Thanks to its strategic location just a stone’s throw away from the Russian border, Tartu has become one of the most well-known cities among Russians, especially those who live close to the border (St. Petersburg or Pskov). Locals frequently commute between these cities—just to get staples at a more friendly price, such as cheese, beer and so forth—which takes approximately 3 hours round trip (including passport control in both countries’ posts). Remember, these staples are essential for many families in Russia.
Following that ‘trend’, we got an idea to kill two birds with one stone—visiting Pskov and flying to Tartu before finally ending our journey in Tallinn and going back to Moscow. Was it enough to visit Tartu in a day? I might say yes, and I might say no. Yet if you don’t have much time for holiday, you can utilize a single day in Tartu to the fullest. Here are some activities you can do in Tartu in one day.
1. Visiting Tartu Old Town
As one of the oldest cities in Europe, with a history related to the Swedish Kingdom, Russia, USSR, and a deluge of war, Tartu hides many attractive things waiting to be discovered. To begin your meaningful journey, let’s start from the Tartu Old Town. Compared to other European old towns that are usually flooded by tourists from all around the world, Tartu Old Town is slightly calmer and more pleasant to visit.
With fewer tourists (in my point of view) and a handful of restaurants and cafes, it was tough for me to move on to our next destinations. No matter how cold it was, I was enchanted by its small alleyways, bringing me to different corners of town. With a cup of tea or coffee in hand, you can stroll around to watch how student life looks at one of the oldest universities in Europe, wondering who built the statue of ‘The Kissing Student’ or visiting some interesting museums around town.
2. Town Hall Square
Town Hall Square is the most iconic place to take a selfie for social media, as it has become the landmark of Tartu itself. Unfortunately, as maybe all guidebooks suggest that every tourist should visit this square, you might find it difficult to snap a picture without people huddling in the background.
On the topic of history, town hall itself was erected during the 17th century, following The Great Fire of Tartu. It is really old, even though the facade might make you think that it was built around the 18th or 19th century.
The coolest science center ever. Comfortably situated right at the heart of Tartu, AHHAA was initially built as a science center by Tartu University. Later, it opened to the public. If you are a science buff and have 3-4 hours to spend, AHHAA is a must-see. Even if you loathe everything related to science, AHHAA is still worth visiting. It doesn’t make your head spin with strenuously complicated formulas—instead, AHHAA jazzes science up, transforming it from a dull and conventional study (according to some people) into something more fun and easy to digest. You can experience what it feels like to be an astronaut, learn more about our solar system, understand what kinetic energy means, how our brains work, and so forth.
This interesting experience doesn’t require a ton of cash. By spending 10-15 euro, you can hang around inside this four-story building as long as you want.
Notes: The theatre schedule can be found there. They are usually available in English, Russian, or Estonian.