Porvoo – The Little Fairy tale Town in Finland

by Anjali Chawla

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Porvoo, the second oldest town (after Turku) in Finland, deserves to be seen, admired, and loved for not just one but many reasons. Porvoo is not a town but an experience you should definitely not miss when in Finland. There, I said it. Don’t believe my words? Well, visit this little stunning town to know if I’m right or wrong! or read on to find it out now!

55 mins breathtaking bus journey from Helsinki took us to one of the most beautiful and oldest coastal towns of Finland.

Once home to Finland’s national poet J. L. Runeberg, Porvoo (Borgå in Swedish) seems like a dollhouse city with its narrow cobblestone streets lined up with tiny cute museums, specialty shops, old colorful houses, and charming cafes.

I couldn’t believe it when a local told me that this tiny town was actually one of the largest towns in Finland around the 18th century.

streets of porvoo finland
vintage car old porvoo finland
flower window box porvoo finland

The old town of Porvoo is one of the cutest towns in all of Finland. I mean, it’s hard to explain just how darn pretty it is!

That’s not all.

Apart from beauty, this little city is brimming with history and soul-stirring stories. Porvoo brings Finnish history and culture alive. You can feel the timeless vibes while strolling along its lanes.

streets of porvoo old town finland

From a winding mosaic of cobbled streets to the historic wooden houses that are placed on either side and riverside red wooden houses on the shore of Porvoonjoki, everything dates back to the middle ages making Porvoo one of the few remaining medieval towns in Finland.

Porvoonjoki (Porvoo River) connects Porvoo to the Gulf of Finland.

riverside red wooden houses

Read More: Best Things to do in Helsinki, Finland

A Little Bit of History

Porvoo’s history dates back to the pre-historic times when the river Porvoonjoki was an important trade route for Finnish tribes.

Swedes inhabited Porvoo around the 13th century, built the Porvoo Castle on the hill, and named the town Borgå which translates to the castle river. The settlement was given town rights in around 1380.

This Finnish town had to face a lot of damage because of the Russo-Swedish war during the 16th century. The town was burned to the ground and it rose like a Phoenix from the ashes.

the town of porvoo in finland
Pastel-colored buildings in Porvoo

Sweden surrendered Finland to Russia after the end of the Finnish war in 1809. The Diet of Porvoo became a milestone in the History of Finland when Tsar Alexander I, the Czar of Russia allowed Finland to keep its region along with its religion, its constitution dating from the Swedish era, and made Finland an autonomous Grand Duchy.

Nicholas I, the Czar of Russia during 1825-55 expanded the town of Porvoo to the south to build the Empire town in a Russian rectangular plan. The old town of Porvoo, however, wasn’t touched, and thus, it still retains the old-world charm.

In 1997, Porvoon maalaiskunta, a former rural municipality of Porvoo was consolidated with Porvoo creating a new municipality, the City of Porvoo. Carl Ludwig Engel designed the new Porvoo. The home of Johan Ludvig Runeberg, a Finnish national poet lies in the Empire town.

Things to do in Porvoo

We were glad we added Porvoo to our Nordic itinerary. It was special to experience the quaint Finnish life. The town is unbelievably adorable. It definitely packs a punch for Instagrammers and photographers.

Stroll the Old Porvoo (Vanha Porvoo)

The best way to explore or rather feel the old town is by treading its streets, wandering between the pastel-colored houses, and strolling aimlessly.

Every turn lets you discover the little cute things that make your heart swell.

vanha porvoo

I loved the way how Porvoo is unfussy and laid-back about where in the world it is. With the meticulously restored cute wooden houses and about 800 residents living in them, Old Town feels like a perfect place to be.

We visited in June. It wasn’t as crowded as it should be in summer because of the rain. The town looked magical after the spell of rain. You can imagine what it would be like on a clear sunny day.

vanha porvoo finland

Rightfully, nicknamed “The City of Charming Moments” – It retains the yesteryear charm.

Spend time at one of its Quaint Cafes

Please please leave enough time for hanging out at cute and cozy cafes in Porvoo.

Ah! The joy of sitting in a sidewalk cafe for hours while reading a book with a hot cup of coffee and your favorite slice of cake is inexplicable.

