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Tartu, the second largest city of Estonia, is known as the county’s capital of culture and civilisation for good reason. Not only is Estonia’s oldest and biggest university located here, but it is also the home of numerous other significant sites. Discover the best things to do in the city with this Finnair travel guide to Tartu.
Sights in Tartu
During its long history, Tartu has been under the rule of many countries. While many historical attractions have been destroyed or suffered major damage during the wars, a whole host of them have been restored. For example, the old cathedral is now a museum, and St. John’s Church, known for its terracotta sculptures, was reopened after renovation in 2005. Visit Town Hall Square and see the fountain of two students kissing under an umbrella and then look for the statue of Oscar Wilde (playwright) and Eduard Vilde (writer) sitting on a bench. Stroll past the cute wooden houses in the Soup Neighbourhood and you’ll notice that the roads all take their names from different soup ingredients. The Estonian National Museum is a great place to learn more about the country’s past, its people and their culture and traditions. The KGB Museum provides a fascinating look at how prisoners were treated while detained by the Estonian secret service during the USSR period. Visitors are also sure to enjoy Toomemägi, a beautiful park, which is an ideal picnic spot with its many monuments, old elms and maples. Raadi Park, Toome Hill and the Botanic Garden of the University of Tartu are other spots where you can enjoy some peace outdoors. Stop by Barclay House and discover why it has been nicknamed the Tower of Pisa, admire the views from Angel’s Bridge, Devil’s Bridge and the Arched Bridge, dine in an old gunpowder storage cellar and watch a performance at the country’s oldest theatre, Vanemuine. Diverse bars and nightclubs form the backbone of the city’s evening entertainment scene.
Things to See and Do Near Tartu
- Elva – With two sizeable lakes, one with a beach, and the thrill-filled Elva Adventure Park, this is a top place for adventure seekers and lovers of the great outdoors. Set in a pine forest, Elva Adventure Park offers ziplining, walking trails and tree-top obstacle courses.
- Elistvere Animal Park – A great destination for animal lovers, here you can see an assortment of creatures that usually live in the wild in Estonia’s forests. They live in the former manor park in conditions similar to in the wild. Animals include bears, deer, elks, boars, foxes and buffaloes.
- Piirissaar – An island in the large Lake Peipus, containing three small villages and many vegetable gardens.
Shopping in Tartu
Although not Estonia’s main destination for shopping, Tartu still has plenty of places where you can purchase gifts and souvenirs, essential day-to-day items, local crafts and known brand names.
- Tartu Kaubamaja – Within the city’s largest shopping centre you’ll find this popular department store, filled with luxury fashions and many other items.
- Tasku Centre – Located in the heart of the city, this shopping centre features a wide selection of high-end stores.
- St Anthony’s Courtyard – If you like discovering how goods are made, visit the artisans’ studios at St. Anthony’s Courtyard. Watch as craftspeople make textiles, traditional dolls, stained glass, ceramics and other items.
- Tartu Open Market – Vendors sell fresh goods and flowers, cheap clothing and other affordable items here.
Food and Drink
- Kiluvõileib – Eaten around the country, this is an open-faced sprat sandwich. The fish sits on top of a piece of rye bread, with slices of boiled egg and shaved cheese.
- Kali – A soft drink with a distinctive taste, almost like a cross between root beer and regular beer.
- Mulgipuder – A thick porridge-like dish made from barley and potatoes, this meal sometimes contains small pieces of bacon as well.
Transport in Tartu
It is easy to navigate the Old Town on foot, with most attractions located just a short walk from each other. Buses in Tartu are convenient for accessing areas outside of the city’s core.
- By foot – Walking around the Old Town is the best way to soak up the city’s atmosphere and admire the abundance of beautiful architecture.
- Buses – Various bus routes exist around Tartu. Tickets are easy to obtain; simply buy them from a kiosk, or for a slightly higher price, pay the driver. While single-use tickets are available, it is often more cost effective to buy a day ticket. You can also purchase books of single-ride tickets.
- Taxis – Several taxi companies operate in Tartu and you can book a ride by mobile application or by telephone.