Because of its long history it has been the site of many important events and has extensively influenced Finnish history. Along with Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, Turku was designated the European Capital of Culture for 2011. In 1996 it was declared the official Christmas City of Finland.
Turku has a long history as Finland's largest city and occasionally as the administrative center of the country, but has, over the last two centuries, lost both titles to Helsinki. To this day, the city's identity stems from its status as the oldest city in Finland and the country's first capital. Originally, the word "Finland" referred only to the area around Turku (hence the title, "Finland Proper" for the region).
During the Middle Ages, Turku was the seat of the Bishop of Turku (a title later upgraded to Archbishop of Turku), covering the then eastern half of the Kingdom of Sweden (most of the present-day Finland) until the 17th century. Even if Turku had no official capital status, both the short-lived institutions of Dukes and Governors-General of Finland usually had their Finnish residences there. In the aftermath of the War against Sigismund, the town was the site of the Åbo bloodbath. In 1640, the first university in Finland, The Royal Academy of Turku, was founded in Turku. Turku was also the meeting place for the States of Finland in 1676.
- Turku Cathedral is the Mother Church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, and the country's national shrine. It is the central church of the Archdiocese of Turku and the seat of the Archbishop of Finland, Kari Mäkinen. It is also regarded as one of the major records of Finnish architectural history. Considered to be the most important religious building in Finland, the cathedral has borne witness to many important events in the nation's history and has become one of the city's most recognizable symbols. The cathedral is situated in the heart of Turku next to the Old Great Square, by the river Aura. Its presence extends beyond the local precinct by having the sound of its bells chiming at noon broadcast on national radio. It is also central to Finland's annual Christmas celebrations. The cathedral was originally built out of wood in the late 13th century, and was dedicated as the main cathedral of Finland in 1300, the seat of the bishop of Turku. It was considerably expanded in the 14th and 15th centuries, mainly using stone as the construction material. The cathedral was badly damaged during the Great Fire of Turku in 1827, and was rebuilt to a great extent afterwards.
- Turku Castle is a monument of Finnish history situated in the city of Turku in Finland. Together with Turku Cathedral, the castle is one of the oldest buildings still in use in Finland. Turku Castle is the largest surviving medieval building in Finland. It stands as a national monument, on the banks of the Aura River, as it has done since the 14th century. A start was made on building the castle in about 1280. The Swedish conquerors of Finland intended it originally as a military fortress. During the next two centuries its defences were strengthened and living quarters were added. The castle served as a bastion and administrative centre in Eastland, as Finland was then known, during the Swedish period. The main part of the castle was extended considerably during the 16th century after Gustav Vasa had ascended the Swedish throne and his son John headed the Finnish administration following his promotion to duke. The bailey was also supplemented and the round tower at the southeast corner of the bailey was added. Since then no part of the castle has been added or extended, only repaired.
- Aboa Vetus and Ars Nova is a museum in central Turku. The museum is housed in a building known as the Rettig palace, originally built in 1928. Aboa Vetus displays portions of the city dating back to medieval times, while Ars Nova is a museum of contemporary art. The museum was first opened in 1995 as two independent museums. Originally, plans were for only Ars Nova, the contemporary art museum, but during its construction a number of structures and artifacts dating back to the Middle Ages were discovered, and the archaeological excavation that was commissioned eventually transformed into Aboa Vetus. The two museums were combined in 2004 and Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova is now among the most popular tourist venues in the entire region of Finland Proper.
- Turku Orthodox Church or the Church of the Holy Martyr Empress Alexandra is the main church of the Turku orthodox parish located on the northeast corner of Turku Market Square. The church was built in under plans drafted by architect Carl Ludvig Engel and was ordered by Nicholas I of Russia on 5 January 1838. Construction, which began in 1839, cost 67,886 rubles and was completed in 1845. The church was consecrated on 2 September 1845. The church was dedicated to Alexandra, the spouse of Diocletian who had publicly became Christianised and suffered a martyr’s death on 23 April 303. Making her the patron saint may have been because of Nicholas I’s own wife’s name Aleksandra Feodorovna.
- Luostarinmäki Handicrafts Museum is an open air museum consisting of 18 blocks of original 18th century – early 19th century buildings on their original location. The area of the museum was the only old residential area left in 1940, when the museum was opened. The location was the largest area to completely survive the Great Fire of Turku. Contemporary handicraft items are presented. The museum received the Golden Apple international tourism award as the only site in Scandinavia in 1984.