The ground was still moist from last nights downpour, and every blade of grass was tilted under a heavy blanket of dew. Jet black clouds blocked out the sunbeams, but I could feel this was going to be a good day.
After days spent with family and friends, we decided to escape rainy Latvia and drive all the way to a place that is home to one of Northern Europe’s oldest Universities.
We were looking forward to this family road trip to Estonia (as I’d been obsessed with visiting Tartu for as long as I can remember), but I did not want to hurry.
I wanted to slowly savour changing landscape and look out for wild animals such as lynxes, elks, wolves and brown bears. If you arrive in Estonia by plane, on a clear day, you’ll be able to see that thick, green forests cover more than half of Estonias territory, giving shelter to a vast variety of wild animals and birds.
Tartu town is situated in Southern Estonia, and driving distance from Valters hometown Alūksne is only 140 km. The road took us through scenic countryside covered with sleepy villages and beautiful pine forests.
Estonias most enjoyable aspect lies within its vast and diverse landscape. You will find magical forests, untouched boglands, graceful waterfalls and fantastic National Parks.
If you are travelling by car from Tallinn, like most visitors, and have a day or two to spare, make sure to stop at Jägala waterfall, Aegviidu-Kõrvemaa nature reserve or Endla nature reserve. Breath in the fresh air, let nature be your medicine and inspiration. Feel the soft grass underneath your feet and connect to the world around.
Not too far from the Latvian-Estonian border was Estonias highest peak–Suur Munamägi-standing tall at 318m which is also the highest point of the Baltics. The observation tower is open to visitors, and an adult ticket costs EUR 4.
Ericeira was sound asleep as we passed, and I had no intentions to wake her up, but it’s worth the stop if you are in the area.
As it was early Thursday morning, we discovered that student town was empty and quiet. We made our way to Tartu’s Town Hall Square(Raekoja Plats), where The Kissing Student fountain is surrounded by charming, pastel-coloured buildings.
It is said, the inspiration for the statue, a symbol of Tartu, was the author’s nephew who was kissing a girl in the rain. Right behind the fountain, we found colourful Tawn Hall, adorned with splashes of red and pink and were told that there’s a tradition for newlyweds to visit the fountain for good luck.
A valuable guide to the charming Tartu Town in Estonia
Tartu travel guide ‘In Your Pocket’ claims-you have not seen the real Estonia until you have visited Tartu. We agree! There was a very calming and happy feel to it. I can safely say, we both love Tartu and after 4 trips know it pretty well.
If you are preparing to visit Tartu, this little guide will give you a few ideas and tips to make your journey more rewarding.
To make the most of your visit, we suggest staying a night or two in one of the hotels, wake up before everyone else, go for a stroll and see the town in a whole new light.
So, let’s start with the basics – how to get to Tartu.
How to get to Tartu
Lux express couches depart from Tallinn to Tartu up to 23 times a day. Tallinn Bus Station is located near Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport, and the duration of the trip is around 2 h 30 minutes. Prices start from EUR 3(when booked well in advance). Lux Express couches are very comfortable and equipped with individual touchscreen media systems, free WiFi, and power supply.
You can also travel from Tallinn to Tartu by train, and it takes 2 hours to get there. Tallinn train station is located just outside Old Town, whereas the bus station is further out. On the other hand, the train station in Tartu is a little further out, and the bus station is nearby.
More and more travellers choose to fly into Riga or Tallinn Airports where they rent a car and visit all three Baltic States (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) in one epic road trip. As this area of Europe is a relatively small and friendly packet together, all you would need is two weeks to see the main attractions!
What to see in Tartu
After we visited 13th century Dome Church ruins, climbed Toome Hill and walked around Supilinn neighbourhood, where all the roads are named after soups, we were completely smitten. Going to Tartu and visiting its old town and surroundings was even better than I anticipated.
There’s so much to love about this laid-back city, full of quirky places! The best thing about it-Tartu is very compact and easy to explore on foot, with the most exciting bits located in one area.
Here’s our pick of what to see in town:
- Walk across the Angle Bridge, dating back to 1838, and ensure you make a wish. Legend has it that if you go across for the first time, the request comes true.
- Visit Botanical Gardens of the University of Tatu. In addition to a vast variety of plants, you’ll find sculptures from Tartu Art Museums collection. Opening hours are from Monday to Sunday, 07:00-21:00 and the entrance fee to the greenhouses cost EUR 3 for an adult. If you only wish to see the outside parts of the gardens – it’s free of charge.
- See The Leaning House of Tartu, located in the main square. Princess Barkley repurchased a place in 1819 and lived there after her husband’s death, that’s why the house is also called the Barkley House. Today, the building is transformed into an Estonian art museum with a different exhibition on display.
- Visit St John’s Church, one of the highest buildings in Tartu and climb up the tower for the beautiful city views.
Tips, hints, and other things to do in Tartu
- Great time to visit Tartu is in July when Hanseatic Days take place with lots of music, artisan foods, and workshops.
- When paying for goods in shops and cafes, do not give money directly to the cashier but instead, put it in a little dish and vice versa.
- Bring home high-quality linen textiles like tablecloths and kitchen towels. Made from fibres that grow inside flax plant, linen is three times stronger than cotton.
- In most art galleries and museums, Mondays and Tuesdays are days off.
- Go to Werner Cafe & Lounge for a wide range of puffs, cakes, and pastries.
- Don’t be afraid to interact with locals or ask for directions. English is widely understood, and Estonians are helpful people.
- Escape to the countryside and experience Estonias white nights, officially starting with Midsummers Day known as Jaanipäev.
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Now, over to you!
Have you ever been to Tartu? Let us know in the comments below!
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Tartu and have travel-related questions!