Finland’s oldest city, Turku combines a deep-rooted cultural heritage with all of the buzz and bonhomie of a truly modern metropolis.
The former Finnish capital is often referred to as a gateway to the west thanks to the city’s strategic geographical setting. But far more than a mere jumping-off point, Turku is a captivating destination in its own right, boasting top-class museums, a rich culinary scene, buzzing nightlife, a vibrant harbour, and all the other trappings you’d expect of a contemporary urban centre. Here are 12 of the most unique things to see and do in Turku.
Explore an ancient castle
Dating back over 700 years, Turku Castle is one of Finland’s most important historic landmarks. From its position overlooking the river Aura, the ancient fortress and its granite stone walls played a key role in defending the motherland down the ages, before later going on to serve as a prison, a storehouse and as barracks. Today the castle attracts regular visitors who come to explore its well-preserved labyrinthine passages, walled-up doors and windows, and mysterious staircases, all of which are open to the public most days.
Linnankatu 80 / Tues-Sun 10am-6pm
Visit a historic cathedral
Considered the most important religious building in Finland, Turku Cathedral is the mother church of the Lutheran Church of Finland and the country’s officially designated national shrine. Originally built out of wood in the late 13th century, it was significantly expanded in the 14th and 15th centuries, mainly through the use of stone, and continues to serve as a place of worship today, as well as hosting regular musical events. Though many of the cathedral’s artefacts and treasures have over the centuries been plundered or destroyed by fire, some of the surviving items remain on display in an on-site museum located on the southern lectern of its second floor.
Tuomiokirkonkatu 1 / Mon-Sun 9am-6pm
Take in the atmosphere of a bustling public square
At the heart of Turku’s historic centre is the Old Great Square, a medieval market square that has been pivotal to the city’s commercial and administrative activity down the centuries. Surrounded by several historic buildings in the Neoclassic architectural style that has been lovingly preserved by the city, the square is used frequently for cultural events including food fairs and a microbrewery festival. But perhaps the most atmospheric time to visit is during the festive period when the square is taken over by Christmas-themed stalls as well as the hosting of the traditional Declaration of Christmas Peace.
Immerse yourself in Finland’s maritime history
Celebrating Finland’s rich maritime heritage, the Forum Marinum Maritime Centre is home to a vast collection of historic vessels that are on display for visitors. Among them are two tall sail ships, four naval ships, a steam harbour tugboat and a police boat, all of which are augmented by a busy programme of temporary exhibitions that take place at the centre throughout the year. There’s also an on-site restaurant and a museum shop selling maritime-themed gifts, books, and more.
Linnankatu 72 / Tues-Sun 10am-6pm Closed Mon
Let your hair down at a music festival
For over six decades, the Turku Music Festival has been one of the most eagerly awaited events on Finland’s cultural calendar, drawing music lovers who flock to venues across Turku to watch orchestral concerts, chamber music concerts, recitals, jazz, world music, outdoor events, and more. Performers each year include leading names from both the Finnish and international classical music scenes. There are also plenty of family-friendly events and activities including concerts specifically curated for children.
Venues across Turku / August each year
Discover Turku’s rich market traditions
There are few better ways to get to know a city than by taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a local market. First opened in 1896, Turku Market Hall is Finland’s second-oldest market hall and continues to be a focal point of the community. Spanning an entire block of the city centre, the brick-built hall is packed to the brim with food vendors each day (apart from Sundays when it’s closed) including fishmongers, butchers, cheese stalls and delicatessens, while patrons pack out cafes serving traditional lunches to add to the atmosphere.
Eerikinkatu 16 / Mon-Fri 8am-6pm Sat 8am-4pm
Take in some top-class art
Nowhere is Finland’s distinguished arts heritage better showcased than at the internationally-acclaimed Turku Art Museum. Housed in a striking granite-stone castle atop Puolalanmäki hill that’s almost an attraction in its own right, the museum plays host to a hugely diverse assortment of rotating exhibitions that span everything from classic works to the very latest in contemporary art. Highlights include examples of Finnish surrealism, pop art, and self-portraits. An on-site café provides refreshments and there’s also a well-stocked museum shop.
Aurakatu 26 / Tues-Fri 11am-7pm Sat-Sun 11am-5pm Closed Mon
History, archaeology and art come together at Aboa Vetus Ars Nova, a renowned city centre museum. Visitors keen to learn more about Turku’s origins will delight in the chance to be transported back in time and see what life was like here many centuries ago. A veritable living museum, its focal point is the town quarter that was discovered underground and around which the various exhibition rooms have been created, featuring artwork, archaeological artefacts and historical documents. Be sure to visit the venue’s restaurant garden, too, where you’ll find ruins of medieval stone-built houses.
Itäinen Rantakatu 4-6 / Tues-Sun 11am-6pm Closed Mon
Get cosy on a romantic guided tour
Turku isn’t merely a place of historic interest but also somewhere that exudes mystery and romance. This two-hour guided walking tour invites you and your loved one to fall even more head over heels with the city – and perhaps each other – than you would be exploring it independently. During the tour, your expert guide will take you to Turku’s most romantic spots and tug at your heart strings with tales about the hidden love stories that have taken place here throughout the centuries. There’ll also be plenty of opportunities to stop for photos and your guide will send you away with tips on the most intimate places to spend an evening in the city.
Soak up the tranquil environs of a botanic garden
The ideal antidote to the bustle of the city centre, the Botanic Garden of University of Turku houses more than 5,000 plant species spread across six greenhouses and a pristinely maintained outdoor garden. In the greenhouses, visitors can experience the heat and scents of the tropics and marvel at species ranging from tiny groundcover plants to the highest trees to be found in Finnish rainforests. Outside in the gardens, the landscapes change with the seasons, reflecting nature in flux.
Ruissalon puistotie 215 / Thurs-Tues 11am-5pm Weds 11am-8pm
Take a scenic river boat ride
Running through Turku’s historic quarter, winding its way from Turku Castle, past cafes and restaurants that line the riverbank, and all the way to the cathedral, is the River Aura. One of the city’s most scenic spots, there are regular ferry rides that transport you along the river, or you can even hire your own electric boat that accommodates up to 8 guests, with no experience or license required. Boats can be rented for up to three hours.
Head to the beach
Turku can get stiflingly hot – particularly during the summer months – but gratefully for locals and visitors alike, within each reach of the city centre is an enticing beach. A short bus ride from the centre, Ispoinen Beach caters well for sun-seekers with various activities regularly taking place on its golden sands including beach volleyball. Meanwhile, the relatively calm waters make for ideal swimming conditions and the surrounding area, teeming with trees and plants, provides both stunning scenery and shade.