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Castles, cathedrals & cool things to do in Turku, Finland

Welcome to Turku, Finland’s oldest city, also known as the food capital of Finland. From it’s medieval castle, gothic cathedral and vibrant harbour to Finnish cuisine, art and culture, charming Turku makes for an incredibly cool getaway in northern Europe.

Turku, Finland

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Turku has a cool, laid back vibe with loads to see and do, an excellent food scene, art galleries, historic buildings and museums.

It’s a pretty city that doesn’t suffer from over-tourism and makes a refreshing change from the usual European city breaks. It’s bright, energetic and filled with nature and green spaces. Read on for the best things to do in Turku, Finland.

About Turku, Finland’s second city

Where is Turku?

Turku is located on the Southwest coast of Finland and sits across the Baltic Sea from Stokholm in Sweden. The Turku region sits at the mouth of the River Aura and is the gateway to the world’s largest archipelago.

Can you even begin to imagine 40,000 islands? That’s how many there are in Finland and they’re easy to explore from Turku.

Turku Archipelago - wooden huts on small island at sunset
Turku Archipelago

A Brief History of Turku

Turku is Finland’s oldest city and was founded way back in the 13th century. At the time it was an important trading centre and sat several kilometres north of its present location.

Currently, Turku is one of the largest cities in the country and was Finland’s capital city for a few years up until the beginning of the 1800s. 

After an unfortunate series of fires, the final Great Fire of Turku in 1827 destroyed around 75% of the city. Although there’s no old town, as such, some of the oldest buildings survived and there’s still evidence of Turku’s medieval past and rich history to be discovered. The city was rebuilt with a new city grid plan designed by architect Carl Ludwig Engel. 

Turku is still considered an important cultural centre and was declared joint European Capital of Culture along with Tallinn in 2011. 

Turku, Finland

18 Cool things to do in Turku

There’s plenty to keep you busy for at least two days in Turku and more to see and do further afield if you’re staying longer. We spent two nights in each of the following; Turku, the Finnish archipelago and Helskini, Finland’s capital.

Turku’s main attractions lie within a stone’s throw of the river and are all within easy walking distance. Let’s discover the best things to to do in Turku.

Explore Turku Castle

Turku Castle, Finland

Located southwest of the city centre, Turku Castle has been a stronghold at the mouth of the Aura River since 1280. It’s an imposing presence. A visit to the castle is a great way to learn about the long history of Finland and experience Turku’s medieval architecture. 

When building began on the castle in the thirteenth century it was a simple fortress sited on a small island. Over time the island joined up with the mainland and the castle gradually expanded to its current size. 

Within its granite walls you’ll explore an historical museum of Turku including Gothic architecture, frescoed walls, dungeons, vaulted ceilings, exhibitions, models and some fascinating collections. Be prepared to spend at least 3 hours in the castle and grounds.

Turku Castle, also known as Turun Linna, its Swedish name, is the most visited attraction in the medieval city of Turku and in all of Finland. The iconic structure is one of only three remaining castles in Finland and the largest surviving medieval building which has become the symbol of Turku.

>>> Looking for somewhere to stay in Turku? Check rates and availability

Step inside Turku Cathedral

Turku Cathedral is an historic and architectural focal point in the city that needs to be explored. The cathedral is the oldest in Finland, built in the 13th century, and has been a central part of the city’s history ever since. 

The cathedral is an excellent example of gothic architecture known for beautiful stained-glass windows and elaborate carvings as well as being the seat of the Lutheran Archbishop of Finland.

The cathedral is open to the public and as we entered we were enveloped with beautiful music from a small chamber orchestra performing a recital. It wasn’t possible to look around without disburbing the ambience but it was a wonderful experience that gave an unexpected glimpse into the culture of Finland.

The cathedral is located between the Old Great Square and the Aura river 

Address: Tuomiokirkonkatu 1, Turku

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Explore Luostarinmäki Handicrafts Museum

Immerse yourself in Finnish folklore and tradition at the Luostarinmäki Handicrafts Museum, a living museum showcasing the craftsmanship and daily life of the past.

