Turku, Finland, lies on the southwest coast of the country and is Finland’s oldest city, dating back to the 13th century. Turku was at one point, the capital of Finland until Helsinki took the reins later on.
Turku lies along at the estuary of the beautiful Aura River in amongst beautiful islands of the Turku Archipelago and fjord-land. The city is full of Finland’s history and is there are so many great things to do in Turku it’s hard to know where to start. Everything from medieval castles to art and history museums, a beautiful old town with cobbled streets that follow the River Aura, great restaurants, and a lot more. So where do you even start?
Join me as we take a dive into Turku, Finland, and all the best things to do in the wonderful Finish city.
The River Aura runs through the historical part of Turku and while you’re exploring sites like the castle and cathedral, you’re likely to wander past it quite a few times. But, hanging out on the banks of the river Aura is a must if you’re visiting during summertime.
The banks of the Aura River are lined with cafes and restaurants that all offer delicious food in a stunning setting. You’ll find boats moored up that turn into open-air restaurants in the summer, the are some fun bars to hang out in, and it’s one of the best places to enjoy an evening drinking with all of the Turku locals – if you’re looking for some great nightlife, the Aura River is a great place to start.
Sitting along the banks of the stunning River Aura is the Aboa Vetus Ars Nova Museum which is one of Turku’s most visited attractions. The Turku art museum is split in two and combines both the history of Turku along with modern art exhibitions.
When you’re going into the Aboa Vetus part of the museum, the only archaeological museum in Finland, you can see the authentic ruins of the city including 6 medieval houses that were discovered underground and even one of Turku’s ancient streets. There are also medieval activities you can get involved in like ancient brock laying, wax drawings, and playing medieval board games.
There are also a lot of old artifacts and animals bones on show, plus the museum is constantly finding new things as they continue to excavate, giving an up-to-date insight into the olden times of Finland.
The modern art museum or Ars Nova puts on a range of different exhibitions at any one time. The exhibitions are updated regularly and having stumbled around the archaeological exhibitions, the contrast of seeing modern art a few minutes later is quite thought-provoking.
While wandering around the beautiful cobbled streets and along the Aura River, you’re going to work up an appetite and there is no better place to sample some traditional Finish cuisine than going to the Turku Market Hall.
The Turku Market hall is the second oldest in all of Finland and was first opened in 1896. Inside, you’ll find a traditional Finish market atmosphere with hundreds of food stalls selling everything from local veg and meats, freshly baked bread, to Finish cheese and even some sushi. Instead of trying something you’re used to why not go full Scanidvnaian with some traditional fish soup.
Market halls are a huge part of the culture of Finland and there is no better way to pick up the local vibe than hanging out at one. Once you go to the Turku Market Hall, chances are you’ll make it a daily stop while exploring the beautiful city.
Turku Castle is over 700 years old and was built way back in 1280. It started out as a base for the Swedish king’s soldiers and commander and slowly grew into the castle that can be seen today.
Turku castle is full of Scandinavian history as it dates back to a time when Finland was still governed by Sweden and has lived through all the changes in Finland’s history to the present day.
When you visit the castle you can choose from two guided tours Turku Castle’s Everday Life tour and the Little Knights tour. In the Everyday life tour, you will learn all about how life in the castle used to be along with traditional celebrations, plus the wars and loves that crossed its path.
The Little Knights tour is aimed at kids and is all about finding treasures deep within the medieval parts of the castle and hearing exciting stories about the knights who used to live there.
You’ll also find a museum exhibiting the history of Turku Castle, old rooms preserved as they were, plus a lovely courtyard with a great coffee shop where you can take a break and hang out during or after your tour.
The Luostarinmäki Handicrafts Museum is one of the best things to do in Turku if you want to get a true sense of how the finish lived in the olden times.
The district of Luostarinmäki was the only district of wooden houses that weren’t destroyed in the Great Fire that burned down a lot of ancient Turku in 1827 and the houses have been preserved to create what today is the outdoor Luostarinmäki Handicrafts Museum.
Within the museum are 18 blocks of the original district that was spared from the fire. As you wander around the buildings from the 18th-century you can a real look into the atmosphere of ancient times and the craftsmanship that went with it. You can book a guided tour that explains just how the people of Turku lived back in the 1800s, visit the museum shop and pick up some handicrafts, and enjoy a traditional Finish delicatessen.
The Luostarinmäki Handicrafts Museum is located just by the Vårdbergsparken and the Aura River, so afterward you can relax on the grass and have a picnic or enjoy a riverside walk.
