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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.

A man swims through the waters of Lake Bohinj, with mountains in the background and a cloudy blue sky overhead
Take a refreshing dip in the clear, cool waters of Lake Bohinj in the Julian Alps © Spanic / Getty Images

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.

Find your own private plunge pool in Purcaraccia Canyon, Corsica © salajean / Getty Images
Find your own private plunge pool in Purcaraccia Canyon, Corsica © salajean / Getty Images

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.

The Baggy Point headland in England jutting out into the Celtic Sea
What sea life will you spot from Baggy Point? © tomholderimagery / Shutterstock

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.

A man jumps into the blue water of the River Limmat in Zurich
A dip in the Limmat is the perfect antidote to the summer heat in Zürich © Prisma by Dukas / Getty Images

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.)

Explore offshore islands and swim in deep alpine waters in Lake Walchen © Luigi R. Viggiano / Getty Images
Explore offshore islands and swim in deep alpine waters in Lake Walchen © Luigi R. Viggiano / Getty Images

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.

Mountain gazing should keep you occupied between swims in the pure waters of Lac d'Annecy © Pidi / Getty Images
Mountain gazing should keep you occupied between swims in the pure waters of Lac d'Annecy © Pidi / Getty Images

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.

A view of a pathway leading down to the turquoise waters of Lago di Fiastra in Italy with green mountains in the background
Seek out a fabled submerged settlement – or just chill out on the beach – at Lago di Fiastra in Italy © Beverly Pritzi / Shutterstock

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.

Are you wild enough to swim in Loch Lomond? © Spencer Bowman / Getty Images
Are you wild enough to swim in Loch Lomond? © Spencer Bowman / Getty Images

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.