Tartu Travel Guide: Tartu Tips

Tartu: Cultural Treasure in Estonia. University town with a lot of charm / Tartu Travel Guide: Tartu Tips

Historic churches, city beaches and the oldest university in Northern Europe are just three of the highlights that await you on a holiday in Tartu. The second largest city in Estonia seduces with a mix of relaxation and liveliness. The varied nightlife in particular will positively surprise many travelers.

Tartu: Overview

Welcome to the second largest city in Estonia, right after the capital Tallinn! Tartu is the European Capital of Culture 2024. A quick look into the city center is enough and you will also know why: Old buildings and the opportunity for flying visits to the theater or museum can be found almost everywhere. Estonia experts even speak of the “cradle of creativity”, which runs through the festivals, art exhibitions and concerts that take place again and again.

The city is best explored on foot. During a relaxed walk, you will be accompanied by the impressive street art as well as the relaxed attitude to life of the locals, which is mainly shaped by the students of the University of Tartu. Located in southern Estonia on the banks of the Embach River, the birthplace of the Estonian flag is fascinating.

Who is Tartu suitable for?

Tartu is a real sightseeing destination! This can basically be said of any place with a historical core, but in the Estonian city the views are particularly beautiful. Because the top destinations within the city include, to name just a few must-sees, the old town hall, an unusual fountain and a cathedral church enthroned on a hill. Since almost every vacationer is automatically interested in history!

There are also cultural highlights in Tartu – be it a spontaneous visit to a museum or theater or a conscious journey to a festival. Here people know how to have fun and educate themselves at the same time. Not surprising as a university town! The relaxed lifestyle of the students is also noticeable after sunset at the latest. Then Tartu with its bars and discotheques becomes an absolute party backdrop. Last but not least, in our opinion, the cultural city is simply something special and is (still) one of the absolute insider tips for travelers who want to discover the Baltic States with all their fascinating facets.

Sightseeing features

We have summarized our favorite spots in Tartu for you. You decide whether they are suitable for your personal sightseeing tour! Depending on how much time is available, all of them can of course be visited.

City ​​hall

The red and pink town hall from the 18th century was designed in the style of early classicism with baroque elements. Inside there used to be a prison next to the town council. In the meantime, an information center is included in addition to the city administration. The building is considered one of Tartu’s landmarks and is one of the most popular photo motifs for visitors. A daily glockenspiel in the town hall tower sounds at 9 a.m., 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. – at the latest then you will definitely notice the romantic building!

Arch bridge

The Arch Bridge leads to downtown Tartu and was built in the 1950s as a pedestrian bridge. It replaced an 18th-century structure made of stone and whose piers survive to this day. In addition, a model of the former arched bridge can be admired next to the new version. A 2017 renovation made the bridge even more modern. Nocturnal lighting and musical accompaniment to match the carillon of the town hall tower put it in the focus of every city tour. Among students, it is best known as a backdrop for one or the other test of courage.

Another modern landmark of the city is the Kissing Students fountain, built in 1998. As the name suggests, it shows a kissing couple under an umbrella and can be found right in front of the town hall gates on the market square. In addition to the city administration building, the fountain is one of the most popular photo motifs in Tartu. Here you can quickly discover the list of cities on the boards that indicate Tartu’s twin cities and their respective distances.

St. John’s Church

Friends of early Gothic architecture will go into raptures at the sight of the Johanniskirche. The 14th-century building is one of the local landmarks and was dedicated to John the Baptist. The original 2,000 terracotta figures in the church were unique in the history of art in Europe, of which around 1,000 are still preserved. The Second World War meant that some of them and even the church itself had to be extensively reconstructed.

Toompea with Cathedral Church

Slightly higher than Tartu itself, the cathedral towers majestically on Toompea. It looks back on centuries of construction, which began in the 13th century and was not fully completed until the 16th century. Today the building is more of a ruin – but that doesn’t detract from its beauty in the brick Gothic style. The university museum is housed in the converted choir, and in the towers of the cathedral you can enjoy a sweeping view over Tartu and the surrounding area – provided you have a head for heights.

Crooked house

Tartu’s Crooked House owes its characteristically uneven construction to its location: built partly on the city walls, partly on stilts, it seems to be constantly trying to find its center. Since the late 18th century it has been a magnet for visitors who have not yet made it to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It has an even steeper tilt: a full 5.8 degrees, while the Pisa Tower “only” scores with around 4 degrees of tilt.

Main building of the university

Tartu University is one of the top two percent in the world and the oldest in Northern Europe. The white main building from the 19th century will surely please you from the first moment. It is a magnificent example of neoclassical architecture, opened in 1809. The university building is still the center of study in Tartu today. The auditorium and a former prison in which severely punished students had to endure in the past are just as much a part of the interior as an art museum. The art museum staff also conduct tours of the university building. Due to the excellent acoustics, the auditorium regularly serves as a backdrop for musical performances.

Activities in Tartu

You don’t feel like just strolling through the city on vacation, but want adrenaline kicks and variety, but maybe also more relaxation? Then read on now!

