Take A Look At Turku, Finland
The Turku Archipelago is often seen as something of a transition point in Finland, a place where 3 million tourists disembark each year from their ferries before heading for Helsinki and beyond. But Turku is well worth taking the time to explore in its own right.
Home to some 300,000 permanent residents, the city region of Turku covers an impressive 245 square kilometres. While the main urban centre is situated close to the mouth of the Aura river, the wider metropolitan region spreads across vast swathes of land on the waterway’s east and west banks, linked by ten bridges, some of which date back more than a century. Ferries and private boats are a major feature of the area, and make for interesting and alternative modes of travel when exploring beyond the main city centre.
The area was first settled in 1229 by a Catholic mission and was the administrative capital of what is modern-day Finland (formerly the second-largest city in Sweden) until as recently as 1812. Turku is home to all three of Finland’s oldest universities. The first was established back in 1640 while the second, the country’s only Swedish-language university, followed in 1918, closely followed by a further Finnish-language counterpart. As a result the city offers more than simple historical interest, it is a vibrant, lively centre with plenty of nightlife on offer for young and old alike.
Turku earned its name from an old Russian word for ‘marketplace’, and indeed it remains home to one of the largest and most colourful markets in the region. This trading legacy is deeply embedded in Turku culture, with art and antique shops found in abundance throughout the city. This is a delightful place in which to wander through the streets on foot, admiring the eclectic mix of architectural styles that date back over several centuries. Despite significant building during the post-war years, there remain some charming examples of single and double-storey wooden houses in traditional Finnish style, nestling amongst the modernity of this 21st-century city.
As one of Finland’s most notable historic buildings, Turku Cathedral is a must-visit destination on any traveller’s itinerary but there is plenty more to see besides including several art galleries, museums, theatres and music halls. The declaration of Christmas peace is a long-standing and important tradition all over the Finland, and in 1996 Turku was declared the country’s official ‘Christmas City’. Don’t wait for December to visit though, as there are myriad cultural events on offer all year round. The Mediaeval Market takes centre stage in July each year while the Turku Music Festival, the Rock Festival of Ruisrock, Down by the Laituri and the electronic music festival of Uuden Musiikin Festivaali are great draws for fans of all music genres.
With Turku remaining something of a mystery on the world cultural stage, it may surprise you to learn that, together with the Estonian city of Tallinn, it was the European city of culture in 2011. And with good reason. Don’t take our word for it though. Find a flight, hunt out a hotel room and come and find out for yourself.