Things To Do In Tartu

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Tartu is not only the second biggest city in Estonia, it also registered  an immense number of enrolled students. This is the fruit of the effort of a Swedish ruler named Gustavus Adolphus, who in 1632 made a declaration that there ought to be a big university constructed in the heart of the city. Back in those days, Tartu, which was first named Dorpat was under the colony of the Swedish Empire and thinking of ways to enhance the image of the city regarding industrialization and development. This worthy project was achieved together with the help of a fine noble man (Johann Skytte) who shared the same ideals of making this city the “Intellectual Capital” of Estonia. During the year 1600's, there was not even one structure for higher education in this part of Northern Europe. This is the main reason why the creation of the famous landmark University of Tartu was a really big task and major ordeal for the ruling empire and its wealthy industrialists.

Tartu city has something for everybody.  Heaps of fun could be had here and there are a lot of different things to see and do. Be ready to engage in top of the line shopping, a historic old town, museums, and a phenomenal water-park. Above all else however, it’s the energetic soul of this town that keeps visitors from coming back to this majestic city.

Things To Do in Tartu

When To Go:

Tartu exists in the calm and damp continental atmosphere zone with a temperature range that is noticeably mellow considering the high scope and to a great extent because of the nearness of the Baltic Sea and warm wind streams from the Atlantic Ocean. In any case, the effect of the continental temperature could be felt during the hot summer season (June August) and the icy spells of the cold season. For the most part, summers are cool to warm and winters are a bit frosty.

The peak season to visit the city is during the season of winter (-6 up to -1 degrees Celsius) which begins from November – February. This is also the best time when tourist arrival sees a huge influx because of the fun activities of the city for the holiday season (Christmas and New Year). It is around this time when the entire city prepares and gets dolled up for the festive holidays.  In addition, there is no end of choices for things to do during winter as people enjoy; skiing, sledging, ice- skating, snowboarding, mountain climbing, spa excursion,  and shopping at the Christmas market in the beautiful Old Town.

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Delight in the cold atmosphere as you tour these interesting sights and a huge variety of things to do when in the city of Tartu.


University of Tartu

The University of Tartu gathers students from all surrounding cities including the Scandinavian Peninsula. It's very active and often organizes cultural activities and conferences. The atmosphere is young and cheerful and the building and its historical significance to the city is definitely worth a visit. Pass along the labyrinthine corridors and visit the small museum to learn more about how it was built and know the important personalities involved in its construction. It is a century old building that impresses at first sight, it is also very well maintained and stands in a very appropriate environment.

University of Tartu

Tartu is in fact dubbed as a “University Town” because the university (the best in the Baltics) symbolizes its image of resilience aside from being one of the top attractions. In fact, the university - is not only a massive structure on Ülikooli 18, but it also complements other nearby historic and educational buildings in Tartu like the Toomemagi (Toome Hill) which houses an observatory, an anatomical theater, etc. If you happen to visit the University of Tartu between the months of January, you can attend various ceremonies like the torchlight procession in honor of  St. Tatiana's Day (the revered patron saint for students).


Toome Hill (Toomemagi)

Recognized as the center of the ancient settlement, the Toome Hill or the Toomemagi  is a must visit for every tourist who arrives in Tartu city. Within its premises you can stroll around the Duomo, see the many monuments and the sacrificial stone grotto. Climb this large hill in the center of Tartu up to the very top and see  the picturesque ruins of the huge cathedral and stunning views of the city. It is a very nice park, well maintained, and full of soft greens. When you see the dilapidated cathedral, you will feel that you're in a fairy tale.


Toomemagi is a marvelous place to visit at any time of the year. In winter, however, you should be careful when walking around because it is often very slippery. Summer makes it look more green, lush, and quiet. It is necessary to admire the ruins of the Cathedral to look into the history of the university museum, and for more things to do; visit the Angelic Devil's Bridge that connects the hill and the city. Interestingly, the bridge which is now called the Angelic, was originally in English, and Angelic became a consonance in the Estonian language, and the second bridge (for contrast) was named Devil.


