Several years ago I entered the Escape From Alcatraz triathlon as I wanted to swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco.

enter image description here

Source: http://www.dolphinclub.org/swimming/escape/

I was scheduled to go on a work trip at the time and this worked out perfectly. Unfortunately the trip was cancelled and I never got to do it. I subsequently entered a couple of times later but never made it through the random entry cut; apparently it's heavily over-subscribed every year.

Obviously the major "big-swim" is a channel swim.

But really that just looks like torture and costs the price of a large brand-new car and you have to book it 5 years in advance.

Question: Has anyone got experience (whether directly or via friends/colleagues) of some reasonable but not wallet-emptying swimming event that you you would want to tell your grand-children about, like swimming from one country to another or something? I don't want to train for a year (been there, done that) for some event and end up doing something that I'm just going to feel miserable doing. I'm not looking for a race, but something with other entrants would be good. I'd prefer it not to be a marathon-solo event, but just something that contains a memorable long swim as evoked in the Alcatraz photo above.

Update: I don't like leaving a question with an unawarded answer so I reviewed the answers with a view to which event I would actually take part in.

The Hellespont / Bosphorus / Dardanelles swim(s) have a definite appeal. Swimming from one continent to another across shipping lanes closed just for the event sounds epic.

The Freedom swim sounds good too, but it's too cold for me. I can swim in cold water if I have to. But I don't have to. So I won't.

There were a few lake swims including the Sun Moon Lake swim which sound like they'd be enjoyable, but they don't really tick the "to die for" check-item. "Only 20000 other people besides me managed to finish..."

Some people took "to die for" too literally, and seemed to want to suggest something that would be the last thing I ever did...

The Rottnest swim looks amazing. A 20k swim would be a major part of my day though! Also, I'd need to organise a support boat and a qualifying swim.

Aleks G provided a pointer to the World's top 100 open water swims and I had a look through those. One of which was the Bermuda round the sound swim at (up to) 10km. The HQ for this swim is a hotel I've actually stayed at and the water temperature is 25C. Perfect.

However, I'm going to select AE's answer as accepted.

Many thanks for the great answers!

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    Otherwise crossing the strait of Gibraltar might be something to consider. It presents some of the same difficulties as the English channel but it's much shorter and certainly a powerful symbol.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 13:42
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 9:01

14 Answers 14


How about the Turkish Straits - the Hellespont / Bosphorus / Dardanelles ?

Hellespont / Bosphorus / Dardanelles - satellite photo (Photo is public domain as it was created by NASA).

  • 57
    This is a major shipping lane so joining an organised event such as this comes highly recommended if you don't want to be downed by a cargo ship or the Russian navy
    – mts
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 19:06
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    A plus is that you can claim to have swam from Europe to Asia (or vice versa). Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 13:41
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    "Swimming the Hellespont" has proper history, too, and is an (admittedly rare) trope in English. Byron did it famously in 1810. Swims that have become metaphors are so much more exciting than metaphors that have become swims.
    – Dan
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 21:25
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    This is the Bosphorus but it is neither the Dardanelles nor the Hellespont.
    – user207421
    Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 0:21
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    To expand on what @EJP says: this is the Bosphorus, which runs from the southern Black Sea into the northern end of the Sea of Marmara; the Dardanelles (aka Hellespont) is the strait connecting the southern end of the Sea of Marmara to the Mediterranean.
    – PLL
    Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 7:46

There are many long (and long-ish) distance swims known around the world.

If you're looking for something medium distance (i.e. not English Channel), you can try International Swim Across Dnipro River in Ukraine - it's 10km, about 4 times the distance of Escape from Alcatraz swim and about 1/3 of the English Channel. Here's the link to the last year's event. I can't currently find any info about the next one, but this can be a good start.

On the larger side, there's Lake Michigan swim from Chicago to Michigan City (about 38 miles). And, of course, Cuba to Miami is the killer at 110 miles.

Obviously, there are many more. Have a look at the World's top 100 open water swims - it might give you some ideas. For another source of inspiration, have a look at the Water World Swim website - these are all based in USA.

