Ten of Ireland’s best outdoor swimming spots

With the temperatures in our lakes and seas rising, there’s no better time to take the plunge

There is something very liberating about swimming in the great outdoors. Nothing quite compares with the feeling of plunging into the frigid waters of a lake or the sea. As the cold water envelops your body and adrenaline pumps through your veins, it makes you feel alive and yet deeply relaxed all at the same time. It is not hard to see why many daily sea swimmers across the country deem the activity totally addictive.

Those who are not so keen on the icy winter temperatures will be relieved to hear that the waters of our lakes and seas will rise as high as 16° or 17° this summer. So if you haven’t dipped your toe into the world of outdoor swimming, there is no better time to start.

In an effort to provide you with a little inspiration, we have rounded up 10 of our favourite swimming spots in Ireland.

1. The Forty Foot, Sandycove, Co Dublin

This swimming spot needs little introduction. Drawing crowds all year round, in hail rain or shine, the Forty Foot is somewhat of a Dublin institution. You will find people launching themselves from the rocks into the water from about 4.30am right up until about 11pm on summer evenings.


Located in Sandycove, south of the city, the swimming spot is easily reached by Dart, bus or even by bike.

2. Carrick-A-Rede, Causeway Coast, Co Antrim

The kilometre-long swim between Larrybane Bay and Carrick-a-Rede Island is one of the most dramatic swims in Ireland. You’ll be able to hear the screams and shouts of tourists overhead as they cross the famous rope bridge to the island as you make the bracing swim below. Due to the tidal currents, this one is reserved for more advanced swimmers.

If a kilometre sounds a little too extreme for you, then you can always enlist the help of Richard from Aquaholics (https://aquaholics.co.uk/). Running boat trips from Ballycastle right up to Ballintoy, he offers guests the opportunity to jump overboard and swim right under the famous bridge.

3. Pollock Holes, Kilkee, Co Clare

The Pollock Holes are popular with Kilkee locals and for good reason. This large network of tidal pools offer crystal clear waters in a breathtaking setting. Located a short stroll from Kilkee Beach, the pools aren’t immediately obvious, but due to their popularity you shouldn’t have too much trouble working out how to get down to them (if in doubt follow the crowds). The holes themselves should be visited within two hours of low tide so all that remains are the pools themselves.

4. Aughrus Pier, Connemara

Nestled in Claddaghduff in the heart of Connemara, Aughrus pier is a gem. With the option of easing yourself in gently from the beach or taking a run and jump into the clear waters of the Atlantic from the pier itself, the calm waters of Aughrus Bay are the perfect place to soak up the surrounding scenery. More often than not, you will also have the place to yourself, even on a warm summer’s evening.

5. Badger’s Cove, Dunmore East, Co Waterford

Dunmore East is a haven for sea-swimming enthusiasts. Offering a host of inviting bathing spots to choose from, including ladies’ and mens’ coves, we reckon Badger’s Cove is one of the best. Steep steps lead their way to a small sandy cove, which is backed by imposing cliffs and a cave. Adventurous souls can swim out of the cove, where an abundance of rocks, ranging in height, are begging to be jumped off.

6. Annagh Bay, Achill Island, Co Mayo

Tucked away, completely out of sight, Annagh Bay has to be one of the most breathtaking sea swimming spots in Ireland. Sitting adjacent to Ireland’s lowest corrie, with its white sand and turquoise waters, you’d be forgiven for thinking you have landed on a desert island. The only drawback is the fact that access is not the easiest. Annagh Bay is about a 1½-hour hike over the hill from Lough Acorrymore. But with the effort comes reward. And this spot really is something very special indeed.

7. Portacloy, Co Mayo

While the picture-perfect beach at Portacloy would be worthy of a place on this list, there is a swimming spot even more mind-blowing just a short distance up the coast. A short distance from the small harbour, which is adjacent to the beach, lies a waterfall that flows directly from the vibrant green headland into the turquoise waters below. You will have to traverse some rocks to get down to the water, but the scramble is well worth the effort.

8. Cummeenoughter Lake, Carrauntoohil, Co Kerry

At 707m above sea level, Cummeenoughter Lake on Carrauntoohil is Ireland’s highest lake. This means it’s probably one of Ireland’s coldest lakes too! However, you will soon forget about the cold as you take in your surroundings from the water. Surrounded by glorious mountains, there are few spots that can compare.

The route to the lake involves a scramble and the climb overall is a relatively tough one. Climb up through the ‘Step of the Goat’ and up to ‘Brother O’Shea’s Gully’ to get there.

9. The River Barrow, Co Carlow

As the second longest river in Ireland, there is an abundance of sheltered swimming spots along the Barrow. One of our favourites is the section between Graiguenamanagh and St Mullins. Take a scenic walk along the 8km Barrow Line South between the two villages and finish off with a bathe in the crisp waters. There’s even a diving board along the route.

10. Lough Ouler, Laragh, Co Wicklow

Lough Ouler is also known as Ireland’s heart-shaped lake. Located at the base of Tonelagee Mountain, it takes about 45 minutes to walk there from the road. But that’s all part of the adventure. Those looking for a longer hike can follow the well-worn path up Tonelagee which loops its way right around the lake. And what better way to cool off after than with a refreshing dip in the dark waters of this unique lake.

Heather Snelgar edits Outsider.ie, Ireland's outdoor and adventure website, www.outsider.ie