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, the Finnish members of the Swedish parliament 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 (part of EuroVelo route 10).
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.
Since the summer 2019, there is a bike sharing system with 20 stations. Bikes can be rented with the Donkey Republic –app. Fare €1,50/30 min, €5/4 h, €12/one day, €20/2 days. Year round function is being considered.
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.
- 1 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.
- 2 Porvoo Doll and Toy Museum (Lelumuseo), Jokikatu 14. Mon–Sat 11:00–15:30, Sun 12:00–15:30. Contains over 1000 dolls and hundreds of toys dating from 1800 to 1990. Open from June 1st to August 10th only. €2/1.
- 3 Porvoo Museum (Porvoon museo), Raatihuoneenkatu 21, ☏ . May–Aug daily 10:01–16:00, Sep–Apr W–Su 12:00–16:00. 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.
- 4 Home of J.L. Runeberg, Alexandergatan 3, ☏ . May–Aug daily 10:00–16:00,Sep–Apr W–Su 10:00–16:00. Home of national poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg, more or less as it was when he lived here with his family in the 1860s, including the garden where there also is play site for children. €8/6/- (children under 18 free).
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.
Tove Jansson had her summer cottage in the Porvoo archipelago, first on Pellinge, later in the outer archipelago:
- Klovharun (Summer cottage of Tove Jansson), ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Tove Jansson, famous for her Moomin books, lived her summers with Tuulikki Pietilä on this rock in the outer archipelago (with a tiny cottage by famous architects Reima and Raili Pietilä) for 25 years. The island is open for visitors on their own boats and for guided tours one week each summer (landing not possible in rough weather, overnighting not allowed). The guided tours include 2x30m min travel from Pellinge and 45 min on land, and are arranged twice daily for 6–8 persons per tour, with reservations at least 14 days in advance. The rest of the year it is rented for one week at the time, based on applications. The terrain is rough. Pets are not allowed. €70/55 (adults/children under 12).
- Tirmo Blues: 22–23 July 2016. A blues festival in the Tirmo Archipelago Center in Porvoo. (date needs updating)
- Porvoo Popfest: 4–6 August 2016. Various domestic acts in the 2nd installment of this new festival on the festival circuit. (date needs updating)
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.
- 1 Brunberg, Välikatu 4, ☏ . Mon-Fri 10:00-18:00, Sat 09:00-16:00. 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 made at a factory on the outskirts of town (Teollisuustie 19 B, Mon-Fri 09:00-17:00, Sat 09:00-15:00), but their always-crowded Old Town shop is considerably more convenient.
- 1 Timbaali, Välikatu 8, ☏ . Daily 11:00-23:00. 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.
- 2 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.
- 3 Cafe Cabriole, Piispankatu 30 (opp central bus station), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Mon to Fri 08:30-18:00, Sat 08:30-17:00. 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.
- 1 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.
- 2 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.
- 1 Gasthaus Werneri, Adlercreutzinkatu 29, ☏ . Basic guesthouse, 400m from the bus station. No breakfast, but free use of kitchen facilities. €35/50 single/double.
- 2 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.
- 3 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.
- 4 Seurahovi, Rauhankatu 27, ☏ . Has a popular restaurant. €80.
- 5 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.
- 6 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.
- 7 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.
- 8 Pariisin Ville, 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.