Just over two hours southeast of Tallinn, TARTU is in many ways the undiscovered gem of the Baltic States, a small-scale university town that is full of youthful energy but happily free from the city-break tourism that tends to swamp the Estonian capital. With plenty of diversions, and events all year round, it’s worth a stay of a couple of days.
The city’s centre is its cobbled Raekoja plats, fronted by the Neoclassical Town Hall, a pink-and-white edifice with the “Kissing Students” statue in the fountain in front of it. The northeast corner features the Leaning House (a wonky-looking structure that is still essentially sound), home of the Tartu Art Museum (Wed & Fri–Sun 11am–6pm, Thurs 11am–9pm; €3), with edgy temporary exhibitions downstairs and works by Estonian masters upstairs. The Neoclassical theme continues in the cool white facade of the main Tartu University building at Ülikooli 18, just north of the square. Upstairs you can see the Student Lock-up, where students were incarcerated in the nineteenth century for such offences as the late return of library books and duelling (Mon–Sat 10am–6pm; €1). About 100m beyond the university is the red-brick Gothic St John’s Church (Mon–Sat 10am–7pm; church free; tower €2), founded in 1330, and most famous for over one thousand pint-sized terracotta sculptures set in niches around the main entrance, although only about two hundred still survive.