It’s here where you can experience these little joys of life provided kids are busy doing what they love to do 🙂

sidewalk cafes in porvoo finland

Porvoo has oodles of rustic coffee shops, trendy modern eateries, and restaurants that serve flavorsome traditional Finnish delicacies.

restaurants in porvoo ravintola wanha laamanni
porvoo restaurants

Taste Runeberg’s Torte

They say you haven’t really visited Porvoo without sampling Runeberg’s cake, a jam-filled pastry. Named after Finland’s national poet J.L. Runeberg, Runeberg’s wife baked this cake.

Otherwise available only in the month of February (J.L.Runeberg’s birth month) in the rest of Finland, this delicacy is available all through the year in the town.

runeberg torte porvoo
runeberg cake

Brunberg Candy Factory Shop

The most delicious chocolates I’ve ever eaten were at Brunberg. Yeah. A little sweets factory in a little town actually makes the world’s best chocolate.

You can taste as many chocolates as you want before you buy them. I mean really there’s no limit to the free samples. They are the sweetest like their chocolates 🙂

Their most popular sweets include Alku, Brunberg’s truffle, and Brunberg’s Kisses. We bought a Brunberg Blue Box that packs an assortment of Brunberg’s sweets.

We visited their shop at Välikatu in Old Town. You can also visit their factory at Teollisuustie to see the way they weave this magic. 

brunberg candy store

Petri’s Chocolate Room

Now this one’s another artisanal chocolate shop on another lovely street Jokikatu that you must visit when in Porvoo.

Porvoo Cathedral (Porvoon Tuomiokirkko)

Porvoo Cathedral, a Gothic-style 13th-century church was originally made of wood and rebuilt into a stone church in the 15th century. It became a cathedral in 1723.

Over the centuries, the cathedral was burnt, devastated, and rebuilt several times, to be precise 5 times including an arson attack in 2006 that damaged its roof. The cathedral was re-opened to the public in 2008.

Also, Porvoo Cathedral played a crucial role in Finland’s history as the opening site for the Diet of Porvoo in 1809.

The cathedral holds services in Finnish and Swedish on Sundays at 10 am and 12 am respectively.

There’s a 16th-century Little Church (pikkukirkko) next to the Porvoo Cathedral. Check that out!

porvoo cathedral

Orthodox Church

Another old little church in the Old Town is the Orthodox church called Kristuksen kirkastumisen kirkko (Church of the Transfiguration) next to the Lutheran Cemetary.

orthodox church porvoo
Image Credits: 1zoom

Old Town Hall / Porvoo Museum

Constructed in 1764, it’s the oldest town hall in Finland. It houses the Porvoo Museum now that exhibits local history and art.

old town hall porvoo
porvoo museum
porvoo museum finland

Holm House / Porvoo Museum

A few meters from the Old Town Hall across the square is Holm House which also houses the Porvoo museum. Your ticket includes entry to both the Old Town Hall Museum and Holm House Museum.

Holm House, constructed in 1763 lets you see the life and times of a rich merchant family who lived here.

It’s a nice little museum though not much to do here for kids.

Shop at Lovely Boutiques

Porvoo boasts some of the most charming and adorable specialty shops, small boutiques, antique stores, and second-hand shops lined on its cobbled streets (Välikatu and Jokikatu being the main shopping streets ) that sell exquisite local handicrafts and antiques.

Wouldn’t you want to take one back home as memorabilia?

shopping in porvoo
riimikko lovely shops in porvoo finland

A market square by the bus station and Raatihuoneentori square (old town hall market square) are also good places to shop.

If our tastes are similar, you’d surely like our recommendations – Bohemia, Antique House, and Wanhan Aseman Makasiinipuoti (Old Station Warehouse).

Traditional Wooden Red Houses and Porvoo Old Bridge

One of the most photographed national landscapes in Finland, red-ochre painted wooden houses by the shore define Old Porvoo.

Once used as warehouses, these riverside houses were painted in red-ochre in honor of King Gustav IIII of Sweden in the late 18th century.

