Tartu is Estonia’s second-largest city. It’s a vibrant university town filled with youthful energy, thanks to the University of Tartu, which dates all the way back to 1632. As the site of the first Estonian Song Festival and the Estonian National Museum, Tartu is home to the heart and soul of Estonia. When the snow begins to fall, Tartu also becomes a magical winter wonderland.
Welcome to Tartu’s Christmas City!
From December 3rd, the first Sunday of Advent, Tartu’s Town Hall Square becomes a festive Christmas City. Glass pavilions of all sizes fill the square. A towering Christmas tree scents the air with the fragrance of pine. Holiday lights are strung from one side of the square to the other, and a stunning chandelier display lights up the dark nights.
Visitors can stroll among the pavilions, discovering new activities and exhibitions in each one. One might have a gingerbread decorating workshop; another might have postcards you can send to friends and family around the globe. Kids can play in the straw-filled pavilion—if they’re lucky, they just might get a special visit from Santa.
Vendors sell crispy gingerbread cookies of all shapes and sizes and mulled wine in alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions (Try a splash of Vana Tallinn for a little extra warmth in the cold!) When the snow arrives, the glass pavilions glitter, the snowflakes reflect the twinkling lights, and the enchantment is complete.
Every Sunday of Advent, a candle is lit in the square. On Christmas Eve, the mayor of Tartu declares the Christmas Peace. Luckily, the market doesn’t close then; it’s open until January 7th, giving you extra time to enjoy the holiday season. The seasonal ice rink around the iconic “Kissing Students” statue will also stay open well beyond Christmas—it doesn’t close until March 3rd.
Enjoy a unique cultural experience in South Estonia
It’s worth staying on in South Estonia into the new year as 2024 is the year Tartu becomes the European Capital of Culture. The festivities kick off on January 26th with the opening ceremony. The year will be jam-packed with events: light shows, folk dance festivals, art exhibitions, forest bathing, guided hikes, and even a sold-out Sting concert.
Of course, you won’t have to wait until 2024 to experience culture in Tartu. On December 9th, over 800 folk dancers from Tartu and South Estonia will fill the Christmas City with colorful costumes for the Wintry Tartu Folk Dance Day. You can also take in The Nutcracker ballet at the Vanemuine Theatre or visit one of Tartu’s top museums—don’t miss the Estonian National Museum.
South Estonia is also home to some of the most beautiful winter hikes in Estonia. Bundle up and bring some marshmallows, as many trails have campfire spots where you can warm up after your adventure. You can also try a kick sled hike along the Ahja River or visit sled dogs near Lake Peipsi.
Visit Tartu for an authentic Estonian Christmas!