One of the great things about traveling to Finland in different seasons is to see how the cities and the landscapes change from winter to summer. The activities, the vibe, the colors and the mood completely shift from black to white. It’s amazing!
Turku is the sixth largest city in Finland and it was once the capital of the country until the Russian Empire decided to change it to Helsinki. Turku lost the title of capital, but it will never lose its standing as the oldest city in Finland. Founded at the end of the 13th century, it quickly became the most important city in Finland.
We had the incredible opportunity to travel to Turku for the first time during the heavy winter months of January, and we recently returned in June. We got to know the city again in a completely new light, literally. It felt like a totally different place and presented us with many new things to explore and discover. I will tell you a bit more about our experience below.
Winter is coming
Everyone knows that Finland is known worldwide for its extreme winter. Santa Claus, reindeers, the sauna before jumping into the mystic ice water, ice fishing and so on… Finland, unlike most places we’ve visited here in Europe, is highly active during winter.
The active winter life is one of the main reasons that we will in love with Finland and the Finnish culture. It is a winter city that encourages you to get outside of your house. The cities in Finland offer tons of possibilities of things to do including lots of sports games. I hereby affirm that Turku is indeed one of the best winter destinations.
From our first visit, Turku struck me as a city filled with quiet people only interested in studying and reading inside exquisite and futuristic libraries. Seriously, they have one of the coolest libraries we’ve ever seen! But after spending a few hours in the city, we learned quickly that Turku has a lot to offer to its visitors and inhabitants during the cold months of the year.
Eating, reading, learning, drinking and visiting cool and unusual sites are some of the main activities during winter.
Below are some of our top recommendations for your itinerary:
With over 2000 species of butterflies and other insects, countless mammals and birds and fishes on display, the Biologial Museum in Turku is a great choice for a cold or rainy day. It is, like most things in Turku, walking distance from the city center and fun for everybody including families and young travelers. We even wrote a full article about this small amazing place.
Like I said before, Turku’s Library is the coolest library we’ve ever seen.
It is where Finnish design and art meets books and learning activities. The place offers free internet; tons of sculptures; books in English, Finnish and many other languages; really cool toys for kids to be entertained for hours on end; a relaxed and comfortable place for you to enjoy the cold bluish winter exterior in contrast with the warm and yellowish interior.
This library has enormous windows and it is designed to look minimalistic yet spacious.
Even though it is an all year activity in our opinion, I will place the Turku Castle on the winter side of this post just because you can choose the scary tour. A snowy, silent, and icey setting is spookier than a green, flowery and peaceful setting, right?
You can read more about this wonderful place on our post about it here.
Summer is all you need
Yes, summer is indeed all you need! Turku is another city in the summertime. It has a completely different landscape and vibe! It was quite interesting to see the contrast between our first visit in January and our second stay in June.
As you can see in a few seconds, the options of things to do in Turku in the summer are completely different from the winter options.
On Turku’s harbor, you can find the Forum Marinum and a few great ships just anchored in front of it. The S/S Bore that doubles as a hotel/hostel, the Sigyn barque, and The Keihässalmi minelayer are the larger ones; therfore, you notice them first. But, you can see smaller boats like The PMV-1391 police boat and the Rautaville as well.
Inside the museum, there are permanent and temporary exhibitions, a restaurant, and a bar. You will also find replicas and original objects and settings from when the Sigyn was active (1887) and so on.
The Forum Marinum is a really cool place to spend the day but since it is very open air with a lot of wind (it is a harbor after all), Fotostrasse strongly suggests you to visit during the summer months.
Aura is the name of the most important river in Turku. It nearly cuts the city in half, and along the riverbank there are several places to sit down, boat restaurants, bars and much more. If the weather is nice, I strongly recommend to just stop by in a local supermarket, get something for a picnic and just have a nice day with your loved one or friends.
Turku‘s landscape is great, the city is full of colors and life, there are many green spots to visit and if you’re having a picnic, you can drink alcohol outside in Finland.
Yes! You heard it well! Get yourself in prison. Finland’s most famous jail is in Turku: the infamous Kakola. Completely abandoned in 2007, this Finnish hilltop prison resembles more a manor house than a maximum security prison.
Kakola has a reputation as Finland’s toughest correctional facilities and has been the home of many notorious criminals.
Right now there’s a cute cafe on the side of the abandoned prison that serves coffee and cake on metal cups and such, like the inmates used to use. The name of the cafe is Kakolankruunu and here is their facebook page.
The lovely Anu Salminem offers great tours explaining everything you must and need to know about the history of Kakola. It is highly recommended to contact her and try to arrange the full tour + film + exhibition and photo gallery dedicated to Kakola + a delicious cake inspired by this great prison hill. Send her a message and she will surely reply in no time!
Hope you guys liked our suggestions and we’re super interested in hearing about your personal experiences or doubts about the wonderful Turku.
If you have any suggestions, please leave them in a comment here so everyone can see it!
And thanks to Rebecca Sunshine for her editing contribution.