Originally named The Vale of Mercy in latin, Naantali is one of the oldest, and quaintest, towns in Finland, developing around the medieval Brigittine convent Vallis Gratiae whose church dominates the local skyline to this day. Today it is known as the Sunshine Town, and attracts visitors from around the world. Naantali is home to Kultaranta (summer home of the President), the palatial Louhisaari Manor, Nantaali Spa (the largest in Scandinavia) as well as the ever-popular children's favourite Moominworld, and the Adventure Island Väski.
The Bridgettine convent, named Vallis Gratie (The Valley of Mercy, Nadhendaal in medieval Swedish) gained trading rights and privileges after Naantali was granted its charter by King Christopher of Sweden in 1443, whereupon the town began to grow considerably. At that time Naantali became an important place of pilgrimage. However, when the convent closed in the 1500s, Naantali almost ceased to exist and it was only the discovery of therapeutic waters that led to the development of spa activities that led to the upturn in Naantali's fortunes.
The spa at Cape Kalevanniemi was opened in 1863 and this helped the town raise its status as a holiday resort. The spa has grown to become the largest in Scandinavia. Five years after Finland gained its independence, the Kultaranta estate on Luonnonmaa became the official summer residence of the President of Finland, greatly enhancing the town's status. However, the majority of visitors arriving in Naantali come to see the Moomin World theme park located on the island of Kailo.
Although the old town offers the traveler some delightful distractions within its narrow lanes teeming with galleries, boutiques, cafés and restaurants, and the seafront charms with a multitude of sailboats and the steamship Ukkopekka, it is in the neighboring towns and villages where the inquisitive visitor will learn most about the region. On the opposite side of Naantalinlahti Bay you can visit Kultaranta, and enjoy a relaxing stroll through the formal gardens which surround the granite castle. Twenty five minutes away in Askainen you'll find the Louhisaari Manor, a rare example in Finland of palatial architecture which dates back to 1655, and which was the birthplace of Marshal Mannerheim. The manor lies in the midst of an English landscape park, ideal for picnics. Askainen is also home to The Knights Park, founded to commemorate Finnish veterans, and the neoclassical church built in 1653.
South of Naantali in Rymättyla you'll find the ancient stone church dedicated to the Apostle James the senior, which houses a wooden statue from the 1350s and the last medieval paintings in Finland dating back to the 1520s. Nearby you'll find the Rymättla Local History Museum. There are also museums in the nearby towns of Masku and Lemu, while visitors to Merimasku can explore the Kollola crofter's cottage, the Kräkilä windmill, the ancient graves of Villivuori where barrows date to the Bronze Age, and the Merimasku church and vicarage.
Travelers who arrive in early summer can enjoy the Naantali Music Festival, a series of more than 20 concerts held in the old Convent Church and in many of the other churches in the area. The festival also includes night concerts, a concert in the park, a concert in Theatre Emma in Moominworld, a concert with dinner in Naantalin Kaivohuone, and the popular Music Festival Cruise to Riga in Latvia and Saarenmaa in Estonia. There are also two winter concerts held in Naantali Church in February.
In addition to Moominworld, families with children should explore The Adventure Island Väski, with five different experiences for the young ones to enjoy. There's a Pirate harbour, a Smuggler's Fortress, a Fishermen's Village, the Hunter's Camp where they learn archery among other other things, and the Hermit's Hut where they try their hand at panning for gold. Boats leave for the island from the old town, near the bridge over to Moominworld.
One of the best experiences in the region has to be a trip through the archipelago to, or from, Turku on board the steamship SS Ukkopekka. The boat makes two trips every day, and must be one of the finest ways to spend two hours; the scenery is breathtaking and the steamer is famed for its excellent archipelago based fish and seafood delicacies.
With numerous galleries, museums, old churches and two excellent theme parks for children, its no surprise that Naantali is one of Finland's top holiday destinations, or that the President's summer residence is located here. View our list of top tourist attractions in Naantali.
Naantali is a haven for nature lovers, fishermen, and water sports enthusiasts. There are beautiful sandy beaches, and pristine indoor swimming pools, for swimming. Golfers will find the courses at Kultaranta Resort and Aurinoko Golf to be among the best in Finland.
Naantali has enough good restaurants to keep even the pickiest eater satisfied, especially in the Old Town on the way to Moominworld. To enjoy the finest seafood dining experience, travellers should consider taking the SS Ukkopekka steamship trip around the archipelago.
There are numerous accommodation options available to the visitor, including Naantali Spa Hotel, which is ranked as the best in Finland, the luxurious floating Sunborn Princess Yacht Hotel, Pikku-Lintula rental apartments, and the fully serviced Naantali Camping sites.
Although there is only one large shopping centre in Naantali, there is an abundance of smaller boutiques selling everything from designer clothing to handicrafts and souvenirs, handmade gold and silver jewelry, and even Elvis and Marilyn Monroe memorabilia.
The easiest way to get to Naantali is to take a bus from Turku. The service is frequent, cheap, and takes less than 30 minutes. For a perfect holiday experience take the steamship through the archipelago. If travelling from Sweden there are daily ferries operated by FinnLink.