Winter swimming culture

The tradition of swimming in cold water has a long history in Sweden and the Nordic countries. Winter swimming culture is practiced all over the country along the coast, in lakes, rivers, and open-air baths.

Location: Nation wide

Photo of two women swimming in a hole in the ice of a lake.

It is important to be careful and wary of one’s own body signals when swimming in cold water.

Anyone who can swim can participate in winter swimming culture regardless of age, gender, or background. It does not require any special skills, but it is important to be careful and wary of one's body's signals when swimming in cold water. When taking winter swims, practitioners usually descend into the cold water and stay there for as long as they are comfortable. Many people prefer to use a sauna to warm up before and/or after winter swimming. Some practitioners are members of associations or clubs that organize bathing and sauna sessions, and other activities. Others practice the tradition alone or with family and friends.

In the Middle Ages, people would have cold baths for hygiene and health reasons. During the 18th and 19th centuries, cold baths were prescribed by medical science and appreciated by the Romantic movement. It was said to have health benefits and to be a source of beauty and inspiration. The first open-air baths in Sweden were constructed during this period, often in connection to cities or spa- and resort towns. While the first open-air baths were divided according to gender, they became more democratic during the early 20th century, allowing women and men to swim together. By the mid-20th century, there was little interest in winter swimming in Sweden, and the tradition almost disappeared.

The 21st century witnessed a renewed interest in the winter swimming culture. Today, many people, including the younger generations, want to experience the benefits and community of winter swimming culture. There are many resources for those interested in winter swimming, and experienced practitioners share their knowledge online and in person, or through books, articles, podcasts, etc. All over Sweden, there are associations, municipalities, or companies that run open-air baths or promote winter swimming culture. Many older open-air baths are still in use, and new baths are planned to be constructed in the future.


Susanna Söberg (2022), Winter Swimming, The Nordic Way Towards a Healthier and Happier Life, Maclehose press.

Lisa Bjerre, Heli Björkman och Ulf Huett (2021), Vinterbad – en handbok, Ordfront. Stockholm.

Ulrica Nordström (2019), Nordiska Bad – i sjö, hav, bassäng och källa, Natur & Kultur. Stockholm.

Linda Ahlgren och Linda Vagnelid (2018), Kalla Bad, Bonnier Fakta. Stockholm.

Lars-Gunnar Bengtsson och Per Jönsson (2016), Ribersborgs Kallbadhus och badvanor genom tiderna, Historiska Media.

Helena Lind och Bert Leandersson (2004), Kallbadhus , Byggförlaget. Stockholm.

Maria Dahlberg, Lena Koller och Maria Ravegård (2004), Havsbad – Femtioen Svenska Badpärlor, Wahlström & Widstrand. Stockholm.

Martin Roth Kronwall och Martin Skredsvik (2004), Svenska Bad. Forum. Stockholm.

Kallbadsveckan i Helsingborg External link.