Who would have guessed a city could burn down because of a fish?
Porvoo is a charming little medieval town by the river just less than an hour away from Helsinki. The beauty of Porvoo is so mesmerizing that it enchants visitors of all different ages. While the adults may visit here for the architecture, fascinating history or local foods, the kids set their hearts on Old Porvoo as to them, it is like opening a fairy-tale book to a world of daring adventures.
1. Porvoo Finland – A long intriguing history
Being the second oldest town in Finland, Porvoo surely has a long spellbinding history with many twists and turns, which involved strongly with fire. The truth is that Porvoo has been burned down many times over the course of time. For instance, it was destroyed by Danish pirates in the 16th century or got burned twice during the war with Russians.
However, the most astonishing fire accident involved a fish. In 1760, a lady of the house was cooking fish soup at night and fell asleep. As a consequence, 202 out of 293 houses were consumed by fire at that time.
2. Finnish culture in a Runeberg Torte
Back in the day, Porvoo was home to many significant figures, including Finnish poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg and his wife, Fredrika. It is believed that Fredrika created Runeberg Tortes for her husband, who loved eating them for breakfast.
Nowadays, you can get this delicious pastry from many different places and in Porvoo, Cafe Helmi serves it throughout the year. However, it has long become an annual tradition for Finnish people to eat Runebergin Tortes on February 5, to celebrate Runeberg’s birthday.
3. Best things to do in Porvoo Finland
If you only have (less than) one day in Porvoo, what should you do to make the best of everything? Here are our cherry-picked activities that might help you plan your journey easier:
Take a long enjoyable walk along the river
The most Instagrammable and photographed sight of Porvoo is the row of red-painted wooden warehouses along the river bank. The best way to admire them is to stroll slowly on the opposite bank. In the past, they were used as goods storage for trading activities. Nowadays, many of those cute houses are for private use while some of them have become shops, cafes or restaurants.
Get lost in Old Porvoo
Old Porvoo is the most picturesque and charming town of Finland with a network of cobblestoned streets stretching out behind the riverside houses. We strongly advise you to wear comfortable shoes as it is difficult to walk in heels, and it is an absolute nightmare to drag a suitcase with you.
You can explore this colorful old town by joining a guided walking tour or just wander around on your own.
Window-shop or actually shop a little bit
Apart from eateries, on both sides of Old Porvoo cobblestoned streets line many small boutique shops. Majority of them sell hand-made, design items or antiques, which could be extravagant if you are on a budget. However, it doesn’t hurt to just look, so feel free to enter any cute little shops that catch your attention.
On the contrary, if you have some extra money to spare, locally designed and produced items could be great gifts for yourself or your friends back home.
Lunch at a local restaurant
Porvoo has many great restaurants, in which you enjoy dishes in Nordic cooking style.
Our favorite restaurant is Zum Beispiel, located right in the heart of the Old Town. Their menu is pretty diverse and food comes in big portion with reasonable prices. Moreover, what we love most about Zum Beispiel is the free flow of home-made mouth-watering bread. You can easily get full munching those sumptuous pieces of bread while waiting for your main course, so beware!
Stop by Porvoo Cathedral
Porvoo Cathedral took its present form in the 15th century despite the oldest parts of the church dating back to the 13th century. Throughout the course of history, this cathedral has been destroyed by fire a few times. The last fire happened in 2006, which destroyed the roof of the building.
Nowadays, Porvoo Cathedral is free to visit when unoccupied with church services or other events.
And hey architecture nerds (like we are), could you spot the different architectural styles applied in this church?
Take a quick hike to Castle Hill (Linnamäki)
If you fancy a short getaway to enjoy fresh air, nature and solitude, it is worth taking a hike to Castle Hill, north of Old Porvoo. Though the castle doesn’t exist anymore, there are a couple of viewing points where you can catch a glimpse of the beautiful town below.
Did we forget to mention that Great Castle Hill (Iso Linnamäki) is the site for one important ancient fortress, from which Porvoo acquired its name? The Swedish name of the town is Borgå, meaning River Fort, which was twisted by Finnish speakers into Porvoo.
Have afternoon tea/coffee at Cafe Helmi
We have to tell you straight away: we totally adore Cafe Helmi. “Helmi” is the Finnish word for “Pearl” and indeed, this cafe is a pearl of charming Porvoo. Located next to the Old Town Hall, Cafe Helmi has been serving travelers since 1983. The interior of this cafe is so lovely with rooms decorated in different themes, though you can choose to sit in their verdant garden surrounded by 18th century stockhouses during summer.
Cafe Helmi has a great selection of mouth-watering salty and sweet pastries and an admirable collection of tea, which you can buy home along with tea accessories.
Spoil yourself with chocolate
Everyone loves chocolate and Porvoo is a great place to try and even buy some as souvenirs. For example, Pieni Suklaatehdas ( Little Chocolate Factory), located by Porvoo Cathedral, has amazing chocolate ice cream. Its competitor and our favorite, 1871-founded Brunberg Chocolate Factory serves heavenly truffles and coconut rice chocolate. The best thing about Brunberg store is that they have big bowls of chocolate samples that you can taste as much as you want.
Check out some museums
If you try Runeberg Torte in Porvoo, you may as well visit the Runebergs’ house, which is now a museum. Their garden is not only beautiful to look at but also scented with flowers and fruit trees in the summer. A visit to the sculpture garden nearby made by Runeberg’s eldest son is a lovely addition.
Moreover, if you love toys or travel with kids, why not stop by the Doll and Toy Museum? This museum hosts more than 1000 dolls and toys, so not only the children get to have fun but the adults also have a chance to recall their own childhood.
4. From Helsinki to Porvoo Finland: Bus, boat or bike?
Firstly, it is so convenient and fast to travel from Helsinki to Porvoo by bus. Buses to Porvoo run pretty much every half an hour, commuting between the bus station on the basement floor of Kamppi shopping center and Porvoo bus station. While a return bus ticket costs around 10 euros, it could be even cheaper if you book early enough. Two companies that operate on this route are Onnisbus and Matkahuolto. Additionally, you can also go with HSL bus 848, which operates the same as other public buses, but it has many stops in between, resulting in a longer journey.
During the summer, there are frequent boats running between Helsinki and Porvoo. Taking a cruise is a great way to enjoy the sea breeze and amazing archipelago views along the way. As the boat ride would take you around 3,5 hours each way, you would only have approximately 2,5 hours in Porvoo, which is not much. In our first trip to Porvoo, we took an early morning bus and hopped on the boat back in the afternoon, which allowed us plenty of time to explore this picturesque town.
Furthermore, if you happen to be an adventurous cyclist, biking from Helsinki to Porvoo and back is absolutely doable and fun. Even though it is around 52km one way, you can make life easier for yourself by first taking the metro to Mellunmäki station and start biking from there, which shortens the distance to 38km one way.
Most people choose to take only a day trip from Helsinki to Porvoo. Nevertheless, if you enjoy the slow-pace of life and the sense of reminiscence, it would be great to stay overnight and discover Porvoo nightlife.