No two days at the Forty Foot are the same. This small and storied swimming spot in a pretty corner of south County Dublin has something of a mercurial quality – one day it might feel like you’re basking in the south of France; the next like you’re enduring an Atlantic storm. But that’s all part of its charm.
Swimming at the Forty Foot dates back to the 19th century. Traditionally, it was a men-only bathing area, but in the 1970s a group of feminists protested the exclusion of women and children, and the rules were relaxed. Now it’s there for everyone to enjoy, from visiting weekenders to long-standing locals. Part of its appeal is its natural beauty – bounded by biscuit-coloured rocks on both sides, the deep waters offer swimmers a beautiful view of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Dublin Bay.
Take the plunge here in the cold waters of the Irish Sea, and you’re likely to have cormorants diving beside you, herons and seagulls swooping above, and a curious seal or two (a word to the wise, keep your distance, seals are wild animals and are unpredictable).
People swim in the Forty Foot year-round (it's tradition to take a dip on Christmas Day), but if you’re not mad enough to join the collection of hardy winter dippers (and with temperatures of around 7 degrees it’s not for the faint-hearted), this part of the south County Dublin coast still makes a great destination for a short stroll or a longer hike.
Not far from The Forty Foot is the lively town of Dún Laoghaire, where you’ll find the Dún Laoghaire Baths (another sea swimming spot), a 19th century pier and the elegant People’s Park, with its popular Sunday food market. For a pleasant walk, jump on the Dart (train) from Dublin city centre, get out at Dún Laoghaire and walk all along the coast to Sandycove beach and the Forty Foot.
In the other direction is the scenic village of Dalkey, which boasts two castles, as well as lots of great pubs, cafés and restaurants. And if it’s sightseeing you’re after, there are a few local spots to note including the Maritime Museum in Dún Laoghaire, Dalkey Castle, and the James Joyce Tower and Museum, which is located right behind the Forty Foot.
The Martello Tower in which the museum is housed was originally built as a defence against a Napoleonic invasion in the 19th century; Joyce spent six nights here in 1904 and the Forty Foot features in the opening pages of Ulysses.
The south Dublin coastline is peppered with small scenic villages that are easily accessible by public transport. They're also perfect for a bite to eat. A short walk from the Forty Foot is the friendly local hub of Glasthule. Here you’ll find Caviston’s – a Dublin institution, and a great place for seafood. On the ground floor is a more traditional restaurant, but head upstairs for good wines and small plates, or try the Food Emporium for a sandwich or salad to enjoy by the sea.
Wine is the order of the day at 64, a few doors down from Caviston’s, where you can enjoy a post-swim rosé and charcuterie plate, while locals queue up daily at Hatch for a quick coffee fix. And if you’re a Joyce fan, walk up the road a little to the tiny village of Sandycove, where you’ll find Fitzgerald’s pub, which is connected to the literary works of James Joyce and is a hive of activity every Bloomsday.