Tartu is located in the southeast of Estonia close to Russia’s border and is the country second city.
Tartu is a university town with a great vibe, picturesque wooden houses, stately buildings, beautiful parks and riverfront and classically designed 18th-century buildings.
How to get to Tartu
Tartu is located about 185 kilometres southeast of Tallinn and connections between the two cities are frequent. The bus is your best option. While there are trains available, they are less frequent and more expensive.
I recommend spending at least two full days in Tartu to have enough time to get a good feel of the city and enjoy some of its unique culture and atmosphere.
How yo move around
The best way to get around is on foot. Most places of interest are located within walking distance of each other. If you prefer there is an extensive and easy-to-use bus system in Tartu.
Best Things To Do In Tartu, Estonia
Raekoja Square (Raekoja Plats)
Tartu’s main square, Raekoja plats is a scenic place, with cobblestone, decorative architecture in shades of pastel colours, classically designed 18th-century buildings and rows of restaurants.
A great place to start a visit to Tartu. This funny-shaped square runs from the city’s town hall down towards the Emajõgi River.
You can find here the beloved Kissing Students Fountain, a symbol of Tartu in front of the Town Hall.
The Town Hall (which also doubles as the tourist information centre) is a neoclassical gem, built in 1789. On the end opposite the town hall, there is a yellow National Geographic frame, one of 21 such frames in Southern Estonia.
St. John’s Church
St. John’s Church is a gothic brick Lutheran church in the Old Town with an eye-catching and beautiful brick design.
The inside is not that spectacular but it is one of the highest buildings in Tartu and it is possible to climb up the tower for views over the city. Inside there are some cool sculptures.
Soup Town (Supilinn neighbourhood)
One of the more unusually interesting neighbourhoods to visit in Tartu is the Supilinn neighbourhood also known as Soup Town.
The neighbourhood is full of old wooden houses and the streets are named after soup ingredients. Soup Town is being rapidly renovated, but still offers an interesting look into Tartu pre-WWII.
Toome Hill and Toomemäe Cathedral Ruins
Toome Hill is home to Toomemäe Park, a lovely green space filled with statues and beautiful monuments. In this place, early settlers built fortifications in the 7th century.
The park of Toome Hill is also home to two curiously named bridges that link up walking paths, the Angel’s Bridge and Devil’s Bridge.
At the centre of Toome Hill are the open-air ruins of the old cathedral that was destroyed not long after during the Livonian War.
The intact part of the cathedral is now the University of Tartu Museum. You can visit the museum and climb up its towers for good views over Tartu.
University of Tartu
Tartu University is the country’s largest university (which happens to also be one of Europe’s oldest!). It was established in 1632, and has been the beating heart of the city for centuries.
The main university building is an elegant neoclassical building in Old Town.
University of Tartu Botanical Garden
The Tartu Botanical Gardens are absolutely stunning and incredibly peaceful, a must if the weather is good. It is free to enter the outdoor gardens, but the greenhouses do charge an entry fee of €3 adults.
Local Street Art
Tartu’s creative spirit is alive and you can see that on the strong culture of street art.
To find from large murals to little portraits you can use the street art map to find and experience the best of Tartu’s graffiti.
Karlova neighbourhood is the epicentre of most of Tartu’s street art and where the annual Stencibility Street Art Festival takes place.
The Emajogi River translating from Estonian as “Mother River” runs through Tartu between Lake Vortsjarv and Lake Peipsi and is the only navigable river in Estonia. The gentle Emajõgi Riverfront is an important defining feature of Tartu’s landscape.
There is a lovely riverside to stroll along with many cafes and trendy bars, bench swings, and a lovely park. It is definitely worth taking a stroll along the river. Perfect place to take a rest and watch as boats float.
Aparaaditehas is a hip and creative complex similar to the Telliskivi Creative City in Tallinn. A trendy area housed in a former Soviet Widget factory with a number of cool restaurants, shops, and cafes with a very artistic vibe.
The Tartu market hall is an indoor market located in the centre of Tartu, that offers a large selection of fresh food.
The open-air Tartu Market is located on the shore of the River Emajõgi. A great place to buy fresh produce.
Although most visitors to Estonia keep to the capital, Tallinn, it’s not the only city worth exploring. Tartu is a fascinating city filled with interesting and unique things to do.
Are you planning on visiting Tartu? Have you been? Let me know in the comments!
photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha