Some Of The Best Things To Do in Tartu: The Free, The Fun and The Tasty

Located in the south of Estonia, Tartu – its second largest city in size – has a whimsical appeal to it drawing you in with its pastel-coloured buildings, overflowing flower beds and cosy cafes that invite you to spend a few hours in the sun slowly sipping a cup of tea in pure, undiluted peace.

Tartu is best known as Estonia’s student capital thanks to the University of Tartu, which was established in 1632 and is one of the oldest universities in Europe. In 2024, Tartu together with southern Estonia will be the European Capital of Culture. The first part of the 2024 main programme was introduced in February and if you wish to attend, you can already choose from several different events.

Visual art lovers will find Surrealism 100 which offers four art projects on surrealism and literature enthusiasts will be able to explore the modern meaning of utopias and dystopias in the artistic form at the Literary festival Prima Vista 2024 ”Futures Better and Worse.”

Are you interested in visiting Estonia’s second city and looking for things to do in Tartu? The town has an exciting mix of sights and activities, whether you’re spending a few hours here or a few days. You’ll find plenty of things related to its history, culture, university, and famous people.

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Arch Bridge, Tartu.

How Many Days You Should Spend In Tartu?

Sure, you can spend just one day in Tartu and have just enough time to see the most important tourist attractions and must-see sights, but why settle for that? There are so many things to do in Tartu, and cramming them all into one day would just be a shame. A few months ago, we spent two days in Tartu and could have easily spent a few more.

See, it’s not only what you can see and do in Tartu it’s also how incredibly cool this city is. It’s about how much you relax when you sit in a bar with a cold Estonian beer in your hand overlooking the Emajõgi river. it’s about how content you feel with life when you take a stroll in one of the small streets and hear people laughing and talking.

If you want to see Tartu: Yes, you can do it in a day, but if you want to truly experience Tartu, then you have to spend at least a few days in the city.

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Walk Around The Raekoja Square and Stop By The Town Hall

The heart of Tartu is the Raekoja Plats, which is built in the shape of a trapezium, and located a short walk away from the Emajõgi River. It is a cosy and beautiful square lined with pastel-coloured buildings where there is always something going on. It is a venue for numerous festivals like Tartu Hanseatic Days and A Free Film Festival which we were lucky to attend during our visit and in the wintertime, it’s where you can find an ice skating rink.

One of the important symbols of the city is the Town Hall itself, located on the square, which was designed in 1789 by the town’s master builder, Rostock-born Johann Heinrich Bartholomaus Walter. It is the third town hall to have stood there – the previous two were destroyed by fire.

In its day, the cellar and the ground floor on the left side housed a prison, while the upper floors were for the Town Council. Today, the building still serves as the city’s administrative centre and the Town Halls 34-bells can be heard every day at 9;00, 12;00, 15;00, 18;00 and 21;00.

Did you know:  a clock was added to the Town Square Hall to encourage students to be punctual for classes.

The Town Hall was designed by Johann Heinrich Bartholomäus Walter from Rostock, Germany.

See The Kissing Students fountain

Located in front of the Town Hall, the Kissing Students fountain is the most recognizable symbol in Tartu and it has stood in the same place since 1948. It is a must for lovers who are in the city, to visit the statue of two kissing students under the umbrella as it is considered to be a sign of everlasting love!

Since 1948, newlyweds looking for good luck have visited the fountain and its kissing statues.  The sculpture itself was erected in 1998 by Mati Karmin, one of Estonia’s most renowned contemporary sculptors, but the fountain in which it stands dates as far back as 1948.

Besides the snogging students in front of the Town Hall, Tartu has various statues scattered about. These include Oscar Wilde and Estonian writer Eduard Vilde who besides sharing a surname, are both sharing a park bench in front of Vallikraavi.

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Kissing Student Fountain in Tartu, Estonia.

Walk Across Its Many Bridges

Tartu’s bridges carry as much history as they do foot traffic. They have been burnt down, blown up, sung upon, and in one rather newsworthy case, had led public acts of procreation performed on them. Two of the most significant ones don’t even span water. You’ll find them at the top of Tartu’s Toome Hill.

