Estonia: Europe’s rising star, part two

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

Estonia has shed its reputation as a venue for stag parties and become an European mini-break destination par excellence. Anthony Lydekker takes a trip to Tartu – the country’s second largest city

Tartu… where ?
Such is the awareness of Tallinn among cruisers and boozers one wonders how many visitors realise that they are in Estonia ? This is not as odd as it sounds: I was told at a recent Vienna reception in London that the National Tourist Board had some concerns that the capital’s awareness was higher than that of Austria. But because we’d never heard of Tartu before we know it’s in Estonia.

Tartur Kissing students fountain

Today’s Estonia has been independent for only 21 years, following Soviet control for nearly 50 years. Tartu is a university city with 17,000 students out of a total population of 103,000 – it has a very youthful atmosphere, arguably best summed up in the central fountain statue of two lovers embracing under an umbrella. The university was founded in 1632 and has always been the Centre of Estonian culture. All the current members of the Estonian government went there and it has an international reputation in the sciences. Just for the record, 12 courses are delivered in English with annual tuition fees of €3,200 –  that’s Euros not British Pounds!

Tartu can be reached from Tallinn in around two hours by bus (30 per day) or train (five a day). It’s worth going one way by train: Tartu station is still somewhat dilapidated but the coaches are comfortable in an old fashioned 1950s way with a First Class saloon with reasonably priced drinks and large picture windows.

The city has over 20 museums and also hosts year round concerts, theatre performances and a plethora of public events organised by the University community. The Ballet Company has12 young British members. Comprehensive updated details are on the general tourism site: or try

Ahaa Science Centre

Tartu has lots more to offer than its significant cultural and intellectual clout. There’s lots of aquatic activities on the Emajõgi River (which runs through the city), nearby lakes and the substantial Aura swimming pool and water park complex to cool one down after an afternoon spent traipsing around the museums.  It is also on the edge of unspoilt large wetlands and nature reserves.  The fairly new Ahaa Science Centre has some interesting ‘experiences’ with gravity and hens’ eggs hatching. Don’t forget that unlike Blighty, most museums and exhibits etc have to be paid for.

Eating and clubbing in Tartu
Food and drink is a lot cheaper in Tartu, than the UK. We had an excellent lunch at the Moka Restaurant (+372 744 2085).

Moka restaurant

A quick scan of displayed prices showed plenty of sub  €20 menus and some very reasonable wine bars all reflecting a population made up of many students. We did not stay until club opening time but my contacts in the Ballet Company recommend the Atlantis ( and the Teine Maailm ( the websites show €3 – 5 to get in.  Not bad!

Getting there
UK to Tallinn: EasyJet, Ryanair, Estonian Air, Finnair
UK to Tartu: Estonian Air, Finnair, Flybe



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