Tips for a Visit to Old Porvoo
There was one “mistake” I have no regrets making on my visit to Porvoo. As the bus that I took from Helsinki approached the city, I saw the street sign that pointed to ‘Vanha Porvoo’. It caused me to panic a little. Instead of taking the bus all the way to the terminal, I alighted at the nearest stop.
The sign pointed down a wide undulating road that bisected a quiet neighbourhood. I followed it and soon enough, though, the picturesque scene that I expected to see appeared. It did not disappoint.
On the other side of the Porvoonjonki, colourful wooden houses packed the river bank and the hillside. Some of them are among the oldest wooden houses in Finland (that honour goes to the Qwensel House near Turku’s Luostarinmäki), and were the homes of famous Finns. It was a pretty sight in the wintry sunshine and the snow.
Usually, I would need to work my way through the city first to get to its most spectacular viewpoint. This time, though, I enjoyed experiencing the opposite. Later that day, I saw how ordinary the area around the bus terminal looked. My “mistake” no longer looked like one.
In 1809, the Diet of Porvoo, the forebear of today’s Finnish Parliament, met in Porvoo Cathedral with the Russian Tsar. There, he made Finland an autonomous Grand Duchy within the empire and confirmed its constitution. That sealed Porvoo’s place in the history books. I would have loved to see the Cathedral’s interior but it was closed on Mondays, like nearly everything else in town.
Wandering Porvoo’s streets
Fortunately, the streets that wind through the nearby residential areas are always open. I followed a good suggestion to start at Kulmakuja (opposite the Cathedral’s entrance), turn left on Itänen Pitkäkatu, and return via Koulukuja. The route passed many well-maintained houses and photo opportunities abound. At 10 a.m., the tour groups had yet to arrive to ruin the atmosphere.
The town hall area
Heading east and a little closer to the river, it appeared that more commercial entities occupied the houses. Cafes and boutiques clustered around the town hall. The red warehouses on the river bank were home to art galleries and restaurants. There was even a doll museum but, alas, it was also closed on Mondays. I couldn’t get even a glimpse of the display through the window.
It was alright, however. I needed only three places to be open:
- A postcard shop – they were cheaper than in Helsinki
- A cafeteria for lunch – I chose the quick service at Hanna-Maria
- The Brunberg chocolatier, which sells the world’s most politically-incorrect treat
Even with the Monday closures, I wasn’t for want of things to see in the four hours that I spent in Porvoo. It made a pleasant change of scene from Helsinki, and with bus tickets as low as 1 Euro each way on OnniBus (I paid 8 Euro for my return trip in all), a day trip is not prohibitive. I’d recommend extending a stay in the Finish capital to see it.
Getting to Porvoo from Helsinki
Buses to Porvoo depart from the basement of Kamppi mall every hour. You can ride all the way to the Porvoo bus terminal; the old city is to the north-west. Alternatively, you can alight at the bus stop for Katajamäki just as I did (stop name: NäsiI; coordinates: 60.3908192,25.6389508). Walk back to the junction, cross the street and follow Vanha Helsingintie.
P.S. I wish OnniBus paid me to mention them, but they didn’t.