Already familiar with the charms of the Estonian capital Tallinn? Next time you cross the Gulf, head on a couple of hours further southeast to Tartu. This lovely, lively university town has plenty of history, as well as a vibrant cultural scene to suit its youthful population.
Tartu’s proud residents brag that their 1,000-year-old city is the intellectual capital of the whole of Estonia, as well as the heart of the country’s rustic southern provinces. This is not said as a slight against the generally well-educated people of Tallinn, but to point out that Tartu is home to many revered Estonian institutions including the National Museum, the Ministry of Education, the Supreme Court and the country’s oldest, biggest, and best-known university.
Students make up as much as a quarter of the town’s population of about 100,000. The university alone has around 20,000 students, and 3,000 academics. “Estonians often talk about ‘the Sprit of Tartu’ and very many of us have a special feeling for the city, as we have happy memories of our student days here,” says Tartu graduate and part-time tourist guide Kristina Mullamaa, who today also teaches English and Swedish at her alma mater.
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Estonia’s second city beckons