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Pools Are Boring–Take on These 12 Open Water Swims

Try to keep your head above water!

In recent years, outdoor swimming has exploded in popularity. Now, you can swim in spectacular locations across the world, conquering lochs, lakes, rivers, and even oceans. But if you’re a beginner, it can be difficult to know how to join in. Our solution? Combine your holiday with one of these 12 organized swims that are perfect for newbies … just watch out for sharks.

PHOTO: Marseille Tourisme
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Monte Cristo Challenge

WHERE: Marseille, France

Distance: 0.6 miles

In the novel The Count of Monte Cristo, hero Edmond Dantes enacts a daring escape from Château d’If in the Bay of Marseille by swimming to a nearby island. Each year, the fictional event is honored by thousands of swimmers in the Monte Cristo Challenge. The swims range from a 5–kilometre crossing, starting at the infamous prison and finishing at Roucas Blanc beach, to a one–kilometer event for beginners that takes place in the bay. A pop-up village is created during the weekend, with food, dancing, and a sunset beach party that rocks into the night. Soak up the atmosphere on the beach, or explore the cobbled streets of the charismatic city.

PHOTO: BobTeddy Images
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Henley Mile

WHERE: Henley–on–Thames, England

Distance: 1 mile

A perfect introduction to outdoor swimming, the Henley Mile is a peaceful meander down the River Thames along the course of the Henley Royal Regatta. You can race against the clock or take your time and enjoy the leafy surroundings of Temple Island Meadows. The Henley Mile is an inclusive experience for swimmers of all abilities. Henley is an ideal base for exploring the River Thames, so when you’re done swimming, you can walk or cycle the Thames Path or sail down the river on a steamboat.

INSIDER TIPContact the swim organizers for riverside glamping in the Meadows.

PHOTO: Michael Vienø
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TrygFonden Copenhagen

WHERE: Copenhagen, Denmark

Distance: 1.2 miles

Fancy getting a unique perspective on Copenhagen’s historic center? Once a year, residents are witness to a remarkable event: a swimming expedition through the city’s canals. Starting at the Royal Danish Library (known as The Black Diamond), you’ll swim in a square around the Danish parliament buildings, passing through an 80-metre tunnel and along the Frederiksholm Canal before finishing back outside the iconic library. There is no time or age limit–this year, the oldest swimmer was 82. Spectators can follow along on foot. When you’re done, you can tuck into some Danish cuisine, included in the ticket price.

INSIDER TIPDon’t worry about pollution; there are no health risks to swimming in the canals–some Danes even grow oysters in them.

PHOTO: Jonna Andersson, Jons Jonna Photo
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The Vansbro Swim

WHERE: Vansbro, Sweden

Distance: 0.6 miles

The Vansbro Swim is an adventure down the Vanan River in Central Sweden, around four hours from Stockholm. A historic river swim that first took place in 1956, it is now Sweden’s largest outdoor swimming event. There are routes to suit all abilities, and with no time limit, you can relax and enjoy gliding past fir tree forests in sparkling clean water. If you’re not up to the one–kilometer swim, you can do the Vattenprovet, a 200-metre taster event designed for complete beginners. Then, you can explore Dalarna’s local farms, many of which have cafes, bakeries, and shops attached.

INSIDER TIPIt’s chilly! You’ll definitely need a wetsuit for this swim.

PHOTO: Kristopher Kodweis
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Finger Lakes Open Water Swim Festival

WHERE: Finger Lakes Region, New York

Distance: 1 mile

Sure you can hike and drink wine to your heart’s content at the Finger Lakes, But did you know you can also swim? Finger Lakes Open Water Swimming Festival is the second event organized by ex-Channel swimmer Bridgette Hobart Janeczko, who also created Swim Lake Hopatcong. There are 10, five, two, and one-mile swims during the weekend. With scenery, charm, a local vibe, and of course, great wine, it’s the perfect recipe for happiness.

INSIDER TIPYou can swim in nine of the 11 ancient lakes making up the Finger Lakes; two are out of bounds because they are a source of drinking water.

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River Lee Swim

WHERE: Cork, Ireland

Distance:  1.2 miles

How many of us can say we have swum through a city? The Lee Swim first took place in 1914 and today it’s a popular community event, open to swimmers of all ages and abilities. You’ll swim down the romantic River Lee, cheered on by spectators gathered on the bridges above you. After the swim, visitors can tour Cork’s excellent pubs and foodie locations.


