Tartu Estonia - A weekend destination that is closer than you might think
Updated: Sep 3, 2020
Estonia gets a little bit of a raw deal sometimes (at least in my mind). Its people have to put up with the Arctic weather in the winter, being used by the EU & NATO for political purposes and constantly having to look over their shoulder as they get that feeling that Russia wants to take them back. It can't be easy being in this constant tug of war while getting frostbite! However, if we can ignore the icy cold weather the political posturing by Global Governments then we as keen travellers can look at Estonia as a destination that must be explored.
I've visited the Northern European Baltic country a few times now and each time hasn't disappointed despite the brisk cold winds that do your nose and ears no favours. Estonia, a country in Northern Europe, borders the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland. It includes more than 1,500 islands, its diverse terrain spans rocky beaches, old-growth forest and many lakes. Formerly part of the Soviet Union, it's dotted with castles, churches and hilltop fortresses. The capital, Tallinn, is known for its preserved Old Town, museums and the 314m-high Tallinn TV Tower, which has an observation deck.
There are 47 towns in Estonia, many of these locations were known by their German or Russian names before 1918, which were occasionally quite different from the ones used by Estonians. After the annexation of Estonia by the Soviet Union in 1940, the Estonian names were used in Russian, leading to the use of some incorrect back-transliterations in Russian (e.g., Vilyandi, Pylva rather the correct Viljandi, Põlva). The five biggest towns in Estonia are
I've had the pleasure to visit 3 out of the 5 of those cities. The ones highlighted to be more specific which will send you to my relevant YouTube adventures. Of course, you should visit Tallinn it's the capital of Estonia - but to overlook Tartu would be a serious mistake. Tartu for the moment at least is off the beaten track as it receives a fraction of the number of visitors Tallinn does. A suggestion from this traveller would be to check it out for a weekend. However, if there is no direct flight to Tartu how do you get there?
Unless you are Finnish, from St Petersburg or Latvia you are most likely going to be flying to Estonia. Tallinn is pretty much the one airport you will be needing to fly into if visiting anywhere in Estonia due to the small size of the country. Tallinn Airport is served by most of Europes major Airlines and depending on where you are flying from you are more than likely to be able to pick up a good deal if planned ahead. Kayak, Google Flights and Skyscanner should be the go-to websites for searching for the best flight deals. However, my personal favourite for European flight deals is Skyscanner. For some reason, Skyscanner works best when searching for European Flights over any of its rivals.
Upon arriving at Tallinn airport, what is the best way to get from Tallinn to Tartu in the south of the country? Thankfully for you, I made a very short video explaining exactly that predicament. Getting from Tallinn Airport to Tartu.
To truly understand the city of Tartu you really need 2-3 days. And given its size staying anywhere around the city will suffice. There are a variety of options to pick from. Over the years, I've had the fortune to stay in an array of hotels, apartments and various forms of accommodation while travelling. For the majority of travellers, I recommend Booking.com - yes there are hotel comparison websites such as Trivago and Kayak. However, from my years of travel experience, I've discovered both of these comparison websites do not have all the hotels, hostels and apartments listed. The reasons behind this could be some premises simply do not pay the comparison sights a fee or the reason could be something else. If you know of the reason do leave a comment below. However, I have discovered no matter what the location Booking.com will 9/10ths of the time have the most competitive deal and generally more choice. However, if you are super keen to get the best deal- use Booking.com, Kayak, Trivago, Lastminute.com and Hotels.com in separate browser windows.
An alternative which I do recommend for your accommodation is Airbnb. The city authorities still allow Airbnb in the city (it hasn't been banned just yet). I've booked a number of apartments via Airbnb. If you have not used them before (you have probably been living under a rock). But if you use this referral link you will get many Dollars or Euros off your first booking and I'll get a very small referral kickback. I'm an Airbnb host as well as a frequent Airbnb traveller. I love Airbnb because not only does it make travelling more affordable but it also allows you to stay off the beaten track. Staying with a local or in your own cottage is far more unique than staying in a generic hotel you could find anywhere in the world. Use the map below to search for the perfect Airbnb stay within walking distance of the centre of Tartu.
Upon arriving in the city you will be drawn to the centre - Tartu's old historic centre. Tartu is very compact, with most sights, restaurants and nightlife nestled across a couple of parallel streets. Being the second largest town in Estonia and a hotbed for creative and scientific culture, there is always something on from theatre performances to concerts and festivals. However, if you have the legs and you like to run or walk long distances do not hesitate in exploring the outskirts of the city to really get a real feel for the city. If you are curious about how I explored it the first time I visited the city - here is a video showing exactly that.
Strangely this video was well received by a resident Estonian they actually wrote an article about this very video. I have previously posted that article here. Although the Original can be found here on the Foreign Policy Website.
As you can see from that video it's clear I enjoyed the city of Tartu on my first visit. However, a discovered far much more on my second visit. A place I grew fond of while staying in the centre of Tartu on my second visit was an amazing little bar hidden in a basement called DeTolly õllebaar. This hidden gem (although probably not that hidden as it's right on De Tolly Square) is a must-visit if you are a fan of craft beers. The selection was immense and any man who loves the amber nectar could spend a lot of time and money here getting to know all these exceptional beers they have on tap and in bottles. Obviously while in Estonia try as many Estonian beers as possible, and yes the Estonian Craft breweries make some fantastic beer.
I'm glad I made it to Estonias National Museum when I next visited Tartu. It's a National Museum all Politicians around the world should visit. Why? You may ask! Well, Estonia's National Museum celebrates the rich history of the Estonian people it celebrates their identity and it celebrates their country. Unlike many western governments who have been overrun by Leftists intent on erasing history and Globalists intent on erasing borders and identity, this museum celebrates everything Estonia. The Estonian people I'm sure are very proud of this immense Museum that was once a Soviet Bomber base. I was certainly very impressed by the wonders they put on display. An essential visit for everyone while in Tartu!
One suggestion before you visit Estonia and any nation that you are not connected with would be to try and learn a little bit of the local lingo. Yes, the majority of people in Estonia speak English but saying "Tere!", "Palun" & "Aitäh" will go a long way in terms of getting more warmth from the Estonian people and also endearing yourself to them more. I recommend learning a second or sixth language with Rosetta Stone. They do amazing online courses for beginners to experts in every language you could possibly want to learn including Estonian!
I hope you have a great time in Tartu Estonia should you visit. I am not sponsored by the Estonian Government or any Travel Group I simply have written this post as I enjoy travelling. Please do check out this blog for more independent travel ideas and my YouTube Channel.
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Thanks very much! Stay safe & keep Progressing! The Wondering Englishman.