Turku: history and nature in Finland’s oldest city

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Turku may not be Finland’s largest city, but it is the oldest. Its history dates back to the 13th century. Visit the medieval city on the south-west coast and find yourself surrounded by tradition, modern culture and impressive nature.

City in Finland

The city of Turku is located on the southwest coast of Finland at the mouth of the river Aurajoki. Today’s urban area was already settled in the Stone Age, but Turku was officially founded in 1229. This makes Turku the oldest city in Finland.

Area306,4 km²
LanguagesFinnish and Swedish

What makes Turku special?

With a population of 194,390, Turku is the sixth largest city in Finland, but was its most important for a long time: Turku was the political centre of the country during the period of Swedish rule over Finland. In the Middle Ages, it was also in active trade with the Hanseatic League, making it the largest trading centre in Finland. Some of these historical traces can still be recognised today. Among other things, Turku is officially bilingual, meaning that Finnish and Swedish are the official languages.

Turku harbour
Sailing ships in Turku harbour on the Aurajoki

With its location at the mouth of the Aurajoki River in the Baltic Sea, Turku also offers a unique natural landscape: the archipelago comprises over 20 thousand archipelago islands.

finland’s first university was founded in Turku in 1640 – the Turku Academy, which was later moved to Helsinki. But even today it is once again considered a student city: the University of Turku (Finnish: Turun yliopisto) is the second largest university in Finland after the University of Helsinki.

Sport is also very important in Turku and well-known clubs are based here. These include TPS, which plays in the top leagues of ice hockey and football. FC Inter Turku is another first division football club.

Places of interest in Turku

Of course, there is also plenty to see in the medieval city by the river – both for culture vultures and nature lovers. As a student city, Turku offers many cafés, restaurants and pubs. And festivals and concerts are organised in the summer. You can find the most important sights for each season here:

Turku Cathedral

Turku Cathedral
The entrance of the cathedral

The imposing cathedral in the centre is the city’s landmark and was consecrated in 1300. However, its current form has only existed since the 16th century. It is the only medieval cathedral in Finland. It is the main church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.

Of course, you can also visit the cathedral. If you want to find out more about its history, visit the museum afterwards.

Turku Castle

Turku Castle
The inner courtyard of the castle

Further historical traces can be found at Turku Castle. It was probably built around 1280 and is now the largest surviving medieval building in Finland.

It stands on an island on the west bank of the Aurajoki River, which is best reached from the other side of the river via a bridge or one of the free ferries. The castle is surrounded by Turku’s harbour area. Its interior and the associated museum can be visited. There are also various other museums in the surrounding area.

Turku Archipelago

Turku's archipelago
On the road in Turku’s archipelago

If you want to experience nature, you should definitely not miss Turku’s archipelago. The Turku archipelago was formed during the ice age. With around 20 thousand small islands, the archipelago is one of the largest in the world. Eight ferries and numerous bridges connect the larger islands. The closer they are to the mainland, the greener they are.

While most of the islands are completely uninhabited, there are cosy little red summer houses on some of them. Some of these can even be booked for overnight stays. If you are looking for peace and tranquillity, this is the place for you. A circular tour of the archipelago and islands, known as the Archipelago Trail, is also possible by bike or car.

From the island tour, you can also take the ferry to the nearby town of Naantali. Here you can discover the Moominworld, which is dedicated to the iconic Finnish creatures – a particularly suitable excursion destination for families.

Other places of interest

Not far from the castle is the maritime museum “Forum Marinum” with various museum ships and exhibitions. It is divided into the Nautical Museum and the Navy Museum. While the ships outside can only be visited in summer, the museum exhibition is open all year round. Smaller ships can be viewed indoors in the boathouse.

If you are particularly interested in art and literature, you should also visit the Turku Art Museum and the City Library. The latter is designed as a large living room for all visitors and invites you to linger. The art museum combines modern art and impressive architecture.

Journey to Turku

Flights to Turku

Turku has its own airport. However, direct flights from the UK to Turku are very rare. From British airports, you usually have to plan at least one stopover in Riga, Gdansk or Stockholm, among others. Which route is the best depends on your individual departure point and travel plan.

Alternatively, you can take a direct flight to Helsinki. It is then around 2 hours by car to Turku.

Ferry to Turku

Travelling by ferry through the archipelago is particularly recommended, as you have a great view of the islands as soon as you arrive (especially at sunrise!). However, this is only a good option if you are planning a longer round trip.

There are various options here: By car, you can either take the Finnlines ferry from Kappelskär (near Stockholm) in Sweden to Naantali in Finland. The stopover is in Långnäs on the Åland Islands. Silja Line and Viking Line operate direct services from Stockholm to Turku via Långnas or Marienhamn.

A cruise with a stopover in Turku is of course also a good option if you are planning a round trip.

Turku: hotels

Turku offers a selection of different hotels and accommodation. If you are only staying for a few nights, a hotel in a central city centre location is a good choice (e.g. the modern Scandic Julia). You can also find hostels and B&Bs for smaller budgets.

Weather in Turku

Turku in winter
It can be icy in Turku in winter.

Are you planning a trip to Turku in Finland and looking for the right time to visit? The weather naturally plays an important role here. Turku offers special highlights in both winter and summer. Would you like to experience a real Finnish winter with snow and ice on the water and an early sunset? And warm up in the Finnish sauna? Or do you want to enjoy the Finnish nature of summer with green islands and do as much as possible in the fresh air?

Even the summer temperatures in Turku are quite moderate, which makes it all the more pleasant to explore the city and the surrounding areas. In winter, you can expect slightly sub-zero temperatures.

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