Lake Peipus: The Largest European Transboundary Lake

Lake Peipus is the largest trans-boundary lake in Europe, situated on the border between Estonia and Russia. The freshwater lake occupies 3.6% of the total area of the Baltic Sea basin and served as the scene for the Battle on the Ice.

Lake Peipus Stats

Lake NameLake Peipus
Surface area3489.000
Maximum depth15.0
Average depth7.2
Lake typeNatural
Catchment area47673.70
InflowsEmajogi, Velikaya
IslandsPiirissaar, Kolpino, Kamenka
Shore length732.11
Age10000 - 100000
Mixing typeDimictic
SettlementsMustvee, Kallaste
Residence time860.8
FrozenDecember to April
Trophic stateEutrophic
Average discharge337.098

Lake Peipus Accommodation


Lake Peipus is the 5th largest lake on the continent after the Russian lakes Ladoga, Onega, the Swedish Vanern and the Finnish Lake Saimaa. The lake is shared by three countries: 64.3% belongs to Russia, 30% is part of Estonia and 5.5% lies in Latvia.

In the Paleozoic Era, some 300-400 million years ago, the entire Gulf of Findland was covered by water. The relief was created due to a glacier activity that ended 12 000 years ago.

Peipus is the remnant from a large lake dating back from the Ice Age and has three main components. Lake Peipsi is the largest of the three with a surface area of 2611 km2, representing 72% of its total size. Lake Pihkva (otherwise known as Pskovskoe) lies in the South and represents 20% of the lake with 708 km2. Lammijarv, or Teploe is the third component, and is the sound connecting the two lakes.

The lake’s shoreline is smooth and continuous, as it only forms on bay, called Raskopelsky. Its lower shores are bordered by marshes which are usually flooded during spring months and consist of peat. The hills are mostly covered with pine forests. Sand dunes are also a common sight. Singing sands can be found on the lake’s coastline, a type of sand that makes a curious sound when it moves. It is usually the sign of the clearness of the water.

The bottom of the lake is uniform and flat, covered with sand, gray mud and silt.

There are a total of 30 islands located on Lake Peipus, and 40 more situated in the delta of the Velikaya River. Most of these are only 1-2 meters above the water level, and they often suffer from floods. Some of the largest are Kolpino, Kamenka, Piirissaar islands, and the Talabski islands (made up of Belova, Zalita and Talavenets) in the center of Pihkva Lake.

Hydrology and Climate

The lake has nearly 30 tributaries, most of which are smaller streams. The larger inflows are the Emajogi and Velikaya rivers; some of the smaller streams are the Piusa, Kodza, Gdovka, Cherma and Remda. Peipus’s main outflow is the Narva River, which makes its way to the Baltic Sea.

The lake’s deepest point is 15.3 meters, at a 300 meter’s distance from the coast. Because it is so shallow, the water quickly warms up and cools down. Water temperatures in July can reach up to 25-27OC, whilst in winter the lake is frozen from late November until the second half of April. The thickness of the ice is usually between 50-80 centimeters.

The lake is well-flowing, although water currents are only caused by wind. The water transparency is considerably low because of the large amount of plankton and suspended sediments that reach the lake due to river flow.

Because the inflowing rivers and streams have various water volumes during the different seasons, the lake also faces significant seasonal fluctuation in its water levels. In the spring the lake usually rises one meter, after which it overflows, flooding the lower banks bordering it.

Peipus’s general ecological conditions are satisfactory, since it has clean waters. However, in the last few decades there has been an increase in the blue-green algae population of the lake. Although the lake is highly productive from a biological point of view, it is also eutrophic, high in phosphates and nitrates, boosting algae in Peipus. The basin represents 85% of the Narva-Peipsi watershed and has a mean annual water discharge into the Baltic Sea of 12.6 km3, through the Narva River.

The summer in the basin lasts for about 130 days, is moderately warm and witnesses short, but intense rainfall. The hottest month is July. The winter months are usually foggy, rainy and cold.

Flora and Fauna

There are a total of 54 species of coastal aquatic flora elements present in the lake basin, including cane, calamus, bulrush and grass rush. The three types of floating plants (arrowhead, yellow water lily and water knotweed) can rarely be seen.

42 different species of fish live in the lake waters, such as whitebait, whitefish, bream, perch, pike, roach, and the Peipsi whitefish. The wetlands serve as important nesting and feeding areas for migratory birds such as swans, geese and ducks, which travel from the White Sea to the Baltic Sea. The region is home to one of the largest colonies of swallows in Estonia.


In 1239 the Livonian Knights led a military campaign to expand their territory to Northern Russia and to convert its inhabitants to Roman Catholicism. The crusade was interrupted by the Mongol Invasion of Poland and Silesia and was later resumed by the Teutonic Knights, who were affiliates of the Livonian Knights.

In March of 1241 the Knights captured the city of Pskov and went on in an attempt to conquer Novgorod. Little did they know that Alexander Nersky formed an army against them and defeated the Knights, forcing their master to abandon all claims of the Russian lands conquered by him, and decrease Teutonic threat to Northern Russia.

Human Settlements and Inhabitants

The largest city in the area is Pskov, which is also one of the oldest in Russia, known from 903 AD, from a record in the Laurentian Codex. There are plenty of old historical sites that attract tourists, such as the Miroxhsky monastery (constructed in 1156, housing valuable frescoes from the 14th-17th centuries), Snetogorsky monastery (built in the 13th century), the Church of Basil (constructed in 1413) and the Pskov Kremlin (assembled between the 14th and 17th centuries).

Gdov is also an important settlement on Lake Peipus’s coastline, founded in 1431 as a fortress. Today only three walls have remained from this edifice, and is a popular attraction amongst tourists. Kallaste was founded in the 18th century by Old Believers who fled the area. There is a famous functional Russian Orthodox Old-Rite church in the town.

The region is also renowned for having one of the largest surfacings of Devonian sandstone, a sedimental rock composed by sand-sized rock grains and minerals. It is 8 meters tall and 930 meters long. There are also a number of caves on the precinct.

The lake has always constituted a natural border between Russia and Estonia. Although the Russian part is inhabited by Russians, the Estonian part is occupied by two minorities: the Russian Old-Believers and the Setu people, who speak a language close to Estonian, but their religion is Christian Orthodox.

The primary sources of income for those living on the shores of the lake are mainly made up of commercial fisheries and agricultural activities. 42% of the basin’s land is used for agriculture, 40% are forests, 6% are wetlands and the remaining 2% is water. Ship navigation is well-developed in the area, serving transportation, tourist tours and fisheries.


The freshwater lake and its picturesque shores are a popular tourist attraction of the area. There are a number of beaches located on its coastline, mostly on the Northern part, of which Kauksi Beach is the most popular. Fishing is also a frequented activity, as well as numerous water activities such as row boating, pedal boating, kayaking, water skiing, windsurfing and canoeing.

In terms of accommodation there are several sites to choose, from campsites to hotels. The towns also have a lot to offer in terms of heritage sites, from museums and galleries to old churches and even parks. Muraka Nature Reserve and Alatskivi Landscape Reserve situated on the shores of the lake propose ideal opportunities for hikers and nature-lovers.

Ecological Threats

There are two major concerns regarding the ecology of the lake. Due to the abundance of phosphorous and nitrogen compounds bought into the lake by Emajogi and Velikaya rivers, the water suffers from eutrophication, a myriad of algae.

Another hazard is the pollution caused by two major thermal power stations, which use the lake to cool down their steam machines.

Lake Peipus Map