Research into the benefits of cold-water swimming is anecdotal, apart from one case report that tracked one individual (and is therefore clinically irrelevant). Swimmers will tell you they feel better. Their moods lift. Their health improves. Cold-water swimming provides a few moments of pain and shock, followed by an endorphin rush and burning sense of accomplishment. It is thought to help combat anxiety and depression too. One swimmer told me, “It is the ultimate mindfulness exercise, as that shock of the cold water brings you so completely out of your mind and into your body and the moment — there is no space for anything else but to breathe and just be.”
Communities of wild/cold/outdoor swimmers are growing, and there is a culture developing alongside. Whether you are a triathlete, an ice swimmer, sea-obsessed, an open-lake enthusiast, or someone who really shows up for the promise of cake afterwards, there is a tribe for you. There is the Wild Swim map that features potential swimming spots the world over, and people are splashing about in ponds and lakes, rivers and seas.
1. Harbour Baths
We hardly need to persuade you to go to Copenhagen but if you needed an excuse, here it is. Head to the Harbour Baths, a glorious set of pools located on the city waterfront.
There is a shallower paddling pool for youngsters, a diving board for thrill-seekers, and a long, deep, cold pool for the rest. No changing rooms though — embrace the Danes and strip nude in front of everyone, or (like we did), dash into the nearest public loos to change.
There are lots of options in the city; London happens to be well served by lidos and lakes. Our favourites are:
2. Hampstead Ponds:
Found on the heath, there are three ponds to choose from (mixed, ladies’, men’s). All have changing rooms and lifeguards. You swim with ducks and moorhens in these deep ponds, surrounded by glorious trees and quiet. Hard to believe you are still in London, only 30 minutes on a bus from St Pancras station.
3. Oasis Leisure Centre:
This is a total gem, located in the heart of Covent Garden. You can easily miss it (a very nondescript building) but pause because there is a heated outdoor pool hidden away here. For a very reasonable fiver, you have access to changing rooms (with lockers) and two pools (one inside, one outside), plus a sauna. The perfect way to take a break from the madness of the city.
4. Watergate Bay, Cornwall:
You are spoilt for choice down in Cornwall, but this beach is a particular favourite. At low tide it is possible to walk out for ages before you can truly swim — there is no unexpected shelf here. There are fewer surfers than at Newquay’s nearby Fistral Beach, plus lifeguards, and a restaurant to fuel up before or after your swim.
If you fancy an immersive swimming holiday, check out SwimTrek. It offers many options, from swimming the Isle of Skye and the small isles over seven days to swimming the River Thames over two. Or you can swim Snowdonia with Vivienne Rickman Poole. Choose from a creative swim day, or a mountain swimming weekend and get to grips with the cool, dark lakes surrounding Mount Snowdon.
Southern Spain is awash with beautiful beaches and fantastic sea.
5. La Barossa:
Located a 20-minute drive from Cádiz is perhaps our favourite. It has an exceptionally long stretch of white sand, turquoise-green clear waters, and positively balmy temperatures. If you fancy a colder dip, go in January and see in the Spanish new year with a swim.
THE PRACTICAL STUFF
If you are new to swimming, exercise caution and do not swim alone. If you head to the beach, choose one with lifeguards and if you are swimming out beyond the breakers (rather than just wallowing in the joyous surf), make sure you wear a colourful hat so boats, surfers, and others can see you in the water. Be mindful of currents and tides. Watch out for river currents too — if you are inexperienced, take someone who understands these with you. Lakes can be wonderful swimming spots, but beware of blue-green algae.