Tartu (population 100,000), is Estonia’s second largest city as well as its main university town, a thriving hub of culture and innovation that draws in visitors from all over the world. Tartu is located 185 km south of Tallinn, and considered the capital of Southern Estonia.
Tartu is the Estonia´s main centre of knowledge and study with the nation´s top university, as well as a number of other institutes, research centres, biotechnology industries and several software companies located there. Being home to globally-connected institutions such as Tartu University and the Estonian University of Life Sciences has made the ‘City of Good Thoughts’, as it’s called, a magnet for all kinds of international conferences, particularly those related to scientific and medical fields. Tartu is also the focal point of Estonia’s active biotechnology sector as well as hotbed of IT development and start-ups, the cradle of world-class companies like ZeroTurnaround, Fortumo and Playtech. Tartu is the intellectual capital of Estonia, full of friendly and vibrant people who care about their environment.
10 reasons to choose Tartu:
Tartu is the European Capital of Culture in 2024
In 2024, Tartu holds the title of European Capital Of Culture, bringing it even more international visibility. The leading theme of Tartu 2024, the European Capital of Culture is “Arts of Survival” which is meant to express the power of the arts in affecting Europe’s future in three larger areas of life: environmentally friendly culture with a focus on real human communication, strong communities and essential skills for living and, indeed, survival in the coming years. More information can be found on Tartu 2024 project web site
Amazing Old Town and historical sights
With a history that stretches back nearly 1,000 years, Tartu is the oldest city in the Baltics and is, naturally, packed with timeless charm. Nestled between leafy Toome Hill and the Emajõgi River lies the city’s Old Town, an area of cobblestone streets, neoclassical houses and grand university buildings, all towered over by the magnificent, 14th-century St. John’s Church. At the heart of Old Town is Town Hall Square, home to the majestic, 18th-century Town Hall and the unique Kissing Students fountain that has come to symbolise the city. Just beyond Old Town’s borders, visitors will find the quaint and colourful wooden house neighbourhoods of Karlova and Supilinn, near time capsules of early-20th-century living. Across the river, in old soviet airfield, stands the gargantuan Estonian National Museum, a structure that showcases Estonia’s cultural development.
If you’re looking for just the right blend of big-city sophistication and small-town cosiness, Tartu is the ideal choice. It’s large enough to host a respectable range of theatres, museums and restaurants, while its centre isn’t much bigger than a typical university campus, in other words, small enough to get around on foot. That means there’s no need to use public transport – you can usually just stroll to your conference venue, hotel or wherever it is you want to go. Tartu’s relatively tranquil atmosphere also makes it a great alternative for those who want to avoid the bustle of a capital city. For those who love cycling or want to explore the City a bit differently, there is opportunity to use Tartu Smart Bike Share.
Green Destination Tartu
The Great Emajõgi river snaking through the city, the natural Toome Hill foreland, the botanical garden situated in the city centre as well as numerous parks all enrich urban nature. The compactness of the city in terms of urban space makes it a great place for walking and cycling. The distances in Tartu are short. It is easy to use environmentally friendly transport like Tartu Smart Bike Share or public biogas buses to explore the city. Tartu Smart Bike Share has 69 stations all over the city and 750 bicycles, of which around 500 are electric. It is also possible to combine your travel with Smart Bike Share and biogas buses, as both ticketing systems use the same card.
Clean environment and maintaining green city living has been Tartu’s focus for decades. Tartu has always tried to make environmentally conscious decisions regarding its environment, industry, infrastructure and the health of our citizens. In a situation where many cities are competing with each other in the realm of technology to become “smart”, Tartu has always set its focus towards people. City’s aim is to be part of global economy and culture, but at the same time maintain its values – cooperation, greenery, compactness, safety and sustainability. In July 2021 Tartu was recognised as a Silver Level Green Tourism Destination and in March 2021 Tartu won second place in the the Green Destination Stories Awards competition in the environment and climate category.
One of the remarkable projects among others in Tartu 2024 programme is Curated Biodiversity that promotes Tartu’s environment by raising biodiversity in parks and green spaces and providing more activities in them for different generations. The project searches for a solution for Tartu’s and other European cities’ environmental problems. Nowadays urban nature is kept in an overtly groomed state, due to set old mentalities and legal regulations. As a result of simplified design schemes, optimised species selection and extensive mowing, our green areas are missing much needed diversity.
Maintaining and restoring biodiversity is an important aspect in humanity’s survival strategy. It is especially important in cities, where it can lessen the effects of climate change, limit the loss of natural biodiversity and make the environment more enjoyable for both citizens and visitors.
Thanks to Tartu’s skyrocketing popularity as a conference and travel destination in recent years, new hotels have been springing up throughout the city centre. The city has around 1,300 guest rooms in total, representing a good mix of 3 to 5-star options, all affordably priced. There are one Estonian Convention Bureau´s member hotel in Tartu: V Spa and Conference Hotel. More information on Tartu hotels can be found on Visit Tartu web site.
