Presentation of the destination
Wander the quiet cobbled streets, sip a coffee in one of the green parks and mingle with the lively student population in Estonia’s second city. Mercifully spared the Sovietisation that blighted many other Soviet block cities, here the streets are lined with elegant 19th-century buildings, housing many stylish art galleries, fascinating museums and bourgeois coffee houses. Tartu is an intellectual and idealistic city, the oldest in Estonia, with a population of just under 100,000. The educated citizens speak Estonian, with Russian the second language for older people and English commonly spoken among the young. Since 2011 the currency has been the euro, and the city lies in the Eastern European time zone, UTC+2.
Points of interests / things to see
Tartu University, founded by Swedish King Gustaf II Adolf in 1632, is Estonia’s most illustrious educational institute, with its students making up nearly one-fifth of the city’s population. The stunning white neo-classical main building dates back to the 1800s, when infractions of university rules were punished slightly more severely than they are today. Students who ‘offended public morality’ with their louche behaviour and overdue library books were swiftly chucked in the ‘lock-up’, a kind of prison for undergrads located in the loft. Many bored inmates rebelled by carving puerile messages and images on the walls, which can still be seen today. The University of Tartu Art Museum offers fantastic tours that include the lock-up, the art museum and the grand assembly hall. See the art museum website for details: http://www.ut.ee/artmuseum/eng/for_tourist.html. Address: Ülikooli Street 18. Phone: +372 7 737 5400. Student's lock-up opening hours: Mon-Fri 11am – 5pm.
Follow Ülikooli Street north from the university to discover the stunning St John’s Church (Jaani kirik), a brick Gothic Lutheran church that’s nearly 700 years old and famous for the hundreds of unique terracotta figures placed in niches around the building. Some theorise that the sheer number of these figures, as well as their unique features, might indicate that they were originally modelled on various local inhabitants. Having survived the Great Fire of Tartu in 1775, which razed nearly 200 surrounding buildings to the ground, the church was nearly destroyed by Soviet bombs in 1944, along with many of the figurines, which once numbered in the thousands. Thankfully 16 years of renovation, along with two new bells, named Peetrus and Paulus after the city’s two patron saints, mean that the church is once again open for business. Inside the high brick walls still bear the scars of their destruction, but the flooding light and beautifully proportioned arches leave the visitor with a sense of renewed hope. Address: Jaani 5. Phone: +372 744 2229. Opening hours: Tue-Sat 10am –6pm.
As Tartu is the great city of learning in Estonia, it's perhaps only natural that it should have the country’s richest and most impressive collection of artefacts on folk culture, housed in the Estonian National Museum. In fact there are over two million objects in the museum, offering a fascinating insight into Estonian history and culture. Dedicated to the heritage of folklorist Jakob Hurt, the first items were originally collected at the end of the 19th century. The museum first opened in 1922, and swiftly became recognised as the best in the country, with buildings scattered all over Tartu. A cutting-edge new building has recently been commissioned to house the museum, as well as supplying conference space and a cinema, firmly bringing the Estonian National Museum into the 21st century. Notable exhibits include the stunning range of Estonian national costumes along with other textiles such as hand-woven carpets and elaborately embroidered linen tablecloths. There is also a comprehensive collection of carved beer tankards, which give a unique insight into daily life. Address: Kuperjanovi Street 9. Phone: +372 735 0445. Opening hours: Tue-Sun 11am –6pm. Admissions: adults €2/children €1.5.
This green, pleasantly landscaped hilltop park, with small paths winding lyrically between the trees, was once the very reason for Tartu’s existence, providing a defensible bastion from around the fifth or sixth centuries. Rising above the old town, the hill is topped by the great Gothic cathedral, built by German knights in the 13th century, along with an old observatory constructed in 1810. The cathedral has had a rocky history, destroyed, despoiled, rebuilt and even used as a barn, but now it houses the interesting Museum of University History. Among the exhibits here you can view a reconstruction of an old autopsy chamber, shedding light on the efforts of scientists to understand the human body. Also spot the city's two oldest bridges, Angel Bridge, dating back to 1838, and Devil's Bridge, from 1913. The first time you walk across Angel Bridge you should make a wish, locals say it's bound to come true. It's probably best to avoid wishing for anything on the Devil's Bridge! You can't miss the park, as it's directly behind the central square.
Take a stroll around the characterful, colourful Supilinn, the historic slum of Tartu. One of the last inhabited 19th-century slums still surviving in Europe, Supilinn derives its title from the names of the streets, each named after a different soup ingredient. From Potato and Pea to Bean, Berry, and Melon, the roads are sometimes little more than alleyways, in the past often flooded as the entire area sits on undesirable low-lying swampland. That didn't stop the residents from making their own reckless Bohemian fun, and the region soon acquired a reputation for loose women and hard liquor. Somehow surviving the bombing of the war, the area is now undergoing a slow process of gentrification, with many Tartu residents keen to take over these beautiful wooden buildings and participate in the vibrant local community, which hosts all sorts of events throughout the year, including a spring festival. Wander the streets, spotting little back gardens with their woodpiles and laundry flapping in the breeze. Supilinn is located just north of the city centre, on the right bank of Emajõgi River, now thankfully protected by flood defences.