The open-air museum is located in a preserved 18th and early 19th-century neighbourhood with a collection of restored historic houses which line the small lanes and yards. It’s the only area to have survived the great fire in 1827 because the flames couldn’t reach it on the hill where it sits. 

The wooden houses contain a variety of exhibits and displays that showcase over 30 crafts of times gone by including pottery, weaving, lacemaking and woodwork. 

Museum staff at Luostarinmäk dress in traditional clothing and give a real sense of time and place in 19th century in Finland. It’s a fascinating neighbourhood to explore and will interest all ages. Café Kisälli is located in one of the old wooden buildings and serves great coffee. 

Find out more about opening hours and prices on the museum website.  Where: Luostarinmäki Hill, Turku

>>> Looking for somewhere to stay in Turku? Check rates and availability

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Spend Time in Turku’s Parks and Gardens

The Finns have an affinity for nature and in Turku this is evident by all the green spaces and trees around the city. I’m sure this must contribute to Finland’s happiness factor.

More than a third of the city consists of green space and parks which are perfect for relaxing and spending quality time outdoors.

Parks in the city include; Urheilupuisto, Samppalinnan Puisto, Brahenpuisto, Tuomiokirkonpuisto, and Kupittaanpuisto. Just by looking at the map you can see how green the city is.

Turku also has it’s own Botanic Garden which you’ll find on the island of Ruissalo. Get there by bus on line 8 from Turku city centre or take the Föli water bus from the Aura River. 

Take a dip at the beach 

Beaches in Turku are popular for swimming, kayaking, SUPs and just for chilling. There are a few beaches located on the Gulf of Bothnia, a large body of water that forms part of the Baltic Sea. The nearest beaches to the city are Kansanpuisto beach and Ispoinen beach where there’s also a sauna.

Ekvalla Beach is a bit further out but is generally calm and shallow which makes it popular for families with young children. There are around four other beaches slightly further afield.

The beautiful surroundings make Turku’s beaches popular at weekends for picknicking, beach games, BBQs and relaxing. 

Visiting the beach is a good way to get a taste of local life in Turku and I’m sure being outdoors adds to the happiness factor. Obviously not an activity for a winter visit.

>>> Looking for somewhere to stay in Turku? Check rates and availability

Feast on Finnish food at Turku Market Hall

Turku is a great place for foodies with the Market Square and Turku Market Hall at the hub of the food scene. Turku Market Hall is worth a visit for a peek at the building alone which was designed by architect Gustaf Nyström and completed in 1896.

Inside is a buzzy atmosphere and it’s packed with fresh produce, meat, fruit and vegetables, cheese and, of course, fish. Don’t miss MBakery for fabulous cakes, bakes and coffee.

Marinated herring (silli) is a local speciality as is archipelago sourdough bread but there are loads of other foods to try. I liked the open sandwiches on Rye bread loaded with smoked salmon (lohi) fish or prawns. There are also some more off the wall products like reindeer jerky and tinned moose. Obviously not a whole moose… 

Coffee shops, cafes and restaurants inside the Market Hall are loaded with good food and make it an ideal place for lunch. Try Herkkunuotta run by Johan and Taina who’ll serve you up some fresh local fish.

In the market square tented stalls sell a variety of things like books, clothing, Finnish handicrafts and more local produce. It’s also home to Ratikka, which is the only remaining tram carriage in Turku. You can’t buy a ticket or go anywhere on it because nowadays Ratikka serves as Turku’s quirkiest ice cream booth.

Turku Market Hall is open from Monday to Friday 8:00 hrs –18:00 hrs and on Saturdays 8:00 hrs –16:00 hrs. Closed on Sunday

Where: Eerikinkatu 16, 20100 Turku. For opening times check the Turku Market Hall website

The Tourist Information Office is at the Service Point Monitori by the Market Square at Aurakatu 8, 20100 Turku.

