Sea swimming has always been a popular summer pastime in Ireland, but over the past few years, and especially since the lockdowns of 2020, there’s been a dramatic increase in people taking to the open water…. not just in the summer, but all year round.
And you can understand why. Sea swimming is a fantastic way to keep fit while enjoying the outdoors. As well as that, almost anyone that swims regularly in chilly water will tell you that each dip is like pressing a reset button for the mind and an opportunity for total escape from a busy life. For many, it becomes an essential part caring for their mental health.
While the seas around our island might be a little cooler (ok, a lot cooler!) than those of the Caribbean or the Gold Coast, the scenery and surrounding attractions stand up to any place in the world. Whether you’re looking for good open water swimming locations near Dublin or anywhere else around the Irish coastline, we’re here to guide you to your destination.
Sea Swimming in Dublin and Surrounding Areas
One of the great things about living in the Dublin area is that you don’t need to travel far to connect with your inner mermaid or merman!
Here are a few of the best spots for sea swimming that are within easy reach of the capital.
The Forty Foot, Sandycove
While it used to be a male-only, nude bathing area, the Forty Foot is now one of the most well-loved sea swimming locations in Dublin for people of all genders (bathing suits are now required). Located in Sandycove at the southernmost tip of Dublin Bay, it offers cliff diving for those brave enough to try it and helpful handrails for getting in and out of the water. You’ll also be swimming in the shadow of the Martello Tower, a defensive outpost designed to repel a Napoleonic invasion and is described in James Joyce’s Ulysses. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants nearby where you can pick up a warm drink and a delicious meal after your swim.
On the other side of Dublin Bay you’ll find fantastic open water swimming and plenty of other fun things to do on Bull Island. The water here is shallow, making it an ideal place for beginners or more nervous swimmers. For adrenaline junkies, it’s also a popular spot for water sports such as kitesurfing and windsurfing. After your swim, grab a cup of coffee or tea and take a walk down the miles of beautiful beach front or stroll around St. Anne’s Park, where you’ll find a garden house cafe, a dog park and even a lovely little farmer’s market on Saturdays.
Other Sea Swimming spots near Dublin
Portmarnock Beach, affectionately known as “The Velvet Strand”, is an idyllic Blue Flag Beach. It’s just half an hour North of the city on the DART and offers great open water swimming for both beginners and veterans. On a clear day, you’ll get lovely views of the Dublin Mountains and Howth Harbour. Be sure to check out nearby High Rock, a great place for cliff jumping when the tide permits.
The Vico Baths in Dalkey, another fine spot close to Dublin City, is also accessible by DART (about 30 minutes from Dublin City Centre). To reach the baths themselves, you’ll need to follow a series of steps that can be a little difficult to find the first time around (just follow the other bathers!). You can use the ladder to enter the sea or splash around in the seawater pool. This stretch of coastline is also well-known for the dolphins, seals, and porpoises that are frequently spotted in the area.
Even closer to Dublin and just 15 minutes away on the southbound DART line is the popular beach of Seapoint. As well as a popular and safe swimming location, it’s also well known for its bird life and has plenty of rock pools for kids to explore.
Best Open Water Swimming Ireland
Many sea swimmers find a spot they like and stick to it, sometimes every day for years. But for others, variety is the spice of life. Once you’ve explored all your local sea swimming spots and sufficiently cultivated your new obsession, there is an entire coastline packed with beautiful locations to explore and swim. Here are some fantastic spots dotted around the rest of the country, just waiting for you to dive in.
Carrick-a-Rede, Co. Antrim
There is a kilometre long stretch of sea between Larrybane Bay and Carrick-a-Rede Island that offers some of the most dramatic views from the ocean in all of Ireland. If you’re looking to take in spectacular scenery while enjoying the benefits of sea swimming, this spot is hard to beat. Beginners beware: This is considered an advanced swim due to the rocky terrain and tidal currents at play.
Aughrus Pier, Connemara, Co. Galway
This hidden gem is located in the beautiful area of Claddaghduff, just an hour and a half drive from Galway. If the crystal waters of the Atlantic and breathtaking scenery aren’t enough to convince you to make the trip, consider the fact that most days, you’ll have this spot all to yourself. The tranquil waters of Aughrus Bay mean this spot is perfect for beginners, although seasoned swimmers also have more than enough room to challenge themselves as well.
Portacloy, Co Mayo
A short drive away from the picturesque Portacloy beach, a great place to swim in its own right, you’ll find one of the prettiest swimming spots in all of Ireland. Head towards the small harbour and look out for the signposts for a walking route. Beyond them you’ll encounter a gently flowing waterfall that slides from the lush green landscape into the shimmering blue seas below. You can stay in the protected zone below the waterfall or swim down the steep walled passage out towards the open sea.
Badger’s Cove, Dunmore East, Co Waterford
The shores around Dunmore East have plenty of sea swimming locations to whet the appetite, but Badger’s Cove may just be the best of the lot. As with all the coves near the village, it’s easily accessible from the main road. Below a steep set of stairs you’ll find a gorgeous sandy cove surrounded by cliffs. You can either stick to the calm waters of the cove or head out to sea for a more challenging experience.
Safety Tips For Open Water Swimming
While open water swimming provides undoubted physical and mental benefits, it’s imperative that we all respect the sea and only enter the water with safety as our top priority. Here are our top tips for staying safe while you explore Ireland’s incredible sea swimming locations:
Don’t swim alone
As recommended by Irish Water Safety, don’t go swimming by yourself in the open sea. This is especially true during winter when conditions are tougher. Go with a friend or, if yours all think you’re crazy, join a group.
Get the right gear
A wetsuit will help to keep you warm, particularly in winter and especially if you’re not a seasoned swimmer. You might also want to consider neoprene gloves and socks or booties that protect your extremities. Ear plugs are also a popular choice among open water swimmers as they lower the chances of getting ear infections.
Stay within your limits
There are no prizes for overdoing it and getting yourself into trouble. Don’t attempt swims in poor conditions and build up slowly to longer distances. Always check the weather forecast before heading out.
Always wear a bright coloured swimming cap so that your buddies, boaters and even potentially rescuers can see you more easily.
Always take a tow float
This is a kind of buoy or buoyancy device that attaches to your body with a line. It’s used for resting, emergency flotation and to make you more visible.
Start in summer
There is nothing wrong with swimming through the winter, in fact many experienced swimmers prefer it. That said, it’s a tough time to start sea swimming for the first time as your body needs time to acclimate to long periods in cold water and conditions are more demanding than in the summer
For more on our favourite locations for outdoor activities check out:
Ireland’s Best Mountain Bike Trails
Ireland’s Best Wild Camping Spots
Ireland’s Best Places for Dog Walking
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