AKA: The Paris of the North
Fun fact: Finland is shaped like a one-armed lady and due to its location, Turku is often referred to as the ‘asshole of Finland’ by other (jealous) Finns
History & Culture
Having served as the large country’s capital for nearly 5 centuries the city is much more significant historically than its little bro, Helsinki. No castles or Central European chill atmosphere can be found anywhere else in Finland other than in Turku.
Turku Castle has served as a royal lodge as well as a prison and there are romantic and horrific stories about the Swedish royalties and their relations circling the castle. Some of the royals have even been buried in the city, in Turku Cathedral.
One of the oldest and biggest music festivals in Scandinavia, Ruisrock, is held in the Ruissalo National Park on the first weekend of July every year. We do not know for certain what magic spell has been put upon this particular festival but no matter how bad a Summer is weather-wise, the Ruisrock weekend will always be warm and sunny in Turku. I’m not kidding!
Summer is the peak season in Turku, just like everywhere else, and the city is teeming with all kinds of events and festivals. One of the biggest events is the Medieval Festival, which is held along the banks of River Aura from the Turku Cathedral all the way to the Turku Castle in the harbour. Lately they’ve added a jousting event to the schedule and this exciting knights-on-horses tournament is held in the castle yard.
River Aura is worth mentioning as a point of its own. A Swedish journalist once said “Varför Paris när vi har ju Åbo!” (“Why Paris when we have Turku!“) and this is largely due to the beautiful banks of Aurajoki (Aura River).
The atmosphere is truly Parisian with all the cafés having scattered tables along the banks and stylish people enjoying a cinnamon bun with their cup of coffee chatting about anything and everything. The River Boats are an integral part of the riverside’s appeal; sit down for a glass of wine and enjoy the truly unique atmosphere.
I could go on and on about all the amazing things that Turku has to offer. In addition to the aforementioned aspects the surrounding areas are also of interest; The Turku Archipelago is one of a kind in the world and I can personally recommend visiting it. I can guarantee its magical appeal because we have had a Summer house on one of the islands, Nauvo, for decades.
Food & Drink
Turku is the Food Capital of Finland. In the past 10 years the restaurant scene in the city has evolved with giant leaps and today it is truly a foodie’s heaven. I could easily list here my 10 favourite restaurants but to keep things in check these are my top 3 picks from the food scene in Turku:
This is a fine dining heaven! I recommend this place even for those who would not generally go for the fine dining option because despite the different appearance of the dishes the flavours are truly authentic and absolutely amazing. But you need to book early; the place is small and extremely popular.
We all know sushi, right? But have you ever delved deeper into Japanese cuisine? Because jesus christ there’s a lot we’re in fact missing out on if we only stick to our makis and ramens.
Karu Izakaya is the best place I know for trying out a less familiar selection of Japanese delicacies. You can take a selection of tapas-sort of portions and thus try a bit of everything. But I gotta say, their ramen is to die for!
This restaurant has the best location in the city! Sitting on this place’s terrace, watching people walk or cycle by, you really feel like you would be in Paris.
The menu consists of quite an international selection (from Korean hot dogs to Moroccan lamb skewers) but everything is made with a fresh, Scandinavian twist. This place is the perfect option for a long lunch!
The Official Christmas City
If you didn’t know it yet, Santa Claus does NOT come from the North Pole. You know why? Because there is nothing in the North Pole. And if you think of yourself as too much of an adult to believe in such fairy tales, let me correct you: Santa Claus is not a fairy tale. He’s an actual being and he lives in a place called Lapland. More specifically Finnish Lapland. If you don’t believe me, send him a letter. You’ll be surprised because you will actually get a response!
Even though Turku is located on the Southern coast of Finland, far from Lapland, it still holds the title of ‘The Official Christmas City’ of Finland. This is due to the tradition reaching back to Middle Ages of declaring the Christmas Peace in the Old Great Square of Turku every single year on Christmas Eve at noon, exactly. As always, the declaration is made in Finnish and Swedish, which are both Finland’s national languages.
Turku is the most Swedish city that you can find in Finland. After all it was founded and made capital by Swedes. So, why not link Turku into your next visit to Stockholm: the Paris of the North is situated right opposite Stockholm across the Baltic Sea and can be reached by cruise ship or a plane.
I haven’t lived in Finland for years but if I ever moved back, Turku is the only option for me. Everywhere else is just too “countryside” and Helsinki is out due to the ridiculous level of living costs there. The best way to get to know Turku is to go there for an exchange. I used to tutor exchange students and some of them actually still live in Finland. Turku has altogether 5 University campuses to choose from, so the city is truly international all year round.