Evidence of civilization around Viljandi dates back to 500 B.C.. The first written record of a "Viljandi stronghold" was in 1154 in the commentaries to al-Idrisi's world atlas "Geography." Hanseatic merchants settled in Viljandi in the 14th century.
For many people Viljandi conjures up images of the Viljandi Folk Music Festival and Viljandi Culture Academy. This small city is a cultural hub and the "capital of folk music" for most Estonians and a treat for the eye. Old wooden houses, cobblestone roads, the beautiful surroundings of the castle and the nearby lake make this city something special.
Bus and train schedules are easily available online – read more under Estonia#Get around.
Viljandi has a regular bus connection from/to Tallinn, Tartu, Valga, Pärnu and Põltsamaa (with a potential change at Kolga-Jaani), among others. The 1 Viljandi Bus Station can be found in the centre just north of the main junction.
Elron connects Viljandi to Tallinn. The trains run at least four times per day.
Viljandi is on route 92, 75 km from Tartu and 90 km from Pärnu. From Tallinn, you have to take highway #2 first, and then turn off to route 49 - just 160 km. Further south, the 49 leads to Valga (75 km).
Viljandi can easily be explored on foot.
- 1 Ruins of the Viljandi Order Castle (Viljandi Lossimägi), Tasuja puiestee (on the southern end of town). Built in 1224, it had turned into one of the most powerful fortresses of the Livonian Order by the end of the 14th century. The fortress got its final shape and size in the beginning of the 16th century and was one of the most distinguished fortresses in Estonia and Latvia. Due to various wars, all that are left from the entire order castle today are just a few stone walls, however they still give an impression of its former grandeur. From the ruins you have the most beautiful view over the lake of Viljandi.
- 2 Trepimägi (Stairs hill), Linnu tn 2. The stairs of the Trepimägi in Viljandi were constructed around the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century in order to improve the road connecting the town and the lake. Next to the Trepimägi lie the beautiful homes of the town’s merchants and rich residents from the old days.
- 3 Väikemõisa manor, Väikemõisa bussipeatus, Peetrimõisa küla, Saarepeedi vald. The Väikemõisa manor was build in the beginning of the last century and is a good example of the Swiss chalet style influenced by the art nouveau movement. Today the manor house accommodates the Väikemõisa young children's orphanage and the house can be marvelled at from the outside only.
- 4 The Church of St. John (Jaani kirik), Pikk 6. A characteristic Estonian church, which dates back to the 17th century, but might appear 15th or even 14th century. The outside is not very interesting, but the interior is. A spacious hall with a flat wooden ceiling, more like a medieval castle. Also, there are several stained glass windows.
- 5 St. Paul’s Church (Pauluse kirik), Kiriku tn 3. Since 1866 a G. Knauf organ fills the church with music, the biggest still functional organ of its kind in Estonia.
- 6 Heimtali Museum of Domestic Life (Heimtali mõis), Heimtali küla, Pärsti vald. Museum is situated in an old village school building of Heimtali that is a beautiful rubble stone building from year 1864. Visitors can familiarize themselves with perfect collection of the examples of national handicraft like old household goods and the furnishings of a hundred year old schoolroom. There's also a children's playroom.
- 7 Viljandi Rope Bridge (Viljandi rippsild). The rope bridge has become a favourite for both residents of and visitors to Viljandi and one of the town’s most important symbols. It was built in 1879, when bridges of 50 meters in length of this style were not a routine yet. Initially, the bridge was in Tarvastu near Viljandi. In 1931, it was transferred to its final location. The dates are indicated on the bridge. It was reconstructed in 1995.
- 8 The Museum of Viljandi, Johan Laidoneri plats 10, ☎ . Tu-Sa 10-17:00. The building of the Museum of Viljandi is one of the oldest stone buildings in town. Until 1940 the house accommodated a pharmacy, the museum moved into this building in 1942. The permanent exhibitions of the museum provide an introduction into the local history from ancient times until today.
- 9 Town hall of Viljandi (Viljandi linnavalitsus), Linnu tn 2, ☎ . The town hall building is one of the four oldest preserved stone buildings in town. The city government of Viljandi resides here.
Tennis courts, cafes, playgrounds, a diving tower, boat rental and catamaran trips are available at the lake.
- Viljandi hosts many events and several international festivals throughout the year, including:
- Early Music Festival
- Hanseatic Days
- Young Dance Festival
- Mulgi Rally
- Winter Folk Dance Festival
- "Theatre in Suitcase" puppet theatre festival
- Since 1928, a run around Lake Viljandi has taken place on the first day of May every year.
- Hanseatic merchants' spirit can still be felt in Viljandi every June. People trade at a fair, dress the way people did in that era, organise exhibitions and party.
- 1 The Viljandi Folk festival. July. The festival runs for 4 days on the last weekend in July. More than 100 concerts take place in Viljandi castle's ruins, churches, and other venues throughout Viljandi County. It is the largest annual music festival in Estonia. Each year the festival draws over 20,000 visitors.
Viljandi is not great for shopping, but you will find the regular souvenirs and such related to the folk festival. Everything else, is what can be found in other cities as well.
- 1 Amrita Cafe, Tallinna 29a (right next to the main junction), ☎ . M-Sa 11-20:00, Su 12-17:00. Central location and regional food.
- 2 Roheline Maja Pood ja Kohvik, Koidu 2 (intersection of Tartu and Koidu, in Viljandi's old quarter), ☎ . It is a lovely café and grocery focusing on natural/organic foods and even personal care products. Owned by an Estonian-American and his Estonian wife, and located in a converted house of traditional Estonian architecture, it is warm and homey, brightly painted with many polished wood accents. Daily features include hearty soups and freshly baked breads, rolls and pastries. This café is a very popular lunch stop for Viljandi's arts community.
- 3 Viljandi kohvik, Lossi 31, ☎ . M–F 08–19:00, Sa-Su 09–19:00. A nice city café and coffee shop with a rich choice of sweets. Perhaps, the only place of this type in the city.
- 4 Tegelaste Tuba, Pikk 2, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Su–Th 11–00:00, F-Sa until 02:00. A cozy pub on the way to the castle. Rough tables of wood, and the twilight look very medieval. The menu is written on the board, and order need to be done at the counter. Check the ratings – weirdly only 3.9 out of 5.
- 6 Pappa Pizza, Tallinna 8, ☎ . Su–Th 11–21:00, F–Sa 11–22:00. Popular pizzeria. There is another one at the southern end of town, which is probably less busy.
- 1 Academus Hostel Viljandi, Väike 6, ☎ . Probably the most inexpensive option in town. Single from €25.
- 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.
- 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.
- Põltsamaa – The centre of Estonian winery and wine production just a dozen km north.
- Soomaa National Park – About 60 km south of Tallinn and second largest national park in Estonia, known for its swamps and bogs (Soomaa means "land of bogs" in Estonian), and its "fifth season". Surprisingly, swimming is popular there and is said to rejuvenate the skin.
- Pärnu – A historical resort seaside city with a small harbour. Estonia's summer capital.
- 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.
- Valga – A town on the border with Latvia, where it literally grows into the Latvian town of Valka.