Will Swimming in the Seine River be Possible in Time for Summer Olympics? The Latest

Last Updated on July 12, 2024

Is swimming in the Seine allowed? It may be by 2024.

In 2009, the stretch of the Seine River that runs through Paris made headlines– and the news was unusually good. Wild Atlantic salmon had been spotted and caught in its waters for the first time in decades. Since the Seine has had high levels of industrial pollution since at least the early 20th century, ecologists saw the return of the once-thriving species as a promising sign of ecological recovery.

The city of Paris has since pursued an ambitious goal for its iconic river, home once again to over 30 species of fish– from trout to eels and perch. They have worked to clean the Seine up enough to allow the general public to swim in sections of it– and have endeavored to get there by July 2024 when the capital will begin hosting the Summer Olympics.

The city spent hundreds of millions of Euros over the past years into efforts to purify the water– and severely limit the amount of waste that industrial companies and boats can dump into the Seine.

{Related: Key Moments in the Seine River’s History}

As of mid-July, 2024, it looks as if that goal has been met, at least on some days. The City of Paris reported that e-coli levels fell below the upper limits for several consecutive days in July, according to news outlet France 24, and are crossing fingers that they will remain within safe limits in time for the Games, which kick off on July 26th.

If the trend persists, the plan is to allow a triathlon competition and swimming marathon to take place in the waters of the Seine in the coming weeks, rather than in a back-up pool in a nearby Paris suburb that’s set to be used for other competitions.

Challenges Remain

Can you swim in the Seine River, Paris?
Image credit: Pixabay

While progress has been made over the past few years– and many species of fish, birds, and other wildlife have seen a hopeful resurgence– the main challenge in keeping the Seine swimmable long-term– beyond the few weeks when the Olympic Games take place– comes from heavy rain and storms.

These tend to flush problematic amounts of sewage into the river waters, leading to dangerous levels of e-coli and other bacteria. This problem led the Bassin de la Villette swimming pools to be temporarily closed in 2017.

And in summer 2024, in the lead-up to the Olympic Games, heavy rains have often raised levels well above acceptable and safe limits. This poses the question as to whether athletes will be able to take those swims during the games: much will depend on weather conditions, and a few wet days could throw those plans aside.

Still, the current team at the Paris Mayor’s office has remained optimistic and determined, and the recent successes should arguably inspire the same. And Hidalgo has proven to be uncompromising in her other green plans for the city– to the delight of some and consternation of others.

Hidalgo even recently pledged to take a swim in the waters herself as early as the week after Bastille Day on July 14th— a promise I bet she’s really hoping she can keep.

An Ambitious Larger Plan to “Regreen” the Seine & Its Banks

Image by Luxigon
Illustration by Luxigon

I have to admit that I’ve never wondered whether swimming in the Seine was doable, much less allowed. The current seems unpredictably strong, and even if the city *did* reduce pollution to levels they deem safe for a dip, I’d be a bit wary, especially given recent reports of high e-coli levels and illicit industrial dumping.

Splashing around or doing laps in the river has been formally banned since 1923. And most sneaky dips are attempted at night, when fines are less likely (but the dangers are greater).

Still, plans to “regreen” the Seine and its banks– part of Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s ambitious ecological objectives for the capital-– are ones I find admirable and worthwhile.

The Mayor’s Office has said in the past that it aims to open a total of 23 swimming areas on the Seine, starting in 2025. These would be open to the general public for dips during the warmer months, on the successful model of swimming holes created recently on the Bassin de la Villette in northeastern Paris.

Challenges Remain

While progress has been made over the past few years– and many species of fish, birds, and other wildlife have seen a hopeful resurgence– the main challenge in keeping the Seine swimmable long-term– beyond the few weeks when the Olympic Games take place– comes from heavy rain and storms.

These tend to flush problematic amounts of sewage into the river waters, leading to dangerous levels of e-coli and other bacteria. This problem led the Bassin de la Villette swimming pools to be temporarily closed in 2017.

