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Where to stay in Tartu, Estonia

Where to stay in Tartu, Estonia

This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

2024 is the year to visit Tartu, Estonia’s second city and the intellectual hub of the country. One of three cities awarded the title European Capital of Culture for 2024, Tartu is set to host more than 1,000 events, exhibitions and arts and culture projects throughout the year to celebrate its designation. With a charming old town dotted with cobblestone streets and neoclassical 18th- and 19th-century landmarks, plus easy access to the wild landscapes of southern Estonia, it’s an underrated destination in the Baltic region.

Humal, next to Art Pallas Hotel, is a popular spot for Tartuvians, serving a contemporary pan-European menu.

Photograph by Sandra Sarapuu, Humal

1. Art Hotel Pallas Tartu is one of three European Capitals of Culture this year and events marking this will highlight its artistic heritage. The city flourished following the foundation of its main university in the 17th century, evolving into a hub for education and the arts. And, over the centuries, it has embraced its reputation as Estonia’s intellectual centre; it’s still home to the country’s Supreme Court and the Estonian National Museum.

Drawing on the city’s cultural legacy, Art Pallas Hotel pays tribute to Estonia’s first art school, which occupied the hotel’s site from 1919 until 1944 but closed when Tartu found itself on the frontline of the Second World War. Now transformed into stylish boutique accommodation, the building pays tribute to the works of prominent Pallas Art School alumni — artists like Karl Pärsimägi and Ado Vabbe — with vibrant murals decorating the walls and ceilings of the rooms. Meanwhile, contemporary furniture and sleek design keep the rooms fresh.

Next door is gastropub-style restaurant Humal, which serves as the hotel’s breakfast venue. Come afternoon, it’s a popular spot for Tartuvians, serving a contemporary pan-European menu and craft beer.

The hotel is just a five-minute walk from the historic centre and 15 minutes from the bohemian, wooden-house neighbourhood of Karlova. Two blocks away, the main bus terminal is a good jumping-off point for day trips to historic towns around Lake Peipus or to Otepää Nature Park, dotted with lakes and hiking trails. From €80 (£69), B&B.

2. Hotel Antonius Situated opposite the University of Tartu’s main building, this opulent, 27-room hotel inhabits a building dating to 1811, and its rooms are filled with antiques. There’s a regal-looking library, too. The Mediterranean courtyard turns into a cafe during Estonia’s short but jubilant summers. From €83 (£71), B&B.

3. Villa Margaretha Built a year after the Estonian Declaration of Independence in 1918 by local photographer Heinrich Riedel and named after his wife, this art nouveau villa is one of Tartu’s most charming options. Its period-inspired interior design, featuring ornately tiled fireplaces and art nouveau furniture, makes this hotel a good choice for design enthusiasts. It also has its own sauna. From €70 (£60).

The mirrored exterior of the cabins at ÖÖD at Metsajärve help them blend into their environment.

Photograph by Jaan Parmask

4. ÖÖD at Metsajärve Estonian ÖÖD Hötels specialises in beautiful, compact cabins immersed in nature. They’re typically built deep in the forest, with mirrored glass exteriors that help the cabins blend into their environment. The ÖÖD at Metsajärve cabin, designed for two guests, is the closest to Tartu, a 45-minute drive south, and sits on a riverbank where guests can enjoy morning yoga sessions, or plunge into the water after steeping in the cabin’s wood-fired sauna. From €242 (£208).

Published in the Jul/Aug 2024 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

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