Finland's second-largest city, Turku is a delight. Its fairytale castle and cobbled city center contrast with a population that constantly embraces new trends in design, music, art, and architecture.
Known in Finnish as Turun Linna, Turku's castle dates back to 1280 and houses dungeons, galleries, and a fantastic medieval museum.
Away from the castle, Turku's other museums offer plenty to discover. The Luostarinmäki Handicrafts Museum is a particular highlight, offering a window into Finnish skills like pottery, carpentry, and glassblowing.
Turku could be Finland's festival capital, hosting a popular biennale and the Turku Music Festival for fans of classical every August.
The museum dedicated to sculptor Wäinö Aaltonen, the 6,000 works in the Turku Art Museum, and the riverside Titanik-galleria are all worth visiting.
Just offshore, you'll find a stunning group of islands. Hit the Archipelago Trail by cycle and ferries and lose yourself in a land of pristine forests, scenic villages, and secluded coves.
Kauppatori (literally "market square") is where everything seems to happen in Turku, and it's a great starting point for anyone's visit. Situated on the north bank of the river, it's lined with classy pastry shops and coffee houses where the espressos are as strong as they come, and it's also home to key institutions like the Swedish Theater. Shopping fans will also be in their element, thanks to the huge Hansa center, right next to the square.
Turku's castle is a fearsome fortress, and it's hard to imagine it ever being breached. Built in the late 13th century to guard the mouth of the River Aura, the castle was regularly enlarged after that, experiencing a heyday in the 16th century when it was effectively Finland's seat of government. Nowadays, you can wander around the halls and battlements, marvel at the King's State Room and the collection of wooden religious icons in the chapel, and enjoy rotating historical exhibitions.
Created by writer Tove Janssen in the 1940s and 50s, the Moomins are probably Finland's most popular cultural export, with their cute snouts, and peaceful ways. And Turku is the epicenter of Moomin fan culture, mainly thanks to Moomin World - one of the country's premier family attractions. Located on an island just west of Turku, the park is packed with cartoony fun, including plenty of characters from the books, and stage shows that kids will love. And, this being Scandinavia, the on-site catering is amazing, so adults aren't left out.
Two of Turku's major attractions aren't on dry land at all. Instead, Suomen Joutsen and Sigyn are a pair of graceful sailing vessels that are moored on Turku's harbor, and open up during the summer months for visitors to board. Both of these boats are well over 100 years old, but are kept in remarkable shape. For decades, they plied the world's trade routes, shipping everything from tropical hardwoods to tea - but nowadays they are set up as museums that focus on the age of sail. If you have any nautical interests, they are simply unmissable.
Turku's cathedral is one of Finland's most important historical sites, and has been spreading the good word since the 1300s. The interior is as tranquil and elegant as you'd expect from such a venerable building, while there's an engaging Cathedral Museum that's filled with silverware and statues of saints. But you can't really understand the grandeur of the place unless you book a place at a performance during the Turku Cathedral International Organ Concerts, which tend to run during June, July, and August. Hearing the space filled with heavenly music is unforgettable.
Turku is predominantly a summer destination. In July and August, you can catch events like the Turku Music Festival and enjoy the best of the weather, which gets fairly warm at the peak of the season.
Turku Airport (TKU) is about 5 miles outside the city. Upon arrival, take bus line 1 (EUR3) or take a taxi for around EUR40.
There are daily rail services from Helsinki and Tampere to Turku's main station, which is just north of the city center.
If you are driving from Helsinki, just take E18 all the way to Turku, while E63 connects the city with Tampere.
Pohjolan Liikenne and Vainio run express bus connections between Helsinki and Turku (EUR29.50), while OmniBus and Abus also run regional services across the country.
Excellent riverfront hotels in the center of town include the Radisson Blu Marina Palace Hotel, the Original Sokos Hotel Hamburger Börs (which features a sauna), and the Scandic Julia.
Keskusta - literally "city center" in English, Keskusta is the main commercial area and also home to the Turku Art Museum.
Luostarinmäki - located across the river Aura from the center, Luostarinmäki is home to the crafts museum and many other museums and arts venues.
Turku Harbour - Turku's historic lifeblood, the harbor is where you'll find the castle, and is a jumping off point for boats to the islands.
Single bus tickets cost EUR3.00, while 24-hour passes cost EUR7.50. You can also take a free ferry across the Aura, although cars aren't allowed on board.
The basic taxi rate is EUR5.90 for the meter drop, then around EUR3 per mile after that, and prices rise considerably in the evening.
You can rent a car from branches of Avis, Sixt, and Hertz for around EUR20 per day.
For handmade craft items, head to Luostarinmäki, while department store seekers should give the Hansa mall a try, which is near the main market square.
Local supermarkets include Lidl and K-Supermarket, where a gallon of milk will cost no more than EUR3.20. If you want fresh food, try the Turun Kauppahalli market.
Seafood and meat are the main themes of Turku's cuisine. Smör is a highlight, with its cellar setting and locally sourced ingredients, but Tintå isn't far behind. Expect meals to come to around EUR25-35 at medium to high-end restaurants.