Tartu Travel Guide
Situated in the centre of Estonia, Tartu is a university town with a history dating back millennia. This relaxed city is rife with museums – from history to beer to toys, you’ll find something you like here. Take care with your schedule – you may be tempted to stay longer!
Come check out our Tartu travel guide as we cover the best things to do in Tartu, Estonia.
Begin your visit to Tartu by spending a few hours exploring the Estonian National Museum. Despite its modern appearance, this institution has been around for more than a hundred years. It continuously collects artifacts that accurately portray the heritage of the Estonian people.
As you walk from one exhibit to another, you’ll see items of all kinds. These include traditional costumes, carpets, tablecloths – and even a carved wooden beer tankard. They also have temporary exhibitions, which covers topics that rotate from one quarter to another.
As you make your way through this facility, Estonia’s embrace of technology will wow you. By default, all displays are in Estonian. However, upon entry, you get a smart card that, among other things, knows your language. As you walk up to a display, swipe it, and captions will switch to your mother tongue.
This facility is all-encompassing in its knowledge. However, this also means that it is quite massive. Accordingly, allow three hours to enjoy your experience here.
Over the years, the paper industry has been central to Estonia’s success. Learn about it by visiting the Typa Museum during your visit to Tartu. Although you’ll find many beautiful pieces of origami and other paper art, its workshops are its strength.
During your visit, museum guides will walk you through the process of creating paper from pulp. In the end, you’ll have a sheet of paper, or a postcard. They’ll also teach you how to operate manual print presses. For centuries, this process was how publishers made newspapers and books!
Travelling with kids? Do NOT miss a trip to the Tartu Toy Museum. It is situated in an 18th-century wooden building, one of the oldest still standing in the city. Dolls, teddies, and toy cars are just a few of the 5,000 objects on display in this kid-friendly attraction.
Are you worried about your kids getting anxious? Don’t be – they also have an interactive play area, where you can interact with certain toys. Puppet shows are also scheduled in an on-site theatre – check them out if you have the time.
For some travellers, trying a nation’s popular beers is a must. In Tartu, learn the history of one of Estonia’s most popular brews at the A. Le Coq Beer Museum. On the tour, you’ll find out about Tartu’s obsession with beer, which spans over a millennium. You’ll see the equipment used to brew beer centuries ago, and learn how they make it today.
And, of course, you’ll get to sample the finished product at the end of your tour. To be safe, arrange alternate transport if you’ve rented a car.
Sadly, not all museums in Tartu are about cheery subjects. For a half-century from the 1940s to the 1990s, Tartu residents lived under the thumb of the Soviets. Locals who agitated against communism soon found themselves in custody – learn about their fate at the KGB Cells Museum.
Here, you’ll walk amidst holding cells where the KGB detained political prisoners. You’ll hear about how their captors tortured and interrogated them – included are horrifying audio recordings. There’s also a display that shows photographs from Siberian work camps. Also known as gulags, many Estonians sent there never returned.
If you’re looking for an offbeat attraction in Tartu, check out Tagurpidi Maja. It comes as advertised, as this literally translates to “upside-down house” in Estonian. Everything from the exterior to interior furnishings is inverted.
Sofas, tables, and kitchen implements hang above your head as you wander through this disorienting attraction. Note that this can cause problems for those prone to dizziness or motion sickness. If this affects you, consider this when making plans.
AHHAA Science Centre provides another rainy-day alternative for those with children. This is no ordinary science attraction – it is the largest of its kind in the Baltic States. Throughout this facility, you’ll find more than just exhibits. With a planetarium and a 4D cinema, this facility will entertain both kids and adults alike.
Those with green thumbs may want to check out the Tartu University Botanical Garden. Founded at the turn of the 19th century, it is the oldest botanical garden in the Baltic States. As you walk through, you’ll get to see 10,000 species of plant. Are you visiting in winter? No problem – a glass greenhouse offers a habitat where desert and tropical plants thrive.
End your visit by kicking back in Tartu Old City. Wars in the past century demolished most of Tartu’s buildings. The survivors make up Tartu’s compact Old Town, with cafes, restaurants, bars, and boutiques throughout.