Heading east from Helsinki on the King’s Road (Kuninkaantie), you can reach the charming river-side town of Porvoo in under an hour. From May to September, you can also reach Porvoo by boator cruise there and take a bus back to Helsinki to save a little time (the boat ride is just over three hours, while the bus takes under 90 minutes).
One of several medieval towns in Finland, Porvoo was founded in the 14th century and many of the old wooden buildings and narrow cobblestone streets remain. Made famous (in Finland at least) by the paintings of Albert Edelfelt, it is a scenic town where many of the beautiful old buildings now house good restaurants and shops selling Finnish artisanal goods.
In addition to enjoying the restaurants and shops, Porvoo also boasts the home of Finnish poet J.L. Runeberg. Beautifully restored, this wooden house is worth the walk–it is located on the river, but slightly east of old town. The entrance fee to visit the Town Hall will also get you into adjacent Holm House and both are quick and child-friendly ways to see an overview of the town’s history.
Walking back to old town after visiting the Runebergin Koti, don’t miss crossing the river to see the newly-added housing and greenway that was built to reflect the old red-ochre houses across from it. This is a great example of the subtlety of Finnish design and also a great place to let the kids burn off some energy before heading into more shops or museums.