- 1 Tartu – Museum-rich and hanseatic city on the banks of the Emajõgi River. Also, Estonia's second-largest and oldest city, intellectual hub famous for its universities, and a lively student city.
- 2 Viljandi – A beautiful, ancient and hilly city, known for its annual Viljandi Folk Music Festival, beautiful old town and overwhelming and picturesque park around the old castle.
- 3 Otepää – A small town set in the hills of south Estonia and best known winter sports centre in the Baltics, and the Winter Capital of Estonia. Surrounded by lakes, hills and ski jump towers.
- 4 Valga – A town on the border with Latvia, where it literally grows into the Latvian town of Valka.
- 5 Võru – A picturesque town not far from the highest hill in the Baltic states, Suur Munamägi. The birthplace of the writer Kreutzwald and the dialect of the Estonian language.
- 6 Obinitsa – Part of the settlements of the ethnic Seto minority in the border region of Estonia and Russia. If this is too far, check out the museum in Võru, which has comprehensive information on the topic.
- 7 Tõrva – The second largest city of Valga County after Valga. Popular for its caves, the ruins of a medieval castle, several interesting manors, and the fully authentic mausoleum of Barclay de Tolly.
- 8 Elva – A small town, located on the river Emajõgi and lakes Verevi and Arbi with several sights.
- 1 Karula National Park – The hilly landscapes of Southern Estonia. Estonian’s smallest national park between Valga and Võru.
- 2 Soomaa National Park – The second largest national park in Estonia, famous for its "fifth season". A peat bog formed from a glacier melt from around 11,000 years ago.
- 3 Meenikunno Nature Reserve (Meenikunno matkarada), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. A 5 km hike and wooden trail with an observation platform in the middle of the swamps.
- 4 Suur Munamägi, Haanja village (15 km south of Võru). The highest location in the Baltic countries, about 15 km south of Võru. At 318 m it will hardly impress visitors from Nepal or even Norway, but you will still get a good overview of the landscape from the 29 m high observation tower. Entrance to the observation tower: Stairs €4, lift €6.
Geographically, South Estonia covers seven counties: Tartumaa, Jõgevamaa, Põlvamaa, Valgamaa, Võrumaa and Viljandimaa.
The region has the second largest city in Estonia, the university town Tartu. The region is full of hills, contrary to the rest of the country. Here you can also find the highest mountain of Estonia, Suur-Munamägi.
It is also possible to take a train from Tallinn to almost any city in Southern Estonia, but not Otepää.
Bus and train schedules are easily available online – read more under Estonia#Get around.
Most villages, towns and cities are connected by regular bus services. Smaller places are often only served in the morning or noon, and late afternoon (17/18:00). Cities generally have buses up to 21:00. Make sure, you do not miss the last bus.
- Tartumaa Public Transport Centre. Public transport authority in South Estonia.
- 1 Paju Manor (Paju Mõis) (7 km north of Valga, take a bus towards Tartu or Otepää). The unattractive Paju (Estonian for willow) manor entered Estonian history as the site of one of the most important battles of the War of Independence. On January 30-31, 1919, Estonian troops led by Lieutenant Kuperyanov, who later gave his name to more than a dozen Estonian streets, broke up parts of the Red Army fortified in the manor house and on the surrounding heights. After this, the Red Army had to retreat.
There is no point in going to the manor. It's enough to slow down on the way to Tartu, where a 2 simple memorial is located – a small granite obelisk on top of a three-tier artificial hill. Here it becomes immediately clear why the unknown manor had such an important strategic importance: the hill is well visible to the valleys near the borders of Valga. Beyond, there is the only railway that connects Estonia with Latvia.
- 3 Hummuli Manor (Hummuli mõis) (7 km north of Valga, take a bus towards Tõrva or Tallinn). The two-storey manor house was built around 1860 in the neo-Gothic style, which is not typical for Estonia. Nowadays, there is a school in the house, and behind it a beautiful park. Here, you will also find a memorial stone in memory of the battle between Russian and Swedish troops during the Northern War in 1702.
- 4 Sangaste Castle (Sangaste loss). 10:00-18:00. Built in the 19th century as a project by Otto Pius Hippus, who also constructed the Alexander Church in Narva, for his financier and originator Friedrich Goerg Magnus Berg. Erected at the site of a former manor house of F.G.M.'s uncle, who adopted F.G.M. from his brother and placed him as a heir for the manor. F.G.M. was inspired when seeing Windsor and Baltimore Castle in England, even though his uncle and then father did not allow to spend new money on the manor. However, after the elder's death, he decided to go forward with the project. The construction consumed 7 years and 1.45 million bricks, which were produced on site. The necessary granite was brought from Finland. The rooms of the castle were intended to be spacious and every window supposed to differ, as from his experience with the castles in England. Also, the entrance hall features interesting acoustics; speaking or even whispering in one corner, you can hear it in the other corner.
