Set where the River Aura empties into the Archipelago Sea, Turku is Finland’s oldest city and was the country’s first capital.
National monuments like Turku Castle and Turku Cathedral will bring Finland’s origins to light, and you can learn how vaunted cultural figures like Jean Sibelius and Wäinö Aaltonen helped to shape the nation in the 20th-century.
And don’t forget that there’s a world of little islands located right next to the city.
With a bicycle you could go on a hopping adventure, boarding ferries to discover little communities with distinct traditions and heritage.
1. Turku Castle
Among Finland’s most prized pieces of national heritage, as well as one of its oldest buildings, Turku Castle took shape in the late-1200s during Finland’s Swedish period.
It was built to defend their province of Eastland but took on all sorts of different roles over the next few centuries: It was a luxurious palace, administrative centre, seat of government, warehouse and then a prison right up to the end of the 1800s.
Following a delay, the building was finally renovated in 1987 and is now a museum.
Kids can dress up in armour at the Knights’ Hall and the castle’s rooms are decorated with period furniture.
2. Turku Cathedral
A hugely significant building, this is the seat of the Archbishop of Finland and is the country’s national sanctuary.
Many people have this 13th-century cathedral down as Finland’s most important historic building.
When it was first built the cathedral was made almost exclusively from wood, before a stone rebuild took place in the 1400s.
Among the famous historical figures buried at Turku Cathedral is Karin Månsdotter, the 16th-century Queen of Sweden, and you’ll be able to spot her marble sarcophagus quite clearly.
3. Kuralan kylämäki
Right on the eastern fringes of Turku is Kurala, where there’s a recreated 1950s village in which actors in costume behave as they would in the post-war era..
There’s a working farm here, with chickens, sheep and cows, so little ones are sure to enjoy themselves.
You can go inside a the blade-sharpener’s workshop to watch him at the stone, or take a stroll through the wilderness with the hunting bailiff.
Visitors are encouraged to take part, churning butter, making hay or sowing seeds (at the appropriate time of year of course!).
The attraction also boasts real historical interest as there’s been a settlement here since the Iron Age.
4. Forum Marinum Maritime Centre
In Turku’s IX district is this riverfront attraction that occupies two former government warehouses.
All along the quay heritage boats of all sizes are moored and ready for you to board.
Of these the standout has to be Sigyn, a three-masted merchant’s vessel built in Gothenburg in 1887.
There are also four Finnish naval vessels and a police boat that you can check out.
On land you can enter the old warehouses to see the evolution of maritime trade and conflict in Finland, and check out yet more historic vessels.
Turku’s Sibeliusmuseum is Finland’s only museum completely centred on music.
It’s in a 1960s functionalist building designed by Woldemar Baeckman, one of Finland’s leading post-war architects.
There are almost 2,000 musical instruments to see inside, gathered from all corners of the globe.
One of the rooms is entirely devoted to Jean Sibelius, giving you the background on his life, compositions and role in helping Finland carve a sense of national identity following its time under Russian yoke.
In spring and autumn the museum also puts on concerts on Wednesday evenings, and anything from folk music to jazz is on the menu.
On the upper side of the Turku estuary is the long and craggy Ruissalo Island.
It’s always been easy to reach from the mainland and in medieval times formed part of the hunting grounds for Turku Castle.
Later it became the summer retreat of choice for the wealthy, and a number of delightful villas popped up here in the 1800s.
A great way to see Ruissalo’s rugged coastline, botanical garden, sandy beaches and fresh oak forests is to hop on a bike and cross the Ruissalon puistotie bridge.
If you’d like to stay for a night you can even rent a room at one of the stately villas.
7. Pharmacy Museum and The Qwensel House
There’s a dual appeal to this attraction. First, the Qwensel House is the oldest wooden house in the city, a bourgeois home from the early 1700s when the region was still a subsistence economy.
There aren’t many of this kind of building so well-preserved in Finland, so it’s a vital piece of heritage, with interiors much like they were 200 years back.
One of its owners was Josef Gustav Pipping, who lived here at the turn of the 19th century.
Pipping was the country’s first professor of surgery so it’s fitting that the building’s 19th century storehouse should be a pharmacy museum today.
You can examine a collection of vials, scales and other instruments from the 1700s and 1800s.
