Finland’s foodie capital: 7 things to do in Turku

Updated on 07 June 2022 | 0 Comments

A small yet forward-thinking city, Turku is home to historic and abandoned buildings, quirky attractions and a fantastic food scene, where a new crop of innovative chefs are putting their own spin on local produce and traditional Nordic flavours.

Turku had a brief stint as Finland’s capital at the beginning of the 19th century – and while it no longer enjoys the same political importance, today it’s quietly making a name for itself as the country’s culinary hub. 

You only need to stroll through its historic market hall (the name Turku comes from a Finnish word meaning 'market place'), pop into one of its fine-dining restaurants or sample some award-winning beer to understand what we’re talking about. But there’s lots to do besides eating and drinking. Turku was named European Capital of Culture back in 2011 and its outdoor sculptures, vibrant murals and a range of unusual attractions provide plenty to indulge your other four senses. Here are seven ways to experience Finland’s foodie capital. 

1. Sample the region’s world-class cuisine

Sustainability isn’t just a buzzword in Turku – using local and seasonal produce is a way of life here, whether that’s freshly caught herring, locally grown asparagus or traditional malted bread from the nearby Åland Islands. 

A dish at Smör in Turku (Image: Smör/Facebook)Courtesy of Smör/Facebook

But what’s new are the creative ways in which chefs are using time-honoured ingredients. At Smör, an upscale restaurant housed in an 18th-century cellar, you’ll find Nordic staples (fish, rye, smoked cheese) paired with vibrant flavours (yuzu, sea truffle, black lemon). At the helm is head chef Mikko Pakola, who moved to Turku from Helsinki in 2020 and has given the restaurant's tasting menus a creative, theatrical edge.

To enjoy the region’s best fish and seafood in a stunning setting alongside the River Aura, head to NOOA. Here, the focus is very much on seasonal produce – rhubarb, white asparagus and sorrel were on the menu when we visited – alongside freshly caught fish and seafood. Meanwhile, veggies and vegans should make a beeline for Kuori, whose varied and exciting menu is a testament to the creativity of modern vegetarian food. 

NOOA restaurant in Turku (Image: Courtesy of Visit Turku)NOOA (Courtesy of Visit Turku)

Ever wanted to eat in a converted prison? Well you can, at Kakolanrusuu, a chic restaurant housed in Kakola Prison (more on that later). This self-styled ‘rose of Kakola’ – a name derived from the tattoos worn by former inmates – opened in 2019 and is fast becoming one of Turku’s most exciting restaurants. Expect small plates, a fusion of international and Nordic flavours and a veg-centric menu.

READ MORE: Check out our guide to Geneva's new Choco Pass

2. Tour an abandoned prison

Casting an imposing shadow over Turku from the top of Kakolanmäki Hill, Kakola Prison was built in 1853 and became home to the nation’s most notorious criminals for the next 150 years. But today, it’s been given a new lease of life as an unexpected cultural destination, thanks to the opening of a new hotel here in 2020. That’s right – you can even stay the night in a former cell, barred windows and all. 

Hotel Kakola in Turku (Image: Courtesy of Hotel Kakola)Courtesy of Hotel Kakola

To explore the prison and discover its grisly history, book a two-hour walking tour. You’ll get to wander through the main prison buildings, learn about escape routes and look through a photography exhibition of famous inmates. (Tours are typically conducted in Finnish but English tours are available on request).

In need of a refreshment? Check out Kakola Cafe (open only in summertime) or bageri Å, a Scandi-style bakery and café known for its sourdough pastries and sweet treats. Or opt for something a little stronger…

Bakery in Turku (Image: bageri A/Facebook)Courtesy bageri Å/Facebook

3. Sample award-winning beer

Finland has a small yet growing craft beer scene, with around 120 microbreweries and 40 nomadic breweries. And Kakola Brewing Company, housed in the converted former kitchens of Kakola Prison, is one of its rising stars – its Riviera IPA was recently awarded the best in Finland in a blind taste test. On-trend industrial decor, weekly DJ sets and a simple menu of wood-fired pizzas add to its cool-kid reputation. 

