Located on the south-west coast, this striking seafaring city which was once the country’s capital before losing its crown to Helsinki, is undergoing a renaissance as a quirky short break destination. With dozens of new bars and restaurants opening, the country’s oldest city is re-fashioning itself at the foodie forefront of Finland. Plus with new direct flights launched by Wizz Air from Luton from £25 one way, it’s becoming the coolest destination to experience some hygge hype.
A buzzy student town with two universities, it was the European Capital of Culture with Tallinn in Estonia in 2011, so has plenty of museums and art galleries.
It also has its own archipelago of 20,000 islands, many connected by the circular Archipelago Trail, should you crave some wild Finnish scenery and to breathe in its clean air.
Turku’s grid of widely spaced streets are easy to navigate. Carefully re-built after fire gutted the city in 1827, its design went on to influence how many other Finnish towns were laid out.
Not to be missed is Turku Cathedral, restored after the fire with frescoes, royal tombs and a religious museum. It is considered to be Finland’s most valuable historic monument.
There’s also the two-in-one Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova Museum of History and Contemporary Art, where you can walk a recovered street from the city’s past and see some of the best contemporary art this design-focused country has to offer.
If you fancy combining your cultural fix with some fabulous local food, book in for one of their weekend jazz brunches, where you can try some delicious dishes among recovered ruins for around £18.
At the heart of the city is the historic Turku Market Hall. Built in 1896, it extends for an entire block and houses rows of shops and delis. It’s great sampling local specialities such as herring and roe, served on the dark sticky sweet bread. Or try the sweet treats from the award-winning Piece of Cake bakery.
On the banks of the Aura River, giant boats play host to bars and restaurants full of after-work drinkers, students and tourists.
Should you feel like taking to the water for a tour of the city, hire one of the self-drive boats from Lana boat hire.
After some sightseeing you’ll be keen to try some of the foodie delights in the array of exciting new restaurants here.
Kaskis, which has just 36 seats, has recently earned a place in the Michelin Guide. Try the mouthwatering five-course tasting menu for £62 – the salmon-roe-topped rainbow trout is particularly delicious.
Its sister restaurant, Kakolanruusu, on the other side of town in Kakola, is a more laid-back alternative, which cooks food designed for sharing on an open fire.
Set in the unlikely surroundings of an old prison, the building stood empty for a decade before the Kaskis team opened the new restaurant.
Now, there is also the Kakola Brewing Company where I enjoyed pints of the raspberry sour ale and tropical fruit brew, plus Frunkt Coffee Roasters which brews outstanding coffee. Take the new free funicular to explore the surroundings.
Back in the heart of the city, I stayed at the newly renovated Solo Sokos Hotel Turun Seurahuone. The rooms in this art deco-inspired hotel are spacious and comfortable and the breakfast here is pretty lavish too.
If you have the time, head out of the city to discover some of Turku’s 20,000 islands and islets.
They can be explored by car – as well as by bike, if you want to take your time and there’s a network of mostly free ferries. I headed to one of the furthest out islands, Hyppeis, where, in an old schoolhouse, the Hyppeis Värdshus, which has been converted into a guesthouse, I experienced the most Finnish
of traditions – the sauna.
Historically, the rooms were used for everything from smoking fish to giving birth, and in a country of 5.5million people, there are three million of them.
Thankfully fish-free, I sweated it out before leaping into the sea, a local custom that is supposed to be good for circulation.
The city where the Finnish started, Turku celebrates its past and traditions, while forging ahead to create a future as a quirky city break destination.