Porvoo 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.
History : The area of Porvoo has been inhabited since the Stone Age. In pre-historic times, the river Porvoonjoki was a route of commerce for Finnish tribal Tavastians who primarily inhabited the inland regions. The Tavastians also had some permanent settlements in the area, such as the village of Hattula (later Stromsberg), which was named after an inland Tavastian village. The original name of the river Porvoonjoki was possibly Kukinjoki. The name derives from the name of the trade vessel cog which was a common merchant ship in the Baltic Sea in medieval times. The early center of the area was Saksala, meaning “the place of the Germans”, and deriving from the merchants who were trading in Saksala.
Porvoo was colonised by Swedes in the 13th and 14th centuries after the so-called Second Crusade against Tavastians in 1249-1250. The colonisation was led by the Catholic Church and the kingdom of Sweden. The colonists originated from Svealand, and were provided with seeds, cattle and, tax exemption for four years. Porvoo was first mentioned in documents in the early 14th century, and it was given city rights around 1380, although according to some sources the city was founded in 1346. The old city of Porvoo was formally disestablished and the new city of Porvoo founded in 1997, when the city of Porvoo and the rural municipality of Porvoo were consolidated. When Sweden lost the city of Viborg to Russia in 1721, the episcopal see was moved to Porvoo. At this time, Porvoo was the second largest city in Finland.
In 1760, roughly two thirds of all buildings in Porvoo burned to the ground in a conflagration. During rebuilding, the city planning wasn’t altered, instead new buildings were built upon the existing medieval foundations. After the conquest of Finland by Russian armies in 1808, Sweden had to cede Finland to Russia in 1809 (the Treaty of Fredrikshamn). The Diet of Porvoo in 1809 was a landmark in the History of Finland. The Tsar Alexander I confirmed the new Finnish constitution (which was essentially the Swedish constitution from 1772), and made Finland an autonomous Grand Duchy.
The Porvoo Common Statement is a report issued at the conclusion of theological conversations by official representatives of four Anglican churches and eight Nordic and Baltic Lutheran churches in 1989–1992. It established the Porvoo Communion, so named after the Porvoo Cathedral where the Eucharist was celebrated on the final Sunday of the conversations leading to the Statement.
Access : Coordinates: 60.394444, 25.663889/ By bus : 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. By train : There is no regular passenger train service to Porvoo, but the Porvoo Museum Railways run a vintage 1955 Lattahattu (“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. By boat : 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.
By car : 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. By bicycle : 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)
- The town is famed for its many wooden buildings, picturesquely perched by the Porvoo River (Finnish Porvoonjoki, ). These are concentrated in the old city (Fin: Vanha Porvoo ), 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 11:00–15:30, 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.
- 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.
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)
Activities : 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) . Tove Jansson, famous for her Moomin books, lived her summers with Tuulikki Pietila on this rock in the outer archipelago (with a tiny cottage by famous architects Reima and Raili Pietila) 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).
Festivals : 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.
Eat : Drink : Accommodation :
Go next : West to Sipoo / East to Loviisa and on to Kotka and Hamina in Kymenlaakso or
North to Lahti / Söderskär lighthouse