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15 December 2016

Where to go Winter Swimming: Top Spots Worldwide

If you’re one of those hardy souls willing to brave body-numbing waters, then winter swimming can be a thrilling, rewarding pursuit. If you decide to take the icy plunge, we’ve already covered what you should do to prepare yourself, but how about where to do it? Well, we’ve got you covered, and in this article we’ll take a look at some of the best winter swimming spots in the UK and across the world, from the very cold, through the terribly cold, right up to the near-cryogenic freezing cold.

Hampstead Ponds, London, UK

Img source: Tony Hall
For winter swimming without even leaving the city, head to Hampstead ponds. Open year round, and joinable for a small donation, the ponds are fitted out with warm showers (so much warmer after a dip in the pond), there are ducks swimming around, and even a lifeguard to keep an eye on you for all 10 seconds that you’re in the pool.

Lake Windermere, UK

Img source: Visit Lake Windermere
The Lake District is picturesque at all times of year, and the temperature of the lakes is pretty cold all times of year too. In the winter, however, water warmth (or lack of) sinks even lower, down to around 5-7°C.  Windermere is the largest natural lake in England, which means a vast expanse of that wintry water. You could just jump in of your own accord, but there is also an annual swimming event, the Big Chill Swim, that brings you together with fellow lunatics enthusiasts. There are three race versions, a 30m one that gets you a place in a sauna or hot tub to warm up, and 450m and 1km races for the serious winter swimmers.

The English Channel, UK

Img source: Immanuel Giel
Winter swimming in the English Channel is becoming more and more popular these days, and you’ve got a rather large stretch of coast to take your pick from. There are local sea-swimming groups all along the coast, so have a look for the ones in your area. If you’re visiting, maybe try Bournemouth and the surrounding shoreline, where there is a particularly large concentration of swimming clubs. Remember, this is the English Channel, and bloody cold would be the English expression that best describes the temperature. And just to be clear, we’re not suggesting you swim across the thing!

Kallbadhuset, Malmö, Sweden

Img source: Kallbadhuset
Those crazy Scandinavians do love a winter dip, but perhaps that’s informed by their long sauna tradition. Nothing beats the cosiness of warming up in a sauna after a winter swim, and many spots across Scandinavia are well equipped to do so. Kallbadhuset in Malmö, Sweden is an example of one such place. Located on Ribersborg beach, the bath house stretches into the Öresund Strait, with views of the bridge (made famous by the TV series) and local skyscraper the Turning Torso. Built in 1892, the baths let you take an ice cold swim then sauna in quick succession. Just remember to leave your swimwear at home, as it’s naked swimming only!


Img source: Iceland Magazine
A not too distant Scandinavian neighbour (well OK it’s quite far) to Sweden, Icelanders have long perfected the art of winter swimming. The best part about swimming in the icy Icelandic ocean is the multitude of natural geothermal baths that dot the coast. In Reykjavik, for example, Nauthólsvík beach has a hot pool at 38°C right next to the sea, so you can run over and warm back up almost immediately. You’ll need to, as the water here is around 0.4°C!

Tyumen, Russia

Img source: Siberian Times
If you’re a real winter swimming pro, and you’ve cut your teeth in all of the spots we mentioned before, then we’ve got the ultimate challenge for you. Enter the Winter Swimming World Championships in Tyumen, Siberia. We’re talking some seriously glacial water here, as the organisers have to saw a giant hole in the ice to create the pool for the event. Not for the faint of heart! This is pretty much the peak of winter swimming, with over 1000 participants lining up to plow through the Siberian ice bucket.

Patagonia, Argentina

Img source: Hindustan Times
If you’re looking to get your winter swimming fix, even in the middle of European summer, then you have to head even further afield. Somewhere as far as Argentina, perhaps. If you are thinking about doing so, then you’re probably a serious winter swimming aficionado, which is ideal as Argentina holds a winter swimming festival that involves racing in August, set to the backdrop of the country’s many glaciers. These glaciers act like giant ice cubes, keeping the water at a temperature of close to zero. Just watch out for icefalls!

Jinan, China

Img source: IWSA
Finally, if you want to head someone even more far-flung, from a Western perspective, then how about heading to China? Jinan is the capital of Shandong province in Eastern China, often known as the “Spring City” for its 72 renowned artesian springs. The majority of the springs are located in the city’s downtown district, and you might think they sound quite appealing for a warm winter swim. The problem is that, though these are natural springs, they’re not hot springs, so in winter they get rather chilly. The city makes an event out of this though, rolling out the red carpet for those brave enough to jump in. Literally. Competitors enter the springs from a red carpet in front of a cheering crowd. Probably just cheering to be sat there in their coats and not about to jump into a pool of icy water. Still, a rare winter swim for the red carpet connoisseur.

So there we have it, a whole host of different places for you to get absolutely frozen, whether it’s just dipping in your toes or going for a 1km race. Maybe if you swim fast enough you won’t feel the cold! Maybe.

Sam Franklin

With a master’s in Literature, Sam inhales books and anything readable, spending his working hours reformulating the info he gathers into digestible articles. When not reading or writing, he likes to put his camera to work around the world, snapping street photography from Stockholm to Tokyo. Too much of this time spent in Japan teaching English has nurtured a weakness for sashimi, Japanese whisky, and robot cafés.