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Iceland's oldest swimming pool
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15 of the most spectacular places to swim in the world

Wild wading is having a moment, and these are the most spectacular places on the planet for a spot of swimming

John Bills
Edited by
John Bills
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Is that you, summer? We don’t want to jump the gun, but sunny days are right around the corner, and summer means swimming. Dust off the bathing suit or hit the shops to pick up a new piece because we’re about to dive headfirst into the waters. Unless diving is forbidden, of course, in which case we’ll approach and enter the water safely and responsibly.

Just kidding! If you’d rather swim in the wild, the best places are a fascinating collection of rivers, lakes, pools, and sinkholes. These are perfect for paddling and pretty good for the body and mind. Wild swimming is having a moment, and these gorgeous spots combine natural beauty with the benefits of a length or three. 

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Best places to swim in the world

1. Calanques National Park, France

These rocky cliffs between Marseille and Cassis aren’t the easiest to get to, but the swim that awaits is worth every bead of sweat lost on the hike. Les Calanques is known as the natural wonder of Provence for good reason, and the two ocean inlets (Calanque de Port Pin and Calanque d’En Vau) within are just about as idyllic as it gets. Go in the morning to make the most of it because these secluded spots get busy in summer. 

2. Red Beach, Greece

Beaches aren’t supposed to be red, but the beauty of this one in Santorini might have swimmers wishing that more of them were. The red in question comes from iron oxidisation, giving this stunning volcanic landscape an otherworldly hue best enjoyed from the temperate turquoise waters stretching out in front.

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3. Devil’s Pool, Victoria Falls, Zambia

It might not have the most inviting name, but you’re more likely to find angels than demons at this stunning spot on Victoria Falls. Only accessible via a tour from Livingstone Island, Devil’s Pool is a gorgeous natural pool that sits on the very edge of the abyss. The whole endeavour is completely safe, provided you don’t go out of your way to court disaster. The pool is open from August to January, depending on the levels of the Zambezi River. 

4. Heaven Lake, China

A trip to the local swimming pool, this ain’t. Heaven Lake is a vast crater lake on the border between China and North Korea, some 2,189m into the sky. That means the lake is iced over during the winter and isn’t exactly the warmest swim in summer, but the views are well worth the chill. It isn’t every day you get to swim near the North Korean border, too.

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5. Crystal River, USA

The manatee capital of the world! They’re awesome beasts, and swimming with them is a genuine privilege. Crystal River in Florida is the only place on the planet where you get that privilege, so get yourself booked on a swimming tour and spend some time up close with the humble sea cow. You’ll have to hit the water early for this one – you’re on the manatee’s clock. 

6. Dalebrook Tidal Pool, South Africa

Less than an hour from Cape Town, Dalebrook Tidal Pool is a swimming nirvana. One of the most beautiful pools on the planet, this stunner is found between St James and Kalk Bay and has gained a reputation for being one of the best sunrise spots in a region full of them. Set that alarm and hit up Dalebrook Tidal Pool first thing for something special. You can even make a pretty convincing mermaid (or merman) impression on the large boulders in the pool if you’re into that sort of thing.

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7. Akigawa River, Japan

West of Tokyo is the Akigawa Valley, pierced by the river of the same name, where many locals head to cool off during the stiflingly hot summer months. The chaotic bustle of the capital feels like a world away from this spot (an hour or so by train, in reality), and the views from the Ishibune-Bashi Bridge are a delight. The whole thing gives off quaint wooden village vibes, accentuated by plenty of BBQs and hiking options. In a word? Idyllic.

8. Seljavallalaug, Iceland

One of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland, Seljavallalaug is much easier to enjoy than pronounce. It was built in 1923, and despite its tiny size, it was actually the largest pool in the country for a while. The pool is accessed via a moderately simple half-hour hike and is gorgeously quaint, backed by lush undulations and a seemingly ubiquitous mist. Stunning.

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9. Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica

What a gorgeous name. Swimming in the Cloud Forest is just part of the adventure in the Bajos del Toro region, which is accentuated by gorgeous hikes and a typically Costa Rican coffee experience, along with zip lines for the adrenaline-hungry. The biodiversity in Monteverde is incredible, and swimming by a beautiful waterfall will never, ever get old.

10. Bimmah Sinkhole, Oman

According to legend, the Bimmah Sinkhole in Oman was created by a meteorite (the Arabic name translates loosely as ‘deep well of the falling star’), and we aren’t about to debate that. Bimmah is a gorgeously clear cerulean lake, and swimming is allowed in the sinkhole, provided you dress modestly and adhere to the rules. The sinkhole is 130km (or so) from Muscat, just off the main highway to Sur. 

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