F.G.M. went on being a botanist, from his studies at the Sorbonne, and in England and Scotland, producing and breeding plants and animals, including the famous Sangaste rye. The rye was valued high, also in the Russian empire. He had known and been friends with members of the Russian Tsar family, Otto von Bismark and Napoleon III. Born in 1845, he died in 1938, after which the castle was abandoned. It has been restored. €5 (incl. the tower).
- 5 Põltsamaa Castle (Põltsamaa loss), Lossi 1 (Bus from Tartu to Põltsamaa: €4. The castle entrance is on the southern side.), ☏ , , , ✉ email@example.com. 10:00-19:00. Põltsamaa is the centre of Estonian winery and wine production. The place features the falling apart castle, an art gallery, the tourism information centre, a wine cellar for tasting, and the St. Nicholas Church, all within a square of 200 m. The church and art gallery might not be open all the time, so call ahead. The typical Põltsamaa wine is similar to port wine, with a stronger smell of alcohol but less of it (about 14 %). Glass of wine: €2.
- 6 Zwiebelberg (Between Kolkja and Varnja. With the Tartu-Alatskivi bus from Tartu stop at Kasepaa (in the middle) – 45 min, €2.50.). It is German for onion hill. Although, the region can barely be described as hilly. All they seem to do here is growing onions and selling them. Enjoy the weird scenery, and maybe buy some for a healthy meal. It leaves you wondering, why no one is selling a delicious onion soup, dish or cake.
- 7 Alatskivi Castle, Alatskivi (near the Zwiebelberg).
- 8 Suur Taevaskoda (Taevaskoja) (near Taevaska village, a few kilometers north of Põlva). Outcrops of sandstone in the forest along the Ahja River. The rocks reach 20 m in height. The shore is cut by various caves and very idyllic. A little upstream, there is a reservoir, ending with a nice rural gas station from the early 50s. If you go downstream, you will find an old stone bridge.
- 9 Vastseliina Episcopal Castle Ruins (Neuhausen Bishop's Castle), Võidu 14, Vastseliina, ☏ .
- 10 Helme caves (Helme koopad), Helme (inside of the Helme castle park). A man made tunnel in sandstone. A little spooky. Bring a flashlight. Look out for Friedrich Schiller. Some say, it is only worth a visit if you are close anyhow.
In the following a list of various accommodation options in the region worth mentioning and outside of the above covered cities, towns, and parks:
- 1 Kalda talu, Iigaste, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. A nature accommodation for scouts, but also regular customers. Tent site, dorm, doubles. Decent online rating and not overly expensive. Dorm from €16.
- 2 Kagu Hostel, Räpina maantee 7a, Võru, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Cheapest and best option to stay in Võru. Dorm from €13.
- 3 Sangaste Castle (Sangaste loss), Sangaste (3 km southwest of Sangaste), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Rated well and recommended. From €89 (double).
- 4 Savi Tourism Farm, Savi talu (north of Võru), ☏ . Farmstay out of the city. Double from €18.
- 5 Taevaskoja Salamaa, Taevaskoja (between Tartu and Võru), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Great camping and accommodation option, highly recommended. Barbeque place and campfire pits, sauna, and camping / caravan sites Double from €14.
- 6 Guesthouse Carl Schmidt, Põltsamaa, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. After having a couple of glasses of wine, this is probably the place you want to fall in bed to. Single from €13.
- 7 Kalamehe Farmstay, Nina küla (near Alatskivi), ☏ . Inexpensive accommodation near the Zwiebelberg. Stay and enjoy the lake. From €10.
- East Estonia – Beautiful north coast of Lake Peipsi, and gateway to Russia through the border city Narva. More people speak Russian than Eesti here.
- North Estonia – Coastal region with the picturesque Baltic Sea, and the commercial centre of Estonia, Tallinn.
- West Estonia and Islands – Islands, Baltic Sea, beaches, and wild life habitat for birds moving towards the south in fall.
- Latvia – Similar to Estonia, but less commercialised, with its beautiful capital Riga, the Baltic sea resorts Jūrmala and Ventspils. As well as the Vidzeme region next to South Estonia with the picturesque Sigulda (Latvian Switzerland) and Cēsis, and Valmiera with the only professional theatre in this region of Latvia, castle ruins, a medieval church, a famous brewery and the start of the Gauja National Park.
- Pskov – old Russian city with the architectural and cultural legacy of the medieval Pskov Republic, 160 km from Tartu and 50 km form the border.