Sometimes we crave the sensation of plunging into the ocean, waves breaking over our heads, the deeps beneath our feet.

But other times we want a more "contained" seaside swim – the same elemental experience, but with the luxury of being able to touch the bottom (and maybe even grab a hot shower after). This is where ocean pools come in.

Whether natural rock grottoes or artificial from concrete and tile, these oceanside pools give you the best of both worlds: safe, serene waters with boundless sea-and-sky views. If you’re looking for an alternative seaside experience, or maybe a stepping stone to transition from traditional swimming pools to the "big blue," these aquatic oases could be right for you. Here are the world's most incredible ocean pools.

1. Dive in the Irish Sea from Dublin's Forty Foot

When serendipity smiles and time, tide and sunlight conspire to transform the sea at Sandycove into a turquoise-tinted lagoon, then a dawn dip in the Forty Foot is the perfect start to a Dublin day. Such moments are all the more special for their rarity. Usually conditions are choppy and the water’s complexion mirrors the mood of the irascible Irish sky.

But whatever the weather, the Forty Foot is never dull and Dubliners have been throwing themselves into the chilly embrace of the Irish Sea here for over 250 years. Join them for this quintessential local experience, but remember to look before you leap – it's tidal and the depth varies.

A blue ocean pool surrounded by rocks with a small gap leading to the ocean
Relax in Eleuthera's tranquil Queen's Baths, shallow pools right on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean © Jennifer Dowell / Shutterstock

2. Take a hot-tub soak at Queen’s Baths, Eleuthera, Bahamas

Clamber up the rocky hillside on this laid-back Bahamian island to find the series of shallow, sun-warmed pools known locally as the "Queen’s Baths" or (the slightly less fancy) "hot tubs." Visit at low or medium tide to spend an hour or two soaking, splashing and looking for shells as the navy-blue Atlantic churns below. Just a half-mile away is the famous Glass Window Bridge, where the island becomes so skinny you can stand on the cliff and see the startling contrast between the choppy Atlantic on one side and the peaceful aquamarine Caribbean on the other.

People jumping into the a grotto filled with seawater
Discover poetry in motion at Italy's Grotta della Poesia © Dziurek / Shutterstock

3. Leap down to the Adriatic at Grotto della Poesia, Salento, Italy

Meaning "cave of poetry," this 30m-wide (100ft) natural sinkhole is certainly worthy of verse. Leap from the limestone cliffs into the cool cyan water, and then swim under the archway into the Adriatic Sea. Arrive early in summer to avoid the crowds; the rest of the year it’ll be just you and the seabirds. There are several archaeological sites nearby, including Grotto della Poesia Piccola ("little cave of poetry"), its walls covered in ancient inscriptions. You’ll find the grotto on the east side of Italy's Salento Peninsula (aka "the boot").

A sunset over the rocks pools of Tunnels Beach in Devon
Do as the Victorians did and "take the waters" at Tunnels Beaches, Devon © Eugene Ivanoff / Shutterstock

4. Walk through cliffs to reach Tunnels Beaches, Devon, England

Tiptoe through a series of dim cliff tunnels, hand-hewn by Welsh miners in the early 1800s, to reach these hidden beaches near Ilfracombe in North Devon. At the "ladies beach" (though coed now for more than 100 years), a tidal pool appears for three hours before and after low tide. The pool’s retaining wall was built by the same miners using boulders and lime mortar. In the height of the Victorian era, ladies "took the waters" here in private horse-drawn wooden bathing machines that were rolled into the ocean to protect their modesty. Before that, the deeply furrowed sea cliffs were once used by smugglers and fugitives. Don’t expect any sugar-white sands; these beaches are pure English pebble – slippery, chilly and delightful.

People diving off the jetty and clambering up the wooden stairs of a sink hole surrounded by jungle
The To Sua Ocean Trench is fed by an underwater lava tunnel © Michael Runkel / robertharding / Getty Images

5. Clamber – or jump – down to Samoa's To Sua Ocean Trench

From above, this gemstone-green swimming hole looks like a giant’s eye blinking up from the lava landscape of Samoa’s ‘Upolu Island. The 30m-deep (100ft) pool is accessible by a tall and slightly terrifying wooden ladder, though the brave (or foolhardy) simply jump. The water here is so clear you can see fish flitting far below. The trench is fed by an underwater lava tunnel that leads out to the South Pacific – skilled divers can swim through it, but all levels of swimmer should be aware of the undertow. The edge of the hole drips with jungle foliage, which opens into manicured seaside gardens with picnic areas and a small swimming beach beyond.

