Just 45 minutes from Tallinn lies the Rummu Underwater Prison, one of the most mysterious places in all of Estonia.
If you enjoy visiting unusual locations while you travel and are interested in urban exploring, this should be high on your to-do list for day trips from Tallinn. A former Soviet prison turned beach and diving attraction, these creepy ruins have become an unmissable location that looks even better in real life than in pictures.
History Of The Prison
The Rummu Underwater Prison gets its name from the nearby town of Rummu, which is small and doesn’t have a lot going on apart from this impressive structure. In the 1940s, the Soviet Union constructed a prison and labor camp at the edge of the Rummu quarry.
Around 400 prisoners were forced to work in the quarry, which mostly included pumping water out of the pits. Since there are several underground springs located beneath the worksite, this labor was tedious and exhausting. Living conditions in the prison were abysmal, and it had a terrible reputation. Who knew that such a horrible place would once be transformed into a tourist attraction where people come to swim during the summer?
Back in the 1940s, there was no lake surrounding the prison. However, when Estonia regained independence in 1991, the site was abandoned, and no one was left to pump the water out of the quarry. A lake quickly formed, which flooded the majority of prison structures still left.
Today, the Rummu Underwater Prison has become a favorite among local adventurers and is especially popular with scuba divers who come to explore the bottom of the crystal clear lake.
How To Get To The Rummu Underwater Prison
The prison is located 45 kilometers southwest of Tallinn. It takes around 45 minutes to reach it by car or 1.5 hours if you arrive by bus. The number 146 bus leaves right from the city center of Tallinn and goes straight to the tiny town of Rummu. From there, it’s just a 10-minute walk to the abandoned prison.
The buses are comfortable and relatively reliable and cost around 3€ per person. This route is available roughly once per hour, although times tend to change according to season and weekdays. Always check when the last bus departs to make sure you won’t be stuck in Rummu.
There are also tour companies that offer regular trips to the Rummu Underwater Prison. Most of these tend to be diving schools that will take you there and back again for a fixed price per person. If you’re interested in scuba diving, this could be a good choice. Just be sure to bring plenty of water-resistant dry bags so that your belongings don’t get wet. However, if you want to be more flexible, it’s recommended to rent a car for the day or take the bus, which is the most budget-friendly option.
If you’re looking for other places to see close to the Rummu Underwater Prison, make a stop at Haapsalu. This seaside town is the perfect place to grab a late lunch after your day at the prison and can conveniently be reached by bus.
How Much Is It To Visit The Rummu Underwater Prison?
Visiting the prison used to be very difficult since it’s located on private land. A lot of accounts of travelers coming here mentioned barbed wire fences and do-not-enter signs. Since the Rummu Underwater Prison has been more of a secret urban exploring location in the past, it didn’t reach mainstream tourism until a few years ago.
However, today there is an entrance fee of 3€ per person, and visiting the prison is officially permitted, so you don’t need to worry about potentially trespassing. This is still somewhat of a secret spot, though, so you won’t have to worry about crowds of people. You’ll encounter the most other visitors on weekends during the summer when local teenagers come here to swim, and a lot of people enjoy paddleboarding or sitting on the beach.
If you want a quiet experience, try to visit during the week in the shoulder season when it’s still somewhat warm but not really hot enough to swim. The months of April and May or October are great for this. The opening hours of the prison tend to change according to the season but are usually from just before midday to around 9:00 pm.
What Can You Do At The Rummu Underwater Prison?
The Underwater Prison is surprisingly large, with lots of different things to do. It has recently turned itself into a so-called adventure center offering lots of activities to tourists. Here are some of the best ones.
Go Scuba Diving
Rummu Underwater Prison is somewhat of a hotspot for scuba diving. This is mostly due to the extremely clear water, which is very unusual for a lake. A lot of the prison structures are submerged under the water, which means there is plenty to see and explore. The prison has been described as an underwater city, and divers love to look for long-forgotten artifacts on the bottom of the lake. Close to the prison, you can also see an eerie underwater forest.
Visibility at the lake tends to depend on the water temperature and is most favorable during the winter and midst of summer when it’s very hot or very cold. When the conditions are ideal, you can see as far as 40 meters. The deepest part of the lake is 13 meters deep, although the average is 6 to 10 meters.
Keep in mind that this site is not really suitable for beginners, and only experienced divers should come here. There is submerged barbed wire, old mining equipment, and winding passages, which could create potential hazards for divers. Book your trip through a reputable diving school, and definitely don’t dive here by yourself. You can also get basic diving training at the prison for reasonable prices, however, to see the true extent of this underwater maze, you should have some prior experience.
Rent A Canoe
If you’re looking for a relaxed and peaceful way to explore the underwater prison, renting a canoe is a fantastic idea. For 25€, you can paddle along the lake and spot submerged structures as you float in the crystal clear waters. This is a fantastic activity for cold days when you might not want to go swimming. One canoe can fit up to three people.
If you’re not ready to commit to scuba diving, snorkeling is a great alternative. You’ll still get to see a lot of the fascinating historic prison structures without having to worry about potential hazards. For 35€ per person, you can rent snorkeling equipment at the prison, including flippers, a mask, and a snorkel. A trainer will give you tips on where to go and what to watch out for.
Explore The Abandoned Buildings
Not all parts of the Rummu Underwater Prison are submerged. A lot still sits on dry land. And there are excursions available.
Climb Up The Impressive Dunes
The old quarry has created magnificent dunes and hills, which are perfect for exploring and going for a walk. The abandoned prison and lake look most impressive from high up, so don’t miss out on exploring the sand dunes to get the best view. You’ll be amazed at how many of the submerged structures are visible in the crystal clear water, so don’t forget to pack your camera.
Try Jet Surfing
If you haven’t heard of jet surfing before, this is your chance to give it a try. For 50€, you can ride a motorized surfboard around the lake, which can reach speeds of up to 56km/h. Of course, there is an instructor present to help you practice and learn how to use the board efficiently. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll want to do it again and again. The Rummu Underwater Prison and attached adventure center is the only palace in Estonia where you can try this unusual water sport.
Rent A Stand-Up Paddle
For 30€, you can rent a stand-up paddle (SUP) at the lake, which includes a wetsuit in case you get cold. This is the perfect combination between getting a canoe and snorkeling since you can still get in the water but can also stay mostly dry if you like. For only 5€ more than the regular rental, you can also join a guided SUP tour which will take you to hotspots around the lake.
Should You Still Visit The Prison When It’s Cold?
The Rummu Underwater Prison has become a popular location for swimming and diving but should you still come here if you’re visiting Estonia while it’s cold?
Definitely add the prison to your Tallinn itinerary, even if you’re not coming to the city during summer. The lake is absolutely beautiful during any season, and you don’t necessarily have to go for a swim to enjoy it. Climb up the dunes and the surrounding hills and take in the spectacular views. If the adventure center is open, you can still rent a canoe or explore the nearby buildings. Even a walk around the lake is well worth the trip from Tallinn.