Tartu, Estonia’s second-largest city, is the Estonian equivalent of Oxford and Cambridge. The city has the instant charm of the aforementioned English towns and I can only presume its long-established and widely-respected university is the reason for its laid-back vibe. Charm and relaxed vibe are two good reasons to visit Tartu.
For further essential travel information on Estonia check out my Is Estonia worth visiting? post.
VISIT TARTU: SIGHTS
Tartu dates back over a thousand years with the university being founded in the 17th Century during Sweden’s rule of Estonia.
UNIVERSITY OF TARTU: To be honest, modern-day Tartu seems like a town attached to a university. Whatever way you perceive the city, the locals are proud of it and its position as a long-held seat of learning, particularly in the sciences. At one stage, one in three pharmacists in Russia were trained at Tartu University.
University buildings are dotted all over the centre of Tartu so plenty of opportunities for snapping 19th century architecture.
UNIVERSITY OF TARTU MUSEUM: At the time of my visit, the University of Tartu Museum hosted Measuring the World, an exhibition highlighting the feats of six Estonian explorers and was cleverly divided into hot and cold climate sections. The exhibition was thoroughly engaging and informative.
ESTONIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM: Another must-see exhibit is the Estonian National Museum located 2km outside the city centre. Everything you want to know about Estonia is here in an interactive display and housed in a new construct which has courted controversy. Set aside at least half a day for this excursion.
TOWN HALL SQUARE: This is the focal point of the city with the Statue of the Kissing Students as a popular meeting point.
Town Hall Square has a cobblestone surface and is surrounded by classicist style buildings. Many of these buildings contain cafes and shops. If you’re looking for a sweet treat you will find it here.
I never visited Tartu Art Museum on Town Hall Square but I certainly got a good look at the outside of the building. In a way it looks like an art piece in itself.
STILL UNDECIDED ABOUT VISITING TARTU?
Tartu is a gorgeous, friendly and safe city to stroll around, whether meandering through its relaxed pastel-coloured streets or walking along the banks of the Emajogi River. Its compact size will be easy on the feet as will the abundant supply of cafes dotted around the city.
Café Werner is legendary whilst the aroma of chocolate at Pierre’s on Town Hall Square is so pervasive it’ll linger in your hair and clothes afterwards!
When I first heard of Tartu it sounded like a calorific treat best served with a cup of tea or coffee. So it was a pleasant surprise to see that Tartu really is as sweet as it sounds…in every sense!
TARTU TRAVEL ESSENTIALS
Tartu is located in Southern Estonia, approximately 2.5 hours by bus/car/train from capital city Tallinn. I travelled by bus from Tallinn to Tartu. Bus services run frequently.
Tartu would make for a long day trip from Tallinn so it may be best to stay overnight in Tartu.