal choice for those who want to avoid the crowds.
What to see in Turku?
Turku Cathedral and Turku Castle
Most people who come to Turku know about the Turku Cathedral and Turku Castle and those are, undeniably, the biggest attractions. The Turku Cathedral is right in the city center by the Aura river that flows through the city. It is a 700-hundred year old church, which along many other landmarks, was destroyed in the great fire of Turku in 1827 but has since been restored. It serves as a museum and an active church and is a home to gorgeous frescoes and a royal tomb. The Turku castle, a 13th century castle, stands right by the port. It serves as a museum and research center. Visitors can join a guided tour or just wander by themselves. Sometimes, especially during summer, it hosts events such as concerts or cultural events.
Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova and Luostarinmäki
Among the various museums of Turku there are a few must-sees. Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova is a combination of history and modern art. The museum is a former palace with an underground archaeological ruins that have been preserved for visitors to see. there are also guides and information about how life used to be in Turku. Ars Nova serves as a modern art museum with varying exhibitions. In addition to Aboa vetus & Ars Nova the place to go to is Luostarinmäki handicrafts museum. This open air museum also gives visitors a peek of old life style in Turku and the visitors can walk among the wooden craftsmen’s dwellings that, unlike many other buildings, were not destroyed in the great fire. Other museums worth checking out are Turku art museum, Pharmacy museum, maritime and naval museum Forum Marinum and Kylämäki village of living history where they still house animals like sheep and arrange special events during holidays, like egg painting in Easter.
Moomin World and Ruissalo
For some people the absolute must-see is the Moomin world in Naantali, a short bus trip from Turku. This theme park that brings to life Tove Janson’s beloved cartoon characters is fun for children and adults both. The visitors can walk in the Moomin house, meet the characters and watch a theater piece. The park is open only in summer and usually a short time in February. Visitors can easily spend a day visiting Moomin World and then walking around the beautiful city of Naantali, where it’s also possible to visit the presidential summer residence Kultaranta. Another great outdoor destination is Ruissalo, an island with a beach and hiking trails. It’s a place to go for nature lovers and it’s also home for the famous Ruisrock music festival that takes place there every summer. Those who like outdoors can also take a walk along Aura River or climb to the Turku observatory hill where you get a beautiful view of the city.
The view from observatory Hill
How to get in, out and around Turku?
Despite it’s location on the coast Turku is easy to reach. Visitors can take a bus or a train from other major cities like Helsinki and Tampere. The trip takes between 2 and 3 hours depending on time of day and the means of transportation. Turku also has an airport so it’s possible to fly in from other cities. There are not many international flights from Turku airport but you can reach at least Stockholm, Gdank, Riga, Kaunas and Budapest. This summer Wizzair started operating flights between Turku and Krakow and Turku and Skopje, too. A fun way to reach Turku is to take a ferry from Stockholm. The ferries are operated by Silja Line and Viking Line and with both lines visitors can even sail straight to their destination or have a stop-over in Mariehamn, Åland islands. It’s a popular means of transportation with tourists because it’s an easy way to connect two Scandinavian countries without all the fuss of flying and it’s possible to see Finnish archipelago along the way.
Getting around Turku is relatively easy considering the city’s small size. Most sights are located right in the city center or within walking distance. If visitors need to go farther away they can use city bikes or electric scooters during summer months. There are also plenty of local buses that cover Turku and greater Turku area. The ticket costs 3 euros if travelling inside the Föli (the local bus) zone and is valid for two hours. Visitors can purchase mobile tickets or pay as they enter the bus.
Where to stay?
Turku has several hotels to choose from. Most are located in the city center or close to it. Some hotels like Holiday Club Caribia also have a spa and other entertainment. Hostels are not so common in Turku but a few can be found. Also Turku has a wide net of AirB&B hosts and couchsurfers so if visitors are up for it they can try to find a local host.
Where to eat and drink?
Turku has plenty of restaurants to choose from. In the city center visitors can find both international chains like Burger King, ethnic restaurants and local cuisine. By walking around the city center it’s easy to spot different restaurants and pubs. Many restaurants are located along the river and shopping center Hansa has a small food court for those who get hungry while shopping. One place to go to is the market hall that was built in 1869 and houses shops, cafes and restaurants. There visitors can buy ethnic food or local treats. It’s also a place to go for souvenirs. To mention one of the more interesting local places, Kakolanruusu might be the place. It’s located inside Kakola, an old prison that’s now a home for shops, apartments and a brewery. You can also take a ride in Kakola Hill funicular just for the fun of it. For Vegetarians Kuori Food and Wine is a great place for lunch or dinner. For those who are interested in local food scene it’s also to possible to purchase Turku Food Walk card.