Tartu Old City

Most of the interesting structures and old buildings in terms of good architecture in Tartu are concentrated in the Old Town, or on the nearby hill called the  Toomemagi. The rest of the Tartu Old City also shows the old Soviet-style living quarters that still stands up to this modern day. From here, it  is possible to wander along the stone- cobbled road and nearby streets, go to the Cathedral of St. John, or explore the Assumption Orthodox Cathedral. You will enjoy the tour and if you are not hurrying up try to hear mass from one of the old churches in Tartu.

Tartu Old City

Couples can go and enjoy long and romantic walks in this cozy part of the city that has not much crowds even on weekends. It is the embodiment of serenity of a purely Estonian city that is completely surrounded by old two-storey buildings. The pleasant place is lined with quaint cafes, beautiful fountain, and park on the banks of the river.  Check out the information center (located on the left side of the building beside the Town Hall) and learn about the rest of the interesting attractions you can find around the city, buy souvenirs, guides, and maps. On the square in front of the Town Hall, you can take pictures of an iconic monument showing two students kissing under an umbrella.


Tartu Town Hall Square

Tartu Town Hall Square

The Tartu Town Hall Square is the main center of the old town. Just across the square stands the Town Hall, a sculpture of student kissing (the symbol of Tartu, the largest educational center in Estonia). On the opposite side of the Town Hall, located at the end of the square you can visit the so called “falling house” that is tilted to one side of the road (a la Tower of Pisa).

Tartu Town Hall Square

In general, the square has many cafes and despite being in the center of the city, the prices are average. In winter it becomes like a fairy tale wonderland as every corner is adorned with big Christmas trees, colorful lights, and festive decorations along with a cold atmosphere, and the warm and friendly smiles of its locals.


The Kissing Students

Situated in the center of the Old Town square, the symbolic structure of The Kissing Students and fountain is a standout amongst the other monument you can find within this vicinity of Tartu. The fountain was incorporated since 1948, where newly -wed romantic couples and their visitors would visit it for good fortune, and individuals would likewise dip in its cold waters. The sculpture was built and conceptualized  by Mati Karmin and finished in 1998. Since 2006, the fountain has been encompassed by tiles bearing the names of Tartu's neighbor cities. They are arranged in the course that the urban areas are located from Tartu, denoting even their measure of distance from the city. The fountain was created by  architect Tiit Trummal.

The Kissing Students

The fountain has become very popular not only among the local residents and students, but also attracts many tourists. The bronze miniature copies of this statue can be purchased as a souvenir at the nearby shop that is just a few meters away from the famous monument.

It is an original interpretation of an image and a fountain that is focused on romanticism, and quite a real eye-opener, very nice to see, and certainly fits the overall cozy atmosphere of the square. A good deviation from the political, cultural, sculptures you can find within the square.  But for most people who are deeply in love; it is a symbol of youth, love and tenderness, craving for the unknown, the old and new, and the continuation of life!


Father and Son Sculpture

This figure was placed on Kuuni Street in Tartu to commemorate the celebration of the Child Protection Day on  June 1, 2004.  The Father and Son Sculpture was one of the famous bronze figures that were created by artist Ulo Oun (1944-1988). It was first exposed in 1977, in the city of Tallinn until the government of Tartu decided to buy it out in 2001 as a fitting symbol for the occasion.

Father and Son Sculpture

The artist wants to show a very visual comparison of the proportions of the baby's body and an adult.  And when you look at the sculpture it gives the impression that it is the baby who is leading the adult more when it should be the opposite.  Located on the promenade along the waterfront (without any fences), the nude father and son seem to be one in growth and size despite the obvious difference in age.


Sculpture of the  Bronze Pig

The Sculpture of the Bronze Pig is recognized here in Tartu as the symbol of wealth and prosperity. This amusing sculpture is located near the Market Hall of the city which is the largest market in Estonia of its kind built since 1938. The cheerful pig sculpture was set in 2008 by world renowned bronze artist Mati Karmin for the 70th anniversary of the market.