The Turku Archipelago Trail is a wonderful way to explore the 25,000 islands, skerries, and islets that lie just off the coast of Turku and get a real taste of the Scandinavian countryside and the culture that goes along with it.
The Turku Archipelago Trail is 250 kilometers long and can be done by either bicycle or car. It’s immensely popular with both tourists and locals and there is so much to see and do as you island-hop around the archipelago.
The trail takes around 2-5 days to complete depending on your chosen mode of transport. You’ll have to take 8 or 9 ferries to complete, all bar one are free of charge, but it’s worth checking the timetables thoroughly so you can plan your route efficiently.
While on the trail you’ll pass through the major islands of Pargas, Nagu, Korpo, Houtskär, and Iniö each of which has its own vibe. There are plenty of lively restaurants and places to stay along the way, and a lot of delicious farms shops to get tasty treats from too.
If you don’t have 5 days to spend on the Turku Archipelago Trail there is a shorter version which is about half as long and takes just a day and a night by car, so no matter how long or short your visit to Turku is, you can explore the archipelago if you want to.
Visiting the Turku Cathedral is one of the most popular things to do in Turku. The cathedral dates back to the 1200s and features stunning medieval architecture that is a wonder to behold both from the inside and outside.
Today the Turku Cathedral is Finland’s national sanctuary, the seat of the Archbishop of Finland, and known to be one of the most important buildings in Finland’s history.
The cathedral was originally made from wood and updated to stone in the 15th century and is the resting place of many famous figures including Karin Mandsdotter who was the Queen of Sweden in the 1500s.
There is also a historical museum inside the Turku Cathedral and you can book a guided tour to learn all about its history or use their app which allows your smartphone to be your guide.
If you are visiting with children, one thing you have to do in Turku is visit the village of Kuralan which has been a settlement since the Iron age.
Sitting on the eastern side of Turku, the Kuralan village is the recreation of a 1950s village with actors in costume who live life as it was after the 2nd world war.
The village is also a working farm with cows, chickens, and sheep and you can take part in the 1950s lifestyle on show. Activities include churning butter, sowing seeds, making hay, and watching blacksmiths sharpen and forge knives. You can also take a walk with a hunting bailiff to look for animals n the surrounding wilderness. It truly is a place full of history and a step back in time, plus the kids will love it.
If you’re visiting Turku in the summertime then is very much worth keeping an eye on the live events that might be happening during your stay. With the long evenings during the summer, the city really does come alive and plays host to more than 7 different live music events.
Some of the best ones to look out for are the day festival Take Ilmiö which has 50 live shows over just one day, and Ruisrock which is a rock festival that happens on Ruissalo Island.
There are loads more to choose from too and there is no better way to get amongst it with the local Fins and enjoy some great music and the long daylight hours.
If you fancy a day outside of the city then renting a bike and riding to Ruissalo Island is a great choice. The island is connected to Turku via a bridge and is at the most about an hour ride outside of the city.
On the island, you can discover the rocky coastline, spend time picnicking and swimming on the sandy beaches, and take long walks or rides around the forests of old oak trees.
Historically the island was the hunting grounds front eh residents of the Turku Castle and later in the 1800s, it was where the rich and famous spent their summers.
If you want to have a little romance while you’re in Turku, why not rent your bikes for two days and spend the night at one of the stunning villas along the island’s coastline.
The Föri City Ferry isn’t really a major attraction of Turku, it is just a ferry that takes you across the 75-meter gap between the banks of the River Aura. But it’s something you should do while you’re in Turku instead of walking across a bridge.
The ferry runs all year round and late into the evening during the summer. You can even get it during the winter but when the Aura River is covered in the thick ice the ferry can not run and it’s more fun to use the ice bridge it creates instead.
The Wäinö Aaltonen Art Museum is dedicated to one of Finlands greatest sculptors Wäinö Aaltonen who assisted in forming Finands modern culture during the mid 20th century after Finland gained its independence.
The art museum sits along the banks of the Aura River and is home to numerous pieces of art from all over the world plus some of Aaltonen’s works, of course. As you wander around the art museum you’ll find eleven sculptures by Aaltonen along with some of his paintings, sketches, and graphics. You can also wander into the museum library which is now home to some 15,000 books that Aaltonen collected during his life.
The art museum is also home to changing exhibitions from across the globe, a baby museum, art workshops, a delightful cafe, and concerts that take place in the evenings.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!