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Welcome to Tartu

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Tartu is a Hanseatic city in the centre of Estonia. It the country’s second largest city with a population of 100,000, and it dates back to 1030, making it the oldest city in Estonia. Tartu is a modern university city that lies on the banks of the River Emajõgie and is rich in historical heritage and culture. There’s lots to see in Tartu including the 13th Century St.John’s Church, a variety of parks and squares, theatres and even a KGB museum, housed in the ex-headquarters of the Estonian KGB. The best way to explore it all is by car and we have the best car rental rates for Tartu.

Tartu - The Facts


  • Tartu was founded in 1030 by Yaroslav the Wise of Kiev, son of Vladimir the Great

  • Tartu is built around a hill topped by an old fortified castle and a restored 13th century cathedral

  • Tartu is 185KM south-east of Tallinn, the capital of Estonia

  • Tartu has its own airport but only Finnair (operated by FlyBE) operates international flights. To get there from London you’d need to fly via Helsinki


Tartu is a beautiful little Baltic city, with interesting and diverse architecture alongside a lively student community who find their home at the historic Tartu University. The University was founded in 1632 by the Swedish King, Gustaf Adolphus. It’s made of several impressive buildings, including the student lock-up, where students were once held in solitary confinement for any misbehaving. One of these rooms comes complete with graffiti from said students, and is open for public viewing. A little north of the university, you’ll find St. John’s Church which dates back as far as 1323 and is home to a family of rare terracotta sculptures. The church was left in ruins following a soviet raid in 1944 but after a lengthy 16 years of renovation, it’s once again open to the public. Elsewhere, in the town centre, there’s the Tartu Town Hall, built between 1782 and 1789, it’s fronted by a sqqe of lovers kissing under an umbrella and topped by a black tower and weather vane. The building was modeled on a typical Dutch town hall and designed by the German architect JHB Walter. The tower’s clock was added later to encourage student’s to be on time for classes. Rising behind the town hall is Toomemägi, a beautifully landscaped park. Atop the hill is the imposing Gothic Cathedral Toomkirik which was built by German Knights in the 13th Century. The cathedral has gone through various reformations over the centuries, being used as a barn in the 1500s and partly rebuilt later to house the university library which is now the Museum of University History which, amongst other things is home to several exhibits chronicling student life and a reconstructed autopsy chamber.



If you’d like to get to grips with the history of Tartu and Estonia, then you’re in the right place. The city is home to an abundance of first-rate museums, including the Estonian National Museum which traces the history and traditions of the Estonian people. Close to the town hall, you’ll find a crooked building housing the Tartu Art Museum, former home of the exiled Scot Colonel Barclay de Tolly. The former KGB headquarters, known as the Grey House, is now the KGB Cells Museum, chronicling the deportations and life in the gulags. Outside, you’ll find a weeping cornflower monument, which was erected in memory of the victims of Soviet oppression. For a chirpier and slightly different historical distraction, a visit to the Toy Museum is a must. Set in one of Tartu’s oldest buildings, the Toy Museum is home to a vibrant mix of model trains, dolls, toy soldiers, rocking horses and tons of other toys, all dating back as much as 100 years. If you’d prefer to get hands on, then you’ll appreciate a visit to the playroom in the upstairs of the museum. Prefer something a little more grown up? Then head to the A Le Coq Beer Museum, which covers the history of beer making and focuses on the machinery and techniques used to brew beer. At the end , you can sample the brew, so make sure you leave your car at the hotel if you’re driving.



The Botanical Gardens, founded in 1803 are home to more than 6000 species of plants and a large selection of palm trees housed in a giant greenhouse. It’s a nice place to take a stroll when you want to get out of the city centre, it’s also free so it’s an ideal wind down spot when you’re on a budget. When you feel need to refuel, you’ll be rewarded with a handful of great restaurants and cafes. If you want something with character, then you could do worse than a visit to the University Cafe, with its old world charm, rustic looking wooden floors, outdoor patio and high ceilings, it’s an attraction in its own right and a good place to grab a coffee as well as a buffet dinner. To sample some Eastern European fare, head to Püssirohukelder which is set in an old gunpowder cellar. It doubles as a pub, so expect a lively atmosphere, but you’ll find a good selection of tasty meat and fish dishes as well as a nice selection of wines in the more secluded wine cellar.


Whether you’re flying directly in to Tartu or heading there after a flight into Tallinn, you’ll find the best way to travel in Estonia is by car. You can compare all the car rental deals for Tartu, the Tartu airport and Tallinn right here on our website, and when you find the perfect deal, just click book and your car will be waiting for you when you arrive. You can select from pick points in Estonia’s airports or at select places throughout the city - whichever is most convenient for your trip.

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