12 Best Things to Do in Tartu, Estonia: Explore Europe’s Hidden Gem

Jon Miksis Jon Miksis clock Updated May 30, 2024 tourism Dream Destinations
by Maria
12 Best Things to Do in Tartu, Estonia Featured Image
This post may have affiliate links, where I may receive a commission if you purchase through them. Here's our Disclosure and Privacy Policy for more info.

Are you considering a trip to Tartu this year? From the enchanting Toome Hill to the insightful Estonian National Museum, and the vibrant streets of the Old Town, prepare to discover the top attractions and things to do in Tartu!

Let me tell you about Tartu. It’s this awesome spot in Estonia that’s somehow flown under the radar. Picture this: cozy cafes, vibrant street art, and green spaces where you can just breathe and be. I stumbled upon it almost by accident and, wow, am I glad I did.

I’ve explored Tartu from top to bottom and let me tell you, it’s packed with incredible sights and attractions. From the chill vibes of the Botanical Gardens to the intriguing Estonian National Museum, every spot in this city is worth discovering. If you’re wondering what to do in Tartu, you’re in the right place.

So, what’s there to do in this quaint Baltic gem? Plenty, and I’m here to guide you through the coolest things to do in Tartu. Let’s dive right in!

Discover the enchanting allure of Tartu, Estonia with these 12 must-do experiences!
Discover the enchanting allure of Tartu, Estonia with these 12 must-do experiences!

Best places to visit in Tartu, Estonia

Are you ready to explore all of Tartu’s top attractions? From the historical Tartu Cathedral Ruins to the peaceful banks of the Emajõgi River, there’s an abundance of exciting things to do in Tartu.

Whether you’re immersing yourself in the interactive exhibits at the AHHAA Science Centre or strolling through the serene Tartu Botanical Gardens, every moment in Tartu is an adventure. Here’s your ultimate guide to the best activities in Tartu!

1. Stroll through Toome Hill (Toomemägi)

If you’re hitting Tartu, you’ve gotta check out Toome Hill. Right in the heart of the city, this place is a gem. It’s not just any hill—it’s a slice of history, a peaceful escape, and honestly, the best way to get your bearings.

Toome Hill is smack dab in the middle of town, so you can’t miss it. It’s where students chill, couples wander, and locals catch a break. The hill is home to the old cathedral ruins—imagine ancient walls under the open sky, all that history just hanging out with you.

Why Toome Hill? It’s the perfect mix of a scenic walk and a lesson in Estonian history without trying too hard. Plus, the views are unbeatable. You see the city sprawl below, the river winding its way through, and if you go at sunset, it’s magic.

I recommend starting your Tartu adventure here. It sets the tone for everything else. You get to feel the city’s pulse, see some cool sights, and find those perfect spots for a quiet moment. It’s one of the best places to go in Tartu where you can truly relax and feel the vibe of the city.

Step into history with a stroll through Toome Hill. | Image Source: Toomemägi / TripAdvisor
Step into history with a stroll through Toome Hill. | Image Source: Toomemägi / TripAdvisor

2. Visit the Estonian National Museum (Eesti Rahva Muuseum)

Next up on your Tartu tour has to be the Estonian National Museum (Eesti Rahva Muuseum). This isn’t your run-of-the-mill museum. It’s a deep dive into Estonian life, culture, and history, all wrapped up in one of the most stunning buildings you’ll lay eyes on.

Located a bit outside the city center, I’d recommend cycling, catching the number 7 bus, or driving to the museum. But trust me, it’s worth the trip. The moment you see the sleek, modern design of the museum, you’ll know you’re in for something special. It’s like a bridge between Estonia’s past and its future, and walking through its exhibits, you really feel that connection.

Inside, it’s interactive, engaging, and honestly, pretty fun. You’ll learn about traditional Estonian life, hear music that’s centuries old, and even step into a recreated old village. And the best part? It’s laid out so you can explore at your own pace, dive deep into what interests you, and skip what doesn’t.

For anyone wondering about fun things to do in Tartu, the Estonian National Museum is a must-see. It’s a place where you’ll not only learn a ton but also get a real feel for what it means to be Estonian. Check it out!

Discover Estonian culture at the Estonian National Museum. | Image Source: Estonian National Museum / TripAdvisor
Discover Estonian culture at the Estonian National Museum. | Image Source: Estonian National Museum / TripAdvisor

3. Relax at the Tartu Botanical Gardens

When you’re ready to swap the city streets for nature, the Tartu Botanical Gardens are where you want to head. Tucked away near the university, this place is a little oasis of calm right in the city. And the best part? It won’t cost you a cent to enter. It’s one of those free things to do in Tartu that you absolutely can’t skip.

Walking through the gardens, you’ll find everything from exotic flowers to age-old trees. It’s like a green maze where every turn brings a new surprise. There are themed sections, too, so one minute you’re in Japan, and the next, you’re wandering through a desert. It’s perfect for anyone looking to chill or a quiet walk to reset your mind.

Don’t miss the greenhouses! Even if it’s chilly outside, inside it’s a tropical paradise. It’s like stepping into a different world, filled with colors and scents that’ll make you forget you’re in Estonia.

The Tartu Botanical Gardens are more than just a pretty place. They’re a reminder to slow down, breathe, and enjoy the simpler things. Whether you’re a plant lover or just looking for a peaceful spot to unwind, the gardens offer a tranquil escape from the buzz of city life.

Relax in nature at the Tartu Botanical Gardens. | Image Source: Sahan Dasantha Magalarachchi / Google Reviews
Relax in nature at the Tartu Botanical Gardens. | Image Source: Sahan Dasantha Magalarachchi / Google Reviews

4. Take a Walk along the Emajõgi River

If you ask me, no visit to Tartu is complete without taking time to stroll along the Emajõgi River. It’s the heart of the city, a beautiful waterway that’s as much a part of Tartu as the people themselves.

Here’s a tip from me to you: start your river walk right in the downtown area. It’s easy to find and seriously, you can’t miss the beauty of it. The path by the river is perfect for anyone. Whether you’re up for a lazy walk, a bit of jogging, or cycling, it’s all set for you. 

Now, why do I think the Emajõgi River is a must-do? It’s where you get to see the real Tartu. You’ll bump into everyone here – students, families, even the occasional artist capturing the scene. Plus, the cafes and spots along the river are perfect to grab a bite or a drink. It’s like the city’s social hub without trying too hard.

I highly recommend ending the day by watching the sunset by the river. The view is unbeatable. The way the sun dips, coloring the sky and the water, it’s the kind of moment that sticks with you. Without a doubt, relaxing by the Emajõgi River is one of the coolest things to do in Tartu.

Take a riverside walk along the Emajõgi River.
Take a riverside walk along the Emajõgi River.

5. Discover Tartu Old Town

Wandering through Tartu Old Town is like stepping back in time, but with a twist. The cobbled streets, historic buildings, and cozy cafes make it the soul of the city. It’s easily one of my favorite places to visit in Estonia, and I’m sure you’ll love it too.

Start at the Town Hall Square, the beating heart of the Old Town. It’s very scenic. Make sure to check out the quirky statues and art installations scattered around, they’re great for a laugh and a pic.

What I love about the Tartu Old Town is its vibe. It’s laid-back yet buzzing with energy. Pop into a café for a cup of something warm and watch the world go by. Or grab a bite in one of the local eateries. My favorite is Werner Café & Lounge. They serve some seriously tasty dishes that’ll have you coming back for more.

If you’re looking for fun places to visit in Tartu, the Old Town is it. It’s where history, culture, and modern life blend seamlessly. Walking through, you can’t help but fall in love with Tartu’s charm.

Explore the charm of Tartu Old Town.
Explore the charm of Tartu Old Town.

6. Climb the Tartu Cathedral Ruins

If there’s one spot in Tartu that absolutely blew my mind, it’s the Tartu Cathedral Ruins. Picture this: you’re standing in the middle of what used to be a majestic cathedral, now an open-air reminder of the past. It’s easily one of the best Tartu attractions.

Climbing the ruins is a must-do. Yes, you can actually go up there! When you reach the top, the view is something else – Tartu laid out before you in all its glory. It’s the kind of spot that makes you reach for your camera but also makes you want to just stand and soak it all in.

After exploring, I found this quaint little café nearby called Toome Kohvik. Perfect for a break. Grabbing a coffee and sitting with the view of the ruins – it’s the kind of peaceful moment that sticks with you.

So, why visit the Tartu Cathedral Ruins? It’s not just about seeing another historical site. It’s about feeling a connection to the past, enjoying breathtaking views, and maybe finding a quiet moment just to be. Trust me, it’s a unique blend of adventure and tranquility you won’t want to miss.

Climb the Tartu Cathedral Ruins for stunning views!
Climb the Tartu Cathedral Ruins for stunning views!

7. Enjoy the Nightlife in Tartu 

Now, let’s talk about things to do in Tartu at night because, yes, the nightlife here has its own unique vibe. If you’re wondering where the party’s at or just where to enjoy a chill evening, Tartu’s got you covered.

One spot that’s a must-visit for a fun night out is the Genialistide Klubi. This place is a mix of everything – live music, cool DJs, and a laid-back crowd. It’s where you go to dance, laugh, and just let loose. The vibe is artsy and a bit indie, so expect something different from your usual night out.

But if you’re in the mood for something more low-key, like where you can chat and enjoy a good drink, check out Aparaaditehas. This creative hub is a spot where you can catch live performances, art shows, and grab a bite at some pretty cool eateries. It’s relaxed, it’s trendy, and it’s got that something special you’re looking for.

Tartu’s nightlife is all about diving into the city’s culture after dark. If you love the energy of vibrant clubs or prefer cozy bars where the music sets the scene for great conversations, Tartu has it all. Ending your day here, with the night’s vibe just right, is something special.

Genialistide Klubi—a must-visit for a vibrant night out in Tartu! | Image Source: Martti K / Google Reviews
Genialistide Klubi—a must-visit for a vibrant night out in Tartu! | Image Source: Martti K / Google Reviews

8. Visit the AHHAA Science Centre

If you’re hunting for an experience in Tartu that’s both enlightening and entertaining, the AHHAA Science Centre is your go-to. Situated right in the city center, it’s super easy to find and adds a whole new level of cool to the concept of a science museum.

Once inside, you’re greeted with interactive exhibits that blow the mind. Think hands-on science experiments, a planetarium that takes you to the stars, and even live science shows. It’s easily one of the best things to do in Tartu with kids – but adults get a kick out of it, too!

What I love about AHHAA is that it makes learning fun. You could easily spend a whole day here and not get bored. Plus, it’s a great spot regardless of the weather. Rainy day? Perfect for diving into the wonders of science indoors.

So, if you’re wondering what to do in Tartu for a day, AHHAA Science Centre delivers. It’s a place where curiosity meets discovery, right in the heart of Tartu. Don’t miss it!

Engage in interactive learning at AHHAA Science Centre. | Image Source: AHHAA Science Centre / TripAdvisor
Engage in interactive learning at AHHAA Science Centre. | Image Source: AHHAA Science Centre / TripAdvisor

9. Explore the Tartu Art Museum

In the heart of Tartu’s Old Town, the Tartu Art Museum is hard to miss – literally, because the building leans a bit. It’s earned the affectionate nickname of Tartu’s own leaning tower. This place is a visual treat, both inside and out. It’s conveniently located for anyone wandering through the city center.

The museum sports a modest entry fee, which is a small price to pay for the wealth of Estonian art you get to explore. From classic pieces that tell the story of Estonia’s past to contemporary works that challenge and intrigue, there’s something for every art lover.

I recommend setting aside a couple of hours for your visit. The museum’s collections are diverse, and you’ll want to take your time. Plus, they often host temporary exhibitions that are as thought-provoking as they are varied.

After your visit, take a moment to enjoy the area around the museum. The Old Town’s charming streets and cafes provide the perfect backdrop to reflect on the art you’ve just experienced. In all, the Tartu Art Museum is somewhere I always recommend to those asking where to go in Tartu.

Immerse yourself in art at Tartu Art Museum. | Image Source: Mikael F / TripAdvisor
Immerse yourself in art at Tartu Art Museum. | Image Source: Mikael F / TripAdvisor

10. Attend a Performance at the Vanemuine Theatre

Heading to Tartu and love a good show? You can’t skip the Vanemuine Theatre. Right in the center, this place is a slice of history where every performance feels like a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Make sure to check out their lineup before you go. From dazzling ballets to gripping dramas, there’s always something on. I definitely recommend grabbing your tickets early. Don’t stress about not knowing Estonian, either. The performances speak a universal language of emotion and artistry.

