Few things beat cooling off in cold water on a hot day. But sometimes a pool shot through with chlorine just won’t cut it. Adventurous souls should head to these wild spots for a picturesque dip, the chance to get up close to nature and to feel a sense of freedom you just can’t find indoors.
Note: during the COVID-19 pandemic, access to swimming spots may be limited. Be sure to check before travel, and always follow local government advice.
Lake swim at Refugio Frey in the Argentine Andes
The well-marked trail from Cerro Catedral in the Nahuel Huapi National Park up to the climbers’ hut at Refugio Frey offers relentless views of the Andes. These become truly stunning once you reach the hut itself, where a small mountain lake sits beneath vertiginous peaks.
The water here can get icy in the off-season, but during the summer months of January and February, swimming out from the shallows and lying on your back to take in the view is the ideal way to end one of Argentina’s finest walks.
Hampstead Mixed Pond, London
One of three bathing holes on London’s vast Hampstead Heath, the pond is the ideal haven when the searing heat of the city gets too much. Its freshwater is tested daily, and lifeguards provide reassurance to those feeling nervous about stepping into the depths from the metal steps.
Swim out a few meters and you’ll find yourself in your own bubble, quickly forgetting that central London is just a short Tube ride away. Entry costs £4.
Waterfalls of Costa Rica’s Bajos del Toro Cloud Forest
After a sweaty hike through the lush green cloud forest of Bajos del Toro, the La Promesa waterfall is the ultimate sight for those looking to take a cooling dip. With a gentle sloping beach and shallow plunge pool, it’s the perfect place for a safe wild swim, with plenty of hikers trailing up here from the nearby El Silencio Lodge. With white water pouring down 100ft, the water is refreshing but never cold.
Once you’ve dried off, take a ten–minute stroll to the thunderous Bajos del Toro waterfall, which at 300ft is one of Costa Rica’s highest.
Havnebadet, Islands Brygge, Copenhagen
No country does outdoor swimming as well as Denmark. The stunning Havnebadet in the center of Copenhagen is home to five pools, two of which are specifically for kids. There are diving boards for the bold and plenty of space for those looking to power through a few laps rather than enjoy a languid dip.
Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island is blessed with some truly beautiful bays and beaches, perfect for a lazy afternoon spent sunbathing and swimming. For cleansing water and big vistas though, it’s hard to get past Qualicum Beach. Keep your head out of the water and you’ll get frog’s eye views of the Strait of Georgia and the Coast Mountain Range.
Qualicum is popular in summer, but that means you’ll find plenty of facilities close by if you want to bring the family for a day of swimming and snorkelling.
Erskine Creek, Great Blue Mountains, Australia
The area around Sydney has some enticing outdoor swimming holes, none more so than at Jack Evans Track on Erskine Creek in the Great Blue Mountains. A hot spot for birdlife, this is one of the great destinations for those who like to slip into the water and become one with nature. The Great Blue Mountains is home to a number of glorious wild swimming spots, such as Wentworth Falls, so plan a multi-day trip if you really want to explore.
Crater swimming on Sal, Cabo Verde
The extinct volcanic crater of Pedra do Lume on Sal, Cabo Verde, is the venue for one of the world’s most inviting wild swims. In fact, it’s more of an exercise in floating, with the salty water buoying you up and affording views of the otherworldly landscape.
The salt crystals can be sharp underfoot, so bring neoprene shoes or sandals as entering barefoot is not advisable.
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This article was first published in March 2017, and last updated in September 2020.