What? An open water swimming festival in Sweden that features a variety of races over one week in the summer. The flagship event is the 3km Vansbro swim, but there are triathlons, swim/runs and children’s events on offer too. 
When? Saturday 29 June to Sunday 7 July 2019
Entry fee: Around £65 for the 3km race on Saturday 6 July 2019

Vansbrosimningen is the largest open water swimming event in Europe. The event was born in 1950 when Vansbro residents and open water swimming enthusiasts Einar Anselius and Mats Qvarfot were sitting by the river Vånan wondering how they could encourage people to take part in an open water swimming race.

Qvafot suggested they should start at the People’s Park in Vansbro and swim one kilometre, but his friend Anselius had other ideas: “No, damn it!” he said, “we’re swimming under all six bridges.” And so it began.

In the first race, 10 people participated; today nearly 15,000 people take part in the 11 different events that make up the week-long festival.

The 3km Vansbro swim is the flagship race and features around 7,000 participants, who are set off in waves every 12-15 minutes from 10:00 until 16:00. The course takes swimmers under seven bridges (one more than the original race route) along the rivers Vanån and Västerdalälven.

The first 2,000m are with the current, so you’ll swim much faster than you would in still water, and the last 1,000m is against the current. Everyone who completes the race receives a medal and a diploma, and swimmers who take part in seven races are awarded a medal of ‘Älvarnas Blå Band’ (The River’s Blue Band Medal), to mark the achievement of swimming under the seven bridges on seven occasions. Swimmers aged 10 and upwards are accepted in the race.

British age-group triathlete Alastair Hadfield took part in the 3km Vansbro swim in 2018. We caught up with him to find out what makes this swim so special...

Vansbrosimningen swimmers

“I flew from London to Stockholm last summer to take part in the Vansbro swim as I’d heard great things about the event. One of Vansbro’s attractions is its rural location in the heart of Sweden, roughly 300km north west of Stockholm. You can rent a car or camper van to drive to the town but I chose to take the train and then a bus to reach Vansbro.

“The swim takes place in stunning countryside – it felt like wild swimming to be in the river with leafy woods crowding the banks."

“There are a few hotels and B&Bs in the town but accommodation is fairly limited, so the organisers have created a huge camping area as part of the event village, which also features a festival marquee, a kids’ swimming pool, an arena area where swimmers can gather and food and drinks stands. Most swimmers tend to stay in tents or camper vans so they can make the most of the great outdoors during the Swedish summer.

“Everything about the Vansbro week-long festival is relaxed. I arrived the day before my 3km race to register but you can turn up on the day if you prefer. Baggage was well organised, with a truck for each wave of swimmers to leave a bag that they could collect at the finish. There were water safety marshals stationed every few hundred metres along the river and there were also large changing tents at finish.

“The swim takes place in stunning countryside – it felt like wild swimming to be in the river with leafy woods crowding the banks. The water quality throughout the swim was great too – the water runs down from the mountains so it’s fresh and clear; I could see underwater perfectly. It was around 20C and there were frequent water temperature updates from the organisers before the race.

“The 3km Vansbro swim is the biggest of the 11 events taking place but it never felt too crowded as swimmers are set off in waves at regular interval over an eight-hour period.

“After swimming 2,000m, which feels fast as the current pulls you along, the final 1,000m are harder work, but there’s a path along this part of the river where supporters cheer the swimmers from the river bank. It’s a good idea to try to swim near the river bank for this final section as the current is less strong at the sides of the river.

Swimmers at the Finish Line

“There were loads of spectators at the start of the race, where the swimmers gather under the first bridge to begin the swim. As you make your way down the river you swim under seven bridges in total, all packed with supporters cheering the swimmer on.

“The festival arena after the race was great fun. There was free food and drink for the finishers. I met quite a few British swimmers but the majority of the participants were, as you’d expect, Swedes. I got the sense that most people stayed at the festival for several days to enjoy the lovely weather, great countryside and fun events that make up this celebration of open water swimming.”