Finland’s oldest city and former capital is well worth a visit, with buzzing bars, restaurants and museums, plus 20,000 islets to explore
Quiz question: which is the oldest city in Finland and became the capital in 1809? No, not Helsinki – Turku. This south-western city, little-known to UK travellers, was the most important in Finland for hundreds of years. Now, 200 years after the end of its golden age, it is having a renaissance, with new bars and restaurants opening, and direct flights starting from Luton. My partner and I went for a long weekend, tempted by the riverside setting, its self-styled status as the Finnish food capital – and the 20,000 islands on its doorstep.
Any visit to Turku must start at the River Aura, which flows through it and divides the city into “this side” and “the other side”. On “this side” is the medieval cathedral and several lively boat bars; “the other side” is home to the castle and dozens of restaurants. Car-free boulevards run along both banks of the river, thronged with pedestrians, cyclists and sunbathers (it was a balmy 25C in May). Ten bridges cross the water, and a free ferry, the Föri, has been chugging back and forth since 1903. There’s no old town to hang out in – Turku lost most of its historic buildings in the Great Fire of 1827 – but the flower-filled riverbanks do the job nicely. We rented an electric picnic boat and cruised down to the river’s mouth and back in about an hour (€59 an hour, up to eight people, lanaturku.fi).