Following a day of sightseeing, wild swimming in a city can show travelers a completely different side of a destination – and give a whole new meaning to finishing up in a watering hole.
From lake swimming in London to cooling down in a Sydney tidal pool, these seven spots are the best places to squeeze a wild city swim. Bathers at the ready.
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1. London’s Hampstead Heath Ponds
London’s beautiful and sprawling Hampstead Heath is home to three historic bathing ponds: the mixed pond close to Parliament Hill; Highgate Men’s Pond; and Kenwood Ladies’ Pond. The latter two are open year-round, attracting hardy, ice-breaking swimmers, but also warmly welcoming newcomers willing to experience the thrill of slipping into cold water for the first time. Swimmers must pay £4.50.
The mixed pond opens from May to September and has a small lawn for sunbathing, as well as rustic changing areas. The tree-lined banks are home to coots, moorhens and grebes, meaning there’s always wild company whenever you dive in.
Where to warm up afterward: The pleasingly old-school Parliament Hill Café serves hefty bowls of pasta, large slabs of cake and pots of tea, ideal for when you’re struggling to shake off the chill after a dip.
Boekengerg is a natural swimming pond near Antwerp © Joe Minihane / Lonely Planet
2. Antwerp’s Boekenberg swimming pond
Tucked away in Boekenberg Park in the suburb of Deurne, this beautiful pond is a swimmer’s paradise. The water is filtered using an ecological, reed bed system and is crystal clear, with a smart clubhouse and modern changing area adding to its allure.
Between May and September, it’s free to swim here, though members have the run of the pond during winter when it often ices over. Once a municipal swimming pool, the decision to turn it into a natural swimming pond has been thoroughly embraced by the locals. It’s easily reached from central Antwerp via the excellent tram system.
Where to warm up afterward: Head back into the city for coffee at Frits Koffiebar, located in the historic area of Zurenborg.
Check out the cool diving board at Ingierstrand Beach © Getty Images/iStockphoto
3. Oslo’s Ingierstrand Beach
With both your bathers and bravest face on, clamber up the rungs of the functionalist-style diving board that pokes out into the chilly depths of the Bunnefjord, 25 minutes southeast of Oslo. At the top, take a deep gulp of air, squeeze your peepers closed, jump… splash! There are fewer ways guaranteed to knock out an aquavit hangover like a leap into the sea at Ingierstrand Beach.
A mixture of smooth flagstones, grass and sand, this is where families tend to gather during Norway’s warmer, sunnier months. The facilities, including bathrooms and showers, were built in the modernist style of the 1930s under the creative gaze of architects Eyvind Moestue and Ole Lind Schistad. And the water? Clear and cold. Lovely.
Where to warm up afterward: The in-house snack bar does superb hot dogs, as well as coffee. You can’t take in your own food, so be sure to have a few dollars to hand before you lock up your bags.
Float down the Aare River in Bern © Joel Carillet / Getty Images
4. Bern’s Aare River
Bern’s Aare River has earned a reputation for being one of Europe’s cleanest and most beautiful rivers for wild swimming. The blue glacial melt water makes for a delicious dip, with a chill even in high summer. In fact, it’s become so popular that some locals have started swimming to and from work when the temperatures get up.
Exit points are marked by red bars, making it easy to climb in and out of the water. Make a point of hopping out at Marzili, where you’ll find plenty of space for drying off in the sun and even a freshwater pool if you feel like wallowing a little longer.
Where to warm up afterward: Ice cream might not seem like the most obvious treat after a cold swim, but Gelateria di Berna, across from the entrance to Marzili, does the best in Bern. Perfect on a hot afternoon.
Cape Town’s St James Pool is worth seeking out © Andrea Willmore / Shutterstock
5. Cape Town’s St James Pool
Less than an hour’s drive from Cape Town, this charming, sheltered pool is bordered by colorful Victorian bathing boxes, making it perfect for a dip and a pic! There are natural rock pools with fascinating wildlife for kids to discover and a large man-made tidal pool with calm, relatively warm waters.
It’s free to visit and open at all hours, but best enjoyed on a sunny day with a packed picnic.
Where to warm up afterward: Practically on the beach, super cool Folk Cafe provides a warm space, breakfast and cuppa. They also have a great play area for kids.
Take a leap of faith at The Forty Foot, Dublin © Julien Behal – PA Images / Getty Images
6. Dublin’s Forty Foot
Ireland’s most famous wild swimming spot, The Forty Foot, sits at the south of Dublin Bay in Sandycove. Swimming here is said to date back some 250 years, with James Joyce adding to its legend by having Buck Milligan enjoy an icy dip here in his seminal Ulysses.
Once a men’s only spot, today The Forty Foot is open to all and has become a year-round spot for jumping in and tacking out longer distances, as well as having a joyous, heads-up swim, all the better for watching the sea bob and the weather change.
Where to warm up afterward: Dog-friendly Hatch Coffee is a brisk 10-minute walk away and guarantees a warm welcome as well as the perfect brew.
A rock pool located on Bronte beach, perfect for wild swimming near the city ©sydneyhills/Getty Images
7. Sydney’s Bronte Baths
Sydney is blessed with arguably the greatest ocean baths on the planet and picking just one to try is a challenge. But the spectacular Bronte Baths, adjacent to the beach of the same name, is one of Australia’s best wild swimming spots. While the ocean here can be wild, this sheltered pool provides the ideal way to taste that salty water and enjoy a wild swim on a scorching Australian summer’s day.
There’s room for serious swimmers to stretch out, as well as shallow areas for younger swimmers to get some practice in. Best of all, it’s free and open all year round.
Where to warm up afterward: Head to Bronte Belo, a Brazilian-inspired café with amazing views of the beach and coffee to die for.