Whether you want to relax or party, Midsummer in Finland is a big deal for Finns, with most families leaving the cities and heading to a rural cottage to celebrate this very important national holiday.
The Midsummer celebrations take place in June (typically the 3rd weekend of the month), and was originally a celebration of the summer solstice. Now it’s seen as the beginning of the warm summer weather, which is definitely worth celebrating!
Before we headed off to our own cottage to experience the midnight sun for ourselves (and in particular to embark upon on our first ever midnight sun fishing trip!), we explored the city of Turku and part of the Archipelago on the south coast of Finland.
From sailing around the local islands on a traditional steamboat cruise to hiking through a beautiful forest on Korpo island in the Archipelago (despite the rain!) we had a great time, so here are our highlights.
There are lots of things to do in Turku and its vast archipelago of islands, however with only a couple of days available to spend in the area, we tried to fit in as much as physically possible in our 2 days!
So after a brief first encounter with Helsinki, consisting of a quick but delicious ‘Hesburger’ at the train station (luckily we were going back to Helsinki at the end of our trip!), we jumped aboard an impressively smooth and swish double-decker train for the short 2-hour journey to Turku!
As you’re probably aware, we don’t often write about cities in our blog (mainly because we don’t usually spend much time in them and prefer the great outdoors!), but our time in Turku turned out to be a very pleasant surprise and here’s why!
Things To Do In Turku
1. Turku Cathedral (Turun Tuomiokirkko)
As the old capital of Finland, Turku is steeped in history and in fact hosts some of the most important historical buildings and archaeological ruins in the country, with its coastal location and proximity to Sweden playing a major factor in this.
So first up on our highlights list is one of such important buildings, the city’s wonderfully grand Cathedral (or ‘Turun Tuomiokirkko’ as it’s named). Built in medieval times in 1300, its colossal size and Gothic style is really quite striking.
The reason for its particularly large size was because when it was originally built, it was intended to be big enough to hold the entire city’s population! Which in 1300, was around 3,000 people. This meant that the whole town could gather together in the same place and also take shelter from any conflict when needed. Unfortunately though, just like the rest of the town, it was subject to many large fires over the years and had to be rebuilt several times since. It’s even larger now than it was then.
Looking around the Cathedral and learning of its significant history was fascinating, especially the most famous tomb belonging to Karin Månsdotter (d 1613), Queen of Sweden and wife of Erik XIV.
2. The Riverside
Stretching for around 2km through the heart of the city, the scenic riverside feels like the heart of the city with many of the city’s main sights (including the Cathedral and museums) and lots of restaurants, bars and cafes.
And around halfway along (towards the Castle), you’ll find this quirky little mode of transport…
…the shortest ferry crossing in the world?! It only takes 60 seconds to make the crossing from one side of the river to the other, so you don’t have to wait long to make this novel trip! We loved this, and went across the river and back – just because we could!
You’ll also find many historical ship builds and relics such as these along the riverside, some of which you can hop aboard for a look around.
Shipbuilding remains a strong industry in Turku, in fact several of the world’s largest cruise ships have been built here. It also hosts the main ferry port for connections with Sweden so if you enjoy spotting large ships, there’s usually plenty around the riverside!
3. Turku Castle (Turin Linna)
The end of the riverside not only brings you to the beginning of the beautiful Turku Archipelago but also to the city’s other most important historical building, Turku Castle.
Described as a Renaissance Palace, the Castle (dating back to 1280) is Finland’s largest making it pretty impressive to see, even for a Scottish person!
Sadly we couldn’t explore the interior of the castle due to it being the midsummer holiday the day we visited, so we just had to enjoy the view from the grounds instead. Pretty impressive indeed!
Note: Normally the castle is open daily 10-6pm throughout the summer (June-Aug) and at the time of writing, entry costs €9/€5 adult/child.
4. Steamship cruise (S/S Ukkopekka)
The evening highlight of our whistle-stop tour of Turku was an exciting steamship cruise!
We’d hoped for a traditional Finnish experience (oh and “a good feed” in Barry’s words) and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
The buffet was great and there was plenty of traditional accordion music and dancing whilst the drinks flowed! One advantage of taking the trip on the midsummer holiday was that everyone was up for a really good party and a few drinks!
But the best part was the views from the top deck. The midnight sun was out in all its glory and for the first time on our trip, we got to enjoy watching the longest sunset we’d ever seen.
We cruised around the various beautiful local islands and islets for around 3 hours and in between the food, drinks and music, we enjoyed waving to the friendly locals as they passed by in their speed boats and yachts heading for their summer houses on the local islands.
There are a few different cruise options to choose from dotted along the riverside, but we enjoyed our traditional experience on the ‘S/S Ukkopekka’ and think that overall it was good value for what you get.
Note: At the time of writing, the evening cruise costs €48/€55 lower/upper deck per adult which includes the cruise, live music, a reserved table and buffet (children are half price). Click here for more information.
5. Turku Archipelago
If you enjoy the outdoors then venturing to the south coast archipelago is a must in Finland. Our schedule meant that we only had 1 day and night there, which unfortunately wasn’t nearly enough time to explore as much as we wanted to, but despite this we enjoyed our short visit and hope to return (with more time and better weather)!
On our brief encounter, we visited the lovely island of Korpo and although it’s one of the five largest inhabited islands in the area, it was extremely peaceful, quiet and relaxing. Due to the unseasonably wet weather the day we visited, we didn’t get to experience kayaking around the island as planned, but instead we took some lovely forest walks and enjoyed a couple of delicious meals at probably the 2 best restaurant spots on the island which definitely cheered us up from the weather!
First up for lunch was the brilliant Hjalmars restaurant where we had the most delicious local dishes including some very fresh white fish and locally sourced meatballs with freshly picked lingonberries mm…
In the evening, we also tried out the local Steakhouse Buffalos, and thanks to it being the midsummer holiday, there was a special ‘all you can eat’ ribs buffet! That’s right Barry thought he’d died and gone to rib and beer heaven!
The other highlight of our visit was staying at the most beautiful country house, Hotel Nestor…
Not letting the rain dampen our spirits too much, we enjoyed the close by local forest walk and a visit to the beach.
Getting to the Archipelago was easier than we expected due to the good roads and very regular (and free!) ferry crossings along the route from Turku city. It took us only a couple of hours from Turku including the 2 ferry crossings on route to Korpo, both of which were quick and provided some lovely views!
Have you visited Turku or the Archipelago?
Share your tips in the comments below!