Sometimes we crave the sensation of plunging into the ocean, waves breaking over our heads, the deeps beneath our feet. But other times we want a more "contained" seaside swim – the same elemental experience, but with the luxury of being able to touch the bottom (and maybe even grab a hot shower after). This is where ocean pools come in.
Whether natural rock grottoes or man-made from concrete and tile, these oceanside pools give you the best of both worlds: safe, serene waters with boundless sea-and-sky views. If you’re looking for an alternative seaside experience, or maybe a stepping stone to transition from traditional swimming pools to the ‘big blue’, these aquatic oases could be right for you.
Grotto della Poesia, Salento, Italy
Meaning "cave of poetry," this 100ft-wide natural sinkhole is certainly worthy of verse. Leap from the limestone cliffs into the cool cyan water, and then swim under the archway into the Adriatic Sea. Arrive early in summer to avoid the crowds; the rest of the year it’ll be just you and the seabirds. There are several archaeological sites nearby, including Grotto della Poesia Piccola ("little cave of poetry"), its walls covered in ancient inscriptions. You’ll find the grotto on the east side of the Salento Peninsula (aka "the boot").
Queen’s Baths, Eleuthera, Bahamas
Clamber up the rocky hillside on this laid-back Bahamian island to find the series of shallow, sun-warmed pools known locally as the "Queen’s Baths" or (the slightly less fancy) "hot tubs." Visit at low or medium tide to spend an hour or two soaking, splashing and looking for shells as the navy-blue Atlantic churns below. Just a half-mile away is the famous Glass Window Bridge, where the island becomes so skinny you can stand on the cliff and see the startling contrast between the choppy Atlantic to your right and the peaceful aquamarine Caribbean to your left.
Tunnels Beaches, Devon, UK
Tiptoe through a series of dim cliff tunnels, hand-hewn by Welsh miners in the early 1800s, to reach these hidden beaches. At the "ladies beach" (though coed now for more than 100 years), a tidal pool appears for three hours before and after low tide. The pool’s retaining wall was man-made by the same miners using boulders and lime mortar. In the height of the Victorian era, ladies "took the waters" here in private horse-drawn wooden bathing machines that were rolled into the ocean to protect their modesty. Before that, the deeply furrowed sea cliffs were once used by smugglers and fugitives. Don’t expect any sugar-white sands; these beaches are pure English pebble – slippery, chilly and delightful.
To Sua Ocean Trench, ‘Upolu Island, Samoa
From above, this gemstone-green swimming hole looks like a giant’s eye blinking up from the lava landscape of Samoa’s ‘Upolu Island. The 30-meter-deep pool is accessible by a tall and slightly terrifying wooden ladder, though the brave (or foolhardy) simply jump. The water here is so clear you can see fish flitting far below. The trench is fed by an underwater lava tunnel that leads out to the South Pacific – skilled divers can swim through it, but all levels of swimmer should be aware of the undertow. The edge of the hole drips with jungle foliage, which opens into manicured seaside gardens with picnic areas and a small swimming beach beyond.
Bondi Icebergs Pool, Sydney, Australia
Built into the cliffs just above the crashing Tasman Sea, the Bondi Baths at the edge of Sydney’s most famous beach have been iconic for more than a century. Anyone is welcome to take a dip in the lap pool or the adjacent kiddie pool, but to become a member of the Bondi Icebergs winter swimming club you’ll have to commit to swimming three Sundays out of four during the chilly months – for five years! Because the pools are concrete, the water here is actually colder than the sea, and in rougher weather you might get pummelled by a rogue wave. Nothing like a soothing dip, eh!?
Piscinas das Marés, near Porto, Portugal
Fancy submerging yourself in a national monument? And we don’t mean figuratively. Plunge into the two saltwater swimming pools of Piscina das Marés, sunk into the rock of Leça da Palmeira beach, Matoshinhos, a fishing village north of Porto, in the 1960s at the behest of renowned Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira. The maestro wasn’t finished there, though: after a dip to work up an appetite, follow the coastline north to his Boa Nova Tea House, an alluring Michelin-starred restaurant with wraparound views of the fuming Atlantic.
Porto de Galinhas, near Recife, Brazil
In a country with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to beaches, Porto de Galinhas, south of pulsating Recife, still manages to stand out thanks to a scattering of turquoise and aquamarine inlets a short boat ride from its fine, white sand. Fisherfolk ferry visitors to these Instagram-worthy natural pools, formed between the beach and the sheltering reef, in distinctive triangular-sailed jangadas (small sailing vessels) for R$25 per person. For something more vigorous, head south for windsurfing and kitesurfing off the reliably blustery Pontal de Maracaípe.
Sea Point Pavilion, Cape Town, South Africa
Facing the chilly Atlantic at the edge of suburban Cape Town, Sea Point Pavilion is a splashy, noisy, summer-long swim party. It’s got a lap pool, a diving pool and two kiddie pools – all saltwater, with some refreshingly fed directly from the adjacent ocean. When you’re ready to dry off, spread out on the lawn with a picnic and a cold soda from one of the park vendors, and watch the clouds floating above the peak of Lion’s Head. It’s hard to imagine a more scenic public pool in either hemisphere; not to mention – no sharks!