Just 2 hours away from the Estonian capital of Tallinn, the university town of Tartu is one of the country’s hidden gem. Home to the prestigious University of Tartu, the city boasts impressive museums, vibrant nightlife, historical old town, variety of restaurants and cafes. Planning a short trip out of Tallinn, but aren’t sure what to do? To help you decide, we’ve put together a Tartu itinerary to help you make the most of your overnight trip. Remember, this is just one of the few ways to enjoy Tartu so feel free to fine tune this itinerary based on your interests.
Things to know before traveling to Tartu, Estonia:
Language – The official language of Estonia is Estonia, which is spoken by about 98% of the population. Most Estonian speak English, so you can absolutely get by without speaking the Estonian language. Finnish, German and Russian are the other languages commonly spoken in the country. Like any other countries, speaking at least some Estonian phrases or a simple “Aitäh!” (Thank you!) is greatly appreciated by the locals.
Currency exchange – Estonia uses the euro, the same currency now used by most European Union countries with the exception of Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Poland, Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Prior to traveling, you can buy some euros (enough for one day or whatever your preference) and then exchange your money in the banks and bureaux de change to get the best rates.You can also use the ATMs at all main squares of every town, major airports and train stations.
Safety and security – There is currently no nationwide security advisory in effect for Estonia. Check your country’s travel advisory website to get the most up-to-date information for your personal safety abroad. Keep your guard up at all times and avoid any streets that are not crowded.
Getting around – The university town of Tartu is small enough to explore on foot and pedestrian-friendly since its narrow, cobbled streets are not ideal for bicycles and automobiles. Make sure to download a map or print a map before your trip. Also, ask directions from your hotel since the orientation in the city can be quite confusing. If you are short on time or you prefer less time walking outside the historic center, you may get around bus network and taxis.
Where to stay – Estonian accommodation options are diverse, with something for every level of comfort and budget. The most frequent question from first time travelers is, “What’s the best area to stay in when visiting Tartu?” Without a doubt, the best place to stay in the city is the area around the old town. It contains almost all of the main sights and the best places to eat. So, staying here makes a lot of sense, especially if your time is very limited. It’s best to get a hotel room with a magnificent view of the square and the Medieval town to appreciate the city’s beauty.
Hotels to consider in Tartu:
Detailed itinerary: Weekend adventure in Tartu, Estonia
By taking a bus or rental car from Tallinn, you will arrive at Tartu in 2 hours. Make sure to drop by the Tartu Visitor Center in the cobbled Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square) to get printed tourist maps, bus schedule and tour recommendations. Rest a little at your chosen accommodation. After brunch, take in a few of Tartu’s most famous attractions and get an introduction to its rich history.
Start your tour at the historic Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square), a great way to get acquainted with the city. This area is packed with many historic sights and attractions so make sure to wear comfy shoes. With the “Kissing Students” statue in front of it, you will find Tartu Raekoda (Town Hall), which is the seat of the government of Tartu. The town hall itself has a magnificent Neoclassical and Baroque architecture with an equally interesting history. Not to be missed is the so-called Leaning House of Tartu (Tartu Art Museum), a symbolic icon of the city which houses regular changing exhibitions of contemporary Estonian art.
If formal museums aren’t your thing, head to Tartu Artist in Residence right next to the historical St. John’s Church. Its main goal is to create artistic expression to everyone through exhibitions, workshops, talks and open studio. You may allow yourself some downtime in the late afternoon and enjoy a dinner with a fantastic view of Emajõgi River. Afterwards, soak in the chill vibe of the city by having a night cap at Moku.
On day 2, check out from your hotel/hostel then take a morning stroll to Toomemägi (Dome Hill) and make a quick stop at Tartu Inglisild (Angel’s Bridge). Leave your stuff at the hotel’s reception before you join the Emajõgi River Cruise, one of the highlights of any Tartu tour. Aboard the wooden M/L Alfa riverboat, you’ll cruise for 1 to 2 hours past stunning houses, steeped hillsides and vineyards. Enjoy a delicious buffet lunch and some free refreshments as you sail. You may rent a bicycle to see the hills and countryside along the Emajõgi River.
Have you been to Tartu or enywhere else in Estonia? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.
Featured image: View through National Geographic Yellow Window to Tartu Town Hall Square in the old town of Tartu, Estonia (FotoHelin / Shutterstock)