Kastrup Soebad

A beginner's guide to winter swimming in Denmark

By Laura Hall

Photo: Thomas Høyrup

From Aarhus to Kastrup Soebad, these are the best places to take a Danish ice cold dip

Copenhageners fall into two groups: those who have been winter bathing and can’t stop talking about its life-enhancing properties, and those who haven’t. I’m in the latter camp but today my luck is about to change: I’ve decided to give winter bathing a whirl.


The health benefits of winter bathing are much talked about: a cold dip can be calorie- burning, libido-boosting, circulation-boosting and give you an endorphin rush or a ‘natural high’ as well. According to Christina Andersen, a functional health coach and personal trainer based in Copenhagen who is swimming with me today, it’s a great stress natural reliever too.

“It’s all about the breathing” she says. “When you put your body into a stressful situation like this, it activates your fight or flight reflex. Getting it under control with your breathing is a great way to teach your body how to handle stress. By calming down with deep breaths you can become more stress resilient.”

Ice near kronborg slott

The icy waters outside of Kronborg in Helsingør, Denmark. Photo: Marc Skafte-Vaabengaard

“It’s all in the exhalation – when you exhale slowly, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you rest and relax. The effect of cold water on your body is also powerful for fat burning.”

It’s become increasingly popular to swim in Denmark’s frigid waters in the winter. Over 25,000 people are members of winter swimming clubs in Denmark, not including people like me who are taking a quick dip in their nearest cold water spot. According to the Danish Council for Safe Swimming, the average age has dropped in recent years as younger generations have discovered this traditional Nordic pastime.

Beauty and the Beach VI swim beach sweden

Photo: Hasse Nielsen

In Copenhagen, the municipality opened a new floating harbour pool in winter 2020 to serve this new generation of cold water swimmers, designed so it can be moved around the harbourfront when needed. Currently the hexagonal pool, with sheltered decking and a solid floor, is parked beside Kalvebod Bølge in the heart of Copenhagen’s harbourside district next to a deeper cordoned-off swimming zone.

It’s November and there’s a blue sky and a pale sun shining in it, but it’s still only 12 degrees centigrade. Around twenty people sit beside the water, some in swimsuits, others in snuggly white robes, all looking fresh and healthy and confident that this is a good thing to do. Ranging in age from over 70 to mid-20s, they certainly look healthy and full of energy.

Kalvebod Bolge

Kalvebod Bølge in the heart of Copenhagen’s harbourside district. Photo: Laura Hall

Christina reminds me to focus on my breathing once I’m in there, and counsels me to stay close to the ladder when I’m in. She lets me go first and my feet take in the cold metal treads of the ladder as I descend into the swimming area. It’s mind over matter at this point - it is so very cold - and I step down quickly because I know if I take it slowly, I’m going to chicken out.

As I step right down the steps and force my shoulders to go under the water, I feel like I’ve actually turned into ice. I can’t feel anything except my lungs tightening and fighting for air. I try to breathe as deep as I can and I want to take big, luxurious breaststrokes across the water, but I can’t. I just keep trying to breathe in short, sharp, shallow bursts that slightly deepen the longer I’m in. I tread water close to the ladder, just in case. The whole experience lasts about thirty seconds, and then I’m out.


Kastrup Sea Bath. Photo: Ole_Haupt

Once I’m wrapped in a towel on the deck, I start feeling good. The feeling continues through the whole day - I’m hyped from the experience with a superhuman kind of energy and positivity. Is this the endorphin rush I’ve heard about, or is it just that I’ve conquered a fear? I’m not sure, but for the rest of the day, I’m more aware of my body and I feel full of energy. I’m also thinking about when I can go again.

If you’re planning to go winter bathing for the first time, the best advice is to go with a friend or two, lower yourself in slowly (never headfirst) and check weather and bathing conditions beforehand. Breathe slowly once you’re in, stay close to a ladder, and watch out for each other. Never swim under ice. You got this.


Copenhot in Copenhagen. Photo: Daniel_Rasmussen

Five more places to go winter bathing in Denmark

Aarhus: Helnan Marselis Hotel is right on the ocean and has a warm spa to run into after your dip.

Zealand: Kurhotel Skodsborg’s Skodsborg Flow fitness session includes winter bathing along with a series of Nordic wellness treatments.

Skagen: Every January in the far north of Denmark, Skagen has an annual winter bathing festival hosted by its winter bathing club, The Ice Breakers.

Copenhagen: If you want to mix your hot and cold, try Copenhot. This mini harbourside spa has hot tubs and saunas and a path leading down the harbour where you can take a cold water dip.

Amager: Kastrup Sea Bath, a short drive from Copenhagen, is in the Øresund Strait with views of Sweden, and is beautifully constructed with a wall to keep the wind out when you’re getting changed.

Møn’s Klint

The Baltic Sea just off the coast of the Danish island of Møn. Photo: Emilie Ristevski