  • The Arch Bridge or Kaarsild, the pedestrian walkway that spans the Emajõgi river from the Town Hall Square was built in the middle of the 20th century. It’s somewhat of a student ritual to walk across the high arch of the bridge, particularly at night and among some students, it is believed that your time in Tartu is incomplete until you have gone “üle Kaarsilla” (“over the Arched Bridge”).
  • The Devil’s Bridge dates from 1913 and serves as a counterpart to the Angel’s Bridge.  Devil’s Bridge is a unique structure because it is one of the last remaining examples of its kind constructed at the beginning of the 1900s. The bridge served as a tribute to the 300th anniversary of the Romanov empire’s rule in 1913. The name “Devil’s Bridge” comes from a play of words – the bridge was built under the supervision of professor Mannteuffel, whose name in German translates to ‘man-devil’.
  • The Angle’s Bridge | The yellow and white classical bridge is Toome Hill’s largest bridge. Built in 1838, the Angel’s Bridge which stretches over Lossi Street was dedicated to Tartu university’s first rector. Locals like to hold their breaths when crossing it and make a wish.

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Tartu Angel’s Bridge

Stop By The Tartu Cathedral

One of the landmarks worth visiting in the city of Tartu is Tartu Cathedral. It is a massive, red-brick Gothic-style church founded between the 13th and 16th centuries located northwest of the hill and overlooking Old Tartu. The cathedral is now in ruins, but you can still see how grand it must have been back in the day when Tartu was a bishopric. 

The cathedral was heavily damaged during the Livonian War and later by fire. Part of it has been reconstructed and now houses the University of Tartu Museum. You can take a stroll through the cathedral’s columns or attend open-air exhibitions, but what really makes these ruins unique is the possibility to o explore the upper floors, which you can easily reach after climbing 100 stairs.

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The ruins of the Tartu Cathedral

 Take a Stroll Along The Emajõgi Riverside

The Emajõgi River runs right through the heart of Tartu. On a sunny day, there is nothing better than to stroll along this river in Tartu! Regularly there are events, concerts, bars and markets.

In summer, you can enjoy the sun with the locals on the small sandy beaches, located on both sides of the river (1 km northwest of the Kroonuaia Bridge). And in winter, when the river is frozen you can walk across the ice to the other side. Don’t forget to look under the bridges for hidden street art and take a boat ride across the river.

If you don’t feel like walking, you can climb aboard the Jõmmu barge, a replica of the wooden trade vessels that plied local waterways from Hanseatic times right up to the 20th century, in order to admire the river’s picturesque landscape. The boat ride will take you along the river in both directions providing unique perspectives of Tartu and the rustic landscapes of southern Estonia.

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The Emajõgi River is one of the most important symbols of Tartu.

Visit One of the Many Tartu Museums

The National Museum of Tartu | One of the best things to do in Tartu is to visit the National Museum of Estonia. First of all, because of the impressive building! The National Museum comprises 6000 square meters of exhibition space and is built over a bridge, on a former Soviet military base.

TYPA Centre | TYPA is a surprisingly cool museum and design centre, focusing on print and paper art. You are taken back in time to old letterpress machines, (from Soviet times), traditional paper techniques and fonts in all shapes and sizes.

Tarty Art Museum | It’s a rather small museum but the variety of exposure is impressive. This museum combines both classic and modern art from Estonian and international artists. It’s a great place to pay a visit while visiting the city centre.

The Tartu City Museum | If you want to know more about the history of Tartu in Estonia, you can visit the city museum. I didn’t have the time for this myself but if I had stayed longer in Tartu, I would definitely have taken a look. Not only because of the history but also because of the building and original interior from the 18th century.

The Leaning House | Leaning House is most known for being the “leaning tower of Pisa” of Tartu, but it is home to an exhibition of Estonian art and was once owned by a princess.

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Tartu, Estonia.

