Starting off the Estonian leg of my Baltics road trip back in May is wonderful Tartu. Tartu is Estonia’s second city, famous for its neoclassical University. It’s not a particularly tourist focussed destination, and that is exactly why I absolutely loved it. It felt like part of the real Estonia, and we had a super laid back 2 days in the city as a stop off on our 2 week Baltic road trip itinerary. Tartu also makes a great day trip from Estonia’s capital Tallinn, as the train journey is only 2hrs direct between the two cities. Here are 10 great things to do whilst visiting.
1. Upside Down House
The upside down house is one of the weirdest places I’ve been in but makes for a fun way to spend half an hour! Everything is upside down and by the end of it your mind is playing tricks on you as to what’s real or not!
2. Estonian National Museum
This museum is INCREDIBLE. It’s absolutely huge and so high tech that it blew me away. Estonia is known for being very technologically advanced and this museum proved it – each ‘board’ was actually an ipad (or equivalent), which you held your ticket up to and the language programmed to your ticket came up. It means wherever you’re from you can read the exhibits in your local language. Amazing.
The museum itself charts the history of being Estonian – from the stone age through to the present day, including periods of German rule, Swedish Rule, being part of the USSR, gaining independence and today’s tech revolution. There are also galleries on how the national identity was formed, what makes it up, and what it means today to be Estonian – plus galleries on culture around song, dress and religion. It was fascinating and we easily spent 3 hours here.
3. Town Hall Square
The main hub of the city, the Town Hall Square area is beautiful and lined with nice restaurants and shops. It’s also home to the Kissing Students fountain, a famous sculpture which has become a symbol of the city.
4. Tartu Cathedral Ruins
Tartu Cathedral was built in the 1200s, but in the 1500s the reformation hit Tartu and the cathedral began to decline. Then during the Livonian Wars the Russians ransacked the site, meaning the cathedral fell to ruins. Today you can see what’s left – I personally thought they were quite beautiful.
5. Estonian Sports & Olympics Museum
Another wonderful museum is the Estonian sports and Olympics museum. This is a must for anyone interested in sport as it’s full of interactive fun. I also absolutely adore the Olympics, and in Sydney 2000 Erki Nool (Estonian) competed against my favourite Team GB athlete, Dean Macey – and won a gold medal, so it was nice to relive those memories.
6. Pussirohukelder Gunpowder Cellar
This amazing bar is a must for at least a drink when visiting Tartu. It’s situated in an 18th-century gunpowder cellar constructed in 1768 by order of Catherine II of Russia on the site of an earlier fort. The building served as a gunpowder cellar until 1809 when it was converted to a beer storage room. It’s even in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the highest pub ceiling in the world!
7. Tartu University
Tartu is famous for its University, the oldest in Estonia and established in 1632. The buildings its housed in today are quite beautiful, and you can also do tours although we didn’t have time during our visit.
8. St John’s Church
Built in the 1300s, this church is Lutheran and one of the symbols of Tartu. In 1775, the great fire of Tartu broke out (actually in the building where the Sports & Olympic museum is now located) near the church but miraculously it survived while the vast majority of the city burned.
9. AHHAA Science Centre
Now, full disclosure. Because I spent so long in the Sports & Olympic Museum we didn’t actually visit this museum, but it’s often listed as the number one thing to do in Tartu so I can’t miss it off – though it’s the only thing on the list I haven’t done! This museum is fully interactive and amazing for kids and big kids alike.
10. Parks and Botanic Gardens
Tartu is full of nice parks and gardens. There is the official Botanic Gardens, and then also some good parks to sit and enjoy the sunshine in. We spent an hour flanning in the Botanic Gardens and they are free to visit.
We absolutely loved our time in Tartu, and hope you enjoyed the virtual visit too! The Baltics are a really amazing area of Europe which I’d love to return to to explore more of. Stay safe and happy travelling!