Finland's oldest city, and it's gateway to the West, Turku is a thriving city whose rich cultural heritage is complemented by its forward-looking people. Of the many great sights here, Turku Castle (the largest surviving medieval castle in all of Scandinavia) and Turku Cathedral are perhaps the most popular. Turku has almost 20 museums, including the Kylämäki Village of Living History and The Sibelius museum, which is the only museum totally devoted to music in Finland. It's packed events calendar includes the oldest rock festival in Europe, Ruisrock, a city festival (Down By The Laituri), and the Turku Music Festival which attracts internationally acclaimed classical musicians every year.
Turku covers an area of 245 sq km, spread over both sides of the river. On the eastern side, known locally as 'this side of the river', is the beautiful Cathedral of Turku which was consecrated in 1300. This building, along with the Dominican monastery and Turku Castle led to the city playing the central role in Finnish medieval life. Thanks to its rich heritage, Turku is one of the most visited cities in Finland, with close to 4 million passengers coming through the port every year.
Visitors to Turku have a wealth of historical and cultural sites to discover and explore, chief of which is Turku Castle. This imposing edifice was built in the late 13th century, and today remains the largest surviving medieval castle in all of Scandinavia. The Luostarinmäki Handicrafts Museum is located in the 'old town', which is the only section of Turku that survived the devastating fire that destroyed the town in 1827, and preserves many old houses exactly as they were built. Also very popular with tourists is the Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art, where exhibitions ranging from classical to contemporary may be seen. Just outside the city, you can gain an insight into the religious and social structures and practices of the Bronze Age at the Sammallahdenmäki Burial Site, where over 30 granite burial cairns can be explored.
Turku also gives access to the incredible Finnish archipelago, a network of thousands of islands stretching all along the southern Finnish coast, many of which are interlinked via an uncomplicated network of bridges and roads. The last passenger steamship in the Finnish sea area, the SS Ukkopekka, offers a wide selection of services, including daily cruises to Naantali, evening dinner and entertainment cruises, and an excellent archipelagian kitchen.
Ever since the Middle Ages, Christmas in Finland doesn't officially begin until the Declaration of Peace takes place in Turku on December 25th, which begins with the recital of Martin Luther's hymn 'A Mighty Fortress is our God'. The declaration is read from a parchment roll just before noon from the Cathedral, and is broadcast live on television and radio.
As Finland's oldest city, Turku enjoys a rich cultural life and has much to offer the visitor, with numerous museums, art galleries, theatres and concert halls. Its two most famous landmarks, Turku Castle and Turku Cathedral, were built in the late 13th century and are the oldest buildings in Finland which are still in use. The castle has been a functional museum since 1881 and hosts a number of important events annually, from medieval reenactments to modern pop and rock concerts.
Situated at the mouth of the Aura river, with rugged hills and valleys spread all around it, Turku is the perfect vacation spot for those who enjoy the outdoors. There are a number of great beaches and swimming locales, plenty of hiking and cycling routes, and some lovely nature reserves to explore. The region is particularly popular with fishermen, boaters and canoeists, who enjoy the ever changing seascapes around the archipelago, and there are many boats for charter.
Although Turku is only the 5th largest city in Finland, with less than 200,000 inhabitants, it still manages to provide a fine selection of cafés and restaurants, with international cuisines available alongside local fare, such as the smorgasborgs so typical of the islands in the nearby archipelago. Many of the restaurants are located in the centre, along stretches like Eerikinkatu, Humallstonkatu, Kristinegatan and Trädgärdsgatan.
Turku is one of the busiest ports in Scandinavia, with an estimated 3 million plus people passing through every year, so it should come as no surprise that the city also provides a great selection of accommodation alternatives, to suit every budget and taste. For those visitors who want to be pampered there are the Spa Hotels of the Sokos Caribia and Ruissalo, with other top hotel chains including like Radisson Blu and Scandic also present in the city.
Visitors arriving in Turku from Helsinki will be pleased to discover that the prices here are somewhat lower than in the capital, with plenty of choices available. Most shoppers will find that beginning at the Market Square is most convenient, as on one side lies the Hansa shopping centre, the oldest in Turku, and on the other lies the charming old Wiklund department store. Stockmann's is also located in Turku, and should you be lucky enough to visit during one of their sales it's well worth browsing for bargains.
Turku Airport is located just 8km from the city centre, with a regular bus service to the Market Square. As well as regular flights to internal destinations like Helsinki, Tampere, Oulu and Mariehamn, there are also scheduled international flights from Budapest, Brussels, Charleroi, Copenhagen, Gdansk, Leipzig, London Stansted, Malaga, Riga, Stockholm, Tallinn and Warsaw.