Lookout For Street Art

Like many university cities, in Tartu, you’ll find the creative spirit alive and kicking. One of the more noticeable aspects of this is the strong street art culture. From large murals adorning the sides of buildings and museums to little portraits popping up in shuttered windows of old buildings, there are plenty of fun and detailed pieces to find. 

There is a range of street-art styles too, some are playful and others are political or based on satire. You’ll find some created from Stencils, some are lifelike, and others are cartoonish. Sometimes tiny, other times are giant murals. 

The best thing is – you won’t have to walk far or look too hard to find graffiti in Tartu, it adorns nearly every doorway, bridge, wall, abandoned building, power box and archway imaginable. 

Despite street graffiti being an illegal activity in Estonia, Tartu plays host to Stencibility Festival. The annual street art festival held each year in the city has just celebrated its 10 anniversary.

Estonia’s overall art scene is colourful and varied.

Go On a Day Trip

Traditional Estonian attractions may be plentiful within Tartu, but there is much to see outside of the city’s boundaries, with many appealing towns just a short drive away.

You could escape to the small and charming town of Elva which is located around 26 km to the southwest of Tartu. Despite its small size, Elva is home to an impressive selection of attractions and experiences, making it well worth a visit. You could also consider checking out Otepaa located just 42 km to the southwest of Tartu or even travel to the town of Voru whose main attraction is Lake Tamula beach.

My suggestion would be to stop by one of its many bogs. Visiting Estonia’s fascinating peat bogs is an absolute must for nature lovers. These protected areas can be toured via wooden plank trails or by wearing specially-developed “bog shoes” to tread atop the moss. A few places worth checking out near Tartu are Meenikunno bog and Männikjärve bog.

Mystical and ethereal, bogs are also some of the most important ecosystems in the world.

How to Get to Tartu from Tallinn

Tartu is located in the southeastern part of Tallinn at a distance of 186 km and the at northeastern part of Riga at a distance of 245 km.

Tartu is very well connected by public transport and can be reached from Tallinn either by bus or train. Buses tend to be a better option since they are not only cheaper but also more frequent, departing from Tallinn’s central bus station every 15-30 minutes. The trip lasts around 2 and a half hours.

Getting to Tartu from Tallinn will take between 2 and 2.5 hours and the bus schedule can be accessed from the website. Tartu is also connected by bus with other major Estonian cities such as Kuressaare, Otepää, Pärnu and Viljandi.

From the main train station in Tallinn, you can also take an express train between the two cities. The Tartu train station is pretty close to the centre of Tartu, so if the weather is nice, it makes a pleasant walk.

By car, you can follow Route 2/E263 southeast down to Tartu.

Local bus services, as well as bus services such as Lux Express, also serve the Tallinn-Tartu route.

University of Tartu’s new Delta Center

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Now, over to you!

Have you been to Tartu? Let us know in the comments!

Let us know if you are planning a Tartu visit and have travel-related questions!

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Our Crossings follows the daily adventures of Latvian expats living in Sligo as they surf and explore the world

45 thoughts on “Some Of The Best Things To Do in Tartu: The Free, The Fun and The Tasty

    1. Although most visitors to Estonia keep to the capital, Tallinn, it’s not the only city worth exploring. The nation’s second city, Tartu, is a lively university city, home to its own compelling history. I hope you get to visit Tartu one day, it is especially pretty during the summer month. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I have always heard of Tallinn, but never Tartu. Thanks for taking us there Aiva. It looks like the perfect little city to explore, neat as a pin and full of art and history. Having a University gives any city vibrancy. Have a great Monday. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you are keen to see any country beyond its capital city, you have to make the time to explore its second-largest cities. Places like Tartu in Estonia won’t disappoint. Valters home town is pretty close to the Estonian border, and whenever we visit, we make sure to pop over to the neighbouring country. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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  2. I can’t believe I’ve never even heard of Tartu, given it’s size and the many attractions. I can see why you spent some time in this city exploring and enjoying the culture. It’s colorful and lovely, and with so many museums. Wow! Thanks for introducing me to Tartu, Aiva!

