"The City of Good Thoughts."
Witness Estonia's entire history in the country's cultural capital.
The “City of Good Thoughts,” Tartu is Estonia’s cultural and intellectual capital. This city is home to the University of Tartu, one of Europe’s oldest universities, and one of the most prestigious in Eastern Europe. The central role students play here is symbolized by the “Kissing Students” statue in front of the town hall. Tartu is centered around Toomemagi, a steep hill that hosted a pagan fort, followed by a Crusader castle. Toomemagi is Tartu’s gem, especially in September's foliage. Covered in forest and filled with paths, this hill contains a half-ruined cathedral, one of Europe’s oldest observatories, an anatomical theater, and Czarist bridges and fortifications, as well as statues, plaques, a cafe, and more. Toomemagi has excellent views of the city, especially from the cathedral towers, while beneath it lies a bar and restaurant built in a former gunpowder cellar, featuring the world's highest bar ceiling.
Estonia’s second largest city hosts its second largest Old Town, a Neoclassical area filled with shops and university buildings. Here, every cellar seems to host a cafe during the day, and bar at night. We recommend walking along the river, with its parks, bridges, and street art. A local isn’t considered a true student until they’ve managed to climb the arch bridge that lies at the end of the main square! Be sure to visit the Tartu Art Museum, which leans further than the Tower of Pisa, and take in the view from the Tasku mall by the river. One of Tartu’s best attractions is also its newest, the main building of the Estonian National Museum. This cutting-edge museum, built on the grounds of an abandoned Soviet air base, focuses on the history and culture of the Estonians, and related peoples, such as the Sami, Samoyeds, and Mari. This place is built with foreign visitors in mind, and each exhibit is somehow more creative than the last.
Things to do in Tartu
Down the Emajogi (“Mother-River”) from Tartu lies Lake Peipus, where Alexander Nevsky is said to have defeated Teutonic Knights by luring them onto the ice. This quiet lake is fished by Old Believers, insular Russians who fled 17th century religious reforms and have maintained their own traditions ever since. To the west lies quaint Viljandi, a town overlooking a large lake and known for its musicians and the ruins of a massive castle. There are several national parks in the area, from bogs full of berries and perfectly still bodies of water, to Taevaskoja, where the Ahja River has cut sandstone cliffs. To get off the beaten path, visit Estonia’s southeastern corner, home to the Seto. These people are closely related to the Estonians, but with their own language and customs. Seto are Orthodox Christians, but have kept many pagan beliefs and traditions, as well as a unique polyphonic singing tradition. This part of Estonia is home to the Piusa sand caves, and the Saatse Boot, where drivers are allowed to drive through a portion of Russian territory, as long as they don’t stop!