  • 2
    Are there any photos of the Dnipro swim? I'm not looking to do any 38 or 110 mile swims though! If you look at the Alcatraz photo, I'd like a swim where I go somewhere nice, can see what I'm aiming at, do it, and think that was great. No sharks, ice, or atlantic crossing required :)
    – Berwyn
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 19:07
  • Unfortunately, I don't. An old acquaintance of mine did this swim a few years ago - this is how I know about it. I did a cursory google search and found the link that I posted.
    – Aleks G
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 19:29
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    Cuba to Miami is the killer, yeah ... watch out for sharks Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 21:09
  • There are sharks in the bay also.
    – SnakeDoc
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 15:07

The Freedom Swim is another "prison escape" swim from Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela and many other political prisoners of the Apartheid era were held) to Blouberg, near Cape Town, South Africa. The distance is 7.5km and the temperature is typically around 13°C. It takes place in the Southern Hemisphere autumn (around Freedom Day, 27 April) and is open to 120 individual un-wetsuited solo entries (plus 25 wetsuited entries, and relay teams).

The entry fee is around 110 USD at current exchange rates. You have to do a qualification swim beforehand, and hire a support boat.

  • Thanks for that, that looks interesting too. Pretty cold though! I think I'd do the wetsuit version.
    – Berwyn
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 5:49

The 2017 Lake Balaton cross swimming competition is a 5.2km swim in the biggest lake in Central Europe. Registration is 30 USD. Around 10,000 people do this yearly, however very few from abroad, only a few hundred typically. There's a certain bragging right in that :)

  • 4
    Cheap, nice distance, warm water, unfortunately I'm away that weekend though. "Grandson, did you know I swam across the biggest lake in central Europe?". Tick. Not sure it beats "Did I ever tell you I swam from Europe to Asia?" though.
    – Berwyn
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 8:13
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    It's every year so you could do it next year. Another advantage is that next year I could give you free accommodation relatively close by.
    – user4188
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 8:16
  • @MatthieuM.: free accommodation sounds "useful" to me, so the upvote would be well-deserved! Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 14:30
  • @SteveJessop: Agreed, which is why I upvoted. It's very generous to offer to host a stranger for free :) Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 14:48

Lake Ohrid in Macedonia. It's the oldest lake in Europe. There is a traditional marathon every year. It's beautiful, affordable, no sharks and lots of history. I was born there if you need any info feel free to msg me.

The marathon is about ~30km and the best swimmers in the world come to compete.

Ohrid Swimming Marathon (Wikipedia).

enter image description here

  • 2
    "The marathon is ~30km"... you do realise all marathons are the same distance, otherwise it would not be a marathon? Commented Jun 12, 2016 at 17:57
  • @BaldBantha Does that rule also apply for swimming marathons? Since that isn't obvious, the remark from the author is not superfluous.
    – Mast
    Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 11:29
  • @BaldBantha dailynews.openwaterswimming.com/2011/09/…
    – Berwyn
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 7:21

If you haven't had the chance to go to Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan, this could be a great reason for a first visit. It hosts an annual 3-km race across the lake, where swimming otherwise is forbidden.

The lake is surrounded by mountains and the whole area is generally amazing. The only potential downside is how time-consuming it is to go there. The easiest way there would probably be on a bus, directly from Taipei. The fastest would have to be by taking the high-speed railway from Taipei to Taichung, followed by a bus-ride. Oh, and they have apparently had tens of thousands of participants in recent years, so it might get crowded.

There are also bicycles for hire, that you can take around the lake, which is something I definitely recommend.

Sun Moon Lake Swim http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/photo/2013-09/08/132702616_21n.jpg

Source: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/photo/2013-09/08/c_132702616.htm

  • 2
    Cool. Things like forbidden, biggest, crossing continents etc. are exactly the right keywords.
    – Berwyn
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 11:48
  • Some pics here: news.xinhuanet.com/english/photo/2013-09/08/c_132702616.htm - looks like a mega event
    – Berwyn
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 12:14
  • @Berwyn I saw some really good photos at Flickr, but none were CC or open domain unfortunately. Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 22:36
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    I edited your answer and put an an external image link in rather than embedding the image. Hope that's ok.
    – Berwyn
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 22:55
  • If it gets crowded, it can't be too hard to get to.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 9:26

Where I live on the border between Germany and Switzerland there is a big lake, Lake Constance. Well, it's big by our standards. The Rhine runs in one end and out the other end over the Rheinfall, so there is a fair current, and it can be cold, depending on the time of year.

Occasionally intrepid people swim all the way along it (63 km, 39 miles) or across. If you check out the map you'll see it's long and Y-shaped, so swimming across is easy or hard, not forgetting the current and the ferry boats. Lake Constance is between Austria, Germany and Switzerland, so you swim between 3 countries, depending on route.