And in summer 2024, in the lead-up to the Olympic Games, heavy rains have often raised levels well above acceptable and safe limits. This poses the question as to whether athletes will be able to take those swims during the games: much will depend on weather conditions, and a few wet days could throw those plans aside.

Still, the current team at the Paris Mayor’s office has remained optimistic and determined, and the recent successes should arguably inspire the same. And Hidalgo has proven to be uncompromising in her other green plans for the city– to the delight of some and consternation of others.

A Long History of Seine Swimming (& Fishing)

Swimmers in the Seine during the 1900 Summer Olympics. Public domain
Swimmers in the Seine during the 1900 Summer Olympics. Public domain

Prior to the 20th century and the accelerated development of both industrial activity and public health infrastructures, it was relatively common to see bathers and swimmers casually enjoying the waters of the Seine, both within Paris and in the nearby suburbs.

Of course, the Seine has been the very heart of Parisian civilization from the city’s beginnings, as a source of food, water, and commerce. The pre-Christian, Celtic tribe known as the Parisii were avid fishers who established a village along the banks of the Seine and on the Ile de la Cité during the 7th century BC.

Image credit: A Strong Belief in Wicker blog

Later, their settlement developed into a vibrant city called “Lutetia”, and was incorporated into the Gallo-Roman empire.

Throughout the centuries, fishing and swimming in the Seine remained common activities, although swimming as a competitive sport only saw its advent in the late nineteenth century.

Paris hosted the Summer Olympics of 1900, and seven men’s swimming competitions took place on the Seine between the suburbs of Courbevoie and the Asnières bridge.

Then in 1905, a sports enthusiast started a popular swimming competition known as the “Traversée de Paris à la Nage” that saw hundreds of amateur swimmers take to the waters in central Paris.

An archival photo from the Traversée de la Nage swimming competition in Paris/date unknown. Public domain

Despite swimming in the Seine being officially banned in 1923, the competition continued well into the 1940s. It was only in the postwar era that the ban was strictly enforced.

Where Can You Swim on the Seine Now? Pools, Basins & More

Piscine Josephine Baker, a floating swimming pool on the left bank of the Seine. Image: Paris Tourist Office

Luckily, if you’re after a hot-weather dip in the capital, there are a few open-air options while we await the much-anticipated Seine swimming holes in 2024 and beyond. Here are a couple I recommend; you can find a fuller list of municipal pools and swimming areas in my piece at TripSavvy.

Piscine Josephine Baker

The Piscine Josephine Baker opened a few years ago, named after the legendary Franco-American performer and resistance figure of the same name. The 25-meter long, 10-meter wide floating pool is located next to the Bibliothèque Nationale’s (National Library’s) main site in the 13th arrondissement, on the left bank of the Seine. It’s equipped with four lanes for laps.

{Related: Are You More Right-Bank or Left-Bank Paris? Find Out Here}

There’s also a large wading pool for kids, as well as a rooftop area perfect for sunning, plus hammam, sauna, jacuzzi and a gym. With a public pool like this one, who needs fancy spas?

Note that at present, reservations (for 2-hour sessions) are required.

Getting There: Quai François Mauriac, 75013 Paris (13th Arrondissement); Metro Quai de la Gare

The Bassin de la Villette Pop-Up Pools

Pop-up pools at the Bassin de la Villette

The swimming holes created along a section of the Bassin de la Villette in 2017 have become incredibly popular summer fixtures in Paris. They’re free (although in high demand, so get there early) and generally open in tandem with the pop-up beach operation known as Paris Plages.

{Related: Why to Consider a Summer Trip to Paris?}

Ideal for kids, these pools are cordoned off from the rest of the canal system and have shallow areas ideal for beginners. There’s also a larger pool that’s best for adults, but don’t expect to do any Olympic-style laps here.

This pool is accessible for visitors with limited mobility (including those with wheelchairs).

Getting there: Access to the pools is from the Quai de la Loire, 75019 Paris (Metro Riquet or Laumière). They’re generally open from mid-July to mid-September, but check ahead of time. See more information here.

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Can you swim in the seine river in Paris?

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