Amsterdam is a city of water and there are many places to go outdoor swimming. So where to swim? There are six outdoor swimming pools in Amsterdam. There are also lakes and rivers to go swimming in open water: the IJ, the Amstel river and Ijburg, and freshwater lakes Sloterplas, De Nieuwe Meer and Gaasperplas. And you can even jump into the water in the center of the city at Oosterdok and in the Amstel river.
Open water swimming in Amsterdam: Sloterplas
Sloterplas is one of the best place to go swimming in Amsterdam. Sloterplas is a large recreational lake in Amsterdam West. On the Northside of the freshwater lake, there is a sandy beach (see large photo above the article). The bar and restaurant Hotel Buiten offers food and drinks on warm days on its terrace.
On the western shore of the Amsterdam Sloterplas you can go open water swimming and lie in the soft green grass afterward. The city council has placed special stairs to get in and out of the water. A watersports center rents out canoes, sailing boats, SUP and more.
Sloterplas is a 20-30 minutes bike ride from the center of Amsterdam. Take tram 7.
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Westerpark paddling pool
At Westergasfabriek, past the Westerpark, there is a large green field that fills up with barbecues and get to get-togethers of Amsterdam’s inhabitants in summer.
!!! There is no water in the paddling pool at Westerpark in 2020 because of Coronavirus restrictions!!!)
There is also a large paddling pool for children. If you want more peace, walk up the pool, place yourself along the water and dip your feet in while you read a book. Best way to spend a summer’s day in Amsterdam.
Oosterdok is the body of water just east of Central Station. This is the old ‘inner harbour, and who knew: you can swim in here! Between the NEMO museum (the green ship-like building see photo) and the Maritime Museum lies the ‘Marineterrein‘. A few years ago this area opened to the public.
The harbour is not an official swimming location. But there are many swimmers already. In order to become an official swimming spot, the area’s water quality will measured for two years and score consistently well during this time.
To get here, follow the main road from Central Station to the Maritime Museum and walk around it. You will find a large wall with a gate to enter.
Swimming at De Nieuwe Meer
De Nieuwe meer is a large lake in the middle of the Amsterdamse Bos. It’s popular for fishing and yachting. Find the bike road that circles around the lake and you will find many spots to jump in the water. Near the southwest end, there is also a small sandy beach and a place to drink and eat.
On weekends, you can enjoy a nice boat ride at the lake for a few euros by taking the small ferry. It sails right across the Nieuwe Meer to the Amsterdamse Bos (forest). Here, you can enjoy a pancake restaurant
The Nieuwe Meer is also a popular cruising area for gays and there are highland cattle walking around freely. Don’t worry, there is nothing to fear from either. Just keep your distance!
Outdoor swimming at Amsterdamse Bos
The Amsterdamse Bos is a large woodland park (we call this a ‘forest’). It’s the largest recreational area in Amsterdam. It’s three times bigger than Central Park in NY and excellent for long walks and runs.
The Big Pond (Grote Vijver) at the Amsterdam Forest is perfect for swimming, especially for children. There are showers, toilets, and a café. You can also rent canoes and water paddle bikes. When the sun sets, get out of there because mosquitoes take over.
At Amsterdamse Bos there is a lot more to do than just swimming. There are exciting paths that run above the water. You find these ‘speeleilanden’ near the open air theatre (Openluchttheater).
Swimming in the IJ-water
The IJ is the large body of water directly behind Central Station. Although it is a busy shipping area, the water of the IJ is fairly clean. You can take the ferry to NDSM and go swimming at the Amsterdam city beach of Pllek. Or take you bike on the ferry to Amsterdam Noord and explore the route along the IJ -water.
When you bike east from Central Station you will see different islands (Java-island, KNSM-island and Zeeburg) where on warm days, people are swimming. Kids jump off bridges, though this is dangerous. Always be careful with passing ships and shower after swimming. Check your body for bugs!
Swimming, SUP and surfing at IJburg
IJburg is a suburb in the east of Amsterdam, easily reached by tram 26. It consists of 6 artificial islands, constructed for housing. In winter it can be windy and feel desolate, but in summer, when it’s hot, everyone wants to live on IJburg. The reasons are its beaches and many places to swim in open water.
In 2020 the beach and beach bars are open. There is also supervision for the beach and water. Though due to Corona the beach will be monitored. When there are too many people, probably it will be closed.
More swimming in Amsterdam
The Amstel river is not an official place to go swimming and therefore perfect for wild swimming in Amsterdam! Just follow the river from the inner city and after about half an hour you are out of the city and you can jump into the cool water.
SUP has become a popular alternative for swiming. There are SUP centers where you can rent the board and wet suit.
Another popular spot is de Schinkel, the quiet water behind Olympic Stadium. Neighbourhood kids have discovered the area to be perfect for swimming.
Can you swim in the canals in Amsterdam?
Yes, you can swim in the Amsterdam canals. The Amsterdam canals used to be an open sewer, but that was a long time ago. Nowadays, the water is so clean, that every year there is a swim in the Amsterdam canals organized for a good cause: the fight against the disease ALS. Even the Queen Maxima joined in the swim once!
Amsterdam council is taking further steps to make the Amsterdam canals suitable for swimming. The problem is that there is a lot of garbage in the canals, especially bikes. Diving or stepping on bicycle parts can be painful. So I do not recommend it.
Are people swimming in the Amsterdam canals?
Yes, people swim in the Amsterdam canals! Every year since 1841, there is the Royal Amstel Swim. Participants swim underneath 6 historic bridges in the Amsterdam canals to promote clean water around the world. It’s in September when the water is not so cold (but still cold!). People also drown in the Amsterdam canals, but that happens mostly when they piss in the canals while drunk.
Gaasperplas is similar to Sloterplas, but it’s much further out, direction southeast. The recreational facilities are much better though at Gaasperplas. Apart from a great beach, shops, toilet facilities and even lifeguards, Gaasperplas hosts a camping site, a sailing club and you can rent canoes and windsurfing. Gaasperplas is easy to reach by metro.
Dangers of outdoor swimming in Amsterdam
It is not dangerous to swim outdoors in the wild in Amsterdam, except when it has been very hot for a very long period. When there is a ‘heatwave’ (hittegolf) in Amsterdam, the natural open water can get poisonous.
Typically you’ll find a layer of ‘scum’, a thick dirty green and blue layer floating on top of the water. It’s also is quite smelly. The so-called algal blooms or blue-green algae produce some toxic bacteria which are harmful for humans and animals.
Quality of swimming water in Amsterdam
Swimming in affected waters can cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, poor eyesight, headaches, and skin rashes.
That is why the Dutch provincial authorities check the quality of the water of the recreational lakes every two weeks.
If these bacteria are found (it’s called in Dutch blauwalg), signs are put up to warn the public. Beware, that blue-green algae are also poisonous for dogs.