Guide to ice roads in Estonia

Source: Visit Estonia

Guide to ice roads in Estonia

Written by: Anneli Haabu MTÜ Lääne-Eesti Turism (West-Estonia Tourism)
Written by: Allan Kasesalu Estonian Road Administration

Driving on an ice road in Estonia is not for the faint of heart. Strict rules must be followed, and weather conditions must be ideal. The ice must be at least 20 cm thick to hold the weight of a car. Check official ice road openings with the Estonian Transport Administration before heading out for a thrilling wintertime adventure!

Where to find ice roads in Estonia

When the winter gets cold enough to create thick ice, all the official ice roads in Estonia can be opened. Together these provide a total of more than 80 km of ice roads. Estonia has 7 official ice roads connecting the mainland and various islands. These include the road between Hiiumaa and the mainland (approx. 25 km), between Hiiumaa and Saaremaa (approx. 15 km), between Vormsi and the mainland (approx. 12 km), between Kihnu and the mainland (approx. 15 km), between Haapsalu and Noarootsi (approx. 3 km) and between Laaksaar and Piirissaar (8 km).

The main goal of creating ice roads is not to provide a tourism attraction, but to make the lives of locals easier. However, that which may seem usual to Estonians may be surprising, novel, exciting and even shocking or unbelievable for someone from a different cultural space. And ice roads provide unforgettable travel experiences.

Take notice of important signage when entering an Estonian ice road!

Photo by: Visit Estonia
  • The ice road of Haapsalu–Noarootsi provides a great opportunity to learn about what it's like to travel on an ice road, and it leads to a lovely exploration of the Noarootsi peninsula.
  • The Rohuküla–Vormsi ice road is best for advanced ice travellers. This road leads to the wintery island of Vormsi.
  • The ice road of Hiiumaa is best for those who are ready for a longer journey – 25 km of ice road is quite an experience! In fact, this is the longest ice road currently used in Europe.
  • The Saaremaa–Hiiumaa ice road is the fastest way of travelling between two of Estonia's largest islands.
  • The Kihnu ice road (approx. 15 km) is also best suited for advanced travellers. It leads to the island of Kihnu, which belongs to the UNESCO world heritage list.

Records on Estonian ice roads

The longest known ice road originating from Estonia was between Saaremaa and Lübeck in 1323. The longest ice road in Europe is the one between Hiiumaa and Rohuküla on the mainland (24–27 km depending on ice conditions and the exact route).

However, the largest number of cars has travelled via the HaapsaluNoarootsi ice road. This happened in 2013 when the road was opened for 77 days and used by 19,979 vehicles during that time. The only year when all ice roads were open at the same time was 2011 when a total of 55,663 vehicles travelled across the ice roads.

The Haapsalu–Noarootsi ice road boasts the highest efficiency factor when considering the journey's length, as it enables a route that is 10 km shorter than the route without an ice road.

Ice road to Noarootsi

Photo by:  Urmas Lauri, Visit Estonia

How to stay safe when driving on ice

Ice roads are open for travellers during daylight hours only. The recommended speed is 25 km/h or 40-70 km/h. When driving at a speed of 25-40 km/h, the vehicle may cause a resonance wave that could break the ice.

Ice roads are the only roads on which one should keep their safety belts unfastened. It is important to ensure that all vehicle doors can be opened easily. You should never stop your car on an ice road, it is best to keep moving.

Ice that has formed only recently is thought of as the strongest ice. The ice is strong enough to carry a human when it is 5–8 cm thick, for an ice road the thickness has to be at least 20 cm. The maximum gross vehicle weight allowed on an ice road is 2.5 tonnes.

The distance between cars travelling on an ice road should be at least 250 metres, to prevent excessive loads on the ice and potential rear-ending. There have been no serious traffic accidents, neither have any cars sunk through the ice on Estonian ice roads.

Last updated : 22.02.2023

In category: West Estonia, Islands, Activities & Adventure, Nature & Wildlife