PHOTO: Dan Wyre
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Aberdovey Swim

WHERE: Aberdovey, Wales

Distance: 0.9 miles

With colorful Georgian houses and a pristine sandy beach, Aberdovey is a quintessential Welsh village. Located on the estuary of the River Dyfi, Aberdovey Swim is a day of swimming in the estuary designed for all abilities. The classic 1.5–kilometre swim takes you along the estuary past the picturesque village and back. Swimmers can take their time, and there is open water coaching available for those lacking in confidence. When you’re not floating along admiring the sheer gorgeousness of the Cambrian coast, the area has beautiful waterfalls, castles, and lakes to explore.

INSIDER TIPFor a post-swim treat, Angela’s ice–cream shop sells homemade ice–cream.

PHOTO: TravelQuintessence
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WHERE: Colònia Sant Jordi, Mallorca

BEST FEST is a week-long outdoor swimming festival in Colonia Sant Jordi, Mallorca’s loveliest beach resort. Organised by the BEST Swimming Centre, this kid-friendly festival is ideal if your offspring is a budding Channel swimmer. There are a variety of swims in the crystal-clear water, as well as workshops and clinics to improve technique, with professionals on hand to give advice. After, enjoy an excursion to the Cabrera Nature Reserve, or lounge on one of Mallorca’s top beaches, Es Trenc.

PHOTO: Flowers Sea Swim
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Flowers Sea Swim

WHERE: Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

Distance: 1 mile

The Flowers Sea Swim first took place 25 years ago as a way of generating interest in open water swimming. Today, it offers the opportunity for beginners to join in a swim alongside professional athletes. Set along the ‘Seven Mile Beach’ there are one, five, and 10-mile courses. Geared towards swimmers of all abilities and ages, there are plenty of buoys in the water, food trucks, and a shuttle service for your belongings. With a gorgeous white coral sand beach and the water temperature in the mid–80s, you may struggle to actually swim in this event, instead of merely floating about, dreaming of your next rum punch cocktail.

PHOTO: Steve Simonsen
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St Croix Coral Reef Swim

WHERE: St Croix, US Virgin Islands

Distance: 1 mile

The St Croix swim has attracted top open water athletes and holidaymakers alike for 21 years. The calm waters of the Caribbean Sea make this an ideal event for first-timers. With perfect white sand beaches, exotic sea life and pristine warm water, it’s a world away from the grueling cold water swims of the Northern hemisphere. Expect a fun festival atmosphere, with a steel band, crab racing, and SUP and snorkeling lessons. Money from the event funds island conservation projects. For a magical experience, you can explore the nearby bioluminescent bay by kayak. It is one of only seven left in the world and currently threatened by development.

INSIDER TIPLook out for dolphins, turtles, and stingrays during your swim.


PHOTO: Matteo Oltrabella
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Swim the Island

WHERE: Bergeggi, Italy

Distance: 1.1 miles

Swim the Island is a series of thrilling swims from the Ligurian village of Bergeggi out to a small island of the same name. The coastline, with its grottos and caves, is a marine protected area and forms a dramatic backdrop for the event, which attracts thousands of swimmers each year. There are races and longer swims for experienced swimmers throughout the weekend. Located in the heart of medieval Italy, there are many ancient towns and fishing villages you can explore when you’re not swimming and the countryside is dotted with farmstays and guesthouses.


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The Great Fjord Swim

WHERE: Killary Fjord, Ireland

Distance: 0.5 miles

To splash around amidst truly breathtaking scenery, try the Great Fjord Swim in West Ireland. With the dramatic Maumturk mountains in the background, you can participate in a half-mile swim, or a longer event if you’re a weirdo who is totally immune to cold.  Swimming in a fjord means there are no strong sea currents to contend with, making it a good option for novices. This swim is timed, meaning you will have to finish within a given time limit. The Fjord is more than 45 meters deep, so expect the water to be glacial. The Delphi Adventure Resort has a thermal spa, which you will definitely want to be in after this swim.

INSIDER TIPSeek out the onsite food truck for smoked salmon sarnies, local mussels, coffee, and cakes.

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