>>> Looking for somewhere to stay in Turku? Check rates and availability

Catch some culture at Turku Art Museum

Turku Art Museum, also known as Turun taidemuseo, is a great place for art lovers. It’s the premier art museum of the city and is located inside a stunning Art Nouveau-style stone building, which looks a bit like a mediaeval castle.

Currently, the museum has more than 7,600 works of art, many of which are on display. Most of these works of art are by popular Finnish artists from the 19th and 20th centuries.

The principal areas of the collection include nationally significant art from Turku, Finnish pop art, Nordic art and the golden age of Finnish art. So if you’re into the art of northern Europe you’re in luck. Other works include self-portraits and contemporary art. Pretty much something for every kind of art lover.

Open Tuesday-Friday from 11:00 -19:00 and Saturday-Sunday from 11:00-17:00. For admission costs see Turku Art Museum Website. Where: Aurakatu 26, 20100 Turku

>>> Looking for somewhere to stay in Turku? Check rates and availability

Relax on a River Boat

A row of river boats are moored along the side of the river Aura and relaxing on board is one of the best things to do in Turku during the summer. 

Some are permanently anchored while others are working boats and motor up and down the river and out to the islands. The cool thing about these boats is that many of them have been converted into bars and there is nothing nicer than sipping a cold drink on the upper deck in the sunshine and watching the world go by.

Explore Turku Archipelago

Tiny island in Turku’s archipelago

The Finnish Archipelago numbers more than 40,000 islands and skerries, many of which are located off the west coast of Finland, near Turku. The landscape is absolutely stunning with forests, lakes, rocky shores, beaches and crystal-clear waters and it’s incredibly peaceful.

The archipelago is a popular destination for water sports, swimming, hiking, and nature lovers and it’s all easily accessible from the city. 

Many of the islands also have small villages and summer cabins where visitors can stay and experience the unique culture of the archipelago. We stayed at a small hotel on the island of Houtskär for two nights. More to come on what we did on the islands in a future post.

Exploring the Turku Archipelago is a must for anyone looking to experience the natural beauty and tranquillity of the Finnish coast. A network of ferries cover a large area of the Archipelago or the more energetic might want to tour some of the islands by bike. 

>>> Looking for somewhere to stay in Turku? Check rates and availability

Cruise on the steamship Ukko Pekka to Loistokari island 

Steamship Ukkopekka, Turku, Finland
Steamship Ukkopekka docked at Loistokari island for dinner

If you don’t have enough time to spend a day or two in the archipelago then a dinner cruise on the steamship Ukkopekka to the tiny island of Loistokari is the next best thing.

The steamship S/ S Ukkopekka is the oldest steamship in Finland still in commercial use. It was built in 1938 and has been renovated to offer a memorable way to see part of the Turku archipelago during the summer months of June, July and August.

The 4-hour dinner cruise, complete with live music, takes you past Ruissalo island and out into the archipelago. As we sat on deck we passed tiny islands and skerries, summer houses, waterside villas and lush forests before arriving at Loistokari. It’s the tiniest of islands with just one wooden building, the old lighthouse keeper’s cottage, which you can look around.

Food is inspired by the Finnish Archipelago and is cooked up on the open-flame outdoor grill. My kind of food; various smoked fish, chicken, a whole raft of salads, pickles, rye bread and slaws. Just delicious. 

There’s time to explore the island. It’s tiny so it’s more like a short walk and a clamber over some rocks and there’s dancing to the music on the small wooden quayside. Heading back we drifted past islands as the sun dipped below the horizon in all it’s golden glory. Definitely one of my favourite things to do in Turku.

As well as evening dinner cruises, the ship makes daytime sailings to the harbour town of Naantali near to Turku which is the prettiest of small towns. It’s also home of Moomin World for anyone who happens to remember Moomins or has kids who’ll like them. The steamboat leaves from the Aura River in the centre of Turku.