Thinking of what to wear? Sprucing up a bit adds to the fun. It’s not every day you get to dress fancy and enjoy a night out at a theatre that’s seen centuries of applause.

Even if you don’t catch a show, just stopping by is worth it. The building itself is a stunner. Sometimes, they have mini-exhibits in the lobby, which are always worth a look.

A night at the Vanemuine Theatre is unforgettable. It’s where you feel the heartbeat of Tartu’s artistic scene. So, make it a point to experience it. On my trip last year, it was one of my favorite places in Estonia.

Attend a performance at the historic Vanemuine Theatre. | Image Source: Mikael F / TripAdvisor
Attend a performance at the historic Vanemuine Theatre. | Image Source: Mikael F / TripAdvisor

11. Sample Estonian Cuisine at Vilde ja Vine

Located in the lively heart of Tartu’s Old Town, Vilde ja Vine is a culinary gem you can’t afford to miss. This spot combines the cozy charm of Tartu with a menu that’s a love letter to Estonian cuisine, all with a modern twist.

First off, finding it is a breeze. It’s located on a quaint street that’s easy to wander into during your Old Town explorations. The ambiance? Perfect for both a casual lunch and a romantic dinner. It’s the kind of place where you feel right at home, thanks to its warm, inviting atmosphere.

Here’s a tip: try their seasonal specials. Vilde ja Vine prides itself on using local ingredients, so their menu changes with what’s fresh. It’s a fantastic way to taste the best of Estonia’s seasonal flavors. And if you’re into wine, you’re in for a treat. Their selection is thoughtfully curated to complement the dishes.

Don’t skip this spot. As one of the best places to eat in Tartu, it’s a meal that’ll stick with you long after you’ve left the city.

Indulge in Estonian cuisine at Vilde ja Vine. | Image Source: Vilde ja Vine / TripAdvisor
Indulge in Estonian cuisine at Vilde ja Vine. | Image Source: Vilde ja Vine / TripAdvisor

12. Join the Tartu Song Festival

Mark your calendars for June 16 to 22, 2024, because that’s when Tartu truly comes alive with the sound of music. The Tartu Song Festival is a celebration of Estonian culture, tradition, and the power of song. It takes place in the sprawling Tartu Laululava (Song Festival Grounds), a venue that’s as historic as it is picturesque, located just a short distance from the city center.

When you’re there, don’t just go for the main performances. The festival week is packed with events, workshops, and smaller concerts that show off the diversity of Estonian music and arts. In 2024, the festival boasts a line-up of 10,000 singer-musicians and 2,300 dancers. You won’t get bored!

The Tartu Song Festival sticks with you, way beyond the final song. It’s all about feeling connected, sharing smiles, and those chill-inducing moments of everyone’s voices mingling in the air. Even if you’re not big into music, you’ll get swept up in the vibe. When you’re writing your Tartu things to do list, the festival is a highlight you won’t want to miss.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the best things to do in Tartu, Estonia:

Looking for more content on the top things to do in Tartu, Estonia? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to one of the most beautiful places in Estonia.

Is it worth visiting Tartu?

Absolutely, Tartu is worth visiting. It’s a unique blend of history, culture, and vibrant student life that you won’t find anywhere else. I’d recommend it for anyone looking for a mix of traditional and modern experiences packed into one place.

Is Tartu a city or town?

Tartu is definitely a city, and not just any city – it’s Estonia’s second largest and oldest, brimming with culture and academia. It’s the intellectual heart of the country, with a lively atmosphere thanks to its university.

What are some fun facts about Tartu?

Some fun facts about Tartu? Well, it’s home to one of Northern Europe‘s oldest universities, founded in 1632. Did you know Tartu is also known as the City of Good Thoughts? Plus, it has a statue dedicated to kissing students right in the center!

Is Estonia cheap for tourists?

Estonia, including Tartu, can be quite budget-friendly for tourists compared to Western Europe. Eating out, accommodation, and attractions offer good value for your money. However, like any destination, it’s wise to budget for your priorities, whether that’s dining, experiences, or souvenirs.

Enjoyed discovering Tartu's hidden gems? Share this pin and inspire others to explore this European treasure!
Enjoyed discovering Tartu’s hidden gems? Share this pin and inspire others to explore this European treasure!

You may also like

Leave a Comment