When Europe is sweltering under the full heat of summer, there’s nothing like a cool swim to bring instant relief and refreshment.  But with concerns over water quality now very much in the public eye, it’s not always easy for travellers to know which swimming spots offer the cleanest and purest bathing waters. Wipe the sweat from your brow and get your towel ready, because this round-up of Europe’s best bathing beaches is here to put your mind, body (and stomach) at ease.

Why Water Quality Matters

Whether your chosen swimming spot is a sea, a river, or a lake, it’s worth checking that the water you’re about to enter is clean and safe.  In the UK especially, raw sewage and wastewater discharges — which can carry pathogens and chemicals — are an on-going issue of concern in many areas.  It’s also worth being aware that certain weather patterns can see a sudden increase in certain types of algae, with the blue-green variety being especially harmful to swimmers in inland waters.  

In England, bathing water is monitored regularly during the bathing season — which runs from May to September — and is classified as either ‘excellent’, ‘good’, ‘sufficient’, or ‘poor’. For more information on water quality specifics and classifications, England’s Swiminfo is a helpful tool while information on Northern IrishScottish, and Welsh waters are detailed separately.  As an alternative resource, charity Surfers Against Sewage offers a real-time map that enables bathers to track sewage discharge and pollution across the whole of the UK.  

Bathers in mainland Europe can be reassured that the continent’s waters are also frequently monitored and assessed for their quality.  According to the information published by the European Environment Agency, as of this month, the quality of bathing water remains high across the continent, with just over 85% of swimming spots currently meeting the EU’s standard of excellence.  In fact, just 1.5% of all of the EU’s monitored bathing sites received a water quality rating of ‘poor’.  For a comprehensive global resource for beaches, it’s also worth considering the stringent environmental criteria set out by the Blue Flag programme.  

Where to Enjoy a Safe, Clean Swim

Wherever you are in Europe this summer, you’re never that far away from a swimming spot.  But if you’re in the UK and searching for waters of unimpeachable quality, England’s southwest — especially the counties of Cornwall and Devon — are dotted with beaches large and small, from Porthcurno in the west to Plymouth’s Firestone Bay in the east.  In fact, bathers all around the coast of the United Kingdom — from Wales and the Wirral, up through Cumbria, Scotland, Northern Ireland and back down again to Yorkshire, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, and Sussex — would be hard-pressed not to find a great place for a dip in the sea.  But for those who prefer their waters fresh, the Cotswold Country Park and Beach — England’s largest inland beach — offers up pure waters, soft sands, and plenty of amenities.  While another freshwater option is Frensham Great Pond in Surrey, other locations recently awarded bathing status by the UK government include Sykes Lane Bathing Beach and Whitwell Creek at Rutland Water as well as a section of the River Deben estuary at Waldringfield, Suffolk.  A full list of current spots with bathing status is available to view here.

Mainland Europe is a veritable bather’s paradise, but the continent is, of course, a very big place.  For those looking to head straight for the top swimming spots this summer, it’s worth knowing that — according to the most recent data released by the EU — over 99% of bathing waters in Cyprus are of excellent quality, with Greece, Croatia, and Italy following very closely behind.  Away from the coasts, certain stretches of river are also highly commended, particularly Switzerland’s Limmat (top tip: those in Zurich can enjoy a city centre swim at the Oberer Letten Baths), the Lobau in Austria, and Greece’s Voidomatis River.  For a much deeper dive (pun intended) into the continent’s many swimming spots, this handy interactive map offers clarity and reassurance on the quality of local bathing waters across Europe.   

There’s nothing like a cool dip to relieve the heat of summer and now — with Europe’s purest bathing spots to choose from — you can swim at ease anywhere across the continent.