Just 44 km south of Tartu, pretty little Otepää sits amidst scenic forests, rolling hills, and beautiful clean rivers. It's an Estonian favourite come summertime, when many Tartu residents head out to enjoy walking, cycling, and swimming, as well as to soak up the beautiful landscape. But in winter Otepää really comes into its own, with a skiing resort that has earned it the nickname ‘the Estonian Alps’. Bus 71 will take you there.
If Otepää is the winter capital, Pärnu is the summer capital of Estonia. Here rolling sand dunes, beautiful white beaches, and a party atmosphere, coupled with the town's history as a health resort, have made it a popular destination. Tartu University still has a branch campus here, and there's also a medieval festival and an arts and crafts fair every summer. It's about 150 km from Tartu, but there's a bus taking a couple of hours and costing around €10.
This tiny island, located in Lake Peipus, was first settled in the 1700s by a group of Russian Old Believers, strict and austere orthodox Christians seeking to live a simple life and avoid conscription into the military. Today most of the island’s inhabitants still add here to this religion, living quiet lives in bright little wooden houses, fishing, and tending to their small and fertile gardens. Catch a ferry with Tartu Sadam AS (http://www.tartusadam.ee/eng/).
Capital cities don't come any more stunning than fairy-tale Tallinn, which has thankfully escaped much mainstream tourism and retains its old charm and relaxed atmosphere. Ancient castles, medieval churches, and a thriving nightlife and cafe culture, along with vibrant music, theatre, and art scenes combined to make Tallinn one of Europe's most delightful cities. Catch a bus or a train from Tartu, neither costing more than €15.
Vacation rentals in Tartu (Tartu County)
How to get there ?
Tartu Airport, just 10km from the city centre, has only one scheduled flight, to Helsinki, and an airport shuttle costing €4. Most tourists arriving by air will fly in to Tallinn, 180km away, or Riga, 250km away. Tallinn airport is linked with express buses to Tartu, but you should buy a ticket online in advance. Buses from Tallinn cost around €8–11, while the two daily buses from Riga cost €15–18. You can also take an 18-hour Eurolines bus from Kiev for €45. Tartu’s train station is just a kilometre from the city centre, with Edelarautee operating several daily trains from Tallinn. The journey takes 2.5 – 3.5 hours, costing €9–13. There’s also a train to Pechory, in Russia, as well as other internal destinations. Tartu Sadam AS operates ferries on Lake Peipus and Lake Lämmijärv. In town, walking is the best way to explore the beautiful old centre. Hop on a bus if you’re going further afield. Go Bus Tartu and AS Sebe are the operators, with tickets starting at €0.75. You could also hire a bike at Rattarent Tartus.
Tartu twins towns, sister cities
Discover the tartu's international relations with partnership cities and friendship cities.
Hotels in Tartu (Tartu County)
Dorpat Conference Hotel
51014 - Tartu
Indicative price : 56 EUR - 145 EUR
51013 - Tartu
Indicative price : 54.9 EUR - 124 EUR
50115 - Tartu
Indicative price : 45 EUR - 65 EUR
Hotel London by Tartuhotels
51007 - Tartu
Indicative price : 62 EUR - 192 EUR
Art Hotel Pallas by Tartuhotels
51004 - Tartu
Indicative price : 54 EUR - 145 EUR
Villa Margaretha Boutique Hotell
50108 - Tartu
Indicative price : 50.4 EUR - 136 EUR
50106 - Tartu
Indicative price : 52.3 EUR - 199 EUR
51004 - Tartu
Indicative price : 35 EUR - 135 EUR
51003 - Tartu
Indicative price : 81 EUR - 250 EUR
Raekoja plats 2
51003 - Tartu
Indicative price : 43 EUR - 135 EUR
Tartu Kutsehariduskeskuse Hotell
50115 - Tartu
Indicative price : 31 EUR - 45 EUR
50707 - Tartu
Indicative price : 35 EUR - 89 EUR
50410 - Tartu
Indicative price : 14 EUR - 76 EUR
51013 - Tartu
Indicative price : 35 EUR - 75 EUR
51006 - Tartu
Indicative price : 34 EUR - 65 EUR
Domus Dorpatensis Guest Apartments
Ulikooli 7 / Raekoja Plats 1
51003 - Tartu
Indicative price : 67 EUR - 185 EUR