Winter swimming — Estonia's natural mood booster

Source: Rasmus Jurkatam, Visit Estonia

Winter swimming — Estonia's natural mood booster


Kristel Kärner

If you've been through the Tallinn airport recently, you may have seen the Bolt ad announcing that 1 in 5 Estonians practice winter swimming. Whether you think 20% of the population is bonkers or brave, the sport's popularity has only increased in recent years. Ready to take the plunge? Read Kristel Kärner's suggestions for winter swimming in Estonia below.

The adrenaline rush will keep you buzzing all day!

Photo by: Rasmus Jurkatam

Winter swimming is an increasingly popular winter sport among Estonians. Is it because Estonian winters are no longer full of snow, or is it just a need for something other than skiing?

In Estonia, the water temperature rarely exceeds 20 degrees, even in the summer. So, for some visitors, swimming here might seem like a dip in icy water. But the best Nordic swimming can be experienced from November to March when the water temperature is around 1 degree Celsius, with the water under an icy layer and the surroundings covered in snow.

A cold dip feels great after sauna.

Photo by Ekvilibrist - Estonian Saunas

Winter swimming isn't a simple dip in icy water. It's more than just a quick, impulsive plunge. Estonians often jump into an ice hole following a hot sauna and run back to the warmth of the sauna as fast as possible. It's charming and fun and is deeply rooted in sauna traditions. However, winter swimming is an endurance sport focused on strengthening the mind. Every time you step through the snow towards a hole cut in the icy water, every time you calmly step into the water and remind yourself that calm breathing is the key, you are a winner. A joy in itself!

Ice swim festivals are held regularly around Estonia. 

Photo by: Rasmus Jurkatam

And every time you stay there a little longer and go a bit further – you slide into icy water that feels like fire, push away icy chunks and feel the calmness taking over your body. You know humans are not made to survive freezing water, but you can push those boundaries within yourself. You don't need to swim to shore but rather enjoy the feeling of the iciness slowly and gently pinching at your skin. You calmly breathe in and out, look at the empty snowfields around you and listen to the silence of winter.

Coming out of the water, you feel stronger than before, body and mind. Cold water gives the body an unexpected rush of energy. For the next few days, no problem seems without a solution, and no mountains go unconquered. You are more assured and radiate. Soon enough, you notice that the typical runny nose during winter is no longer runny, you no longer feel cold waiting for the bus, and the flu doesn't seem to take you down. Maybe it's the Estonian traditional flu shot and vitamin?

Winter swimming clubs are located in every bigger city, but passionate enthusiasts can be found in every corner of Estonia. You'll find the HUUM Winter Swimming Centers in Pirita and Pärnu and the Lennusulps Winter Swimming Club behind Tallinn's Seaplane Harbour Museum.  To try icy swimming, contact a winter swimming club and take your first dip!

Estonia's very own mermaid

Estonian open water swimmer, entrepreneur, and real-life mermaid Merle Liivand started swimming with a monofin — a silicone device shaped like a fin that binds the feet together — to improve her breaststroke. Now, she holds the world record for the longest swim with a monofin, swimming 31.3 miles around Biscayne Bay, Miami, in 14 hours and 15 minutes. While her world-record swims have taken place in warmer waters, this Estonian mermaid isn't afraid of the cold; she holds medals in the winter swimming 200-meter breaststroke and plans to compete in the Winter Swimming World Championship to be held in Tallinn in March 2024.

Her love for ice swimming has sparked her interest in climate change because "it is becoming harder and harder to find places to race because the temperatures are getting warmer and warmer," she said in an interview. She has become an advocate for clean oceans and supported ocean clean-ups during World Cleanup Day. On her last monofin swim, she even picked up nearly 10 kilos of trash while she swam. 

Watch Merle embrace the extreme in the video below:

Where to go winter swimming in Estonia

The Winter Swimming World Championship takes place in Tallinn from March 4-10, 2024. If you're interested in finding out about the sport side of winter swimming, come over and compete or just watch. Everyone is invited! 

Besides the clubs in Pirita and Pärnu, and Tallinn behind the Seaplane Harbour Museum, you'll also find an active community dipping in the waters next to Linnahall. You can also try winter swimming at Nõmme Sports Centre. Iglupark igloo saunas in Noblessner are also a great way to ease your way into the sport; heat up in the sauna and climb down the ladder into the sea. Repeat as often as you'd like!

Outside Tallinn, you can find an active community in Haapsalu at their winter swimming centre. In Rapla, a winter swimming club keeps a hole in the ice in the water at the Vesiroosi Health Park. Anne Canal is also a popular spot for winter swimmers in Tartu. Plus, you might come across holes cut into the ice next to a dock or pier in a river or lake — if you do, you'll know that someone has been swimming there! Remember, take a friend if you haven't gone before and be safe. Breathe slowly as you get in the water — try a local trick: wear a woolly hat and keep your head and hands out of the water to avoid experiencing cold water shock.

Last updated : 10.02.2024

In category: Activities & Adventure, Health & Wellness