Whether it's in a pristine lake, a languid river or a wadi nestled in the desert, wild swimming is a fantastic way to experience a destination. It's good for your well-being, too, particularly cold-water swimming – which is worth bearing in mind as the Christmas Day tradition of taking a dip approaches! Inspire your next swim with our pick of some of the best outdoor swimming spots across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Leap into Lake Pulvermaar, Germany

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Lake Pulvermaar in Germany is unique in its origin, as it was formed around 20,000 years ago by a volcanic explosion (Photo: Getty Images) 

One of Germany's deepest lakes, Pulvermaar is the crater of an extinct volcano, a perfectly circular spot that makes for an enchanting wild swimming experience. Crystalline waters and the surrounding beech forest create a feeling of tranquility in nature, while the lakeside café offers swimmers the chance to warm up with a coffee and mesmerising views.

Located in the heart of Bonn, less than 90 minutes north of Lake Pulvermaar, the Bonn Marriott Hotel is set on the banks of the Rhine, with a spa, indoor pool and serene river views.

Hike to hidden Wadi Shab, Oman

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Wadi Shab in Oman is a breathtaking canyon oasis known for its emerald-green pools, hidden caves, and stunning waterfalls (Photo: Getty Images) 

A short trip south of Oman’s capital Muscat, you’ll find the vivid blue waters of Wadi Shab. Reaching the three pools set within a gorge involves a touch of adventure. It starts with a short boat ride from the car park, followed by a 45-minute canyon walk, but ends with the most charming reward for your efforts: a series of three warm pools, gleaming iridescent among the rocks.

Ideal as part of a day trip from Muscat, combine your outdoor swim with a stay at JW Marriott Muscat, an elegant hotel with its own wadi views, beautiful pools, a spa and five exquisite restaurants.

Jump into the beauty of Attersee, Austria

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Lake Attersee in Austria is not only the country's largest lake but also renowned for its exceptionally clear water, allowing visibility to depths of up to 26 meters (Photo: Getty Images) 

An alpine swimmer’s paradise, Attersee is the largest lake in Austria. The pristine turquoise water is surrounded by flower-flecked meadows and rugged mountain landscapes and is often so clean that its waters are drinking-level quality. Take your pick from the different lidos and bathing areas as you enjoy the favourite swimming destination of artists and musicians including Gustav Klimt and Gustav Mahler.

Attersee is just an hour’s drive from Salzburg, where you can stay at the 15th-century Hotel Goldener Hirsch, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Salzburg, offering country house style and old-school elegance in the heart of the city.

Swim by night at Gordon’s Bay, South Africa

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Gordon's Bay in South Africa is home to the "GB Reef," a popular diving and snorkelling site, where divers can explore an underwater world teeming with colourful marine life (Photo: Getty Images) 

Just off the coast of South Africa’s Western Cape, a magical display of shimmering light can set the sea aglow during the summer months. A bloom of bioluminescent plankton, which takes a red tinge by day, creates an ethereal blue sparkle by night, offering a surreal swimming experience. It's a phenomenon you can also find in nearby Bikini Beach, Dappat Se Gat and False Bay.

This harbour town lies less than an hour from Cape Town, where you can soak up city and Table Mountain views from the rooms and rooftop pool at Cape Town Marriott Hotel Crystal Towers.

Take a polar plunge at Voss, Norway

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Voss, Norway is not only a picturesque town surrounded by mountains and fjords but is also famous for hosting extreme sports events, including the annual "Ekstremsportveko" (Extreme Sports Week) (Photo: Getty Images) 

Endorphin-boosting cold-water swimming is credited with a slew of health benefits and Norway is a great place to enjoy an icy thrill. Surrounded by fjords, mountains and lush valleys, Voss is an adventurer’s dream. At Vangsvatnet lake, in the heart of the town, you can swim from the beach and ice water swimming in the shallow waters has become a popular winter pastime.

A high-speed train whisks you from Bergen to Voss in an hour for a day trip. Back in the colourful harbour city, stay at waterfront Moxy Bergen for quirky Scandinavian design and impeccable service.

