Wild swimming in the Netherlands and why you should dive in

When I was housesitting in Amsterdam’s IJBurg neighbourhood, I started wild swimming. The house was located right next to the IJmeer (lake) and so it was easy to convince myself to jump in the icy water when I need only run 20 seconds back to a steaming bath. 

Wild swimming is exactly that; swimming in natural bodies of water and getting close to nature. I was surprised how addicting it became, despite not describing myself as a water person. Upon googling the term, it quickly became apparent how many others love it.

Wild swimming’s profound healing effects

Wild swimmers love the spontaneity and invigoration of plunging into an icy body of water and there are many testimonies which advocate for the healing effects of wild swimming.

Sara Barnes says floating in cool water helped relieve her mental despair and physical agony after a surgery which left her wheelchair bound for six weeks and on crutches for a further eight weeks. She describes how soul-destroying having limited movement was and how a friend encouraged her to take up wild swimming. She recounts to The Guardian:

“That first time I got into the water, I just floated and looked at the mountains and the sky…it was euphoric really.”

Despite this testimony and many others, there isn’t enough scientific evidence of cold-water swimming to support claims such as Barnes’. Nonetheless, the correlation between healthy people and time spent in nature and the psychological benefits of getting outside cannot be refuted. Whether that be time spent in the woods or merely passively sitting in the forest. 

The water’s freezing, but dive on it! Image: Todd Quackenbush/Unsplash

Ready to take the plunge?

We hope you’re somewhat convinced! Practically, all you need is yourself and a swimsuit. Admittedly, the colder it gets, the more likely you’ll want to wear a wetsuit (and you’ll be able to spend a little longer in the water than one nanosecond) but you can judge that for yourself.

So where can you find somewhere to swim? The canal that your house backs on to? Or do you have to traipse to the coast of the Netherlands? Not necessarily. We’ve scoured the country and found some epic spots for wild swimming in the Netherlands.

Scheveningen Beach

Located near: The Hague

Wild swimming is already somewhat of a trend here as hundreds of Dutchies partake in a ‘Nieuwjaarsduik’ (which literally translates to New Year’s dive). The beach is easily accessible from The Hague (a 10-minute train ride) and during winter you’ll undoubtedly have the stretch of the beach to yourself.

New Year’s Day swim at the beach. Image: Alexander Fritze/Flickr/CC2.0

Valkenburg Meer

Located near: Leiden

A small but easily accessible lake roughly 15 minutes cycle from central Leiden. Equipped with a lakeside cafe, this is a great option for wild swimming as you can head to the warmth of the indoors immediately after.

Loosdrechtse Plassen

Located near: Utrecht

A little out of the way if you live in Utrecht but still a great swimming spot. The best place to access the water is from De Strook, where boats dock. There is no sandy beach so you’ll just have to jump off the dock and climb out.

IJmeer

Located near: Amsterdam

It can be tricky to take find a spot to jump in here as the riverside bank is covered in rocks. I’d recommend jumping off the jetty located on Wim Noordhoekkade at the very end of the IJBurg neighbourhood. You can use the ladder to ease into the water or just jump directly off the jetty. Alternatively, you can venture to the Strand Blijburg as it is a sandy area and you can wade in to the water slowly.

Swimming in Amsterdam
Jetties at the end of Noordhoekkade in IJBurg. Granted it looks pretty miserable but remember all those healing effects? Image: Freya Sawbridge/Supplied

Sloterplas

Located near: Amsterdam

A large park surrounds this lake which makes the setting beautiful. Warm up before your swim by cycling a few laps around the water! Check out these other urban beaches for a swim in Amsterdam.

swimming near amsterdam
Boats frequent Sloterplaas which make the setting idyllic. Image: Matthew Pennell/Flickr

Veluwemeer

Located near: Harderwijk

A narrow lake that borders the provinces of Flevoland and Gelderland. The depth of this manmade lake is rather shallow, averaging 1.55 metres.

Veluwemeer. Image: Gouwaar/Wikimedia/CC1.0

Kralingse Plas

Located near: Rotterdam

photo-of-the-kralingse-plas-walk-in-rottedam
The view over the Kralingse Plas. Image: Micheile Henderson/Unsplash

A mix of both park and beach (although you’re not exactly going to settle in for a picnic during the depths of winter). But there are toilets and restaurants nearby so you can dash for a hot chocolate afterwards.

De Heijplaat

Located near: Rotterdam

This little beach is located in Heijplaat, which is a little village located within the port of the Rotterdam. If you head down the little “secret” path, alongside the houses, you’ll find yourself on this quiet beach. You can take a dip while watching the ships pass by between the ports.

READ MORE | 6 Lakes and Beaches in Rotterdam that you must explore this summer

What about swimming in the canals?

In summer, I swam a couple of times in the canals in Leiden as there are many parks with grassy banks that lead to a canal. But what about swimming in the canals in Amsterdam? Well, I’ve done that too.

Skeptical? Fair enough so here is what you should know. Waterways in Amsterdam used to be treated as a sewer back in the 19th century and although this stopped, the canals remained polluted well into the 20th century, even after rubbish collection services and sewers were introduced. The cleanliness has improved over time but it’s nowhere near perfect and a lot of people wouldn’t choose to swim in them. Nonetheless, there is annual Amsterdam City Swim, a charity swimming event in Amsterdam’s waterways.

READ MORE | Best beaches in the Netherlands: the ultimate guide to Dutch beaches

Understandably it can take a bit of convincing to leave your warm abode and trek to a nearby body of water and throw yourself into the cold water. In the middle of a freezing Dutch winter. But hey, it only has to be for a couple of seconds and isn’t it nice to feel reinvigorated and like you’ve done something challenging with your day?

Have you tried wild swimming in the Netherlands? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature Image: Šárka Jonášova/Unsplash

Freya Sawbridge
Freya was born in Edinburgh but raised in New Zealand (cue every person she meets saying “oh I have always wanted to go there but it’s so far away!”). A restless and curious nature has led her to move countries 5 times in the last 3 years in attempt to find a place she can call home. She contacted DutchReview on a whim and arrived in the Netherlands in summer 2019 to start her internship.

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