Winter swimming – the Estonian vitamin

Source: Rasmus Jurkatam, Visit Estonia

Winter swimming – the Estonian vitamin


Kristel Kärner

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?

Nothing wakes up the body like a cold swim

Photo by Liina Notta

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 somewhere around 1 degree Celsius, with the water under an icy layer and the surroundings covered in snow.

A cold dip feel great after a 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 then run back as fast as they can. It's charming and fun and is deeply rooted in sauna traditions. However, winter swimming is an endurance sport where the main focus is 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!

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 that humans are not made to survive freezing water but you are nevertheless able to push those boundaries within yourself. You don't feel the 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 alike. 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 begin to 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?

Photo by: Rasmus Jurkatam

Winter swimming clubs are located in every bigger city but passionate enthusiasts can be found in every corner of Estonia. The Pirita Open is also an international, annual winter swimming festival taking place. To give icy swimming a try, contact a winter swimming club and take your first dip. Information on clubs can be found via regional tourism information centres.

If you're interested in finding out about the sport side of winter swimming, come over and compete or just watch. Everyone is invited!

I wrote this article with frozen fingertips as today I pushed my personal comfort level to five minutes. I feel great!

Last updated : 06.12.2021

In category: Health & Wellness