Wild swimming in the city: 7 urban breaks to dive into

Taking a dip after a day of sightseeing is the ideal way to see a new side of a city. Wild swimming holes are often local hotspots, so you can try something beyond the usual museums and galleries.

From iconic ponds in London to the deep swell off Cape Town, via a New York lido and Sydney tidal pool, these are the best places to squeeze a wild city swim.

7. Bronte Baths, Sydney

Sydney is blessed with arguably the greatest ocean baths on the planet, so picking just one to try is a challenge. But the Bronte Baths, adjacent to the beach of the same name, is hard to beat.

While the ocean here can be wild, this sheltered pool provides the ideal way to taste the salty water and enjoy a wild swim on a scorching summer day. Best of all, it’s free and open all year round.

Where to warm up: Head to Bronte Belo, a Brazilian-inspired café with amazing views of the beach and coffee to die for.

6. The Forty Foot, Dublin

Ireland’s most famous wild swimming spot sits at the south of Dublin Bay. Swimming here is said to date back some 250 years, with James Joyce adding to its legend with a mention in Ulysses.

Once a men’s only spot, today it's open to all and has become a year-round spot for jumping in and tacking out longer distances, as well as just having a dip.

Where to warm up: Dog-friendly Hatch Coffee is a brisk 10-minute walk away and guarantees a warm welcome as well as the perfect brew.

5. St James pool, Cape Town

Less than an hour’s drive from Cape Town, this sheltered pool is bordered by colourful Victorian bathing boxes. There are natural rock pools with fascinating wildlife for kids to discover.

There’s also 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: Practically on the beach, super cool Folk Cafe provides a warm space, breakfast and cuppa. They also have a great play area for kids.

4. Aare River, Bern

This river has a reputation for being one of Europe’s cleanest for wild swimming. The blue glacial melt water has a chill even in high summer. It's so popular that some locals swim to and from work.

Exit points are marked by red bars, making it easy to climb in and out. Make a point of hopping out at Marzili, where you’ll find plenty of space for drying off in the sun and a freshwater pool.

Where to warm up: 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. Perfect on a hot afternoon.

3. Astoria Pool,
New York City

At over 5000 square metres, Astoria Pool in New York City feels more like a lake than a pool. Set within Astoria Park, the pool was used for US Olympic trials in 1936 and 1964.

The art deco buildings and bleachers are an example of New Deal-era architecture, offering a good spot for a post swim picnic. Its size means there’s room for lane swimming, aqua aerobics, and kids.

The pool is open from late June until early September. Entrance is free, but you’ll need to bring a lock and abide by strict rules, including only wearing white garments over swimwear while poolside.

Where to warm up: 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.

2. Boekenberg swimming pond, Antwerp

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.

Between May and September it’s free to swim here, with members having 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 embraced by the locals. It’s easily reached from central Antwerp via the excellent tram system.

Where to warm up: Head back into the city for coffee at Frits Koffiebar, located in the historic area of Zurenborg.

1. Hampstead ponds, London

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 pair are open year round, attracting hardy, ice-breaking swimmers, but also warmly welcoming newcomers willing to experience the thrill of slipping into cold water. Swimmers must pay £2.

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.

Where to warm up: 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.

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