Created | Updated Dec 28, 2007
Turku is the Finnish name of the town in this entry and also the name by which the city is known internationally; Åbo is the Swedish name given to the same town, which means something along the lines of 'riverside home'.
About 6% of Finland's population speak Swedish as their mother tongue and many of these people live along the west coast and in the two main cities - Helsinki and Turku. Swedish is therefore an official language in Finland along with Finnish. It is often believed that Turku is home to more of the Swedish-speaking population than Helsinki, while others say it is the other way round.
Turku is located 60° 30' N, 22° 19' E, on the southwest coast of Finland.
Turku is built around the mouth of Aurajoki (the river Aura). These fertile lands have been inhabited for a very long time, in fact, all the way back to the Stone Age. The city itself started to take form in the mid-13th Century when Swedish crusaders landed on the western shores and built Turku castle. This stronghold served both as a base for Swedish power on this side of the Baltic, and as a comfortably distant place to send nobility and other members of the royal family, who, for one reason or another, were unpopular back home.
Every great city has suffered a great fire and just like London and Rome, so too has Turku been ravaged by flames. In 1828, the city almost burned to the ground and as a result the Turku University was forced to move into new facilities in Helsinki.
Turku has a long history of being the city for higher education in Finland. The modern city plays host to the faculties of three nationally significant colleges: the University of Turku; Åbo Akademi (Swedish, meaning the 'Turku Academy'); and the Turku School of Economics and Business Administration. Many lower level colleges are also located inside the city limits.
The city is also an important crossover point for various means of transportation. There's the busy international harbour, the not so busy medium-sized international airport and a complex knot of motorways and railways - an excellent foundation for a growing city.
And this city really is evolving. In Turku, the old tradition of shipbuilding now sits along high-tech companies, such as Nokia and other big cellular phone firms. Turku is also the focal point of the rapidly developing Finnish bio-technology knowledge bank.
It might well be said that Turku, like most things, appears at its most attractive in the summertime. Turku offers tourists and residents alike many excellent museums, although it has to be said that most locals, in fact, don't realise just how many museums there are for them to visit. Here is a selection of places which an average summer tourist will probably visit during a weekend stay:
The Castle - A big, well-preserved sparkling white stronghold near the Turku harbour. Fairly interesting historical exhibitions - furniture from the Renaissance, dungeon pits, pieces of armour, and so on.
The Cathedral - An even bigger building made of red-brown bricks. It's basically a church, reaching great heights, enjoying a significant national status. Expect long rows of seats, an altar, a few royal crypts and a ceiling somewhere high above.
The Aboa Vetus Ars Nova (Old Turku, New Art) Museum - A moderately large section of very old Turku that was found during archaeological excavations, preserved and now open to the public. An interesting contrast of ages; the same museum hosts modern art exhibitions on varying themes.
Other dusty museums... such as a maritime museum, a biological museum, a zoological museum, a pharmaceutical museum and a couple of art museums.
Most of the local tourist information authorities introduce you to the big restaurants. But you know the story; these are restaurants that spend their time and money on advertising, not on original, tasty food or overall development. Instead of following this advice, the wandering tourist should always try to find out the places where the locals like to eat. After all, the locals should know, since they're the ones that have been spending a great deal of time trying to figure out where the food is best. Next is a list of interesting restaurants serving tasty food:
China Beijing Restaurant - Despite the rather unimaginative name, this small restaurant serves the best spicy Chinese food in town. An important element is the family atmosphere, as that too can get a bit spicy sometimes. Large portions, free rice refills and reasonable prices. It is located at the back corner of a small groove near the Wiklund department store.
Araz - A very good kebab and pizza house. Recent decorative attempts have made this restaurant look like a Western saloon at sunset, but if you can accept this and concentrate on the food, you won't be sorry. Try the kebab rolls.
Ribs Restaurant Café - If you want to know the best barbecue this city has to offer, don't hesitate to visit this restaurant. It has a great atmosphere. Try the 'eat as much as you can' ribs.
Dennis - A well-established, but still original pizza house, where you should be able to order great Italian food. The pizzas are great.
The Course of Life
As stated before, like most Finnish cities, Turku only comes alive during the summer. For a period of two to three months, the city centre is full of people all spending warm and clear days doing whatever they feel comfortable doing. The riverside is a popular place to hang out, and the Kupittaa park area is another. For every local sun worshipper, the Samppalinna outdoor swimming pool is an important gathering area. Everything is just peachy in summertime Turku.
But then, as he always does, Jack Frost bites back. Being a coastal city, Turku suffers wet, cold winters of slush, rain, strong winds and cold nights. It gets tough when frost turns the deformed slush into tyre-trashing, uncrossable heaps. This kind of torture goes on until the first days of January. Then, it usually gets worse. Temperatures fall even lower, and slush gets covered by a 15 inch-deep coat of white snow. It's cold, but the locals fight back and keep on moving from the outer-rim residential zones into the city central, where most of the colleges, services and jobs are located.
Ah! The first warm spring days around March bring joy and hope back in to everyone's lives. Heaps of snow slowly melting, early birds singing, the ripple of small brooks everywhere, even the gross piles of dog poo and black, sooty ice formations on the sides of every possible road slowly disappear; all these remind the inhabitants, that once again, there's a great summer ahead in a great city.