The best places to swim in Devon

Penned on the 16th May 2024

The best places to swim in Devon

From secluded bays on the coast to tranquil rivers to gorgeous historical lidos, the southwest county of Devon has a wonderful variety of outdoor swimming spots, which makes it the perfect destination for water babies to explore. Whether you prefer gentle laps in a pool, invigorating dips in wild open water, or moments of blue mindfulness by a flowing river, you’re sure to find somewhere spectacular to submerge yourself here all year round… followed by a hot drink or some tasty local food, perhaps?

If you’re looking for inspiration for the best places to swim in Devon, read on to discover our favourite locations.


Thurlestone Rock, Thurlestone

A rock arch emerging from the sea

Thurlestone is a coastal village with one of the most dramatic coastlines in South Devon – and the beautiful beach of South Milton Sands is a lovely spot for a dip. A hundred metres offshore stands the iconic Thurlestone Rock, a natural rock arch that’s well-placed for an adventurous swim-through at high tide! Be sure to pack your goggles too, because underneath the arch is a mesmerising reef, teeming with fish, aquatic creatures, and seaweeds. Once you’ve dried off, stroll on over to the laidback foodie Beach House for a hearty sandwich or some local seafood overlooking the ocean.


Sharrah Pool, New Bridge

A dog and a woman sit on the rocks at the edge of Sharrah Pool while a man swims

When it comes to wild swimming spots, Sharrah Pool in Dartmoor has it all. Not only is it surrounded by otherworldly green woodland and a natural rocky wall, it’s the size of an olympic pool too, so it’s perfect for a lengthy swim in the cool, emerald waters. You need to walk for an hour or so to get there after parking at New Bridge, taking the narrow woodland path alongside the River Dart and passing a waterfall – so it feels like a real adventure in nature! For this reason, it's one of Dartmoor’s most popular locations for swimming, so be prepared to have company in the summer months. 


Tinside Lido, Plymouth

The bright blue water of a lido with a fountain in the centre. The sea visible on the other side of the wall

Voted one of the top ten best outdoor pools in Europe, Tinside Lido is an idyllic location for a refreshing saltwater swim when it’s open in the summer months. Perched on the tip of Plymouth Hoe, right on the city’s iconic seafront, the photogenic Art Deco style pool was built in 1935 and has maintained all of the charm of this bygone era. Enjoy swimming a few lengths and cooling off under the water fountain before laying back on the glorious sun terrace in a deckchair with a good book. There’s a café on site too, should you fancy a coffee or an ice cream. 


Elberry Cove, between Brixham and Paignton

A shingle beach which slopes down to flat calm water

If you’re seeking crystal clear, turquoise waters and a white shingle stone beach reminiscent of a Greek island, head to Elberry Cove in Torbay. This beauty spot on the South Devon coast is a fantastic place to swim, accessible by foot from the clifftops near Broadsands Beach, and far enough from the busy beaches of Paignton to be able to savour a refreshing, peaceful dip. At the end of the beach, you can explore the remains of Lord Chruston’s bath house too, which once had a hot tub filled with sea water – a fellow ocean lover, evidently. 


Salmon Leaps, Fingle Bridge

Fingle Bridge stretching across the River Teign. Salmon Leaps can be found nearby.

You’ll find Salmon Leaps beneath Castle Drogo in a stunning woodland valley in Fingle Bridge on the edge of Dartmoor. This freshwater river pool is a lovely sheltered spot on the River Teign, with depths over 1.5 metres and plenty of space for a proper swim. As well as the calmer waters, there are also a series of Victorian plunge pools where you can enjoy the thrill of the river rapids! Just be aware that the area is named ‘Salmon Leaps’ because in the autumn months, salmon migrate up the river, so you should avoid swimming here then. 


