Away from the bustle of the capital Tallinn, and spread on the banks of Emajõgi River lies the sleepy university town of Tartu. The town of Tartu is a beautiful symphony of old and young, with thousand of years of history but with its share of modern buildings and a young student population.
How to reach Tartu
Air: Tartu has an international airport but doesn’t see many flights land. Tallinn, is the nearest busy airport only 190 km away. From Tallinn airport hop on to bus service called Lux express which will directly take you to Tartu. It is recommended to book ticket online.
Bus to Tartu: Several buses run daily connecting the two biggest city of Estonia, Tallinn and Tartu. The three hours journey costs around 12 Euros and the buses are reasonably comfortable.
Train to Tartu: From Tallinn take the cheaper second class ticket which costs about 10 Euros as compared to 15 Euros of first class. Journey time between Tallinn and Tartu is two hours. Conveniently, the train station is located near the Tartu city center.
Top Attractions in Tartu
Tartu Old City
The well preserved old city of Tartu is home to a number of old historic buildings. Leaning House, now converted into an art museum, is the city’s very own leaning tower of Pisa.
Raekoja plats or Tartu Town Hall Square is located right in the center of the old town. Checkout the famous kissing students fountains which depicts a couple kissing under an umbrella. An annual event is held here wherein couple holds the kiss for the longest wins. Another interesting sight is the faucet statue, a statue of water running from a tap.
Across the river is sculpture of bronze pig, etched with marks to show how to chop it so that it could be served in your dinner plate. The statue is located right in front of the meat market.
If you have soaked in enough architecture for the day, take a pleasant walk in the nature on the path which runs parallel to Ema Jõgi, the Mother River. Hike up the Toome magi which overlooks the town, there is so much to explore of this hill but start with the church.
Tip: If you are in Tartu for new year, come to the square for the great firework display.
AHHAA Science Center
The AHHAA science center is fun for children and adults alike making it a perfect family destination. The best part is that the ticket is valid for the whole day and you can come back later.
Of special interests are planetarium, labyrinth made entire of mirrors and the educational exhibitions. There is a lot of focus on activities and demonstrations, check out the Chemistry experiments, watching the chemicals explode is quite fun.
The science center has an in-house café, appropriately called Cafe Newton; the prices are reasonable. The science center is located near the bus station. Staff is polite and helpful.
Tartu University Botanical Garden
The 200 years old botanical garden is a part of the Tartu university. In this neatly landscaped garden there are hundreds of variety of cactus on display. Also, check the orchid display in the tropical house. For selfie lovers, there is a picturesque bridge over the small pond where you can some wonderful shots of yourself (making funny faces). Go ahead and feed the ducks in the pond and check out the cute turtles. The entrance.to garden is free.
Tip: Late spring season is the best to visit for tulips and summer for roses.
The neoclassical styled university is the oldest university in Estonia and considered to be one of the oldest in the continent. It was established by the legendary King Gustav II Adolf in 1632.
Visitors are free to wander around in the campus. Highlight of the university is the student lock-up located in the attic. In the old times it was used to hold the erring students for few days as a means to discipline them. The walls of the attic are covered with scribbles and graffiti, some of which is actually quite good! Talent abound!
Interestingly, the ‘crimes’ were as petty as insulting someone or delays in submission of library books (2 days).
Toome Hill (Toomemagi)
Toome Hill standing tall, overlooking the Old town was a gift from Emperor Paul I to the University of Tartu. Choose from the several trails that run through the park on the hill and discover ruins and heritage buildings. You’ll come across old bunkers, and ruins of an old cathedral.
Check out the old observatory from early 19th century, and the two bridges Devil’s bridge and Angel’s bridge which connect eastern and western part of the hill. Climb up on the ruins to get an excellent view of the town.
Gothic red brick church
The otherwise plain and simple red brick church is known specifically for its terracotta sculptures placed both inside and outside. The church was restored in the year 2005 after parts of it were destroyed in Soviets’ raids.
This 14th century Lutheran church has great acoustics and it is wonderful to listen to the choir perform. Climb up the bell tower to get good views of the town.
Entrance is free but there is one euro fee to take pictures inside (come on!)
Happy Traveling! Hope you have great fun!