Today, they are used as private homes, shops, storage rooms, and restaurants.

red-ochre warehouses porvoo river

The Old Bridge over the Porvoo River linked the city of Porvoo to Vyborg, a former Finnish town that belongs to Russia now.

kids posing near the old bridge porvoo
porvoo old bridge

For the best view of the town with its famed riverside red-ochre wooden houses and Porvoo Cathedral, cross the Old Bridge to the other side of the Porvoo river and capture your Instagram-worthy frame 🙂

panorama over the porvoo old town

Porvoo Doll and Toy Museum

One of the best toy museums in Finland, Porvoo Doll and Toy Museum is a must-visit for kids and kids at heart.

The museum is housed in a little cute pastel-colored wooden cottage with pretty windows and displays a personal collection of Evi Söderlund.

There are over 1,000 dolls and countless other toys on display, some even date back to the 18th century.

porvoo doll and toy museum
cute doll and toy museum porvoo
beautiful flowers arrangement outside porvoo doll and toy museum

Experience the New Porvoo across the River

Most travelers are almost always interested in the Old Town yet the charm of modern Porvoo aka Empire-Porvoo can’t be denied.

Charming residential buildings, wide streets, spacious parks, cozy courtyards, and classic J.L.Runeberg’s Home – the Empire City Quarter is one of the biggest preserved wooden towns from the 19th century in all Nordic countries.

The Art Factory

Located on the west bank of Aleksanterinkatu Bridge, The Art Factory (Taidetehdas) is Porvoo’s culture and congress center.

Within the historic factory walls, you can find everything from exhibitions, concerts, movie theaters, cafes, restaurants, and a shopping street.

Pieni Suklaatehdas  (Little Chocolate Factory)

Located in the old part of Porvoo Art Factory at Läntinen Aleksanterinkatu 1, Little Chocolate Factory is where the kids can see how they make handmade chocolates. The Chocolate Factory tour lets you see, and learn the art of making small-scale chocolates and even taste those freshly made chocolates at the end of the tour.

You can buy chocolates to take back home directly from the factory.

If you want to stretch your legs after a hectic sightseeing day, they have a Little Chocolate Café next door where you can relax while you relish their truffles and pralines.

J.L. Runeberg’s Home

The Finnish national poet, J. L. Runeberg (Johan Ludvig Runeberg) and his wife, Fredrika Runeberg lived in this yellow house from 1852 until his death in 1877.

Did you Know? J.L.Runeberg wrote the poem Vårt Land (Finnish National Anthem) in 1846 in his home in Porvoo.

Opened to the public in 1882, this is the oldest home museum in the country. The house still retains the same furnishings, paintings, and Fredrika’s garden the way they were in 1877 giving you a peek into their social and family life.

The museum staff narrates the story of the beloved Finnish poet in an interesting way.

j l runeberg house porvoo runeberg koti
Pic Credits: Wikipedia

Indulge in Outdoor Activities

The National Urban Park follows the Porvoo River to the archipelago and extends about 10 km towards the south and around 8 km towards the south.

You can take one or two of many routes in the Porvoo National Urban Park depending on the time. There are many walking as well as biking trails.

There are over 22 prominent sites both cultural and natural that tell the tales of Porvoo.

During the late spring and summer, you can indulge in SUP (stand-up paddling), boating, kayaking, and canoeing on the Porvoo River.

porvoonjoki river finland

Come winter, you can enjoy skiing, sledding, ice fishing, walking, or skating on the frozen river. Kokonniemi Ski Centre offers ski lessons during the season.

Climb the Linnamäki (Castle Hills)

Castle Hills – Iso Linnamäki (Great Castle Hill) that’s a site for Linnamaki Fortress, one of the biggest ancient fortresses in Finland, and Pikku Linnamäki (Lesser Castle Hill), a site for Iron Age Burial, is located north of the Old Town.

castle hill porvoo finland
Uphill and downhill – that’s Porvoo

The nature hike that’s well signposted not only lets you see the ancient monuments but awards you with the breathtaking views of the town from a different perspective.

linnamaki iso porvoo
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Spot the slope that has a great pine tree with its twisted roots and look down. The panorama that you see was depicted by Albert Edelfelt in his painting ‘Porvoo seen from Linnamäki’.

In fact, you can visit the Albert Edelfelt Studio Museum in Haikko, a few km away from the center of the town where he painted many of his eminent works.