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    1. Hi, Diana! Tartu is one of my favourite cities in Europe -it is a thriving cultural hub — packed to the brim with a young and lively population, a vibrant arts and alternative scene, and a fascinating history. It is also super affordable and only a two hours drive away from Valters home town Aluksne. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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  3. We had planned to visit Estonia, along with a few other countries, this past summer. I know we planned to go to Tartu but don’t remember anything about it. It looks like a beautiful city with lovely historic buildings, squares and bridges and even close to nature. I’ll book mark this post for our next trip. Maggie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Maggie 🙂 Though it is, without a doubt, outshined by Tallinn, there are numerous fun and interesting things to do in Tartu, world-class restaurants, a killer craft beer scene, and an altogether more laid-back vibe compared to the Estonian capital. Tartu is a city of surprises and is a must-see destination on any Baltics itinerary! I hope you get to explore it one day:) Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Tartu is a fascinating city filled with interesting and unique things to do, but very few international tourists visit this Estonian city and most of those who do are only there for a short day trip. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. I hope you make it to the Baltic states, Marie and explore some of its attractions. Though it may not seem like it due to its small size, there are plenty of fun and interesting things to do in Tartu, especially if you set your sites beyond the Old Town. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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  4. What a beautiful looking city, thank you for taking me on a tour. I think I would love Tartu by what I see in your blog. I love the idea of hold your breath and make a wish as you cross Angel bridge, wonderful local tradition! Thank you for teaching me a little about Estonia. I remember having an art teacher who was from Estonia when I was at high school.

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    1. Thanks so much, Glenys. Tartu is the second city of Estonia and yet many people know very little about it! Too bad, because it is a great city to discover. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Ruth 🙂 This was my fourth time in Tartu and it was so nice to be back again. It’s a compact city in which most of the sights, restaurants and entertainment venues are scattered along several parallel streets. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It really is, plus there is always something to do in Tartu no matter the season. We were fortunate with the weather which was a welcoming bonus. While rain and thunderstorms were raging over Ireland, we had sun and 25+°C in the Baltics. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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  5. I’ve only ever been to Tallinn in Estonia, but I’ve heard of Tartu and from your post, it looks very charming! You visited on a beautifully-blue day, which adds that extra pop of color to the town. The ruins of Tartu Cathedral look solemn, but awe-inspiring, and I’d love to return to that corner of Europe, i.e. the Baltics, to check out more!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Rebecca 🙂 Estonia has been very dear to my heart since I visited for the first time in 2010. Since then, I’ve been telling everyone who wanted to hear it (or not) to visit Estonia. This year, I returned after 3 years and it’s still one of my favourite countries to visit. The country is 51% covered with forest, has only 1,3 million inhabitants (with about 430.000 in Tallinn) and has a shallow coastline of nearly 4000 km in addition to thousands of big and small lakes. Definitely, a great place to get your mind off a busy office job! Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. I am glad to hear you had a great time in Tartu, and I am also happy to see that more and more people are choosing to visit the Baltic States – Estonia is without a doubt one of the must-visit destinations in Northern Europe. Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely day 🙂 Aiva xx

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  6. College towns always interest me as a traveler but Tartu strikes me as offering so much more. We have seen Tallinn off a cruise so it might be feasible to go to Tartu on a day trip excursion from there, correct?

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    1. I find college towns fun places to visit as they usually offer attractions galore. We visited Tartu mid-week and there was a long list of film screenings, art shows and plenty of community events to choose from. Even though Estonia is small, it doesn’t actually end at the border of Tallinn, and it is always a good idea to explore further afield. Yes, you could go to Tartu for a day trip – just catch a train from the Tallinn train station. But because the journey between the two cities takes around 2+ hours each way, you won’t have much time in Tartu. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. Thanks so much, Ribana 🙂 Very little of Tartu’s medieval architecture has survived, and places such as the ruins of the towering Tartu Cathedral provide an atmosphere for contemplation and meaning to an old and dignified city. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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  7. We’ve never been to Estonia before, but if (more like when) we visit, we’ll for sure have to add Tartu to the itinerary for a couple of days. The Tartu Cathedral looks gorgeous, even though it’s in ruins. It’s a shame it was damaged. Good to know that Tartu is close to many bogs, which are among some of my favourite places to go hiking. Thanks for sharing. Linda

