How to Experience an Estonian Winter

If you’re a fan of the chilly months, take a closer look at some of the unique activities on offer in Estonia, where winter is embraced by locals and visitors alike. 

Averaging -14°F (8°C) throughout the winter months, Estonia is transformed into a frozen wonderland, with snowy forests and ice roads. From ice waterfalls you can walk behind to a post-sauna swim in sub-zero temperatures, Estonia offers winter activities that visitors will never forget.

Driving on Ice Roads to One of Estonia’s 2,000 Islands

A true symbol of the Estonian winter, ice roads occur during the months of very cold winter, allowing for ice that is thick enough to be driven on. Though the roads are a unique attraction for tourists, this is a typical occurrence for Estonians, as they often create an easier method of transport between the mainland and the islands; in the instance of the Haapsalu to Noarootsi route, the ice road creates a route that is 10km shorter than usual. This route also holds the record for the highest number of cars using the ice road, which was in 2013, when 19,979 vehicles travelled from Haapsalu to Noarootsi over 77 days. For advanced ice travellers, the Kihnu ice road – approximately 15km – is highly recommended, providing a picturesque journey across the frozen Baltic Sea to the UNESCO world heritage listed island.

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Visit a Frozen Waterfall 

One of the most beautiful features of the Estonia winter is the freezing of waterfalls. The highest of these is the Valaste waterfall, which is approximately 98ft high. Situated only a 30-minute drive from Tallinn, Estonia’s widest waterfall – the Jägala waterfall – becomes a 164ft glistening ice wall with icicles cascading down. During some winters, it is possible for visitors to walk behind the frozen waterfall. A trip with a local guide is highly recommended, as visitors can usually enjoy a cosy winter picnic, with traditional food and hot tea, to warm themselves after the icy walk.

Sailing on the Ice in Haapsalu 

Although the colder months often signify the end of the sailing season across much of Europe, this period brings about a whole different sailing season in Estonia. Thrill-seekers take to the hardened ice, boarding boats with sledge-like bases to move across the frozen sea. A popular method of transportation in the 17th century, today ice sailing is an adrenaline-fueled sporting activity, with these ice yachts often reaching speeds of over 60 mph. For those new to the activity, a trip with an experienced instructor is highly advisable. As one of the bays to freeze first, Haapsalu is the ideal spot to try sailing on the ice.

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Smoke Saunas & Winter Swimming in Pärnu 

The old Võromaa smoke sauna traditions have been honoured as part of the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage of the world. This ancient tradition involves a sauna session of at least three hours, where visitors experience the rich aroma of burning, complemented by a subtle hint of birch boughs and honey.

Located next to a pond, visitors will also take a quick dip in the icy waters after the sauna session. Rarely exceeding 36°F (20°C) even in the summer months, the water temperature during this period is likely to be around 1-degree Fahrenheit, often resulting in an icy cap over the pond, with the surrounding areas covered in snow. The contrast in temperatures is said to have a calming effect, soothing both body and mind.

Winter swimming has increased in popularity in Estonia over the recent years, with the World Championships held in Estonia in 2018. For visitors looking for a more adventurous sauna experience, Estonia holds a Sauna Marathon in the resort of Otepaa. Teams of four must visit a list of local saunas as possible, spending a minimum of three minutes in each of them.

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About Author

Nick Walton

Nick Walton

Nick Walton is a leading travel and lifestyle journalist, magazine editor, publisher, photographer, travel commentator, and media trainer, based in Hong Kong. He is also managing editor of Artemis Communications, the titles of which include Ultimate Encounters, Alpha Men Asia, and The Art of Business Travel.

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