What to do in Tartu?

Tartu, Estonia’s second-largest city, is a charming university town that offers a wealth of cultural and historical attractions. Known for its beautiful architecture, vibrant nightlife, and rich cultural heritage, Tartu is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in exploring the best of Estonia.

Visitors to Tartu can explore the city’s historic Old Town, which is home to a range of museums, galleries, and landmarks. Some of the top attractions in Tartu include the Raekoja Square, which is the heart of the city and home to many cafes and restaurants, and the University of Tartu, one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the country.

In addition to its cultural and historical attractions, Tartu is also a great destination for outdoor enthusiasts. The city is surrounded by beautiful natural scenery, including the Emajõgi River, which offers a range of water-based activities such as kayaking and boating. With so much to see and do, Tartu is a city that should not be missed when visiting Estonia.

History of Tartu

Tartu is the second-largest city in Estonia and is known for its rich history. The city was founded in the 5th century AD by ancient settlers, and it has been inhabited ever since. Tartu has been under the rule of various empires and nations throughout its history, including the Livonian Order, the Swedish Empire, the Russian Empire, and the Soviet Union.

During World War II, Tartu was occupied by the Nazis and later by the Soviet Union. The Nazi invasion caused significant damage to the city, and many buildings were destroyed. The Soviet occupation lasted until the early 1990s when Estonia regained its independence.

Tartu has played an essential role in Estonian history and culture. The city was a center of learning and scholarship during the 19th and 20th centuries, and it is home to the University of Tartu, which was founded in 1632. The university has produced many prominent scholars and scientists, including Johann Friedrich Wilhelm von Struve, Karl Ernst von Baer, and Jakob von Uexküll.

Tartu has also been an important center of Estonian national identity. During the Soviet occupation, the city was a center of resistance to Soviet rule, and many Estonians saw Tartu as a symbol of their struggle for independence. Today, Tartu is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city that is home to many cultural institutions, museums, and festivals.

Tartu Art and Culture

Tartu is a city with a rich cultural heritage, and it boasts a vibrant art and culture scene. Visitors to Tartu can immerse themselves in the city’s art and culture by visiting its museums, art galleries, and street art.

Museums in Tartu

Tartu is home to a number of museums that cater to a wide range of interests. The Estonian National Museum, located on the outskirts of the city, is a must-visit for anyone interested in Estonian history and culture. The museum features exhibits on Estonian folk culture, as well as exhibits on the country’s Soviet-era history.

Another must-visit museum in Tartu is the Tartu Art Museum. The museum features a collection of modern and contemporary art, as well as exhibitions on the city’s unique architecture. Visitors can also enjoy state-of-the-art presentations and interactive exhibits.

Art Galleries in Tartu

Tartu is home to several art galleries, each with its own unique style and focus. The Tartu Art House is one of the city’s most popular galleries, featuring both local and international artists. The gallery hosts regular exhibitions and events, making it a must-visit for art lovers.

Another popular art gallery in Tartu is the Gallery Noorus. The gallery focuses on contemporary art, with a particular emphasis on young and emerging artists. Visitors can expect to see a wide range of art forms, including painting, sculpture, and installation art.

Street Art in Tartu

Tartu is also home to a vibrant street art scene, with many of the city’s buildings and public spaces featuring unique and eye-catching murals and sculptures. One of the most famous examples of Tartu’s street art is the Kissing Students statue, located in front of the Town Hall. The sculpture depicts two students kissing underneath an umbrella and has become a symbol of the city.

Visitors to Tartu can also take a walking tour of the city’s street art, exploring the many murals and sculptures that can be found throughout the city. The Tilted Art Museum Tower is another must-visit attraction for street art enthusiasts. The tower features a collection of street art from around the world, as well as a state-of-the-art printing studio.

Tartu’s Architecture

Tartu, with its rich history and culture, has a diverse range of architectural styles, from the medieval to the contemporary. The city’s unique architecture is a testament to its past and present, and a sight to behold for visitors.

Historic Buildings

Tartu’s Old Town is home to some of the most beautiful and historic buildings in Estonia. The Town Hall Square, or Raekoja plats, is the heart of the Old Town and is surrounded by stunning architecture. The Town Hall itself, built in the 18th century, is a remarkable example of Baroque architecture. The Leaning House of Tartu, located on the same square, is another notable building, with its distinctive lean and unique design.

The University of Tartu, founded in 1632, is another historic building that is worth a visit. The main building, built in the 19th century, is a stunning example of neo-classical architecture. The university is also home to the Old Observatory, which was built in the 19th century and served as an astronomical observatory until 1964.

Modern Architecture

In addition to its historic buildings, Tartu also boasts some impressive examples of modern architecture. The Tartu Cathedral, built in the 13th century, was destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries. The current building, completed in 2002, is a modern interpretation of the original Gothic architecture.

