Step back in time in the medieval Old Town. A white-stone church. Cobblestone streets. Wooden houses. And a riverside setting. This sounds like a hill town in Italy, a remote hamlet in Scotland, or maybe even an island village in Croatia. But it’s actually a lot farther north, on the southern coast of Finland.
As the World Design Capital of 2012, Helsinki is known for its modern architecture and forward thinking. But change hasn’t come as rapidly outside of the capital city. Just 30 miles away, you’ll find Porvoo, Finland’s second oldest city and one of six medieval towns in the country. Built in the 13th century, Porvoo is now one of the most popular day trips from Helsinki. It’s location along the Porvoo River makes it an ideal summer destination.
The first stop, always, is the Porvoo Cathedral. The church has seen many changes over the years. Catholics, Protestants, and Lutherans have all called the church home; Swedes and Russians claimed the area. Originally made of wood, sections of the church have been rebuilt many times, most recently in 2006, due to fire. Visit the nearby Porvoo Museum, which showcases artifacts from peasant life. Wander around the Porvoo Doll and Toy Museum, where more than 1,000 dolls and toys from 1800-1990 are displayed. Have coffee and cake on a floating terrace table at the Porvoo Roastery Café. Don’t forget to stop at Brunberg, a confectioner famous for its giant whipped cream puffs.
Since most visitors only stay for the day, Porvoo is quiet and enchanting in the evening. Check in at Pariisin Ville, a small hotel near the cathedral. The suite-style rooms, which overlook a quiet courtyard and Jokikatu street, are decorated with Laura Ashley bedding. But the rooms won’t matter once you find the hotel’s Hollywood-inspired wine bar. Sit on the summer terrace, eat antipasti, and drink wine from small, biodynamic, Old World vineyards. Eventually walk down to Wanha Laamanni to eat deer carpaccio and tar-flavored salmon–a Scandinavian speciality–in a historic log building. Kippis!
Just keep in mind that summer doesn’t last long in Finland. And Porvoo really is a summertime destination. Shops and restaurants start closing in August. So go step back in time before it’s too late.