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Market Square in Old Porvoo

10 Things To See and Do in Porvoo for Culture Vultures

From nostalgia-inducing cobblestoned streets to recent redevelopments in its renaissance, Porvoo is the cultural traveler’s dream coming true.

Less than an hour up the southern coast of Finland, on a €12 bus ride from Helsinki, there’s a quiet little town making big noise.

A heady mix of old-time charm, modern attitude, and future ambition give this tiny city an air of arrogance – at first – but spend a day here (or two) and you’ll understand why there’s more to it. It’s a place that celebrates the finer things in life but appreciates what it has. And it shows.

If you like art, buildings, culture, design, you’ll love Porvoo.

And here are the top 10 things to see and do when you’re in town:

1. Porvoo Old Town

What is it? A snapshot of the town’s past, present, and future. Atop it sits the iconic Porvoo Cathedral, an architectural blessing that draws your gaze with its graceful presence. Remnants of a medieval castle silently stand guard on the hill behind it. And a labyrinth of cobbled memory lanes lie beneath it, each telling a story of their own, but all of them lead back to the old market square. This is the heart and soul of Porvoo.

Why visit? It’s one of the most picturesque places you’ll have the pleasure of exploring. You could spend all day getting lost in its streets, or strolling along the river beside it, but that won’t leave you much time to indulge in its incredible restaurants, cozy cafes and tearooms, or hopping in and out of its boutique shops, museums, and art galleries. Porvoo Old Town is a beautiful dose of nostalgia: an opportunity to discover Finnish history, savor the local flavors, and fall in love with the timeless charm that makes Porvoo a truly special destination.

2. Art Factory (Taidetehdas)

What is it? A creative sanctuary where the past meets the future in a harmonious blend of innovation. This former warehouse has been transformed into an artistic haven, offering a breathtaking space that showcases a dynamic fusion of contemporary art, performances, and workshops. The historic building’s original features have been lovingly preserved, seamlessly merging with modernity.

Why visit? It’s one of the most inspiring spaces you’ll encounter in Porvoo, offering a stage for both established and emerging artists to showcase their talents. From thought-provoking displays to mesmerizing performances, the Art Factory is a testament to the vibrant creative scene of Porvoo.

Whether you’re catching a show, visiting an exhibition, or just watching a movie at the cinema, Art Factory is a place that not only celebrates artists but also those who appreciate and support the arts.

Porvoo Lights at the Art Factory in 2023

3. Porvoo Jazz Festival

What is it? An annual event that has become a beloved tradition amongst locals and tourists alike. Porvoo Jazz Festival is a harmonious celebration of music that resonates throughout the town. This low-key event transforms the town into a vibrant hub of jazz, where the soulful notes and improvised riffs of both Finnish and international jazz artists take center stage.

Why visit? For jazz aficionados and music lovers, Porvoo Jazz Festival is a soul-stirring experience that should not be missed. It’s a magical journey that unfolds against the backdrop of this charming town, and it’s a testament to Porvoo’s dedication to the arts. The festival offers an incredible lineup of artists who pour their hearts into their performances, infusing the town with an electric atmosphere.

Whether you’re drawn to the smooth sounds of traditional jazz or the adventurous rhythms of contemporary jazz, or neither, the festival offers a diverse range of performances to suit every taste making Porvoo a perfect destination for a weekend of musical exploration…if you happen to be in town during the last weekend of September.

4. Porvoo Museum

What is it? One of Finland’s oldest cultural institutions. The museum, founded in 1896, is a historical treasure that plays a vital role in preserving and showcasing the cultural and natural heritage of Porvoo and the Eastern Uusimaa region. With its extensive collections of objects, artworks, and historical records, Porvoo Museum is a window into the rich past of this part of Finland.

Why visit? It’s a place where Porvoo’s past comes to life. Explore the historic Old Town Hall, the oldest standing town hall in Finland, and the charming Holm House, both offering immersive experiences of bygone eras. Delve into life in the 1700s as you wander through the museum’s exhibitions and fictional interiors. It’s a journey through time, a chance to connect with the region’s heritage, and an opportunity to take home a piece of Porvoo’s history.

5. J. L. Runeberg’s Home

What is it? A standing testament to Finland’s national poet, Johan Ludvig Runeberg, and his life in Porvoo. Now a museum, the home is a time capsule of an era when Runeberg and his wife, Fredrika, lived here with their sons. The museum showcases their everyday life, blending art, original furniture, and even a room filled with hunting artifacts. Each item tells a story of family life and the social context of the era.

