Porvoo (Swedish: Borgå) is a scenic small town 50 kilometers east of Helsinki, Finland. One of the most popular day trips from Helsinki, its picturesque city center of wooden houses is a proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Finland's second oldest city (after Turku), Porvoo has been around since the 13th century, although most of the present buildings date to the 19th century. In 1809, Finland's nobles assembled at the Diet of Porvoo to affirm the country's conquest by Russia.
Today, tourists flock to pad about the cobbled narrow lanes of Old Porvoo (Vanha Porvoo), which has survived the sprawl of the modern city around it remarkably intact. The place is particularly popular in summer.
There are buses from Helsinki's Central Bus Station to Porvoo every 15-30 minutes. Standard/express services cost €10.30/13.20 one-way and take 55/65 minutes, so the surcharge is hardly worth it — the expresses just stop in Porvoo on their way to points further east.
There is no regular passenger train service to Porvoo, but the Porvoo Museum Railways run a vintage 1955 Lättähattu ("Flat Hat") Dm7 from Kerava to Porvoo and back on Saturdays in July/August only. The trip takes 1.5 hours and costs €15/25 one-way return for adults, half price for children, no reservations, cash only. As of 2009, the train leaves Kerava at 12:10 and sets off back from Porvoo at 4:00 PM. Kerava, in turn, can be reached in 20 min by regular commuter train from Helsinki's Central Railway Station.
M/S J.L. Runeberg cruises from Helsinki to Porvoo between May and September three to five times a week, departing at 10 AM and returning at 4 PM. The trip takes 3.5 hours one way and costs €25.00/36.00 one-way/return, half price for children. On Saturdays in the summer, you can also opt to take the boat one way and the train back. The boat leaves from Linnalaituri on Helsinki's Market Square, opposite the President's palace.
Porvoo is easily accessed via the E18 expressway east from Helsinki towards Kotka and the Russian border. The other option is the old Porvoo road, Highway 170, but it's considerably slower and not particularly scenic.
Bike fans may want to consider pedalling the 78 km along the scenic King's Road from Helsinki to Porvoo, or 50 km along the more direct Highway 170 or motorway 7 E18.
Porvoo is best explored on foot: the pedestrianized Old Town is compact and all main attractions can be easily reached from the bus, ferry or train stations. Parents will, however, probably want to leave the baby carriage at home: the Old Town's streets are cobblestone and often hilly.
There used to be horse and carriage service, but it was shut down in 2010 due to financial problems. The Museum Railways also operate occasional steam train excursions.
The town is famed for its many wooden buildings, picturesquely perched by the Porvoo River (Finnish Porvoonjoki, Swedish Borgå å). These are concentrated in the old city (Fin: Vanha Porvoo, Swedish Borgå), a few hundred meters northwest of the modern city centre, and on a fine summer day a stroll around them is very delightful indeed. For the best view of the iconic red warehouses, cross the river and walk along the park on the other side.
- Porvoo Cathedral (Porvoon tuomiokirkko). A heavy, squat, white stone building, this church wins no awards for architectural innovation, but it's among the oldest and largest in Finland, with parts dating back to the 11th century. Predating the Reformation, it was originally a Catholic church, but was somewhat crudely converted into a Protestant one later on by removing icons and painting over murals. The building was burned down four times between 1300 and 1700, and took a direct hit from a bomb in 1914 — miraculously, the bomb fell through the roof, but did not explode. The roof was burned by an arsonist in 2006, but the damage was repaired and it's now open again, with some of the Catholic-era murals restored in the process.
- Porvoo Doll and Toy Museum (Lelumuseo), Jokikatu 14. Mon-Sat 11 AM-3:30 PM, Sun noon-3:30 PM. Contains over 1000 dolls and hundreds of toys dating from 1800 to 1990. Open from June 1st to August 10th only. €1/2.
- Porvoo Museum (Porvoon museo), Raatihuoneenkatu 21, ☎ . Daily 11 AM-4 PM May-Aug, Wed-Sun noon-4 PM Sep-Apr. History and art museum in the heart of the Old Town, housed in the former City Hall (1760). The Diet of Porvoo was held here, and today it showcases artifacts from peasant life and a collection of old photographs. €5.
Kayaking and canoeing on the Porvoo River and in the nearby island is a popular summer pastime. It's even possible to make your way down all the way from Lahti, 90 km away. The stream is gentle and it's quite suitable for beginners, but don't venture out into the ocean unless you know what you're doing. Contact Kanotklubben Wiking for more information.