Climb the Näsimäki

A trail from the forested area across the river from the Old Town leads to Näsimäki Hill. The vantage point Näsi stone aka the Magic Rocks offers a beautiful panorama over Porvoo.

Check out the Näsi Manor house and one of Finland’s oldest cemeteries on the Näsimäki Hill.

Söderskär Lighthouse

Located on the town’s outer archipelago, Söderskär Lighthouse stands on an isolated rock in the Gulf of Finland and can be visited on a boat trip from Kauppatori (Helsinki), Aurinkolahti (Vuosaari), or Sipoo from May through September.

Söderskär Lighthouse porvoo archipelago

Getting to Porvoo from Helsinki

Just an hour (50 km) away from Helsinki, Porvoo is an easy and perfect day trip destination.

There are quite a number of ways to reach Porvoo from Helsinki. The bus seems to be the best option as it runs in all the seasons and is cheap.

Helsinki to Porvoo by Bus

We chose to travel by Onnibus. It costs somewhere around  2 to 3 Euros per person. It’s better to book the ticket online in advance to get cheaper prices.

ticket center helsinki bus station kamppi shopping centre

It can be purchased from the driver of the bus if the seat is available. The bus departs from Helsinki Bus Station located in the Kamppi Shopping Centre.

onnibus helsinki to porvoo

Other local bus service providers in Helsinki like Savonlinja and Koiviston Auto cost way higher than Onnibus. They charge somewhere around 5 to 9 Euros per person. The tickets are purchased online or from the ticket counter at the bus station.

Find all the bus routes and rides here.

Helsinki to Porvoo by Train

There’s a historic steam train that takes tourists from Helsinki to Porvoo but it’s a few times a year only.

Helsinki to Porvoo by Boat

A scenic cruise from Helsinki to Porvoo through the archipelago of Uusimaa is run by m/s J.L. Runeberg and Royal Line’s m/s RoyalCat almost daily during summer (May to September).

The ship starts from Helsinki in the morning at around 10 am and takes about 3.5 hours to reach Porvoo. You are given around 2.5 hours to explore the Old Town before the ship starts a return journey.

Helsinki to Porvoo by Car

The best way to travel to Porvoo from Helsinki is by renting a car in Helsinki and driving to Porvoo through the E18 expressway or maybe King’s Road (Kuninkaantie) that stretches all the way to Russia.

Parking in Porvoo isn’t as troublesome as in Helsinki as it’s a small town. They have paid or metered as well as free parking areas.

Check the parking map of Porvoo to know about the parking areas.

Helsinki to Porvoo by Bicycle

If you love biking, follow the historic King’s Road from Helsinki to Porvoo. You can take road 170 which takes lesser time though not as scenic as King’s Road.

Guided Tours in Porvoo

If travel planning is not your thing, you can always book a guided day trip from Helsinki to Porvoo.

Here are some recommendations you can use:

Good to Know: Helsinki Card offers 50% off on a guided half-day (4 hours) tour of Porvoo.

Getting Around Porvoo

Porvoo is a compact town with more charming pedestrian-only streets and is best explored on foot.

Grab a map from the city’s tourist office and discover the town on a self-guided tour.

The Porvoo Museum Railway runs steam train excursions for tourists during summer.

If you’re pressed for time, a hop-on-hop-off bus tour which is Totally Free is a good option. The bus runs every half an hour from Monday to Friday.

Beyond Porvoo – Pellinki, and Klovharun

“Life is short, the world is enormous.”

He speaks my language. Moominpappa – my favorite out of all the Moomins. If you’re wondering who Moomins are, they are the cute comic characters by a Finnish illustrator Tove Jansson.

I loved Tove Jansson’s Moomins so much that I couldn’t resist my urge to visit Klovharu (Moomin Island) during my visit to Finland.

Klovharu or Klovharun (Moomin Island) lies off the coast of Porvoo in the archipelago of Pellinki (Pellinge in Swedish) in the Gulf of Finland.

This is a place where Tove Jansson and her partner would spend their summers. The island just has one cottage which Tove donated in 1995 and now can be rented from the Pellinge Local History Society.