Why visit? It’s a journey back in time to the world of Finland’s most celebrated poet and his family. As you explore the museum, you’ll encounter the relics of Runeberg’s life, each offering a glimpse into the past. From his hunting weapons to the intricate porcelain in the cupboards, every piece paints a picture of the Runeberg family’s life in Porvoo.

During the summer months, the scent of roses and fruit trees fill the air outside in Fredrika’s garden, feeding the imagination with vivid pictures of what life must have been like and how beautiful a home they had.

6. Gallery Vanha Kappalaisentalo

What is it? An art gallery in the center of Old Town with bright spaces and original features. Not only is it one of Porvoo’s most beautiful galleries, ‘The Old Chaplain’s House Gallery’ is also one of the oldest buildings in the city.

Why visit? After a great fire in 1760 devastated most of the town’s wooden buildings, public constructions were required to be rebuilt from stone. And in 1763, work began on building this particular building back to life. A chaplain’s home for about a century; another hundred years as a bakery; and since 1977, a city-owned gallery with light, airy exhibition rooms furnished with tiled wood burners. It’s a unique blend of nostalgia and creativity.

Porvoo Museum / Old Town Hall

J. L. Runeberg's Home

Gallery Vanha Kappalaisentalo

7. Albert Edelfelt Studio Museum

What is it? A homage to one of Finland’s most celebrated painters, whose artistic journey took him from Finland to Antwerp to Paris and back again, returning to live in this beautiful villa near Haikko Manor with his family. Surrounded by the landscapes and the fresh sea breeze of the coast, it’s said to be the place that brought out the artist’s best work – earning him the golden medal at the 1880 Paris Salon.

Why visit? It’s a chance to immerse yourself in the environment that shaped the work and artistry of one of Finland’s most beloved painters. It includes paintings, sketches, prints, and personal items and tools that offer profound insights into the creative process, as well as the life of the man, and his family.

The museum is testament to Edelfelt’s enduring legacy, and is a chance for art enthusiasts and history buffs to not only appreciate the finished paintings, but to form an intimate connection to the artist himself.

8. Kulttuurilaiva

What is it? An alternative culture venue and artist residency on a converted barge. Set on the banks of the river, nestled in the woods just out of town, this hidden gem off the beaten path delivers a magical mix of eclectic music and atmosphere that certainly can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

Why visit? There’s nothing mainstream about this place, it’s refreshingly unique. And in the summer nights, with the sound and energy of DJ’s or live bands reverberating around the grounds, you’ll enjoy a truly one-of-a-kind experience with other smiling, happy faces.

If the thought of taking a break from the norm for a moment to make new friends and new memories appeals to you, then an evening of music, laughter, and dancing on a barge near the woods may just be what you need.

9. Porvoo Lights (Light Festival)

What is it? A dazzling, interactive, sight and sound spectacle that transforms the charming city of Porvoo into a magical wonderland every February. Interactive, city as its canvas, projected, animations, sights and sound, timed performances, looping, sequence, lights, music.

The city becomes a canvas for a brilliant display of light, with installations and performances throughout the city painting the town in full, animated color.

Why visit? It’s not just a random scattering of lights; it’s a meticulously planned, well-timed, beautifully choreographed experience designed to satisfy the senses. Landmarks are lit up, buildings are illuminated, even the river and trees shine bright with looping sequences, and a spectrum of projections and installations.

Porvoo Lights offers a unique opportunity to see Porvoo in a whole new light—literally.

Porvoo Light Festival 2023

10. Christmas Celebrations

What is it? An unforgettable fairytale experience in a real winter wonderland. Porvoo in the festive season is the living, breathing version of a Yuletide postcard. Snow, Santa, and song provide the perfect backdrop for bringing childhood dreams to life. And with the sights and smells of the open-air market selling traditional delicacies and treats, it’s impossible not to get into the Christmas spirit.

Why visit? Porvoo is the perfect place to create magical new memories over the holidays. Carol singers, special restaurant menus, music and laughter, it feels like everyone in town comes out of the warmth and coziness of their homes to meet and greet friends, family, neighbors, and strangers – and celebrate the occasion together over mulled wine, gingerbread and pastries. If Christmas is your favorite time of year, Porvoo will be your new favorite place to enjoy it.

In summary, Porvoo may be a sleepy town, but it dreams big – and it always has. Not only is it a town rich in history and culture, but it’s also a thriving hub of art and creativity, filled with people who appreciate and celebrate it.

If you’re coming to Finland, or if you’re lucky enough to already be here, then make sure you visit Porvoo.