In a country of such abundant forests, Finland has been built mostly from wood all the way up to the last century. Still dotting the countryside today exist entire wooden towns that sit nearly as they did decades or even centuries ago. A visit to one of these historic places is like entering a living time capsule into Finland’s past.
There are many quaint areas of old wooden houses to explore in Finland. Mentioned in this article are a few of the largest and best preserved ones, starting with the capital’s most well-known historic wooden neighbourhoods.
Coast and Archipelago
Coastal Finland with its stunningly beautiful archipelago offers a variety of fascinating destinations that are easy to reach.
The most easily accesible wooden districts of Helsinki are Wooden Käpylä, Wooden Vallila and Wooden Kumpula. They are all within walking distance from one another and quite near the city centre, reachable by tram or bus, and Käpylä also by train.
Designed after the ‘garden city movement’ from England with private garden plots for all tenants, these areas were built in the early 1900´s to improve the lives of the city’s industrial workers. Today they are highly desired areas to live for the bohemian types; artists, actors, writers, and musicians.
A stroll along the main street of Wooden Käpylä (pictured), for example, is like walking through a movie set where one might really see a film crew rolling down the sidewalks capturing a classic backdrop or a tour bus let out tourists for a snapshot of this timeless neighbourhood.
Vallila’s one and a half story wooden apartment houses built in Nordic Classicism style fit artistically together and closely hug the streets. One can look down the long stretching courtyards separating the houses where the old outhouse, washroom and communal sauna buildings sit and are still in use today.
If you fancy walking right into one of these old wooden houses, then visit the local pub, Pikku Vallila (pictured) and get an antique atmosphere and a taste of some local art.
Wooden Kumpula is its own little wondrous village with interesting attractions tucked away between the historic houses and interwoven forest. In the summer time, catch some rays with the locals on the lawn at the popular outdoor public swimming pool that was built for olympic training in the 1950’s. Or visit the beautiful wooden allotment area built for the enjoyment of the city’s inhabitants in 1927.
The old town of Porvoo is a true step back into time with its historic wooden houses resting amongst a mosaic of cobblestone streets and irregularly sized plots whose arrangement dates back to the middle ages. Only 50 kilometres from Helsinki, it is an easy and ideal place to mix some pleasant gift shopping and cafe sitting with an enchanting walk through history.
Resting on the west coast as part of the town Kokkola, Old Town Neristan is a mazed area of historic wooden houses from the 18th and 19th century that offers boutique style shops, cafes, restaurants and inns. Neristan is also home to the fascinating K.H. Renlund Museum, which is an old preserved home from the early 1800’s where lived the same family for four generations.
The picturesque old town of Naantali is famous for its colourful wooden houses. The town’s history dates back to 15th century when Naantali was the home of the Catholic Convent of St. Bridget which resulted the characteristic town to bloom and welcome steady flow of pilgrims. Today Naantali old town is a charming destination full of boutiques, art galleries, accommodation options, restaurants, summertime entertainment and live music. Naantali is conveniently located next to the historic City of Turku. The glittering sea hugs the old town making the harbour area a great place to enjoy Naantali’s food scene and the sunsets of the archipelago of South-West Finland.
This picturesque harbour town sits on the southwestern coast of Finland about 255 kilometres from Helsinki. Its medieval layout of meandering cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways intertwine with 18th and 19th century classic Nordic wooden houses. As one of the few Unesco World Heritage sites in Finland, a stroll through Old Rauma is perfect for the historically interested traveller.
A marvellous little island village of classic Nordic wooden houses, Reposaari is located at the entrance to the very important west coast harbour town of Pori. Heavily used since the medieval times, the island is now a popular destination for those who come to see the WWII defensive fortress or the island’s extraordinary exotic flora brought in by ships docking from places as far away as South America.
The oldest city in Finland, Turku, boasts one of the most beautiful wooden neighbourhoods of the country. Located in the district known as Portsa, these charming historic wooden houses separated by narrow cobblestone streets are just west of the Aura River running through the heart of the city. Being that Turku is a port town in the southwest corner of Finland and the main travel stop in route to and from Stolkholm, it is popular destination for travellers seeking the city’s well known arts scene and rich history.