For more information check the steamship S/ S Ukkopekka website

>>> Looking for somewhere to stay in Turku? Check rates and availability

Learn About Music at Sibelius Museum

Music lovers will want to head to the Sibelius Museum in Turku which is the only museum in Finland dedicated totally to music. 

At the museum you’ll learn about the life and work of the famous Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. One room houses a collection of original manuscripts, letters and other items related to the composer who’s most well-known work is Finlandia.

The museum often hosts concerts and events, allowing visitors to experience Sibelius’s music in a unique and immersive setting.

Explore Pharmacy Museum and the Qwensel House

The Qwensel House, Turku

The Qwensel House is an historical building that offers a unique glimpse into the past. Built around 1700, it’s the oldest wooden building in Turku, which stands overlooking the river. You can’t miss its rust red paintwork and white steps.

The house was once home of Joseph Pipping one of Turku’s most famous residents and pioneer of Finnish surgery. The wooden house used to be a pharmacy and the 1858 interior remains much the same with a small Pharmacy Museum featuring a collection of old pharmaceutical equipment, weird-looking medical instruments and bunches of drying herbs hanging from the ceiling. When you’ve finished your visit head for a coffee in Cafe Qwensel.

For opening times and prices check the museum website Where: Läntinen Rantakatu 13, 20100 Turku

Have a picnic on the River Aura

Rent an electric picnic boat from Låna boats and picnic your way along the water. The picnic boats can be rented from Vähätori Square by the Aura River and take up to 8 people.

It’s a fun and quirky way to explore Turku.

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See the Historical Ships at Forum Marinum

Forum Marinum, Turku

Forum Marinum is a maritime museum located in old industrial buildings where visitors can learn about Finland’s maritime history of shipping and seafaring.

The museum features a collection of old ships, including a 19th-century sailing ship and a World War II submarine, as well as a variety of exhibits and displays and multi-media about the history of the Finnish naval and merchant shipping. 

There’s a permanent exhibition along with temporary exhibitions and a large collection of museum ships. You’ll see a tall sail ship and naval vessel moored on the sides of the river outside the museum. Some of the exhibtions are located onboard the museum ships and you can step on board Suomen Joutsen full-rigger. It’s worth noting that these are open only during the summer months.

As well as the ships and exhibits, the museum also has a café and a gift shop. 

>>> Looking for somewhere to stay in Turku? Check rates and availability

Visit Aboa Vetus and Ars Nova Museums

Aboa Vetus and Ars Nova
Aboa Vetus and Ars Nova

Aboa Vetus and Ars Nova are two museums in Turku both located in Rettig Palace and you’ll discover both old and new Turku on your visit. 

During renovations to the Rettig Palace medieval ruins were discovered and you can see the remains of six medieval houses and exhibits from the middle ages at Avoa Vetus. Ars Nova, meanwhile showcases works of contemprary art by Finnish and international artists like David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Max Ernst, and Picasso.

For more information see the Aboa Vetus and Ars website Where: Itäinen Rantakatu 4-6, 20700 Turku

Sweat it out in a Sauna

No trip to Turku would be complete without stepping into a sauna for a totally traditional Finnish experience. Finland is the sauna capital of the world, and people here consider saunas an essential part of everyday life.

It is believed that there are around three million saunas in Finland, which shows how popular they are. For context, in 2021 the population of Finland was 5.5m. Some of the best saunas in Turku that you can visit are Herrankukkaro, Forum Sauna, Nummen Sauna, and Sauna Baron Oy. Are saunas another Finnish wellness and relaxation therapy that add to that happiness factor? I think they probably are.

>>> Looking for somewhere to stay in Turku? Check rates and availability

Take a Tour of Kakola Prison

Kakola Prison, main gallery hall with netting
Kakola Prison Tour, Turku

Take a tour of Kakola, Finland’s infamous prison. We stayed at Kakola Hotel which is part of the old prison complex so we were keen to hear more about the history of the prison and see some of the original cells and prison areas and a tour was the perfect way to do this. 

We visited the prison chapel, workshops, solitary confinement cells, which you can now spend the night in, and other areas of the prison. There are some interesting tales of the more notorious prisoners, escape plans and failed plots. 

