What do Istanbul, Lisbon, Athens, Rome, and Turku all have in common? Every one of these historic cities was built on seven hills! Turku’s hills were named by a German architect, C. L. Engel, who was responsible for the new city plan after Turku was flattened by fire in 1827. This article is your guide to the stories and sights you’ll find in each location. We’ve started this self-guided walking tour at Puolalanmäki, in front of the Turku Art Museum, but you can, of course, begin your journey from any of the other hills.
1. Puolalanmäki Hill
Height: 35.2 m
Puolalanmäki Hill is known for the spectacular Turku Art Museum (Turun taidemuseo), and that’s why it’s often simply called Taidemuseonmäki Hill. But there’s not just a museum here; you can also admire some masterpieces devised by local architects, such as the former School of Business, built in 1908 and designed in an Art Nouveau-style. The green Puolalanpuisto Park is behind the Turku Art Museum and here, you’ll find a charming courtyard featuring the old wooden houses of Iso-Puolala. Right beside the park, on Rauhankatu Street, is the delightful Park Hotel, which offers guests a relaxing stay.
Taidemuseonmäki Hill is especially known for May Day celebrations, when students, past and present, gather to raise their white graduation caps. At the foot of the hill is the city's market square, where you can pick up fresh vegetables and berries in the summertime as well as coffee, ice-cream, and other refreshments.
2. Aninkaistenmäki Hill
Height: 37 m
From Puolalanmäki Hill, the route continues towards the lively Aninkaistenmäki Hill. Did you know that the Great Fire of Turku began here? A memorial plaque can be found on Maariankatu Street. Aninkaistenmäki Hill has also been a place of trade since the 1800s. Boards, logs, and wooden utensils were all sold here, which is why the market square was renamed Puutori, puu meaning wood and tori meaning market square. Nowadays, you can also admire some artworks here, like Iglu, which looks like ice breaking apart, or the 15-metre light installation, Tree of Life.
3. Yliopistonmäki Hill
Height: 38.8 m
From Aninkaistenmäki Hill, the route continues towards the university. Make your way first to Turku Cathedral and its lively terrace, where you’ll find a bunch of pop-up restaurants during the summer months. Hidden behind the cathedral is the gorgeous Maaherran Makasiini (Governor’s Warehouse), which houses an art gallery as well as the restaurant, Roster Turku. Nearby is Piispankatu Street, which is dotted with wooden houses as well as tiny cafés and great museums like Lilla Fabbes and the Sibelius Museum.
From Piispankatu Street, head up towards the university. It has a long history in Turku for it was here, in 1640, that the first university in Finland was established. After the Great Fire of Turku, the university was moved to Helsinki and the current buildings on Yliopistonmäki Hill were built in the 1950s. A new building, Aurum, opened in spring 2021 and it’s here that students will study natural sciences. From the university, head back down towards lively Hämeenkatu Street and make your way towards Kerttulinmäki Hill.
4. Kerttulinmäki Hill
Height: 27 m
This hill is known as Gallows Hill as, for a time, this was where adulterers and thieves met a gruesome end. It could be seen from a great distance and bodies were often left to hang as it was believed that they served as a deterrent to anyone visiting the city. During the Middle Ages, the area was also known as the site of the Saint Gertrude guild hall, tavern, and church. A monument made from a metal ring on top of standing concrete pillars now stands here in recognition of this history.
From Kerttulinmäki Hill, walk along Sirkkalankatu Street, where you’ll spot some neoclassical beauties from the early 1900s. The barracks here also bring their own stories to the colourful history of Kerttulinmäki Hill. Continue your journey by crossing Uudenmaankatu Street and heading towards the green hill. You can also choose to take the stairs instead; it’s a steep climb, but the trees look like something from a fairy tale.
5. Vartiovuorenmäki Hill
Height: 50 m
Vartiovuori is the highest hill in Turku and one of Finland’s oldest city parks. At the start of the 1800s, Vartiovuori was still a rocky hill, as stones had been quarried here for hundreds of years for the city’s building needs. But from the 1840s, step-by-step, the park took shape. It is said that even upper-class gentlemen carried mulch in their handkerchiefs to the roots of their favourite trees to make Vartiovuori beautiful.
Since 1819, the hill has been dominated by a neoclassical observatory, which was designed by C. L. Engel. If you love a bit of culture, you’ll love the performances at Vartiovuori’s summer theatre. Luostarinmäki Handicraft Museum, which reveals how handicrafts were made 200 years ago, is also nearby. The park also has a children’s playground and wading pool, which is the perfect place to cool down on a warm day. From Vartiovuori, continue your journey over Kaskenmäki Hill to Samppalinna. The route will take you to the staircase on Mustainveljestenkuja Way (Black Monks' Way), which creates a dramatic atmosphere at the park entrance.
6. Samppalinnanmäki Hill
Height: 39 m
Samppalinnanmäki Hill, or Samppis as its known, is the city’s sportiest hill. This is where the locals come to race, run, train, play frisbee golf, swim, or just hang out. It’s a multi-purpose sports area and it’s known as the home of the Paavo Nurmi Games. Near the sports field is the Samppalinna swimming stadium, which is a popular place to spend a summer’s day in the city. For the best view over Turku, head to the G. A. Petrelius monument.
From the banks of the Aura River, you’ll catch a glimpse of a red wooden windmill. This is the landmark of the Samppalinna Summer Theatre, which puts on entertaining performances in the summertime. For performances all year round, head to Turku City Theatre, which is found at the foot of Samppis.
Head down towards the Aura River and hop aboard the pedestrian ferry, Föri. Continue straight up the hill from the other side of the river and take the famous funicular to Kakolanmäki Hill. Completed in 2019, the funicular is Finland’s first outdoor elevator.
7. Kakolanmäki Hill
Height: 42 m
In the 1600s, Kakolanmäki Hill was known as Stable Hill as horse stables belonging to Turku Castle were located on the southwest slope. But the hill changed forever in 1853, when the famous Kakola prison opened here. It’s not known for certain where the name, ‘Kakola’ came from; it’s possibly associated with the mental health facility that once stood on the hill, or linked to the granite, which was mined here and the prisoners named kakoliitti.
The cells were emptied in 2007, and nowadays you’ll find a lively concentration of restaurants, workplaces, and apartments next to the massive granite building. Kakola Brewing Company offers artisan beers, while you can try flavour-packed food at Kakolanruusu and pick up some delicious baked treats at Bageri Å. The new Hotel Kakola guarantees you a comfortable night’s sleep in a former cell, and there’s even a spa that will soon open in the area.
So, put on your walking shoes and go conquer Turku’s hills! It’s a fun and free way to get to know the city. And, there’s no need to worry about the weather, you can do this tour at whatever time of year. If you want to add an extra challenge, you can take the stairs! Follow this link here for more tips.
But if you don’t fancy walking the whole way right now, no problem! Head to the top of Wiklund, where you’ll find the Walo Rooftop Bar, for a bird's-eye view of Turku’s seven hills. You can also hire a Låna boat to see how the hills look from the river. There’s no reason not to compare Turku to Rome!