The ruins of the Dome Church, located in the Old Town, are another example of Tartu’s unique architecture. The church was destroyed during World War II, and the ruins have been preserved as a monument to the city’s past.

Tartu also has several contemporary buildings that are worth a visit. The Tartu City Government building, completed in 2005, is a striking example of modern building design. The building’s unique shape and glass façade make it stand out in the city’s skyline.

In conclusion, Tartu’s architecture is a fascinating blend of old and new, with historic buildings coexisting with modern structures. Visitors to the city can explore the Old Town’s medieval architecture, admire the neo-classical style of the University of Tartu, and marvel at the unique design of contemporary buildings like the Tartu City Government building.

Outdoor Activities in Tartu

Tartu offers a variety of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy. From exploring the city’s parks and gardens to admiring its landmarks and monuments, there is something for everyone.

Parks and Gardens

Tartu has several parks and gardens that are perfect for a leisurely stroll or a picnic. The Botanical Garden, located on the outskirts of the city, is a must-visit for nature lovers. It boasts a wide variety of plants and flowers from around the world, as well as several greenhouses.

Toome Hill, located in the heart of the city, is another popular spot for outdoor activities. The hill offers stunning views of the city and is home to several points of interest, including the ruins of a medieval cathedral and a monument to the Estonian War of Independence.

what to do in tartu

Landmarks and Monuments

Tartu is also home to several landmarks and monuments that are worth visiting. The Town Hall Square, located in the city centre, is a popular spot for tourists. It is surrounded by several historic buildings, including the Town Hall, and is home to several fountains.

Other notable landmarks include the Angel’s Bridge, a pedestrian bridge that spans the Emajõgi River, and the Kissing Students Fountain, which depicts two students kissing under an umbrella.

Overall, Tartu offers a wide range of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy. Whether you’re interested in exploring the city’s parks and gardens or admiring its landmarks and monuments, there is something for everyone.

Shopping in Tartu

Tartu offers a variety of shopping options for visitors. Whether you’re looking for high-end boutiques, local handicrafts, or modern shopping centres, Tartu has it all. In this section, we’ll explore some of the best places to shop in Tartu.

Malls and Shops

Tartu has several shopping malls and centres that offer a wide range of products and services. One of the most popular shopping centres in Tartu is the Tasku Centre. Located in the heart of the city, Tasku Centre is home to over 50 shops, including fashion boutiques, shoe stores, and electronics shops. The shopping centre also has a cinema, a food court, and a grocery store.

Another great place to shop in Tartu is the Kaubamaja department store. This iconic store has been a fixture in Tartu for over 60 years and offers a wide range of products, from clothing and accessories to cosmetics and home goods. The store also has a cafe and a restaurant.

For those looking for more unique shopping experiences, Tartu has several specialty stores that sell local handicrafts and souvenirs. One such store is the Tartu Artisan’s Courtyard, which is home to several small shops that sell handmade items like pottery, jewellery, and textiles. The courtyard also has a cafe and a restaurant.

Speciality Stores

Tartu has several speciality stores that cater to specific interests and hobbies. For example, the Tartu Hiking and Skiing Store is a great place to shop for outdoor gear like hiking boots, backpacks, and camping equipment. The store also offers rental services for skiing and snowboarding equipment during the winter months.

If you’re in the market for shoes or handbags, Tartu has several great options. The Lucca shoe store offers a wide range of stylish and comfortable shoes for men and women. The store also has a selection of handbags and accessories. Another popular shoe store in Tartu is the CCC shoe store, which offers a wide range of affordable shoes for the whole family.

In conclusion, Tartu has a lot to offer when it comes to shopping. From modern shopping centres to local handicrafts, there is something for everyone in Tartu. Whether you’re looking for a new outfit, a souvenir, or outdoor gear, Tartu has you covered.

Food and Drink in Tartu

When it comes to food and drink, Tartu has plenty to offer for visitors. From traditional Estonian cuisine to international dishes, the city has a diverse range of options to satisfy all taste buds. Here are some of the best places to eat and drink in Tartu.



Located in the heart of Tartu, Joyce is a fine-dining restaurant that offers a unique culinary experience. The restaurant’s menu is inspired by Estonian and Nordic cuisine, using fresh and local ingredients. The dishes are beautifully presented and the service is impeccable. Joyce is perfect for a special occasion or a romantic dinner.

Fii Restaurant

Fii Restaurant is a modern and stylish restaurant that serves contemporary European cuisine. The restaurant’s menu changes seasonally, ensuring that only the freshest ingredients are used. The dishes are beautifully presented and the flavours are well-balanced. Fii Restaurant is perfect for a casual lunch or a dinner with friends.