The tour takes around two hours and is a fascinating insight into life on Kakola hill. 

Where to Stay in Turku

We stayed in Hotel Kakola, a private boutique hotel located on Kakolanmäki Hill in Turku. This gorgeous hotel was originally one of Finland’s most notorious prisons and its history is reflected in the hotel’s decor and themes. You’ll notice handcuffs hanging from the bar stools and cell doors adorning the corridors. The prison closed its doors to inmates in 2007 and opened as a hotel in September 2020.

Of course Kakola’s been totally transformed and now has 148 modern rooms and suites. There’s the excellent Kakolanruusu restaurant, a bar and summer terrace. The hotel spa has recently opened too. 

It’s the first time I’ve stayed in a prison (yes, really) and I absolutely loved it. The rooms were super-stylish and the food was excellent – I even had porridge for breakfast one morning. It had to be done!

Bedroom in Hotel Kakola, a converted prison in Turku

If you want to take the experience to another level you can even stay in an actual cell in the prison’s former solitary confinement wing. Of course conditions and amenities are much improved, I mean it’s not often you see a prison cell with a chandelier and high count bed linen.

Hotel Kakola is quite close to Turku city centre. It’s a ten-minute walk from Turku’s harbour and a 25-minute walk from Turku Cathedral and the Old Great Square in one direction and Turku Castle in the other.

Although the hotel sits on Kakolanmäki Hill, Turku’s second hightest hill, there’s an uber modern funicular which runs up and down to save your feet and is free to ride.  Funikulaari is the first outdoor funicular in a Finnish city.

>>> Check rates and availability at Hotel Kakola

Where to eat in Turku

Turku has a reputation for its fabulous food scene and we had some incredibly good meals during our stay. As well as Turku Market Hall and the food on Loistokari island on the steamship cruise we enjoyed meals at the following restaurants and I’m happy to recommend them all.


Kakolanruusu is located in the courtyard of Kakola prison, the setting doesn’t get any quirkier than this. The superb food consists of local produce, sharing dishes cooked over an open fire. There’s a good wine list, cocktails and the staff were great. Choose from the indoor restaurant, outdoor terrace or bar.

Where: Graniittilinnankatu 2 20100 Turku
[email protected] Tel: +358 44 223 0200


Oobu Restaurant, Turku, Finland
Oobu Restaurant, Turku, Finland

Restaurant OOBU serves fresh archipelago dishes with views of the river in Turku. The restaurant is located in a stylish old building where we enjoyed a fresh seafood lunch with good wine.

Where: Läntinen rantakatu 9 2. krs, 20100 Turku [email protected]

Kakola Brewing Company

If you want to keep it simple head to Kakola Brewing Company for beer and pizza. Located in the former kitchens of Kakola Prison the company’s Riviera IPA won ‘best in Finland’ on a blind tasting.

The wood-fired pizzas are pretty good too and weekly DJ sets keep the place buzzing.

Where: Graniittilinnankatu 2, 20100 Turku +358 44 338 0767
[email protected]

Turku is a beautiful and historic city and makes for a refreshing change from the usual city break destinations. It’s also easily combined with a visit to the Finnish Archipelago, Helsinki, or both.

The city offers a variety of attractions and activities for visitors, including museums, historical sites, beautiful natural scenery, and a vibrant cultural scene.

In addition to popular tourist attractions, the city also has a range of shops, restaurants, and cafes, as well as a lively nightlife scene. I hope this guide has helped you decide the best things to do in Turku, Finland for a unique and memorable experience.

Weather in Turku

As with all of Finland, Turku experiences a taste of all four seasons. The city has a humid climate and warm weather during the summer with temperature ranges from 20 to 30 degrees Celsius. I visited in August and basked in the warm sunny weather and light evenings but there were rainy days too. 

During winter the temperature ranges from minus 10 to a chilly 2 degrees celsius. You’ll likely see snow. So, I think you’d agree the best time to visit Turku is during the summer months, from late May to Early September.