Tartu offers a full range of one-of-a-kind gathering spots for those who truly want to give their guests a night to remember. The grand hall of The Assembly Hall of the University of Tartu, for example, will lend a touch of neoclassical elegance to any gala or reception while the 300-year-old Gunpowder Cellar roars with a beer-hall feel. The White Hall of the Museum of the University of Tartu, is one of the most prestigious venues of Tartu and a popular place to hold conference receptions. More modern edge can be found in the gigantic building of the Estonian National Museum. Those looking for science- or history-related backdrop can consider hosting an event in the University of Tartu Old Observatory, or in the AHHAA Science Centre, the Tartu Environmental Education Centre or The Comb Factory. Lodjakoda boatbuilding workshop complex is the newest location for out-of-the box events in Tartu. The biggest venues in Tartu are University of Tartu Academic Sports Club Conference Centre, where you can organise conferences up to 2000 people and Vanemuise Concert Hall – which can provide seating up for 1,000 guests. For smaller meetings, consider TYPA – fabulous printing museum in a former boot factory.
Hipster Vibe – Pop in to the Widget Factory
The Widget Factory (Aparaaditehas) is an old factory complex in Tartu. During Soviet times, the factory was used for manufacturing refrigeration equipment and secret submarine parts. In its heyday, the factory provided employment for almost 1,500 people. Since 2014, the complex has been developed into a cultural hub and has become one of the most rapidly developing areas in Tartu.
Many creative entrepreneurs, artists, designers have found their home here. Its industrial interiors and hipster vibes bring together design and art shops, a unique and cozy bookshop, cool restaurants, galleries and several event venues. For example, there is a community repair space called Paranduskelder (direct translation would be “Repair Basement”) that values recycling and environmentally friendly practices, offering workshops and trainings as well as organising events where people can repair any and every item they need, whether it is a suitcase or a computer mouse. The neighbouring building houses TYPA Printing and Paper Arts Centre, which received the Ilucidare prize for excellence in Heritage-led Innovation in November 2020.
During summer, the courtyard, called the Pocket Park, is buzzing with music, markets and even an outdoor cinema. However, Aparaaditehas is worth visiting throughout the year as it hosts a variety of different events every week from concerts to workshops and parties to exhibitions.
Exciting conference tours and social activities in Tartu
You can easily boost the value of your conference programme by introducing your guests to this fascinating city and its surroundings. Start with a guided walking tour of Tartu or Explore the city with Tartu Street Art Tour, then continue by visiting some of the city’s dozens of museums, checking out the latest exhibition at the Tartu Art House, taking a quick barge cruise along the Emajõgi River or sipping suds at the A. Le Coq brewery’s Beer Museum. Out-of-town options include trips down the so-called Onion Route along the shores of Lake Peipsi, home to a unique community of Russian Old Believers, and visits to the Mooste Manor to experience Estonia’s nature and traditional way of life. In Estonia, nature areas are never far away and the most magical of these are the ancient peat bogs that dot the land. These one-of-a-kind ecosystems are best visited on bog-walking tours, which don’t require any special physical training or equipment. The most popular bog walking tours for Tartu conference-goers are the Valgesoo nature study trail, the Meenikunno bog, Männikjärve bog.
Dining for every taste
Being a cultural hub as well as home to 20,000 students has given Tartu an incredibly rich and varied dining scene. Classical gourmet, modern, ethnic, street food – you’ll find it all here! The city also boasts a surprisingly active café culture so there’s never a shortage of interesting places for a one-on-one discussion, a relaxing break or an evening of unwinding. For recommendations, please see Visit Tartu’s Eat and Drink Section.
Tartu Conference Funding Scheme has been initiated by the City of Tartu in order to raise awareness of Tartu as a world-class conference destination, and to help increase the number of conference participants’ overnight stays in the accommodation establishments in Tartu. The requirements of applying for funding are that the conference is held in Tartu, the total number of overnight stays in the city must amount to a minimum of 100, and the duration of the conference program is at least two consecutive days.
Getting to Tartu
Most visitors reach Tartu via Tallinn, from where a few express buses make the 2.5-hour journey each day. Most bus lines pick up passengers at the Tallinn Airport en route to Tartu. See www.tpilet.ee for schedules and online ticket purchase. Buses arrive at the central Tartu Bus Station, which is within walking distance of most major conference centres and hotels. Elron trains from Tallinn’s Balti Jaam station near Old Town offer a more roomy way to reach to Tartu, making the 2-hour journey about nine times per day. It is also possible to transfer to Tartu via Riga Aiport. Several Riga-Tartu buses depart each day to make the 4-hour trip.
Tartu Convention Bureau
Holding events in Tartu comes with the added benefit of organisational support from Tartu Convention Bureau. Tartu Convention Bureau can assist you with everything from proposals and site inspection trips to advice on venues and activities.