Long Pool, Lynmouth

Water rushing between the rocks at the edge of Long Pool

Set in Watersmeet, a National Trust woodland near Lynmouth in North Devon, Long Pool is a deep, 50-metre-long ravine beneath a dramatic gorge that’s overgrown with ferns and oak trees. It’s an enchanting spot for wild swimming – and for jumping in at high tide, should you be brave enough! If you’d rather enter the water a little more delicately, there are also shallow pools where you can dip your toe first. Once you’re ready to warm up and get dry, head to the historic Watersmeet Tea Rooms for a hot drink and a sweet treat.


Haytor Quarry Pool, near Bovey Tracey

The still water of Haytor Quarry Pool, surrounded by greenery with rocks in the background

Haytor Quarry Pool is a natural pool in a disused quarry in South Devon near Bovey Tracey. It’s a great choice for first-time wild swimmers, with easy access to the water and the surrounding towering rocks protect you from any chilly breezes. It tends to be a little less cold than some of the county’s other outdoor swimming spots, too. The sweeping heathlands make for a stunning backdrop and, despite its idyllic location, Haytor Quarry is rarely crowded. You might even get the place to yourself. 


Sugary Cove, Dartmouth

The mouth of the River Dart. Sugary Cove can be found just along the coastline following the coast path.

Just around the corner from Dartmouth Castle at the mouth of the River Dart, Sugary Cove is a picturesque spot for a sea swim. Although the cove is just a mile or so from the centre of Dartmouth town, it’s tucked below some small cliffs and green trees so it’s fairly hidden – you could easily miss it if you didn’t know it was there! The access is down some steep, rocky steps, but if you can manage the climb you’ll be rewarded with pristine waters and a quiet, sheltered, shingle beach with a heavenly Mediterranean feel when the sun’s shining.


Cullever Steps, Belstone

The waterfalls between the rocks and the edge of the pool at Cullever Steps

Cullever Steps is a picturesque swimming spot hidden away in Dartmoor near the village of Belstone. Whilst this pool is easy to access (just a short walk from the car park at Okehampton Army Base), the rugged moorland and dramatic granite surroundings make it feel beautifully remote and wild. The pool’s deep enough for you to fully submerge yourself, so you can enjoy a rejuvenating and peaceful swim right in the heart of the moor. There are even rock ‘slides’ and some small waterfalls if you fancy a little splash around!


Shoalstone Pool, Brixham

The turquoise water of Shoalstone Sea Pool. This is next to the sea, separated by a band of rocks.

Shoalstone is a 53-metre, sea water swimming pool built into a large natural rock pool in Brixham, with gorgeous views across the glittering ocean at Torbay. Unsurprisingly, it’s been a popular spot with bathers since the Victorian times and its construction back in 1896. You can use the pool for free but donations are always welcome to help cover its running costs. Keep an eye on their Facebook page to find out what’s happening during your visit because there are often events held here too, like doggy swims and twilight dips, which sound particularly magical.


Landacre Bridge, Exmoor

A view of the river Barle from Landacre Bridge

The historic Landacre Bridge in the heart of Exmoor National Park offers a beautiful, off-the-beaten track swimming spot that’s well-suited to families with young children. The striking medieval stone bridge spans the River Barle, with shallow flowing waters that are perfect for paddling, playing, and cooling off on a warm summer’s day. The grassy river banks are a heavenly place to relax for a while afterwards too, with a backdrop of the rolling green Exmoor hills, so make sure you pack a delicious picnic to tuck into.


Soar Mill Cove, near Salcombe

Soar Mill Cove at sunset. The rocks are silhouetted against the sky as they rise from the water.

Soar Mill Cove is a glorious remote swimming spot in the south of Devon. Despite its proximity to the bustling harbour town of Salcombe, this tiny, sandy inlet is secluded because it’s only accessible on foot from the South West Coast Path, or via boat or kayak. The effort of getting here only makes the swimming more magical, though – expect a blissful dip in sheltered waters below towering craggy cliffs, with abundant wildlife and rockpools to explore. Soar Mill Cove Hotel above the bay is listed as one of the best places to enjoy an afternoon tea in Devon too, so make sure you stop by for a special post-swim treat!