How to Get to Turku

Travel to Turku is possible using the following routes.

Flights to Turku

I flew from London with Finnair into Helsinki-Vantaa airport which is located 170 km from Turku. From there a train journey took us to Turku in around two hours. The train station is accessed directly from Helsinki airport and there are regular trains to Turku and it was an easy transfer.

Finavia Helsinki Airport, Finland

Flights arrive directly into Turku from Stockholm, Riga, Gdansk and Rome but there are no direct flights from the UK. Turku Airport is located about eight kilometres north of the city and is a 25-minute bus journey from the city centre on bus line 1. The bus route takes passengers to the city’s port and the market square.

VR Trains Finland

Train to Turku

Turku Railway Station connects the city to other major cities in Finland, including Kuopio, Pieksämäki, Tampere, and Helsinki. The station is located in the northern part of Turku and the city centre is around a 15-minute walk or a short taxi drive away. One stop on from Turku the train stops at the port.

Train travel is fairly expensive in Finland but you can purchase VR tickets online at reduced prices.

Bus to Turku

There are several bus services, such as Matkahuolto and Onnibus, that operate in Turku and you can take them to reach major Finnish cities. I recommend you buy tickets online in advance to save money. Buying on the day from the driver is more expensive.

By Car/Taxi

From Helsinki you can rent a car and reach Turku via Route E18 and from there it’s easy to visit the Finnish archipelago. Which is exactly what we did. More on that later.

Getting Around Turku

One of the most popular transportation systems in Turku is called Foli. It operates buses that will help you reach almost every part of the city. In addition, Foli also has city bikes that you can use to explore the city at your own pace.

Note that in Turku and all over Finland place names have both a Finnish and Swedish name which can cause confusion. Turku is Åbo in Swedish and Helsinki is Helsingfors.

Here are some of the different ways you can get around Turku.

On Foot

Turku is a compact walking city with all of its major attractions located within a few kilometres of the market square, which is known as the heart of the city.

By Bike

Another great option to get around Turku is by bicycle.

The city’s cycling routes allow you to reach most parts of the city easily and bike rental is easy and budget-friendly with Turku’s shared-bike scheme. There are around 40 City Bike stations across the city. More information on Fölläri bikes here.

By Ferry

Föri is a ferry service that operates on the Aura River. You can actually cross the Aura River for free on the Föri ferry from Tervahovinkatu on the east bank over to Wechterinkuja on the west side. The crossing only takes a few minutes but the small ferry is a fun way to see the beauty of the city from the water.

By Bus

If you’re heading further afield the bus service in Turku is an inexpensive way to travel. A single journey ticket will cost €3 and allows up to two hours of travel. €8 will get you 24-hours of travel. Most bus routes have their terminals at the market square and tickets can be bought on the bus by cash or card.

By Car/Taxi

Taxis in Turku are easily available and offer convenient, comfortable and safe travel although they’re a more expensive option.

You can also rent a car in Turku to travel around the city. Again, it’s an expensive way of getting around and can be problematic due to heavy traffic in rush hours and limited parking spaces.

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18 Things to Do in Turku, Finland

  • Turku Castle
  • Turku Cathedral
  • Luostarinmäki Handicrafts Museum
  • Parks and Green Spaces
  • Go to the beach
  • Turku Market Hall
  • Turku Art Museum
  • Drinks on a riverboat 
  • Sibeliusmuseum
  • Turku Archipelago
  • Take a Steamship to Loistokari Island
  • Pharmacy Museum and The Qwensel House
  • Picnic on the water
  • Forum Marinum Maritime Centre
  • Aboa Vetus and Ars Nova Museums
  • Sweat it out in a sauna
  • Take a tour of Kakola
  • Stay in a prison

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Visit Turku along with my friend Mel of MelbTravels. All thoughts and opinions are my own and I was under no obligation to write about my visit to Turku or the archipelago. I loved it so much I just couldn’t help but share…