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The Onion Route

The Onion Route is at an ideal distance from the university town Tartu – Alatskivi, the heart of the Onion Route, is just 40 km from Tartu. It could make a great one-day trip from the university town, but the Onion Route could also be visited on the way from Northern Estonia to Tartu, or alternatively one could take several days to explore the area. There are many things to see and lots of opportunities to get a hands-on experience of the local culture.


Visitors of the Onion Route can try their hand in different handicraft workshopsand cooking classes preparing food from local produce. They can go on heritage tours, learn archery, conquer the lake with a narrow boat or under sails, or they can cover village streets or landscapes on scooters or kick sledges. It is also possible to try your hand at photography workshops or learn how to make a film – both ambulARToorium and Voronja gallery offer challenging workshops and exhibitions. In summer, the most pleasant way to enjoy the Onion Route is, of course, on a bicycle. In winter, however, we recommend experiencing first-hand the life of local fishermen – if you lack that fisherman’s gene, we have great fishing guides who take you onto the lake, make sure you have all the necessary equipment, teach and guide you with drilling a hole in the ice, during fishing, all the way to cooking a nice meal from the fish you caught. And, be it winter or summer, over here the evenings end in the sauna. There’s a choice of Finnish, Russian and smoke sauna on the Onion Route, just take your pick!


There is a friendly mix of different nationalities in the area, even to the extent that occasionally you can hear an interesting combination of Estonian and Russian languages. On the Onion Route you will meet three local cultures:


  • Russian Old Believers. The Old Believers living by the shores of Lake Peipus keep their traditions in high regard. Varnja, Kasepää, Kolkja – all three are unique row villages with a distinctive atmosphere, where one can wander around and find local museums, houses of prayer, cemeteries. It is also possible to buy fish, onions and other garden produce.


  • Baltic German manor culture. The Baltic German manor culture, which used to thrive in this area, is represented by the dignified Alatskivi manor. One by one, the old rubble stone buildings located in the heart of the manor complex are being put to use. The most remarkable one of them is the aristocratic Alatskivi castle, where various expositions show the life of the lords and ladies of the manor, as well as the life of servants. The castle also houses Eduard Tubin museum and handicraft workshops.


  • Estonian peasant culture. With their typical industrious spirit, Estonians have greatly improved the village life and culture in this area. The museum in the homestead of the renowned Estonian poet Juhan Liiv is well worth a visit; also, there are several places on the Onion Route that are associated with Kalevipoeg, the hero from the legends of the Estonian national epic.

Last updated: 08.09.2023

Photo by Ahto Sooaru
Jüri Talts