Swimming in a canal is a quintessential Amsterdam experience – anno 2020 you can even call it a necessity. But when I moved here many people I knew were too wary of doing it. Oh, it’s so dirty!; I can’t!; If you jump in there you’ll get the plague. The frowned faces expressed more disgust than any word. Global warming changed everything; one by one, the naysayers started jumping. Around two years ago, I realized that everybody was now taking pride in being oh-so-Dutch. Where did you say you swim, again?
Here’s the good news: Waternet, the company that manages local waters, vows for the quality of their aqua, and dubbs it perfectly safe for a dip. Even the Queen swims in it (ask Mr. Google for evidence). The second good news is that any canal is a potential pool. The charm of braving urban waters lies in finding ‘your spot’, this way you can escape the most crowded shores. My rules are avoiding the canal belt and areas with many house-boats; for the rest I get creative.
Last year, Amsterdammers were very much into posting insta-stories on improvised urban beaches with no geotag and the caption “my secret swimming spot” or “no, I won’t tell you where this place is.” Fear not. I am not here to conceal any information. In fact, I’m sharing a few favourites + a custom map with the precise coordinates, and I sincerely hope I’m not touching anyone’s well-kept secrets. If you’re feeling generous, you are more than welcome to share your places in the comment section, too. Happy swims!
1. East: Ijeiland (behind Azartplein)
It’s just a large grass field by a tall building overlooking the Ij-Haven, on winter days. During the summer, Azartpleinners turn it into a beach. The elevated pier at the right side provides excellent diving opportunities.
2. Further East: Blijburg
It may be a human-made island, but it has a real beach look and feel, with light brown sand, some vegetation, and even a cafe/restaurant of its own. Until construction works start for new apartment buildings in the area, the beach is all ours.
3. West: Erasmuspark
My neighborhood park is delightful for many reasons, one of them being its easy access to water. Locals like me jump to the Erasmusgracht from the bridge and sunbathe on the grass alongside the canal. This is not an official swimming spot; we reclaim it when the weather’s hot.
4. Further West: Sloterplas
As proper a beach as you can find in town. Located within an immense green park, the sandy beach opens wide to the lake. You can dive there, picnic under the trees, or treat yourself to a meal at the cafe / restaurant nearby.
5. South: Park Schinkeleilanden
You may have cycled past this gorgeous slice of nature on your way to the Amsterdamsebos. Sitting right beside the Olympic Stadium, the tiny island offers two boat piers reclaimed as diving boards and grass fields overlooking the picturesque canal houses on the opposite shore.
6. Further South: Amsterdamsebos or 7. Nieuwe Meer
If you’re fond of swimming in natural areas, you may prefer these spots. Spreading across 1000 hectares, the Amsterdam forest is an oasis of green where you can take a dip but also canoe, pet farm animals, eat & drink, among other things. There are no facilities at the Nieuwe Meer, but the area makes it up in wilder spots from where to access the water. All the more adventurous.
8. North: Pllek
The natives would say this place is “chill,” meaning it is cool. Objectively, this is a cafe + restaurant that serves organic meals, and hosts concerts & other cultural events. The cherry on top: there’s a gravel bathing area, from which you can swim on the largest canal in Amsterdam, the Ij.
9. Further North: Twiske
If you’re coming from Amsterdam, get your bike on the ferry behind Central Station (free ride) and head Northwest. You’ll cycle across picturesque villages before entering the protected area, at which river you can bathe. The scenario is idyllic and lush.
10. Amstel: Park Somerlust
For what it’s worth, Waternet’s headquarters are located just behind this green park. Like most urban beaches, the place can get crowded but the ample views over the iconic Amstel canal make up for it.
Do you want to add your favourite spot to the map? Feel free to share the location in the comments down below!