Open in summer, Flowpark lets kids and grown-ups be active outdoors in a completely safe environment.
It’s an eco-adventure park able to cater to children age seven and up.
Blending with the woodland are a variety of swings, rope bridges, monkey bars, lane jumps and cable slides.
At the park you’ll wear helmets and harnesses, and you’ll be strapped onto the tougher challenges.
Even those who rate themselves as climbers will find some of the courses tough, but there are plenty of lighter tests that will help develop kids’ self-confidence and give the whole family something different to do on holiday in Turku.
9. Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art
Active throughout the mid-20th century Wäinö Aaltonen was one of the country’s great sculptors, who, like Jean Sibelius, helped form an idea of Finnish modern culture after independence.
He is commemorated by this modern art museum next to the Aura River, which represents Turku city’s art collection, expanding at a rate of about 60 pieces a year.
Eleven of Aaltonen’s sculptures have pride of place in these galleries, as well as a number of his paintings and graphics, and you can glimpse at his process with the help of preliminary sketches.
Aaltonen also collected some 16,000 books in his lifetime, which can all be seen at the museum library.
10. Riverbank dining
If you’re feeling peckish look no further than Turku’s riverbank, where the city’s top eateries create a mini-dining district.
What’s handy is that there’s a wide spectrum of cafes and restaurants, suiting all pockets and tastes.
If you want an introduction to Nordic and Finnish cuisine then Pinella with its pan-fried Arctic char and gravlax is the one.
Maybe you’d like a continental alternative: If so, Sergio’s is an Italian bistro in an old wooden mansion that does the classics and spills out onto the pavement when the weather’s good in summer.
11. Turku Archipelago
Where to start? The Archipelago Sea next to Turku has a mind-boggling 40,000 islands, many of which are no larger than a tennis court.
The larger ones are accessible by a multitude of ferries buzzing to and fro.
Several are interconnected by bridges, so hiring a bicycle is surely the best way to get around and really embrace the untouched natural beauty of the archipelago.
And if you’re really committed you could try the Archipelago Trail, a designated 250-kilometre cycle route that guides you to islands such as Pargas, Nagu, Houtskär via a mix of road and ferry.
As you go you’ll see how each new island is a bit different from the last, not least in the preference of Finnish or Swedish as the native language.
Only 17 kilometres from Turku is this town that comes to life during the summer, even welcoming the president who stays at the granite Kulturanta manor house in July or August.
Anyone who grew up with Tove Jansson’s books will love Moomin World, and here you can introduce another generation to these characters.
Moomin World has no rides; instead there are themed games and activities for children to take part in, all involving figures like the Groke and the Hattifatteners.
They centrepiece is the five-storey Moomin Touse, a blue tower exactly like the one in the books.
13. Turku Events
What surprises many people who visit Turku is the sheer number of things going on at any time of year.
Those long summer though are when everything gains momentum.
If you’re a music fan there’s are seven high-profile events to choose from in June, July and August.
Take Ilmiö, a one day event that crams more than 50 live shows into 14 hours.
Ruisrock at the start of July is Finland’s oldest rock festival and takes place in the beautiful surrounds of Ruissalo Island.
Recent guests include The National, Ozzy Osbourne and Morrissey.
14. Adventure Park
Turku’s Kupittaa Park is the largest urban park in Finland and was the first to be purposely landscaped.
The facilities here are unreal: There’s a Finnish baseball stadium (Pesäpallo), a BMX track, a skateboarding park, two open-air swimming pools and ice-hockey arena.
But if you’re scratching your head for something to keep the kids entertained and active, then Adventure Park is what you’re after.
It’s a large play-park with an educational bent, so children can take part in theatre shows, music workshops, make a splash in the stream that meanders through the park and leap on the bouncy castle.
15. Föri City Ferry
In the centre of the city you can cross the Aura River for free via this ferry.
It’s not so much an attraction, as the crossing will take a couple of minutes to cover the 75 metres or so between Tervahovinkatu on the east bank and Wechterinkuja on the west side.
But it’s just one of those things that you have to do when you’re in Turku. T
he ferry runs all year round, with extended hours in summer.
If it gets really cold in the winter and the river ice is thick enough, there’s an ice bridge instead.