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    1. If you are looking for a stunning European destination without the crowds then you should consider the small Baltic country of Estonia. It’s a country still relatively off the beaten path and they have plenty of mires, bogs and wetlands for any tourist dreaming about hiking there. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. Thanks so much. Tartu has loads up its sleeve, from cool neighbourhoods to interesting sights, vibrant nightlife to youthful vibes. It’s like no other place in the country. There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t include this fun, student city in your Estonian itinerary. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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  8. I had never heard of Tartu before, but your post makes me want to stop by if I’m in the area one day! I love “student cities” as they usually very lively and offer a wide array of things to do. Tartu seems no exception to this, and its cute pastel-colours building and modern riverfront only add to its charm! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Juliette. Tartu may not be as popular as other cities in Estonia, but don’t let that fool you. Tartu is a smaller but beautiful upcoming tourist destination that is worth a visit. You will be surprised by some of the unique things to do and places you can explore at this hidden destination. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

  9. What a beautiful place! I so long to visit the countries in Eastern Europe that were closed to us during the cold war. Tartu looks wonderfully different from other places. Loved the shot of Dad and baby framed in yellow. 💞💞

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    1. Thanks so much, Kerry 🙂 The Old Town of Tartu is one of my favourite places in Estonia as beautiful old buildings are decorated with modern high-quality street art. Compared to Tallinn and Riga the Old Town section of Tartu is small. But it is charming with a variety of interesting buildings, shops and restaurants. The large plaza is an excellent place to people-watch and enjoy the culture. Its proximity to the University campus adds youth and energy making it a very interesting place to be. The photo of a dad and a bay is a special one – it was Ericeiras first overseas trip to Latvia and Estonia when she was 5 months old. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. How exciting this must have been for Ericeiras – seeing Mummy and Daddy’s roots and new family. My passport just ran out so I am at the mercy of American bureaucracy and will be traveling close to home for a couple of months…😉

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  10. I would love to explore the cathedral and also walking anywhere near water is one of my favorite things to do. What a great adventure. Love the photo of your husband and your baby girl framed liked that, so creative. Good eyes always find the best shots out there in this beautiful world of ours. You and your family have a great adventurous week.

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    1. Thanks so much 🙂 For a small city like Tartu, there’s an abundance of highly varied tourist attractions, museums and even street art. In addition, there is always something on from theatre performances to concerts and festivals. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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  11. We have never been to that part of Europe, but we should reconsider🙂 Tartu looks like a cute and quiet town someone should not miss it. The Cathedral is really impressive, what a stature might have had in its good days! Thank you Aiva for the amazing tour, and have a lovely week ahead! Christie, xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Christie :0 Depending on your taste and preferences, there are plenty of wonderful things that you can see and do in Tartu, starting with a historic journey in the Old Town and finishing with wild parties in the best nightclubs.

      Because of the famous university big part of the city’s population are students (I heard even about 20%) and there’s a really cool, informal vibe in Tartu. I didn’t notice people rushing like in other big cities, everyone just took their time. Even if Tartu has over 100.000 inhabitants it felt more like a small, cosy, provincial town that guarantees a good life. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. Yes, we are training the baby for the upcoming camping trip to Wales. She’ll be 8 months by then, and I am sure the trip will be a breeze. LOL. Adding a new baby definitely shook up our family’s life. I knew that getting a younger sibling is a big deal for children. And it’s a really big deal for a lot longer than we often think it will — or should — be. Therefore, I am happy to report that I didn’t have to deal with acting out or dealing with conflicted feelings. My eldest one bonded with the baby right away 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 8 months already… OMG… but it also gives the time for everyone to adjust. Speaks well of your eldest daughter.
        Our youngest daughter always jokes that she had two mothers: her mother and her older sister… 30+ years later they’re still very very close…
        Have a nice camp…
        🤗

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