Tunnels Beach, Ilfracombe

Rocks reflected in the glassy water of one of the pools at Tunnels Beach

Tunnels Beach is a privately-owned beach and tourist attraction in Ilfracombe, and a swimming spot that’s steeped in fascinating history. The beach is named after its network of incredible hand-carved tunnels that were built in the early 1800s, leading to its ‘secret’ sheltered rocky beach and a tidal Victorian bathing pool. There’s a ladies beach and a gentleman’s beach, originally separated this way to protect the modesty of the ladies (any men that tried to spy would be arrested!). You have to pay a small fee to enter the tunnels, but it’s well worth it for the unique swimming experience. 


Burgh Island, near Bigbury-on-sea

A view towards Burgh Island, which can be seen on the horizon.

Intrepid open water swimmers should head to Burgh Island near the village of Bigbury-on-sea, famed for its quirky sea tractor, smuggling past and links to Agatha Christie. At high tide, when the island becomes completely separated from the beach, you can swim around this iconic South Devon landmark out into deep water, through a rocky gorge, along the cliffs of the island and back to the shore. The swim is only around one mile in distance – but it feels like quite the adventure! This is one for strong and experienced swimmers only. 


The River Avon, Aveton Gifford

A view of the River Avon as it winds through a valley with green hills in the distance

Starting in the village of Aveton Gifford in the south of Devon, this beautiful estuary offers a chance for a two mile swim towards the ocean at Bantham Beach. If you time it right with the outgoing tide, you can enjoy a leisurely pace with the flow of the river, soaking up the surrounding countryside scenery as you go. And unlike many estuaries, the Avon has clear waters and a sandy riverbed, which makes for wonderful visibility. You might get glimpses of fish, seaweed, oyster beds and other wildlife below the surface, so it’s worth wearing your goggles!


Mattiscombe Beach, Kingsbridge

An aerial view of Mattiscombe Beach, a sandy cove with rocky edges and calm, blue sea

Mattiscombe Beach, also known as Great Mattiscombe Sands, is a spectacular sandy and rocky beach in the south of Devon. It’s a little challenging to access with a steep 2km walk from the car park – but that means it’s one of the county’s most secluded beaches, usually much quieter than others in the area and well worth the effort. The views from the crystal clear turquoise water are breathtaking, with extraordinary craggy rock formations surrounding the beach and unspoilt green countryside above the cliffs. The cove is a haven for wildlife too, so look out for seals and soaring seabirds as you swim.


Barricane Beach, Woolacombe

An aerial view of Barrican Beach. There is a relatively narrow stretch of sand between two rocky outcrops, and this gives way to glassy water

A little along the coast from the surfing beach of Woolacombe in North Devon, Barricane Beach is a gorgeous spot for an energising saltwater dip. The beach is famous for its variety of exotic seashells, particularly cowries, so enjoy some time combing the shoreline searching for ocean treasures post-swim. There’s also a popular beach café at Barricane, serving exceptionally tasty authentic Sri Lankan curries every evening in the summer – the perfect accompaniment for watching the golden sunset. It’s a wonderful atmosphere and a swimming spot you won’t forget.


Chagford Swimming Pool, Chagford

The sun shining through the bright blue water of Chagford Pool, creating patterns on the floor. There is a building in the background..

If you’re looking for an outdoor swimming location that’s a little less wild (and a little warmer!), Chagford Swimming Pool is a great choice. This lovely community-run pool is the largest river-fed, open air pool in the south west, set on the banks of the River Teign. The water is heated with air source heat pumps and solar panels so it’s maintained at a balmy 27°C. There’s a toddler pool complete with toy boats, ducks and watering cans, a grassy area with wild flowers that’s perfect for relaxing on a towel between dips, and a charming Tea Shed serving hot and cold drinks and sweet and savoury treats.


Where to stay in Devon

If you’re seeking a sanctuary to base yourself for a week or two of swimming adventures, take a look at our collection of hideaways in Devon. From handcrafted shepherd’s huts in the countryside to clifftop cabins overlooking the coast, you’re sure to find something magical in some of the county’s most beautiful nature spots. 


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