Tartu – the cultural heart of Estonia | Finnair Hungary
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Tartu – the cultural heart of Estonia

Two Tartu residents and Finnair Business Services team members, Toomas Jakobson and Mait Kaaver share their insider tips to discover the best bits and pieces of Tartu, a compact but thriving Estonian university city. Take the short flight from Helsinki and get ready for a cultural adventure.

If you’re craving for a European getaway that blends youthful energy with intellectual depth, then you will be pleased to discover Tartu – Estonia’s hip student capital. As the nickname implies, Tartu is home to Estonia’s oldest university, which makes it a buzzing creative hub with plenty of things to see and do. Come for either a quick escape to explore the city or for an extended stay to go beyond and tap into South-Estonia’s beautiful nature.

Dive into the history

While young in its spirit, Tartu was first mentioned in the year 1030. Being on the crossroads of many ambitious empires, Tartu has changed hands many times and sometimes suffered along the way – most recently during World War II. This has created a unique city fabric with very diverse neighbourhoods which are guaranteed to keep your curiosity satisfied.

Start your day by having a stroll along the banks of Emajõgi – “Mother River”. Admire its numerous bridges, and during the summertime, venture into the vibrant pop-up bars along the riverbanks. Then turn to the Town Hall square and take some photos in front of the baroque Town Hall building and the Kissing Students fountain which symbolises the city’s academic character. A local tradition is to take a dip in the fountain to “baptise” yourself as a student. While exploring the cosy city centre, have some coffee and pastries at Werner Café – operating since 1895, it has become a favourite of locals and visitors alike.

Head up the hill on Lossi street and after passing under the famous Angel’s bridge you will end up on Toomemägi – the oldest area of Tartu. The most prominent landmark here is undoubtedly the ruins of Tartu Cathedral dating from the 15th century. Wander around these imposing ruins and breathe in the millennium of history that has taken place on these grounds. Feel free to also visit the University of Tartu Museum, which is built into the restored choir area of the cathedral. Fun fact – this museum contains Tartu’s oldest elevator. In the summer, you can even climb up the two towers as part of the museum visit.

The ruins of Tartu Cathedral

After a tiring day, head into the Gunpowder Cellar, which is carved into the hillside of Toomemägi itself. It was originally utilised for storing gunpowder, hence its name. Today, it has transformed into a pub with the world's highest ceiling and a signature red brew. Overall, the historic city centre is brimming with lively bars, ensuring everyone can find the perfect spot to unwind after a long day.

Tune into the culture

Immerse yourself in Tartu's creative energy at the vibrant Aparaaditehas cultural district. Translated as “apparatus factory”, the industrial past of this area provides a unique backdrop for trendy shops, art studios and eateries. You can also go on a treasure hunt in thrift shops or just get a croissant at the café Cruffin. When you are in the mood for a proper meal, restaurants such as Aparaat, Trikster Tihane, and Kolm Tilli are all delicious options.

If all this inspired you to get creative yourself, visit the TYPA Printing and Paper Art Centre. Besides being a museum featuring printing history and technology, throughout the year the centre comes alive with workshops, concerts, fairs and parties, offering a taste of Tartu's dynamic cultural scene.

When headed back down towards the centre, why not take a detour and walk through the down-to-earth neighbourhood of Karlova. Filled with mostly pre-war wooden houses, it offers a totally different atmosphere compared to the aristocratic city centre or the industrial zone you just came from.

Visit a museum blended into a runway

Having explored the charming city centre, continue your adventure by heading east across the river. Just a leisurely 30-minute stroll away (or a breezy ride on Tartu's excellent city bike system) lies the Estonian National Museum, or ERM for short – a beacon of Estonia's past, present, and future.

Estonian National Museum

ERM rests at the end of one of the former Raadi military airfield runways. Designed as a “groundscraper”, the museum seamlessly blends with the runway, giving the impression of a structure ready to take flight. Today, the airfield has transformed into a blossoming new district of Tartu, with the Estonian National Museum proudly at its centre.

Inside ERM, captivating displays await, offering a hands-on journey through Estonia's vibrant history and culture. Witness the essence of Estonian homes through the decades and immerse yourself in the local dress, language, and customs. It is more than a museum – it is an experience that invites you to connect with the soul of Estonia.

As you conclude your museum adventure, extend your exploration to the neighbouring Raadi Manor. Wander through the ruins of the main buildings and lose yourself in the tranquillity of the manor park. It is a perfect way to reflect on the stories you have discovered and take in the beauty of the surroundings.

Gateway to South-Estonia

If you are staying in Tartu a little bit longer, why not take some daytrips by train or bus or even rent a car to see some nearby South-Estonian sights? There are plenty of natural wonders, beautiful towns, manor houses, hiking trails and more.

An outstanding example of South-Estonian natural beauty is Taevaskoda (Heaven’s hall). Nestled along the ancient valley of Ahja River, the two sandstone outcrops stand as sentinels, and with the meandering water underneath, they create a captivating panorama within the Ahja Landscape Reserve. Feel the primal calling as you absorb the untouched beauty of this natural sanctuary.


Embark on a captivating journey from the Saesaare dam, leading you through the Small Taevaskoda, the mystical Emaläte spring, the enchanting Neitsikoobas cave, and finally, to the grandeur of the Large Taevaskoda. Towering 22.5 metres above the river, it's a spectacle that captivates year-round. In this enchanting locale, you can easily become captivated by local folklore, where legends about mermaids and demons echo within concealed caves and secret passages.

Whether you choose the vibrant hues of spring, the lazy warmth of summer, the crisp embrace of autumn, or the serene beauty of winter, Taevaskoda welcomes you to experience its magic year-round. You can reach it conveniently by train from Tartu, as the hiking trails are only a short walk away from the Taevaskoda train station.

Tartu – European Capital of Culture 2024

2024 marks a momentous year for Tartu, as it proudly wears the coveted title of European Capital of Culture. This designation promises a year-long celebration of Estonian heritage and artistic expression, making Tartu a must-visit destination.

The theme for Tartu 2024 is "Arts of Survival" – a thought-provoking concept that explores the power of art in shaping a better future. Throughout the year, over 1,000 events will unfold across Tartu and the surrounding Southern Estonian region. Expect a vibrant mix of exhibitions, performances, workshops, and interdisciplinary collaborations that explore themes of environmental awareness, social connection, and essential life skills.

Tartu Town Hall building

With already a strong cultural heritage, 2024 is sure to bring Tartu and whole of South-Estonia to a more global audience, highlighting its uniqueness and character while promoting topics relevant to the whole planet.


Did you know Finnair has a dynamic office in the heart of Tartu, Estonia? With a team of around 200 talented individuals, Finnair Business Services (FBS) is a key part of the company's operations.

Finnair helps to bridge Tartu to the world with 12 flights per week and a flight time of only 45 minutes. Tartu Airport is located 10km from the city with bus and taxi connections available.

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