7 of the best winter swims worth getting cold for

Looking for a swim to get your pulse racing? Try these top winter spots.
By Susanne Masters

Think outdoor swimming is just for the summer? Think again. Winter swimming is gaining popularity and we’ve found the best swims from around the world.

However, before you jump in, beware. There are risks associated with swimming in cold water – and also with warming up when you're back on dry land. So start small and in the company of experienced winter swimmers. But as long as you're staying safe, go on and take the plunge…how cold can it be!

More: 8 wild swimming spots you want to jump into

1. The English Channel, Bournemouth, UK

Swimmers in the winter at Bournemouth beach, United Kingdom.
We don’t think the red legs are down to sunburn © Susanne Masters

Selling point: Miles of beach to swim out from

What to expect: Bournemouth, UK is turning into an outdoor swimming mecca. Local sea-swimming groups are found at several spots along the seven miles of sandy beach that stretches from Hengistbury Head to Sandbanks.

How cold? Well, we are talking about the English Channel here. Find some local swimmers accustomed to braving winter waves to help ease you in.

Sign me up: On Sundays at 11am from October to April members of Bournemouth Spartans Swimming Club meet for a dip.

2. Reykjavik, Iceland

Warm up with friends – Nauthólsvík beach and hot tub in Iceland.
Warm up with mates at Nauthólsvík beach © Susanne Masters

Selling point: Cool down – then warm up

What to expect: Iceland’s advantage for swimmers who just want a little icy dip is its abundance of geothermally heated water. If in Reykjavik, Nauthólsvík beach has a hot pool that is 38°C within a short sprint of the icy sea.

How cold? Winter swimming starts early in Iceland. Even in summer the sea might only get up to 11°C.

Sign me up: Winter opening hours for Nauthólsvík beach run from August 16 to May 14.

3. Jinan, China

Winter swimmers in Jinan, China.
They usually wear more clothes on the red carpet © Susanne Masters

Selling point: Feel like a celeb

What to expect: Jinan’s winter swimming festival delivers top-notch treatment to competitors. A red carpet to prevent swimmer’s bare feet from sticking to frozen ground is practical as well as adding a touch of celebrity. Then there are the thousands of spectators who come to cheer you on – or to mock.

How cold? Jinan is the "city of springs". There are more than 100 places where fresh spring water wells up through underlying rocks. This makes the temperature of Daming Lake a relatively warm 8°C, though freezing air temperatures ensure it is definitely winter swimming.

Sign me up: January 2016 Daming Lake, Jinan. Contact China Shandong Travel Service for details and assistance with travel arrangements and race entry.

4. Tyumen, Russia

The winter swimming championship in 2014 in Rovaniemi. Igor Lukin
The winter swimming championship in Rovaniemi '14 © Igor Lukin

Selling point: Cut through ice before you swim

What to expect: In March 2016, the Winter Swimming World Championship will be in Tyumen, Siberia. Organisers are expecting more than 500 Russian swimmers and about 700 international swimmers to compete. With an ice-pool for dipping, and competitive races from 25m to 450m, there are a range of options for anyone who can brave stripping down to a little bit of lycra in Siberian winds.

How cold? The swimming pool will be cut out of the ice that covers the Tura River. So quite cold. 

Sign me up: March 8-12 2016 Tyumen, Siberia, Russia. Contact the International Winter Swimming Association for more.

5. Cape Town, South Africa

A swimmer in the water at Camps Bay, Cape Town, South Africa.
Keep an eye out for sharks © Myles Axton

Selling point: Swim in a city with incredible views

What to expect: Of all the unheated pools around Cape Town, the best views are from the sea pool at Camps Bay. Big waves and sharks may be out in the untamed sea but within the walls of the pool, which is refreshed by high tides, only the odd little fish joins swimmers. Table Mountain looms in the background and the water is cold enough to warrant warming up at a La Belle Bistro and Bakery, a nearby cafe endowed with a fireplace and superb cakes.

How cold? Despite plenty of sunshine, the sea around Cape Town doesn’t get that hot in summer. Cape Town winter is June to August and this is when sea temperatures drop below 16°C. Even in summer they only get up to about 18°C.

Sign me up: Just hop in!

6. Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

A swimmer sits on ice at the Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina.
Don’t get stuck to the ice © Unir el Mundo

Selling point: Swim around glaciers

What to expect: August might be hot in Europe, but in the southern hemisphere winter swimmers will be getting together to race in South America’s icy tip. Sparsely populated Patagonia is a chilly and wild wonderland and home to Argentina’s winter swimming festival in 2016, designed to showcase the country’s landscape. One of the highlights will be racing with the Perito Moreno Glacier as a backdrop.

How cold? Spectacular icefalls from the glacier as it moves help to keep the water suitably cold at 0-2°C.

Sign me up: August 2016. Contact Swim Argentina Open water and winter club for more information.

7. Scheveningen, The Netherlands

People take part in the traditional New Year's day swim on January 1, 2010 at Lageveld Lake near Wierden.
An icy dip © Vincent Jannink/Getty Images

Selling point: Bring in the New Year in style

What to expect: This event sees participants get on their swimming trunks to run into the chilly North Sea, in Schevenigen, Netherlands. If you take part, you can expect to be joined by 10,000 others looking for an invigorating start to the New Year.

How cold? It's one of the coldest wild swimming events in the world, the water is near freezing.

Sign me up: Scheveningen is the most popular New Year swim, but it's possible at over 60 locations across the Netherlands.

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