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Daytrip from Tallinn to Tartu

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By Noora Karppi  •  04.09.2019

Tartu is the second largest city in Estonia, and the oldest city in the Baltics. Tartu is located in South Estonia, just 181 kilometres (112.5 miles) from Tallinn, and is easy to reach by train or bus.

Tartu is the cradle of culture and intellectual centre of Estonia, and it's believed to have a special Tartu spirit (Tartu vaim) one can sense while visiting the city. The first song festival took place in Tartu in 1869, and the Estonian theatre was created here. The city is also the home to the Estonian National Museum.

The oldest university in Estonia, University of Tartu, was established here by the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus in the 17th century. Today the university has 4 faculties, over 13 000 students, and belongs to the 1,2% of the world's best universities. Vibrant student life gives the atmosphere an extra feeling of freedom, ambition and optimism.

Tartu has many nicknames. Today it's mostly known as the city of good thoughts, but also as the Athens of the Emajõgi. The nickname Athens of the Emajõgi (or "Embach-Athen") was given to Tartu by the Baltic Germans. It refers to the architecture of Tartu, intellectual and cultural spirit the city has, and of course, the famous river Emajõgi (Mother River) crossing the city.

In 2024, Tartu will carry the title of European Capital of Culture

How to get to Tartu?

Tartu is easy to reach from Tallinn. As there are several students travelling between the cities on daily bases, there are several bus and train connections to choose from.

By bus

The bus trip from Tallinn to Tartu takes usually 2,5 hours. There are many companies and departures from early morning to late night. You can catch a bus leaving from Tallinn to Tartu every 30 minutes. All the buses depart from Tallinn Central Bus Station (Tallinna Bussijaam, Lastekodu 46) and arrive to Tartu Bus Station (Tartu Bussijaam) in the centre of the city.

You can choose to travel in style with free WiFi, drinks and entertainment (movies, music, games are available at your personal entertainment system in the bus), or save money for sightseeing and good food (Tartu has plenty) and choose the less glamorous regular bus.

Tickets are available online, from the bus station or from the driver. On weekends several busses are usually full as many students travel between the cities. So if you wish to take the bus on a popular time, please buy your ticket in advance.

Domestic bus lines, fares and timetables can be found on the T-Pilet portal.

By train

The comfortable ride, with free WiFi, from Tallinn to Tartu takes only two hours with an express train. The trains leave from Tallinn Railway Station (Balti Jaam, Toompuiestee 37) and stop at the Tartu Railway Station (Tartu raudteejaam, Vaksali 6).

The railway station in Tartu is located one kilometre outside the city centre, on the west side of the city. On foot it takes approximately 18 minutes to walk from the railway station to the centre. You can also hop in bus number 20 that takes you straight to the centre of Tartu.

Train tickets can be bought online, from the railway stations or from the conductor.

Domestic train routes, fares and timetables can be found on Elron's website.

What are the must see sights in Tartu?

Tartu Old Town and the University of Tartu

Tartu is the perfect destination to explore on foot. Just stroll on the streets of the city centre and get to know the old historic part of Tartu. Start from the iconic statue and fountain of the Kissing Students in front of the Tartu Town Hall and admire the beautiful Town Hall Square.

The square is surrounded by several restaurants and cafés. Don’t miss the leaning house on the north side of the square. This house belongs to Tartu Art Museum, so you can step inside and enjoy the exhibitions.

Climb up to Toomemägi (Toome Hill) and walk under the pretty and romantic Angel’s Bridge and its twin, the elegant Devil’s Bridge. Head to the Old Anatomical Theatre and the Old Observatory, which belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage list (part of the Struve Geodetic Arc).

On the other side of the hill, you’ll find the University of Tartu Museum inside the old Cathedral. Part of the Cathedral is in ruins, but you can visit the museum inside and also climb up to the towers to see a panoramic 360° view over Tartu.

Head back down to the lower part of the Old Town and explore the medieval St. John’s Church and its unique terracotta sculptures. Close by you can visit the Tartu Toy Museum19th Century Tartu Citizen’s Home MuseumEstonian Sports and Olympic Museum, or the Botanical Garden of the University of Tartu.

Finish your tour at the beautiful classicist main building of the University of Tartu and the Art Museum of the university.

Estonian National Museum

The Estonian National Museum (Eesti Rahva Muuseum, ERM) was founded in Tartu in 1909. Its main task is to protect and develop the history and culture of Estonia. In October 2016, the new building of the National Museum was opened for visitors. In February 2018, President Kersti Kaljulaid held the official reception to celebrate Estonia’s centennial here at the museum.

The new building of the Estonian National Museum is located on the grounds of the former Raadi Manor in northeast Tartu. The building itself, connected to an old Soviet airfield, is a sight to see, not to mention the vast collection inside. It is the perfect spot to get to know the roots and everyday lives of Estonia and Estonians.

Upside Down House

Close to the Estonian National Museum, you’ll find one of the most Instagrammable attractions in Tartu – the Upside Down House. Everything in this house is totally upside down, including the building itself. It's a great opportunity to wow your friends and followers with some gravity-defying photos of your trip to Tartu.