Porvoo to Pellinki

A mini-bus from Porvoo takes 30 mins to reach Tirmo. It’s a tiny archipelago with only one restaurant inside the Tirmo archipelago center.

tirmo archipelago center on a rainy day
tirmo archipelago center on a rainy day
cafe at tirmo archipelago center pellinge
cafe at tirmo archipelago center pellinge

Small boats or a cable ferry (if you’ve your own car) takes you to Suur-Pellinki (Greater Pellinge).

cable ferry tirmo to suur pellinki greater pellinge porvoo finland
cable ferry from Tirmo to Suur-Pellinki
Tirmo pellinge
Tirmo pellinge

Martin Tillman who’s a local fisherman in Pellinki organizes boat rides, seal safaris, cruises, and fishing trips. Tillman has a B&B with a restaurant where he arranges overnight accommodation too.

klovharun island moomin pellinge porvoo finland
Klovharun Island Finland (Image Credits: Wikipedia)

A boat trip to Klovharun Island is utterly beautiful. The quaint rocky island with just one cottage near the ocean…ah!

The smell of the sea, the sound of the waves and wind caressing my face. Words really can’t do justice to the beauty of the place.

Best Time to Visit Porvoo

With a population of just 50,000, Porvoo roughly receives 1.6 million visitors every year. Travel off-season to have the Finnish wonderland all to yourself. Busy in summer (June and July), the city has a relaxed and magical mood in winter (December and January).

Best Places to Eat in Porvoo

Ani’s Cafe, Café Postres, Helmi Tea & Coffee House (Tee- ja kahvihuone Helmi), and Cafe Fanny are cozy artisan cafes to have a cup of tea or coffee with cake or pastry. Try the famous Runeberg torte at Cafe Fanny or Helmi Tea & Coffee House.

Zum Beispiel, Sinne, and SicaPelle are nice places to enjoy your breakfast, lunch, or dinner with wine or beer. Try avocado pasta at Zum Beispiel.

Zum Beispiel porvoo
Zum Beispiel restaurant

Brasserie L’Amour is for those who love Pizzas.

Meat District is a steakhouse for beef lovers. They are famous for their fresh organic local produce.

Porvoon Paahtimo Bar & Café is a historic riverside warehouse converted into a modern brewery bistro. We stopped by for a quick coffee break and loved their panoramic terrace.

Try the best handmade ice cream in the city by Vanhan Porvoon Jaatelotehdas (Old Porvoo Ice Cream Factory) at one of their ice cream kiosks or ice cream carts. They are open during the summer season from April through September.

I and hubby tried and loved vegan walnut maple syrup ice cream while mini-me relished strawberry ice cream.

Best Places to Stay in Porvoo

We did a day trip from Helsinki to Porvoo and how I wished we would have planned at least a night’s stay in this magical little town. Alas! I’d strongly recommend staying in Porvoo for a few days to experience the Finnish culture and life up close. Oh! And I can imagine the bliss of staying in one of those historic wooden houses in the Old Town like this one.

Hotels in Porvoo

Hotelli Onni is a luxurious and elegant boutique hotel located in the heart of Old Town just across from the famous landmark, Porvoo Cathedral. It has been rated highly by travelers for its location, tastefully and individually decorated rooms, and scrumptious breakfast menu.

Pariisin Ville is another beautiful hotel in the Old Town that’s rated the best for families with kids.

Apartments in Porvoo

Porvoo City Apartments and Apartments in Porvoo are two of the best apartment options in Porvoo.

Holiday Homes, Guest Houses, and Inns in Porvoo

Guests loved and rated Holiday Home Stranda Porvoo Center and a Small historic wooden house in Porvoo old town for their perfect location and family-friendly atmosphere.

Guest House Ilola Porvoo, Old Town B&B Ida-Maria, and Sikosaaren Aitta are other top-rated properties in Porvoo.

Read what other travelers have to say, compare prices, and find the best hotel deals on TripAdvisor.

Don’t miss Porvoo when in Finland! If you love quaint, stunning, and off-center sights like us then the tiny town of Porvoo in Finland is your thing.

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Anjali Chawla

A story-weaver, and a writer, Anjali is a true-blue traveler. Her passion for travel and writing inspired her to handcraft this space she calls her virtual home. She travels far and wide to experience new cultures and bring back stories to share with her readers. Her hubby and her 14-year-old daughter are her best travel buddies. Join her as she unclothes the beauty and culture around the world, one place at a time.

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