The Best Things to Do in Turku, Finland

The Turku archipelago is full of quintessential Finnish landscapes
The Turku archipelago is full of quintessential Finnish landscapes | © Sergi Reboredo / Alamy Stock Photo
Paula Hotti

Shaped by the Ice Age, the archipelago of Turku is formed of over 20,000 islands and islets. A flat landscape and plentiful ferries make it an excellent cycling route for an adventurous holiday. But there’s also plenty to keep you busy in Turku city – the oldest city in Finland – with its medieval castle, food market and restaurant-lined River Aura.

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Explore the city by bicycle

Turku is a perfect place for pedalling. Rent a bike – and a helmet – from Turku’s Tourist Office and pick up a free pyörätiekartta (bike-route map) to explore the flat and cycle-friendly city. You can’t go wrong on the scenic cycling path that traces the Aura River – it runs through the historic part of Turku, past cafes, restaurants and museums, as well as Turku’s main cathedral and medieval castle.

Have lunch at Turku Market Hall

Turku Market Hall, the second-oldest market hall in Finland, has been trading here since 1896. The brick-built hall extends the length of an entire block and remains a hub of the community. It’s a great introduction to Scandi cuisine, with fishmongers, butchers, cheese stalls and delicatessens among cafes serving traditional lunches, such as salmon soup with homemade rye bread – plus international food, like ramen and sushi.

Visit the Aboa Vetus Ars Nova Museum

Get your fill of modern art and ancient archaeology at one attraction – Aboa Vetus Ars Nova Museum. Divided into two distinct sections, Aboa Vetus (Old Turku) exhibits include authentic ruins, and one of medieval Turku’s main streets still runs through the museum. The Ars Nova display features an ever-rotating selection of contemporary art from the a permanent 650-piece collection, so you’ll never see the same combination of artwork twice.

Go back in time at the Luostarinmäki Handicrafts Museum

Turku was Finland’s biggest city when the Great Fire of Turku caused massive destruction in 1827. Luostarinmäki (Cloister Hill) was the only wooden-built district to be spared from the flames. Today, it’s an intriguing open-air museum, with old-fashioned workshops and examples of workers’ homes spread over 18 blocks of original wooden 18th- and 19th-century buildings. The museum shop sells craftwork and sweets, and Café Kisälli offers a traditional Finnish delicatessen.

Board the Steamship Ukkopekka

Western Finland is renowned for its coastal beauty, so what better way to experience it than to jump on board a steamship? Ukkopekka was built in 1938 and is the oldest steamship in Finland still in commercial use, having survived the seas throughout World War II. Its interior has been renovated, and now passengers can enjoy meals and refreshments on board. The ship sails from Turku to the nearby harbour town of Naantali.

Get a Turku Food Walk card

Eat your way around the city on Turku Food Walk – a gourmet card that allows you to eat in five different restaurants in any order. 10 different Turku restaurants participate in the Food Walk, and it’s valid for three days after purchase. They can be bought from Turku Tourist Office, or ordered online before your trip. The dishes included in the Food Walk vary from pintxos to burgers, with venues ranging from traditional Finnish restaurants to hipster cafés.

Walk around Turku Castle

Standing guard at the mouth of the River Aura since the 1280s, Turku Castle started out as a defence bastion for Swedish rulers. A fire in 1614 destroyed most of the castle, and it was damaged again during World War II. However, years of restoration have revived the castle to its former glory – walk among the whitewashed vaulted rooms, discover great halls and see exhibitions on the history of Turku. There’s a great cafe in the courtyard, too.

Hire a boat on the River Aura

The River Aura runs through the historic part of Turku, winding its way from the medieval Turku Castle, past cafes and restaurants – which spread their seating along the riverbank during the summer – to the cathedral. There is a little ferry, called Föri, which crosses the river regularly. Or you can hire an electric Låna Boat (for up to eight people) for between one and three hours – you don’t need any experience to operate them, and each has its own Bluetooth sound system.

Cycle the Archipelago Trail

Food Walk in Turku includes a roastery and coffee shop Café Art by River Aura.

Cycle across all the main islands of the Turku on a network of roads that are linked up by ferries. Known as the Archipelago Trail, the 200km (124mi) route can be done by car or bicycle, with a wide choice of guesthouses to stop at along the way – and options to shorten the route. A popular rental shop is Bike Rental by Carfield, which has 20 collection and drop-off points around the archipelago, so you can start and end your trip at different spots.

Shop at PUF Design Market

Sustainable fashion is big news in Finland – an ethos encapsulated by PUF Design Market. From its beginnings as a small pop-up shop, 200 Finnish brands now sell their sartorial wares in a two-storey concept shop, near the river on Linnankatu Street. The clothes are exactly what you’d expect from cool Finnish fashion – clean lines, earthy tones and all-round effortless-chic. PUF also organises fashions shows and concerts in its space.

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