Werner Cafe

Werner Cafe is a popular cafe in Tartu that offers a wide range of pastries, cakes, and sandwiches. The cafe has a cosy and relaxed atmosphere, making it the perfect place to catch up with friends or to work on your laptop. The coffee is excellent and the staff is friendly and welcoming.

Pahad Poisid

Pahad Poisid is a quirky and fun cafe that serves delicious coffee and homemade cakes. The cafe has a unique interior, with vintage furniture and colourful decorations. Pahad Poisid is a great place to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee and a slice of cake.

Whether you are looking for a fine-dining restaurant or a cosy cafe, Tartu has plenty of options to choose from. Make sure to try some traditional Estonian dishes, such as black bread and smoked fish, during your visit.

Tartu University

Tartu University, also known as the University of Tartu, is Estonia’s oldest and most renowned university. It was founded in 1632 by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, making it one of the oldest universities in Northern Europe. Tartu University has a long and rich history, having survived numerous wars and political upheavals.


The history of Tartu University is closely tied to the history of Estonia. The university has played a crucial role in shaping the country’s education system and intellectual life. During the Soviet era, the university was a beacon of free thinking and academic excellence. Today, Tartu University is a leading research university in Estonia and a respected institution of higher learning in Europe.

Campus Tour

Tartu University has a beautiful and historic campus that is worth exploring. The campus is located in the heart of Tartu, and it is home to numerous buildings of historical and architectural significance. Some of the key buildings on the campus include the main building, which was built in the 19th century and is a fine example of neo-classical architecture, and the university library, which is one of the largest and most comprehensive academic libraries in Estonia.

Visitors can take a guided tour of the campus to learn more about the university’s history and architecture. The tour includes visits to the main building, the university library, and other important buildings on the campus. Visitors can also explore the Botanical Gardens, which are located adjacent to the campus and are home to over 6,000 plant species.

In conclusion, Tartu University is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in the history and culture of Estonia. The university’s rich history and beautiful campus make it a fascinating place to explore.

Events and Festivals in Tartu

Tartu is a city that is well-known for its vibrant cultural scene. The city hosts a range of events and festivals throughout the year, catering to all tastes and interests. Whether you’re a music lover, art enthusiast or a foodie, there’s something for everyone in Tartu.


Music lovers will be pleased to know that Tartu hosts a range of concerts throughout the year. From classical music to jazz and rock, there’s something for everyone. The Tartu Symphony Orchestra is a must-see for those who appreciate classical music. The orchestra performs regularly at the Vanemuine Concert Hall, which is one of the most beautiful concert halls in Estonia.


Tartu is also home to a range of festivals, which attract visitors from all over the world. One of the most popular festivals is the Tartu Hanseatic Days, which takes place in July. The festival celebrates the city’s Hanseatic past and features a range of events, including concerts, markets, and historical re-enactments.

Another popular festival is the Tartu Food and Wine Festival, which takes place in September. The festival is a celebration of Estonian cuisine and features a range of food and wine tastings, as well as cooking demonstrations and workshops.

For those interested in the arts, the Tartu Printmaking Festival is a must-see. The festival takes place in August and features a range of exhibitions, workshops, and lectures on printmaking.

Overall, Tartu is a city that has something for everyone when it comes to events and festivals. Whether you’re interested in music, food, art, or history, there’s always something going on in Tartu.

Travel Information

Getting Around

Tartu is a compact city, and most of its attractions are within walking distance of each other. However, public transportation is also available for those who prefer it. The city has a reliable bus network that operates from early morning until late at night. The buses are modern and comfortable, and the fares are affordable. The tickets can be purchased from the driver or from the ticket machines located at the bus stops.

Another popular way to get around Tartu is by bike. The city has a well-developed cycling infrastructure, and there are several bike rental services available. Cycling is an excellent way to explore the city’s parks and green spaces.

Where to Stay

what to do in tartu

Tartu has a wide range of accommodation options to suit all budgets and preferences. The city has everything from luxury hotels to budget hostels. One of the most popular hotels in Tartu is Hotel Lydia. The hotel is located in the heart of the city and offers modern amenities and excellent service. The rooms are spacious and elegantly decorated, and the hotel has a spa and wellness centre.

For budget travellers, there are several hostels and guesthouses in Tartu. The prices are affordable, and the quality of the accommodation is generally good. The Tartu Student Hostel is a popular choice among backpackers. The hostel is located near the city centre and offers clean and comfortable rooms at a reasonable price.

It is worth noting that the prices in Tartu are generally lower than in Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia. This makes Tartu an excellent destination for budget travellers who want to experience the culture and history of Estonia without breaking the bank.

In terms of travel to Tartu, Lux Express provides a comfortable and affordable bus service from Tallinn to Tartu. The journey takes approximately 2.5 hours and offers stunning views of the Estonian countryside. The tickets can be purchased online or at the bus station in Tallinn.

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