AHHAA Science Centre

Next to the bus station, in the centre of Tartu, is AHHAA Science Centre. AHHAA introduces and popularises science and invites everyone from kids to grandparents on a journey of discovery. Step inside the science theatre, take part in workshops, relax at the planetarium, and learn new exciting things at the hands-on exhibitions. AHHAA is the biggest science centre in the Baltics.

Supilinn and Karlova

See a different side of Tartu at the wooden districts of Supilinn ('soup town' in Estonian) and Karlova. These charming local neighbourhoods are filled with active communities, small backyards, playing children and some of the coolest pubs and cafés.

Supilinn is called soup town with a reason. Here you can explore streets named Herne ('pea'), Kartuli ('potato'), Oa ('bean') or Kõrvitsa ('pumpkin') – ingredients of a tasty soup! Supilinn is located on the north side of the centre of Tartu. On its east side runs river Emajõgi, which occasionally will flood the backyards and streets of Supilinn in the spring. This neighbourhood is filled with old wooden houses and bohemian people.

Karlova, on the south side of the city centre, has quickly turned into the trendiest neighbourhood in Tartu. It has cool bars like BarlovaAnna EdasiTassikoogid, and Karlova Kohv - places where local hip people like to hang out. It is a bit similar to Kalamaja in Tallinn, it also has its own Telliskivi - Aparaaditehas. Aparaaditehas (the Widget Factory) is an old factory complex turned into a trendy new area. In Aparaaditehas Creative City you can do some shopping, visit the Printing and Paper Museum, or have a tasty meal in cosy surroundings. 

For more recommendations on what to do and se in Tartu, ckeck out

Where to eat and drink in Tartu?

Food in Tartu is affordable and delicious. You’ll find several restaurants and cafés from the city centre that serve good lunch offers and are open until late in the evening.

The most iconic café in Tartu is café Werner. Café Werner was opened in 1895 by confectioner Johann Werner. It has been the meeting place for the creative minds and culture figures of Estonia and Tartu for over 120 years. You can enjoy and relax at the inspiring atmosphere of Werner, nearby the University of Tartu and Tartu Town Hall.

The best restaurants in Tartu, according to the White Guide Baltic, are Hõlm, the aforementioned Werner, Umb RohtJOYCEFii, and Antonius. You can find all their recommendations for Tartu on the Guide's website. 

An interesting location for beer lovers is Püssirohukelder ('gunpowder cellar' in Estonian). This popular restaurant serves Estonian and German dishes and is located inside the Toomemägi, under 300-year-old brick arches. The portions will fill your tummy, and the 1-litre house beer will quench your thirst.

For the best Neapolitan pizza, head to La Dolce Vita, an Italian restaurant in the centre of Tartu. Their authentic Italian dishes are the best you can get outside Italy.

If you are looking for an easy-going, trendy and Instagrammable food spot, then Aparaaditehas (the Widget Factory) is the place to visit. Restaurant Aparaat inside the old factory building offers good food, good friends and good atmosphere.

Events not to be missed

Tartu is famous for its student days, marathons, food festivals, handicraft fairs, and movie festivals. If possible, visit Tartu during one of the main events.

January – Tartu Winter Music Festival
February – Tasty Tartu, Tartu Marathon
March – Festival of Visual Culture World Film
April – Supilinn Days, Student Festival “Tartu Spring Days”
May – Spring Fair, Karlova Days, Tartu Landscape Marathon
June – Tartu street food Festival and Festival TaDaa!, International student festival “Gaudeamus”, Tartu City Day
July – Hanseatic Days, Rally Estonia
August – Tartu Food and Wine Festival, Tartu Love Film Festival “tARTuFF”, Tartu Inline Skating Marathon 
September – Autumn Fair, Tartu Autumn Days, Tartu Mountain Bike Marathon
October – Tartu City Marathon
November – Tartu Jazz and rhythm music festival “IDeeJazz”
December – Christamas Town Tartu, Wintry Tartu Folk Dance Day

For more information about the events in Tartu check Visit Tartu's webpage.

Relax before heading back to Tallinn

Before you hop on the bus or train that takes you back to Tallinn, pay a visit to V Spa

V Spa is located in the centre of Tartu, close to the bus station. Here you can pamper yourself with different relaxing beauty treatments and massages. If you are just looking for some time of sightseeing, we recommend to visit the water and sauna centre at V Spa.

In the same area, near the bus station, are also Aura Centre and Dorpat Tervis. In Aura Centre's water park you can relax for a moment or have some fun in the water slides. Dorpat Tervis offers a wide range of services from massages to manicures and beauty treatments.

Where to find more information about Tartu?

Useful and inspirational links about Tartu:

Visiting Tartu will give you an idea of what South Estonia is like. It is packed with old traditions, rich cultural heritage and beautiful nature. The people are earnest and diligent. Breathe in the special Tartu spirit that has had a vital role in the development of Estonia, and let good thoughts come to you.