When most people think of Europe, they immediately think of the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Greece etc. These are pretty popular destinations in their own right, but may be just a tad bit overrated. Nestled between the Baltic Sea on the left and Russia on the right lies the hidden gem of Estonia. Slightly larger than Massachusetts, Estonia is filled with palaces, castles and plenty of forests all waiting to be explored.
About a two-hour drive from the capital, Tallinn, is Estonia’s second-largest city, Tartu. Also known as the City of Good Thoughts, Tartu is a vibrant, bustling, university city with museums on every corner, cobblestone streets and scenic views. The Emajõgi River cuts through the city, providing visitors and locals alike with a beautiful promenade lined with benches, bars and restaurants. A perfect location to have a meal is in a lively floating restaurant built on a boat.
Directly across the river is Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square in English). Here you will be greeted by a giant yellow National Geographic window that showcases the amazing architecture from buildings built in the late 18th to early 19th centuries. Raekoja Plats is surrounded by a variety of many different cafes and restaurants, all featuring unique cuisine.
The most iconic landmark in Town Hall Square is the Kissing Students fountain. Legend goes that one day, two students, who were lovers, were kissing under an umbrella while caught in a fierce rainstorm. Just as they kissed, they were struck by lightning turning them into stone forever in each other’s arms. Behind them is the main Town Hall building which is also the Tartu Welcome Center.
Rüütli, one of the oldest streets in Tartu, is the main area where students, locals and visitors can find the yummiest places to eat. One of Tartu’s distinguishable features is that it has a large international student population. Thus, a lot of the cuisine found on Rüütli is from different corners of the world.
Located inside the main building is the University Art Museum which features plaster cast copies of statues from Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic Greece. It is also home to two real life mummies. If that hasn’t drawn your attention yet, then another noteworthy aspect is that the museum is free to University of Tartu students.
Estonia is one of the greenest countries in the Baltic region with approximately 50% of the country covered in forests and bogs. Tartu is home to many parks and you will often find people going for walks, reading or cycling throughout the day. One of these parks, Toome Hill Park, is the best spot to go for the perfect blend between a walk-through history and a quiet place to relax. The park is filled not only with benches and scenic overviews, but it also has plenty of statues and monuments dedicated to influential figures of Tartu.
With plenty of things to do, see and eat, Tartu has something for everyone. Maybe the next time you are planning your dream European vacation, look a little further east. After all, it is quite easy to fall in love with the City of Good Thoughts.