Europe's best wild swimming
Forget paying to use that hotel pool – nothing compares to the thrill of taking the plunge in the great outdoors, be it a mountain lake in Slovenia or a river snaking through the heart of Zürich.
Whether you're a cold water cognoscente or just looking to dip your toe into this invigorating wellness activity, here's a selection of the loveliest wild (outdoor) swimming spots in Europe that won't cost a cent to use, as featured in our book, The Best Things in Life are Free.
Lake Bohinj – Slovenia
The Julian Alps offer top-class swimming, including the lovely-but-costly Lake Bled lido. However, travel down the road to Triglav National Park’s Lake Bohinj and discover wilder scenery for free. The Sava Bohinjka River provides a chilly thrill for flow-swimming fans.
Purcaraccia Canyon – Corsica
The steep hike to the pools in Corsica's Purcaraccia Canyon is demanding, but worth the effort. Swim in – and slide between – a series of pools fed by crystal-clear mountain water, and enjoy unwinding in a nature-made infinity pool teetering on a waterfall edge.
Baggy Point – England
Swim through several secret sea caves at this delightful Devonshire dipping spot, including one tide-swept tunnel hidden from lily-livered landlubbers. You may even be lucky enough to share your swim with a seal, dolphin or porpoise, which are all often spied along this coastline.
Flussbad Oberer Letten – Switzerland
An urban oasis during the summer swelter, the Flussbad Oberer Letten is a 400m-long swimming canal in the fast-flowing river Limmat, which curls through the city of Zürich. The spot attracts hundreds of swimmers on hot days during its opening dates from May to September. There’s a 2m diving board, plus a bar and beach volleyball fields. (If the idea of mixing outdoor swimming with cosmopolitan surrounds sounds appealing, check out our guide to the best cities for urban swimming.)
Lake Walchen – Germany
Bavaria is blessed with a batch of brilliant bathing spots, and Lake Walchen, located deep in the mountains south of Munich, is one of the most spectacular. Gravel beaches surround the mineral-rich turquoise water, and there are offshore islands to explore.
Lac D’Annecy – France
Heated by subterranean hot springs, this Alpine lake is unsurprisingly popular. Many beaches charge during the summer, but Plage d’Albigny à Annecy-le-Vieux and Plages des Marquisats are free. Wilder spots can be found too – some with great cliff jumps.
Lago di Fiastra – Italy
Camp beneath mountains on the north shore of this stunning beach-lined lake, and slide into the embrace of its gin-clear water. Take a snorkel – there’s much to explore, including a legendary submerged village.
Loch Lomond – Scotland
You need a brave heart to swim in Scotland, but the picturesque Loch Lomond – Britain’s biggest puddle – might just tempt you in. This is the home of the annual Great Scottish Swim (and also, apparently, a monster – albeit one without the celebrity status of its Loch Ness cousin).
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This article was first published in July 2016, and updated in July 2019.