As well as classic lagers and ales, expect a seasonally changing selection of fruity, sour and stout beers, all of which are made at the on-site taproom. To get behind the scenes (and smell the hops for yourself), book a group tour. For €30 (£25/$32) a head, you’ll learn how the beers are made and get to taste four different types. 

4. Stroll through a 19th-century market hall

Much of the city’s historic architecture was destroyed by a fire in 1827, meaning Turku Market Hall, which dates back to 1896, is one of the oldest buildings here. And with its wooden stall fronts, preserved original signage and time-honoured vendors selling meat, fish and cheese, walking through it certainly feels like a step back in time. 

Turku Market Hall (Image: Maps/Shutterstock)Turku Market Hall (Image: Maps/Shutterstock)

That doesn’t mean it’s stuck in the past, though. Along with all the traditional stalls, you’ll find Turku’s first sushi bar, all-vegetarian Roots Kitchen, a Neapolitan-style pizzeria and the famous M Bakery, which was awarded best bakery in Finland in 2015.

5. Explore Turku’s historic landmarks

It would be impossible to visit Turku without paying a visit to its famous cathedral, which is regarded as the mother church of the Lutheran faith in Finland. Consecrated back in 1300, it’s endured more than 700 rocky years of history, during which time Turku has been under both Swedish and Russian occupation (Finland became independent in 1917).

Turku Cathedral (Image: izabela_h/Shutterstock)Turku Cathedral ( Image: izabela_h/Shutterstock)

The only building here with an older heritage than the cathedral is Turku Castle, which was originally built in 1280. Although it was heavily bombed during the Second World War, it was painstakingly reconstructed during the 1960s. A stroll through its labyrinthine corridors and chambers – some of which are said to be haunted – is sure to send a shiver down your spine.

6. Cruise past tiny islands

Thanks to its location on Finland’s southwestern coast, Turku is the gateway to the world’s largest archipelago, which has some 50,000 islands in total. And taking a boat trip from Turku to the Åland Islands is a good way to take in some of the most picturesque.

Launched in March 2022, the hotly anticipated Viking Glory is an all-new cruise ship which takes you on the five-hour journey between Turku and Mariehamn. Yes, it’s a cruise, but it’s the kind that would appeal to even the most ardent of cruise-sceptics, with its tasteful Scandi decor (courtesy of Swedish architecture firm Konept), large windows and plenty of space on deck to enjoy the views.

Viking Glory ship (Courtesy Viking Line/Facebook)Viking Glory (Courtesy Viking Line/Facebook)

It’s a trailblazer in terms of sustainability too. Thanks to energy-efficiency measures, it uses 10% less fuel than its predecessor, Viking Grace (which was seen as the world’s most sustainable cruise when it launched), plus it runs on sulphur-free liquefied natural gas with a view to using biogas in future. Meanwhile, an energy recycling system will convert heat released from the engine to provide about 40% of passenger electricity needs. 

READ MORE: Why the Jungfrau region is the sustainable star of the Swiss Alps

7. Recharge at a stunning Art Deco hotel

Eating, drinking and sightseeing can be tiring work, so for a convenient city-centre stay head to Solo Sokos Hotel Turun Serahoune. This 140-room boutique hotel has been stylishly decorated with a nod to the 1920s: think chic, low lighting, dark furnishings and touches of gold, as well as plush bedding and spacious rooms. It also holds a Green Key, an internationally recognised label awarded to sustainable tourism providers. 


A post shared by Sokos Hotels (@sokoshotels)

loveEXPLORING was a guest of Visit Finland and Visit Turku. Fly with Finnair, with return flights from London Heathrow to Helsinki starting at  £155 ($196) per person.


Be the first to comment

Do you want to comment on this article? You need to be signed in for this feature

Copyright © All rights reserved.