Sculpture of the Bronze Pig

From the side of the road, you can see the smiling pig and its smooth skin. It is quite an original sculpture and when you look at the other side you can see the numbered layout for butchering like a visual aid for new butchers. Well of course it looks funny but it’s  a good way to see fun, function, and form in one unique piece of art.


St. John’s Church

St. John's Church

The red block building design of St. John's Church emerges in stark contrast to the more Scandinavian pale painted fancy structures of the university. The marker outside in Estonian and English language narrates that the church was partly devastated during the Second World War and that a portion of the terracotta figurine collections were spared and preserved. The religious structure has just been completely restored and made use of some of the terracotta collection as part of its theme and design. These little terracotta figures that adorn its walls now are also worth a look when in the city.


Tartu Toy Museum

The Tartu Toy Museum is located in two old wooden houses with a rich exposure of toys, beautifully decorated, and well signposted. There is a playroom for children, a lovely gift shop and the staff are very friendly and loving this museum and welcomes every guest with enthusiasm. In one house there is exposure for puppets placed in the medieval basement with a mighty brick vault. There you can go on the same ticket as the main building. The size of the collection is very impressive and it is normal to hear kids  (and even adults) screaming out "hah! I had the same toy!" all around.

Tartu Toy Museum

In the basement you can see Pinocchio in full-length along with other famous theater puppets of the city.  The exposure is small but it is bright and fun and has a wealth of activities designed for kids. The exhibit vaults are low and that is why before the descent, they provide bright plastic helmets. The museum is interesting not only for children but also for adults, where they can relive and see their old childhood toys made famous during their time and a chance to introduce them to their children. In the patio you can play outdoor games, and in the museum itself kids can have great fun in their huge playroom.


AHHAA Science Centre

The AHHAA Science Centre and museum is very interesting for both adults and children. Pay for your tickets and wear it as a bracelet and you and your kids can explore all around it as much as you want.  It contains many artifacts that can twist, twirl, test, or learn more about the laws of physics and chemistry. There is not a single moment to be bored as there wide selections and relatively extreme rides and  challenging activities to do inside the science center.

AHHAA Science Centre

For example, at the height of the third floor across the tight rope it is possible to ride a bike and maintain your balance until you get to the other end of the rope, all because of the wonders of science. On a periodic basis, the staffs here conduct performances with chemical experiments and teach kids the significance of science in our daily lives. 

A tour includes a visit to the science halls like; "Technology" "Water world", "Anatomy", etc. Everywhere you can find information in Russian and English translation. There is a reality show about the life of ants, chicken  farm, coral reef, etc. You can create a tornado to shoot a water gun or build a water system on your own. And you can just sprinkle water with good raincoats provided. In general, it is interesting, filled with educational games, and if you want souvenirs of the science tour there is a gift shop located within the halls of the building.


Tartu University Botanical Garden

Everything in the city is connected with the university and the Tartu University Botanical Garden is no exception. The entrance free attraction is a good break from the hustle and bustle atmosphere of the city. Inside there are lots of flowers, cacti collection, palm trees, benches, neat all glass greenhouses filled with all kinds of well- marked plants and their given scientific names or nicknames in Russian language.

Tartu University Botanical Garden

The park is well maintained and there are lots of pleasant and cool corners where one can sit and simply enjoy the peace that the natural ambiance provides. The ponds are teeming with fish, turtles, and ducks. The best time to visit this garden is in the middle of May, when the flowers are all in full bloom and some even reach the size of a soccer ball. Also at this time, you can enjoy the beauty and scent of the blooming roses that dominates one side of the horticultural park.


Tartu University History Museum

Tartu University History Museum

The Tartu University History Museum is located in the chancel of the former Cathedral. Despite the grandeur and scale of the cathedral in the 16th century, it was destroyed and the temple was not used for a long while. The museum was founded renovated  in 1976. In the museum you can learn about the history of the university, its system of education, plus the personalities and heads of state that are instrumental for its creation.  Today, it is a museum with picturesque ruins and stairs that leads up to the tower. Anyone can climb up but must get the services of the guide. The top views of the entire city of Tartu are stunning and highly recommended. 

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