There are sometimes organised events. Give it a google.

It's not just a good swim, this is a lovely area to have a holiday.

  • 1
    I used to have a colleague who lived in Germany and worked in Switzerland. He'd take the bike to the lake where it is about 30m across (the Seerhein), leave the bike on the German side, then swim across and walk to work in Switzerland. So if all the OP wants is "to swim between different countries", here's a nice place to do it. Commented Jun 11, 2016 at 19:34
  • Did he have his ID in his swimsuit?
    – RedSonja
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 6:04
  • 1
    No, he'd put his clothes in a sealable plastic bin he's pull after him across. (And the border police probably knew him after the regional TV station ran a segment on the guy that commutes to work by swimming internationally.) Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 6:58

You could do the Rottnest Channel Swim, 20km from Cottesloe beach to Rottnest Island in Perth, Australia. Beautiful spot, water a nice temp, you might just have to battle a bit of seabreeze and the odd shark. You can enter 2 or 4-person teams as well, and each swimmer has a boat and kayak support crew.

Great party on the Island once everyone gets over as well.

Rottnest Aerial www.karmagroup.com

  • That looks fantastic.
    – Berwyn
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 12:49

If you really want a triathlon, there is the Ultra-Triathlon Napoleon this summer in Corsica (France):

  • A 15 km swim across the "Bouches de Bonifacio" (from Sardinia to Corsica)
  • A 600 km biking race around Corsica
  • A 200 km running race on the GR 20 (cutting a diagonal from South East to North West)

All that from August 15 to 19.

There are about 50 registered participants for now...

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    Thanks, but not looking for a triathlon, unless that's a neccessity to take part in a memorable swim. And "running" 200km isn't my idea of fun!
    – Berwyn
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 6:26
  • 2
    You could of course fail to 'finish' the bike part or just drop out before the running part. ;-)
    – Willeke
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 13:26

Maybe you could try out this one:


The site is a bit glitched in english, so here's a link to the entry form.

It goes from the marker to the star:

Map of the course

I don't know if there is an entry price, but places are very limited. Swimmers have boats following them for safety, which is nice. I linked to the "solo" competition, as the main event is with FINA, which you probably can't just try and enter as a one-time thing.

  • 1
    32km! That's ok for the morning, but what can I do in the afternoon? :)
    – Berwyn
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 13:13
  • 2
    There are shows practically every night during that week, so you should be able to find something to do :P Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 14:28
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    Make the return trip, @Berwyn
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 17:08
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    @FreeMan My mum told me I couldn't swim for 2 hours after eating lunch.
    – Berwyn
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 17:09

The longest freshwater swim race in North America is the 36-mile Extreme North Dakota Watersports Endurance Test on the Red River of the North on the border between North Dakota and Minnesota. It's inexpensive and attracts people from all over the country.


If you want an extreme, quite difficult challenge, why not swim from Europe to Africa? You can swim from Spain (or UK if you start from Gibraltar) to Morocco! Its about 12 miles, but its sea water.

Fun fact: big transatlantic ships would need to stop if you want to cross, because "pedestrians" have priority over ships. Nice story to tell your grandchildren about.

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    And how do the big transatlantic ships find out you're there?
    – Random832
    Commented Jun 11, 2016 at 23:34
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    @Random832 aah, honestly I lack the technicalities.... I know its the way its done, but I have little information. Sucks a bit for an answer, but hey, at least its something :( Commented Jun 12, 2016 at 9:49
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    @Random832 ebay.com/itm/141785734963
    – Berwyn
    Commented Jun 12, 2016 at 10:40

The Arctic and Antarctic are challenging places to swim at. It is not expensive to go to Svalbard and the Antarctic is reachable for a reasonable price too. Wim Hof, shown swimming in Iceland here offers courses that will allow you to swim in ice cold conditions for a long time without suffering the usual symptoms. This involves doing hyperventilation exercises and taking regular cold showers, over time this causes the body to crank up the metabolism when you breath faster instead of hyperventilating (instead of excess oxygen and CO2 levels dropping, these levels stay the same due to increased metabolism).

This video shows a few people undergoing Wim Hof's training.

  • Thanks for the links. Very interesting and might be good for other people reading this thread. But I don't enjoy suffering!
    – Berwyn
    Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 8:43

Off the top of my head, and with a little help from SportOutdoor24:

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