Escape to Las Fuentes del Algar, Spain

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Las Fuentes del Algar, located near Callosa d'en Sarrià in Spain, is a stunning natural area known for its waterfalls, crystal-clear pools, and lush greenery (Photo: Getty Images) 

To the north-east of Alicante along the Algar River, Las Fuentes del Algar offers an alluring alternative to the beach. Water erosion has sculpted limestone rocks to form a natural water park of waterfalls, canals of peacock-blue waters and a series of seven pools, all fringed by a gentle walking trail.

You’ll find these limpid waters just a 45-minute drive from Denia Marriott La Sella Golf Resort & Spa, with its lush natural setting, just 10 minutes from the coast of southwestern Spain, and the region’s best golf course.

Chill at Helsinki's Allas Sea Pool, Finland

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Helsinki's Allas Sea Pool is a distinctive waterfront complex with floating heated pools, offering an extraordinary swim experience with panoramic views of the city skyline and Gulf of Finland (Photo: Getty Images) 

An oasis of relaxation in the heart of Helsinki, this popular complex sits on a floating deck in the city’s port and comprises five saunas and three pools. One is for children, the other is a toasty 27C, but locals generally head to the seawater pool for an invigorating dip in filtered Baltic Sea waters. Warm up in the sauna, on the Allas pool deck or at the sandy beach.

Just a 10-minute stroll away is Hotel U14, Autograph Collection, a boutique hotel with cosy contemporary interiors – all dark hues and splashes of red – and a typically Finnish focus on sustainability.

Swim like Cleopatra at Pamukkale, Türkiye

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Pamukkale, located in Turkey, is renowned for its dazzling white terraces of travertine, formed by mineral-rich thermal waters cascading down the mountainside (Photo: Getty Images) 

There are few sights as dazzling as the aquamarine waters and white rocks of Türkiye’s Pamukkale. The name translates as ‘cotton castle’ thanks to the calcium carbonate deposits of the hot springs that have coated the rocks. Bathe in these healing waters, beloved by the ancient Greeks and Romans, or head to Cleopatra’s Pool, supposedly a gift from Marc Antony, and still dotted with marble columns. 

Pamukkale is a three-hour drive from Bodrum and Le Méridien Bodrum Beach Resort, a sumptuous beachfront retreat offering panoramic Aegean views.

Soak at soothing Saturnia, Tuscany

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Saturnia, situated in Tuscany, Italy, is celebrated for its natural hot springs, including the iconic Cascate del Mulino, where warm sulfurous waters create a picturesque thermal waterfall (Photo: Getty Images) 

Just outside the Tuscan town of Saturnia, these thermal springs are one of Italy’s best-kept secrets. Cascading over several levels, the silky blue waters maintain a soothing 37.5C and the flow of water means they are refreshed every four hours. Soak in the different stone pools and enjoy the mineral-rich waters said to have been a gift from the gods.

A great stop-off on a Tuscan road trip, Saturnia lies just two-and-a-half hours from Rome, where Italian designers have transformed a 17th-century building to create stylish G-Rough Rome, a Member of Design Hotels

Dive into the London Royal Docks

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The Royal Docks in London, once the largest enclosed docks in the world, have undergone extensive regeneration, transforming into a vibrant waterfront area with modern developments, parks, and the ExCeL London exhibition centre (Photo: Getty Images) 

You can enjoy great outdoor swimming in the United Kingdom's cities as well. Join locals and take a dip in London's Royal Docks, surrounded by the Docklands’ futuristic skyline. Complete your cold-water induction, then dive into the rigorously tested, high-quality water. In the summer months there are cultural programmes here, and year-round you can enjoy a post-swim drink at the excellent Perky Blenders coffee shop.

Stay just nearby at Aloft London Excel, with its bold design and serene indoor pool, or head into central London to the Bankside Hotel, Autograph Collection, with its impressive art collection and uniquely designed rooms.

Published: December 12, 2023

Last Updated: February 22, 2024

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