Ice road – the symbol of a great Estonian winter

Source: Visit Estonia

Ice road – the symbol of a great Estonian winter

Source: Visit Estonia

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

In case of a proper cold winter that allows for thick ice, all official ice roads in Estonia can be opened, thereby providing a total of more than 80 km of ice roads. There are 7 official ice roads in Estonia: 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.

  • 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 a 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

The longest known ice road originating from Estonia was located 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 Haapsalu–Noarootsi ice road. This was 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 on ice roads.

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

Ice road to Noarootsi

Photo by: Visit Estonia

Safety

Ice roads are open for travellers only during daylight hours. 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 can break the ice.

Ice roads are the only roads on which one should keep their safety belts unfastened. It is important to make sure that all doors of the vehicle 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 : 15.02.2017
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