Averaging –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.
There are amazing Estonia winter activities
Usually when summer ends in Northern Europe so does the sailing season. Sometime in October, boats are lifted out of the water for winter, and sailors have to focus more on land-oriented activities. But not here in this part of the Baltic Sea. A whole new sailing season starts in Estonia for adrenaline junkies and those who just can’t stay off the sea. This is sailing on hard water, also known as ice sailing.
Sailing on ice looks cool and sounds exotic, but is actually pretty simple. Essentially it is a sledge with ice blades and a sail to make it move. Estonia is one of the birthplaces of ice sailing, and offers excellent conditions in Haapsalu and Pärnu for your first ice trial, or even to compete with the best sailors in the world, once you are ready for the European or World Championships. Be sure to try ice sailing also in Saaremaa, Võrtsjärv or Saadjärv.
Sailing on ice in Haapsalu
As one of the bays to freeze first, Haapsalu is the ideal spot to try sailing on the ice.
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, often reaching speeds of over 60 mph. For those new to the activity, a trip with an experienced instructor is highly advisable.
From trading to sailing for fun on ice
Sailing on ice was actually a mode of transportation in the 17th century – to transport goods from one side of the frozen lakes and bays to the other. In winter, traditional vessels were modified by strapping blades or runners to the hull. Sailing on ice is extremely fast – this is what attracted more and more people and turned it into a sport. Speeds can easily be over 100 km per hour (60 mph) because of the really low friction between metal blade and ice.
Fun and extreme way to explore your own and nature’s boundaries
Sailing with these boats could seem too extreme in the beginning. But actually it is not, once you start and an instructor gives you a short introduction. It’s more like a lot of fun and enjoying what nature has to offer. Of course, accidents happen, but this doesn’t happen so often and even when it does, you wear protection, a helmet and gloves, so you’ll be alright, maybe just some bruises as souvenirs to take home with you as proof of your battle stories.
Sailing in Estonia on ice gives you a perfect way to discover the country from a whole different perspective. First of all – it’s winter, cold, and unbelievably beautiful. So mostly all the activities outside end with a hot sauna somewhere inside. And there are no crowds – you can enjoy the nature in its true beauty, enjoying the freedom while trying out something you may have never tried before. As ice sailing needs certain conditions (ice thickness, smoothness and wind), you can explore different locations in Estonia.
Oh, and you can drive a car on Europe’s longest ice road that stretches over the frozen surface of the Baltic Sea, connecting Estonia’s mainland to the island of Hiiumaa when looking for the best spot to sail.
Visit a frozen waterfall
One of the most beautiful features of the Estonia winter is the freezing over of waterfalls. The highest of these is the Valaste waterfall, approximately 30m high. Situated only a 30-minute drive from Tallinn, Estonia’s widest waterfall – the Jägala waterfall – becomes a 50m 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.
Discover Estonia with our Health Fitness Travel Guide Estonia
Inga Kouru-Nedaskovskaja. Editor-in-chief of the Health Fitness Travel Guide