An idyllic wooden town and industrial area await visitors crossing the river at the Market Square. Pikisaari was used in the 17th century as a place to build boats. This unique island also boasts Oulu’s oldest wooden building, which is now a museum. Pikisaari’s residents include an active community of artists and craftsmen.
This unique architectural area of well preserved small wooden houses rests on the slope of an ancient glacial ridge just 2.5 kilometres outside of Tampere. Once a low-cost living quarters for factory workers and artists, it is now a high-end residential area where many well-known Finnish artists and celebrities have lived. A monument to the Finnish poet Lauri Viita is located near the highest point of the ridge and a famous landmark called the Shot Tower attracts tourists seeking a proper view of the area.
Loviisa is one of Finland’s most attractive coastal towns, an hour’s drive from Helsinki. A large unified area of Loviisa’s old wooden houses has stayed intact from when they were built in the 19th century.
What is remarkable about Loviisa is that every year, on the last weekend of August, many of these charming old houses and their gardens are open to the general public. This event is called the Historical Houses of Loviisa and it spans over two days, including enormous antique and flea markets around town, great pop up cafes and restaurants, arts, crafts, music and children’s entertainment. During the event it is also possible to stay the night in some of the houses – just book early!
Tammisaari was once a village that earned its living through fishing and crafts, and was known as a safe haven for seafarers. Today, it remains popular among boaters, especially during the summer season, and over 80 percent of the population are Swedish speakers.
While many of the buildings in Old Tammisaari have been rebuilt over the years, care has been taken to preserve the winding alleys and lanes. Street names such as Hatuntekijänkatu (Hatter’s Lane) and Nahkurinkatu (Tanner’s Lane) offer a delightful glimpse into a bygone era.
Entering Old Town Raahe is like slipping under a dome of tranquility and happiness, unannounced, undisturbed. Situated on the west coast of Finland, a stone’s throws away from the Arctic Archipelago, harmonious Old Town Raahe is one of the best-preserved 19th-century wooden towns in the country. The large plots of the Raahe bourgeoisie were mainly located close to Pekkatori Square, whereas the craftsmen, peasants and seamen built their homes on the edges of the old town. Myhrberg Park is one of Finland’s three remaining 17th century squares.
The best way to experience the Raahe old town is by taking an unhurried walk on the narrow streets and enjoying a cup of coffee and pastries near the historic Pekkatori Square. When strolling around the old town, take a peek through the gates at the large courtyards and gardens that emanate the spirit of the time of sail ships.
Pietarsaari’s (Jakobstad in Swedish) historical neighborhood, known as both Skata and Norrmalm, is one of the largest cohesive wooden house neighborhoods in Finland. It is a culturally and historically valuable place, on both the local and national level. The first houses in Skata were built in the beginning of the 18th century and until the latter part of the 18th century most of Skata’s inhabitants were seamen and their families. The district rapidly changed to a working-class district when the Strengberg Tobaccofactory expanded in the 1890s and became the biggest employer in the town.
The best way to explore Skata is by foot. Enjoy the colourful and decorated wooden houses and idyllic street views which create an interesting milieu in every season. For a piece of history, visit the Strengberg tobacco museum or an antique shop. In the summertime, there’s also a cozy summer café.
Kristiinankaupunki – Kristinestad in Swedish – located in the Western coast of Finland has a historical wooden town district that reflects the era when Finland was a part of Sweden. The town was founded by Count Per Brahe in 1649. Kristinestad has unique customs buildings dating back to 1680 and 1720, a reminder of a time when customs duty used to be charged to people arriving in the city during the Swedish reign.
The straight lines adored during the Renaissance still play a crucial role in the street plan of the city centre of Kristinestad. The development of the last hundreds of years is evident in the various styles of wooden houses that line the narrow streets and lanes. The crown jewels are the Empire style merchants’ trade buildings. The seaside blocks have previously housed ship owners and the rest of the bourgeoisie. When strolling further away from the seaside area, the smaller the houses become – following the social classes.
Old Porvoo is one of Finland’s most idyllic districts. The cobbled streets are lined with old, doll-house-like houses and on top of the hill a white stone church looks over the river valley. Wonderful in the summer, magical during wintertime. Only one hour East of Helsinki.