Swimmers and sunbathers at two pools that are thrashed with waves from the adjacent ocean
Sydney's famous Bondi Icebergs Pool regularly stars on Instagram © Siripong Kaewla-iad / Getty Images

6. Swim in the iconic Bondi Icebergs Pool, Sydney, Australia

Built into the cliffs just above the crashing Tasman Sea, the Bondi Baths at the edge of Sydney’s most famous beach have been iconic for more than a century. Anyone is welcome to take a dip in the lap pool or the adjacent kiddie pool, but to become a member of the Bondi Icebergs winter swimming club you’ll have to commit to swimming three Sundays out of four during the chilly months – for five years! Because the pools are concrete, the water here is actually colder than the sea, and in rougher weather you might get pummelled by a rogue wave. Nothing like a soothing dip, eh?!

People swim in ocean-side pools formed in the rock
The Piscinas das Marés are the work of Álvaro Siza Vieira, Portugal’s most revered contemporary architect © Maaike Sloot / Getty Images

7. Admire the architecture of Piscinas das Marés, near Porto, Portugal

Fancy submerging yourself in a national monument? And we don’t mean figuratively. The two saltwater swimming pools of Piscina das Marés were sunk into the rock of Leça da Palmeira beach in Matoshinhos, a fishing village north of Porto, in the 1960s at the behest of renowned Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira. The maestro wasn’t finished there, though: after a dip to work up an appetite, follow the coastline north to his Boa Nova Tea House, an alluring Michelin-starred restaurant with wraparound views of the fuming Atlantic.

Porto de Galinhas in Pernambuco, Brazil
Soak in the natural pools of Porto de Galinhas in Pernambuco, Brazil © filipefrazao / Getty

8. Take a boat to the natural pools of Porto de Galinhas, near Recife, Brazil

In a country with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to beaches, Porto de Galinhas, south of pulsating Recife, still manages to stand out thanks to a scattering of turquoise and aquamarine inlets a short boat ride from its fine, white sand. Fisherfolk ferry visitors to these Instagram-worthy natural pools, formed between the beach and the sheltering reef, in distinctive triangular-sailed jangadas (small sailing vessels) for a fee per person. For something more vigorous, head south for windsurfing and kitesurfing off the reliably blustery Pontal de Maracaípe.

A view over the ocean pools at Cape Town's Sea Point Pavilion
A series of pools with sea views keep the whole family happy in Cape Town © HiltonT / Shutterstock

9. Splash in the scenic pools of Sea Point Pavilion, Cape Town, South Africa

Facing the chilly Atlantic at the edge of suburban Cape Town, Sea Point Pavilion is a splashy, noisy, summer-long swim party. It’s got a lap pool, a diving pool and two kiddie pools – all saltwater, with some refreshingly fed directly from the adjacent ocean. When you’re ready to dry off, spread out on the lawn with a picnic and a cold soda from one of the park vendors, and watch the clouds floating above the peak of Lion’s Head. It’s hard to imagine a more scenic public pool in either hemisphere; not to mention – no sharks!

An empty natural pool with bright blue sea water right at the edge of the ocean
Niue has limited numbers of tourists, so you could have Limu Pools almost to yourself © rediguana_nz / Getty Images

10. Wonder at the illusions in the waters of Limu Pools, Niue

Surrounded by the endless blue of the South Pacific, the tiny Polynesian country of Niue is home to the sheltered and superbly scenic Limu Pools. A sturdy staircase descends through the shade of tropical rainforest to a pair of natural pools fringed by forested shards of indigo coral. One pool, is wonderfully sheltered, while in the other pool colder fresh water mixes with warmer saltwater rolling in from the open sea to create a strange phenomenon. Where the flows combine, the water resembles fractured glass, and when viewed through a diving mask it’s like swimming through a liquid ice cube.

This article was first published Apr 11, 2019 and updated Mar 19, 2024.

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