For Estonians, hearing the name ‘Tartu’ immediately brings to mind images of packed lecture halls, busy laboratories and cafés filled with laptop-toting students. That’s no surprise. After all, the city of 100,000 is home to the country’s most prestigious university and has the coffee stains to prove it. It’s this academic prowess, not to mention a millennium-long history and a legitimate claim to being the cradle of modern Estonian culture, that’s made Tartu a hotspot for museums of every sort. The good news for conference organisers is that many of these museums make ideal locales for meetings, receptions, social programmes and the like. Here’s our list of suggestions:
Estonian National Museum
Biggest, boldest, most high-tech… the list of superlatives goes on and on when it comes to the Estonian National Museum. In fact, the ERM, as it’s known locally, took this year’s Kenneth Hudson prize at the European Museum of the Year Awards, while the building’s striking architecture has won the AFEX (French Architects abroad) Grand Prix. Opened in 2016, this colossal ethnographic museum is the go-to point for anyone who wants to understand how Estonians developed as a people. The permanent exhibition, ‘Encounters’, takes visitors on a journey through the nation’s cultural history from the Ice Age to the present, while the ‘Echo of the Urals’ exhibit presents the stories of all the other Finno-Ugric ethnic groups. The spacious facility was designed with events in mind, so it’s well-equipped to accommodate conferences, receptions, galas, poster sessions, film screenings and more. They also put together ethnographic workshops for social events.
AHHAA Science Centre
The all-caps name certainly looks like an acronym, but it’s actually a rendering of ‘A-ha!’, that universal expression of discovery. This super-modern institution features dozens of engaging, see-and-do exhibits designed to get kids excited about science. AHHAA also stages regular science shows where things bubble and bang, and is home to Estonia’s largest planetarium. The facility is well suited for receptions and is within easy walking distance of two of the city’s main conference hotels, Dorpat and V Spa.
University of Tartu Museum White Hall
The towering ruins of the 13th century Tartu Cathedral is one of the city’s best-loved landmarks. Part of the structure here atop Toome Hill houses the University of Tartu Museum, which presents the institution’s nearly 400-year-long development. The museum’s stunning White Hall, an exquisitely-decorated room offering fantastic acoustics, understandably ranks among Tartu’s most popular reception venues.
Tartu Old Observatory
When University of Tartu astronomers of the 19th century wanted to study the stars, they did so from this specially-constructed observatory atop Toome Hill. Since 2004, the site has operated as a museum where the university’s astronomy and mathematics collections are on display. There also also planetarium shows in English. The museum can be booked for conferences as well as social programmes where visitors can peek at the moon and stars through the old telescope.
A Le Coq Beer Museum
Estonia’s largest beverage producer operates from the city’s historic brewery, which traces its roots back to the busy beer-making scene of the 19th century. The extensive museum, housed in an old malting tower, provides a look at the brewery’s past, as well as the development of the art of brewing through the ages. Fascinating tours of the company’s modern operations can be booked for groups. All visits end in a stop at the museum’s pub for a tasting, which naturally makes the Beer Museum a popular choice for meetings and social programmes.
Estonian Print and Paper Museum
This private museum/studio presents anything and everything related to the arts of printing and paper-making. Visitors can take tours to see demonstrations of the old equipment, but the museum is equally popular for its social programmes – workshops where participants learn to craft their own paper, postcards, notebooks or linocuts.
Tartu Art Museum
South Estonia’s largest art museum couldn’t be easier to reach – it makes its home in the curiously leaning house right on Town Hall Square. In addition to taking tours to view the amazing art on display, groups can use the facility for social programmes.
Strictly speaking, this old-fashioned, wooden barge isn’t a museum, but it makes our list with its history-related credentials and overall appeal. The Jõmmu is a re-created lodi, a type of river-faring barge that was a staple of Tartu trade from the 1400s right up to the mid-20th century. The barge can be booked for social events, including professionally-guided trips along the Emajõgi River for bird-watching, star gazing or just plain old sightseeing.