In the old part of Porvoo there are lots of lovely little shops where you can buy anything from dollhouses to hand made jewelry. Many are, however, open only in the summer.
- Brunberg, Välikatu 4, ☎ . Mon-Fri 10 AM-6 PM, Sat 9 AM-4 PM. One of Finland's most famous confectioners, this family-run business was founded in 1871 and is best known for their Pusu ("Kisses"), or giant puffs of flavored whipped cream encased in a thin chocolate shell. (Until recently, they were known somewhat politically incorrectly as "Negro Kisses".) Brunberg's liquorice (lakritsi) is another local favorite, and don't miss the chocolate truffles either. Most products are actually made at a factory on the outskirts of town (Teollisuustie 19 B, Mon-Fri 9 AM-5 PM, Sat 9 AM-3 PM), but their always-crowded Old Town shop is considerably more convenient.
- Timbaali, Välikatu 8, ☎ . Daily 11 AM-11 PM. Famous restaurant that specializes in a rather un-Finnish delicacy, namely snails. Snails from €10 per half dozen, mains (not all of which involve snails) from €20. Lovely indoor terrace in summer.
- Wanha Laamanni, Vuorikatu 17 (opp Porvoo Cathedral), ☎ . Classy restaurant in a building dating back to 1790, now serving up modern fare with a Finnish twist: try the deer carpaccio or tar-flavored salmon. €50.
- Cafe Cabriole, Piispankatu 30 (opp central bus station), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Mon to Fri 8.30 AM-6.00 PM, Sat 8.30 AM-5.00 PM. A lunch restaurant, cafe and bakery with a good location in the center of Porvoo near both the Porvoo River and the oldtown. Also catering service, many different kind of cakes and different menus to order. lunch €8, with a soup €10.
- Cafe Fanny, Välikatu 13 (opp Porvoo Museum). Pleasant cafe right on the old market square in the heart of old town, with indoor and outdoor seating. The homemade cakes are excellent.
- Soho, Mannerheiminkatu 20 C (downtown). A dance club located in the basement of a downtown building. It is quite busy, filled with youth from Porvoo and the surrounding area. To see such a busy club in contrast to the typical daytime Porvoo is an interesting juxtaposition.
- Porvoo Coffee Roastery, Mannerheiminkatu 2, 06100 Porvoo (on the waterfront by the main bridge), ☎ . Licensed bar and café in a converted brick warehouse by the river. Riverside and floating terrace tables available.
- Gasthaus Werneri, Adlercreutzinkatu 29, ☎ . Basic guesthouse, 400m from the bus station. No breakfast, but free use of kitchen facilities. €35/50 single/double.
- Porvoo Camping Kokonniemi, Uddaksentie 17 (1.5km from city centre), ☎ . Camping and caravan ground plus 10 cabins for up to four people. Showers, sauna, kiosk, BBQ shelter, playground. Open June-August only. Cabins €58-67, camping €12/space plus €4/person.
- Porvoo Hostel (Porvoon retkeilymaja), Linnankoskenkatu 1, ☎ . HI-affiliated hostel in a Porvoo-style red wooden building. 33 beds in 10 rooms. Single/double €29/38, €2.50 discount for HI members.
- Seurahovi, Rauhankatu 27, ☎ . Has a popular restaurant. €80.
- Sparre, Piispankatu 34 (near bus station), ☎ . Pleasant, centrally located business hotel. Breakfast and sauna (weekdays only) included. €85/100 single/double.
The measure of Porvoo
According to legend, the bailiff of Porvoo used a standard-sized measure to collect taxes of wheat or vodka from its citizens, but a specially altered box with a false bottom for passing them on to the Crown. He pocketed the difference and lived lavishly, and to this day the expression Porvoon mitta (lit. "the measure of Porvoo") lives on in Finnish to describe a generous or plentiful supply.
- Haikko Manor (Haikon kartano), Haikkoontie 114 (6 km from city), ☎ . Old feudal manor turned luxury spa and hotel by the seaside, popular with Finnish honeymooners. Features a Japanese-style Yorokobi bath section. €200 in new wing, €280 in manor wing.
- Onni, Kirkkotori 3 (next to Cathedral). The name means "happiness", and this charming small hotel in the heart of old Porvoo (the building was built in 1840) was boutique before they invented the word. Four rooms decorated in various retro styles from Functional (as in the 1920s architectural movement) to Manor. Breakfast included. €180.
- Porvoon Mitta, Jokikatu 43, ☎ . Another quirky small hotel in the heart of Old Porvoo. Ten rooms named and individually decorated after merchants and artisans who once worked in the building, ranging from tar merchants to glass blowers.