Tartu museums

Anyone who has already seen the magnificent buildings of Estonia from the outside may also want to get to know the inside. This can be done, for example, in the cathedral church on the Domberg, where the university museum has its roots. It provides information about the history of the cathedral and the development of the local university. Take a look at the treasures in the university treasury or learn more about the character of the city. Visiting the Mad Scientist’s Cabinet will be interesting for children. The museum extends over seven floors and offers a lot of educational variety.

It gets artistically exciting in the Tartmus, an art museum located in the Leaning House of Tartu. New and older works from the 20th to 21st centuries have been exhibited there since it was founded in 1940. If you want to visit the auditorium and the former prison in the university building, you can do so by arrangement with the local museum. Or you can visit the Estonian National Museum, which, among other things, provides comprehensive insights into the Estonians’ past. Rural life in the early 20th century is documented by around 3,000 photographs. In addition, rural festivals and traditional handicrafts are the focus of the most important collection of folk culture in Estonia.

experience adventures

The Elva Adventure Park is a coveted destination for holidaymakers looking for pure thrills. It is located in a picturesque forest location on Lake Verevi and allows you to fly over the water, which attracts with 800 meters of free fall. This is definitely only for the brave! Anyone traveling with children will be happy about the adventure trails, which are sometimes aimed at younger and sometimes older explorers. The same applies to everyone who, due to their fear of heights, has to pass when crossing the lake. So there is guaranteed to be something for every visitor.

Discover culture

Tartu is also officially a Capital of Culture in 2024, and with good reason! In addition to the old town buildings, the many events contribute to the fact that further education or upscale entertainment is possible almost around the clock. One of the centers for this is the Antoniushof, which has been known as a popular meeting place for creative people since the Middle Ages. Theatrical performances and concerts are the order of the day in the courtyard of the building during the summer. There are also permanent and temporary art exhibitions, which sooner or later should appeal to everyone.

Insert a bathing day

The Anne Canal is the opportunity for everyone who likes to wear a bikini, bathing suit or swimming trunks on holiday. Conveniently located near the city center, during the summertime it presents itself as a golden sandy beach that rivals many a dream destination in paradise. Well, at least almost! Sunbathing, swimming and building sand castles are all possible, as is a game of volleyball. Snacks and refreshing ice cream are sold in high season. On Lake Verevi, over which the free fall of the Elva adventure park leads, it is also nice to bear the hot days. The water is pleasantly warm and here another beach has been prepared for bathing beauties. Children swim particularly safely in a separate area, adrenaline junkies jump straight into the water from the diving tower.

turn night into day

The large number of students in Tartu makes for a lively nightlife, because what student doesn’t like to party when the lectures are over? Different tastes are served in the Estonian city when it comes to nightlife. There are cozy cafés that are open late into the night and entice you to linger with regional delicacies. There are also bars where music gigs provide the necessary atmosphere. Last but not least, the clubs, in which well-known and up-and-coming DJs play, tempt people to leave the hotel bed empty for a night.

visit Tallinn

Tartu and Tallinn are only three hours away by train. The return flight to Germany probably also starts in Tallinn, so there are enough arguments for a flying visit to Estonia’s capital. Travelers can choose to expand their sightseeing and visit impressive buildings such as the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, or prefer to go shopping in the malls. As in Tartu, the cultural scene is also very distinctive. Beach holidaymakers look forward to the beaches on the Baltic Sea coast, which allow a last cool down before the journey home at the right travel time.

Tartu Travel Info

Did our travel report inspire you to take a vacation in Estonia? Great, then our travel information is exactly what you need for the insider tip in the Baltic States!

Best time to visit Tartu

The best time to visit Tartu is throughout summer and early autumn. Then there is a good chance of sunny, rain-free days with a pleasant temperature – perfect for sightseeing! You should preferably swim at the city beach in July, because then the outside temperature is at its highest at around 24 degrees Celsius. During the winter season, spots like Lake Verevi turn into popular destinations for winter sports enthusiasts, such as ice skaters. Even then, sightseeing in snowy surroundings can be great.

travel preparation

Due to Estonia’s EU membership, entry is easy and can even be done without much preparation for German nationals with a valid ID card. The money does not have to be exchanged either, since the national currency is the euro, just like in Germany.

Tartu only has a small airport, which only flies to Helsinki as a larger destination. Unless you happen to have been to Finland before, you’d better aim for Riga or Tallinn. Their airports are served directly from Frankfurt am Main, for example. Buses to Tartu are often ready at the arrival airport to take travelers to their final destination. For the trip from Tallinn you have to plan around 2.5 hours. From Riga, the bus ride is significantly longer at over four hours.

locomotion on site

Since almost all sights are within walking distance of each other, you are welcome to park your car in Tartu. If you want to visit Tallinn or other cities in Estonia, you can rely on the national train connections.

Hotels & Accommodation

Living right in the city has many advantages: short distances to the sights and after the party you go straight to bed. It’s a good thing that the hotels in Tartu mostly meet this requirement. But those looking for peace and quiet who prefer accommodation away from the center will also find what they are looking for. From standard to luxury everything is represented. You also have the choice between larger and more anonymous hotels and smaller accommodations with family charm.

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