Trip to Europe: Austria wins the ranking of the best bathing sites in Europe for water quality

The quality of Europe’s bathing waters has improved dramatically in recent decades, and a new report reveals that almost 85% of its bathing sites are now rated as ‘excellent’.

The annual bathing water report released this week by the European Environment Agency (EEA) monitored nearly 22,000 inland and coastal bathing places in EU member states, Albania and Switzerland in 2021.

The UK, having left the EU, was absent from the report for the first time. But which country had the best swimming spots?

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Austria is known for its many beautiful lakes and alpine waters. (CNN/Adobe)

Landlocked Austria, known for its many beautiful lakes, including the alpine waters of Achensee in Tyrol and the emerald-hued Weissensee in Carinthia, leads the rankings, with 97.7% of its waters rated excellent.

Close behind, at the top of the ranking, are four favorites of Mediterranean holidays: Malta, Greece, Croatia and Cyprus. Denmark and Germany are the other countries where more than nine out of ten sites obtained the best score.

Portugal is in 10th place, with 88.5%, while Italy (87.9%) and Spain (87.4%) occupy 12th and 13th places respectively.

A tourist hotspot, France ranks further down the rankings, with 75.7%, while Poland ranks last with just 44.5% – far behind Slovakia with 50% and Hungary with 60, 2%.

Rising standards

The assessment was prepared by the EEA in cooperation with the European Commission. Local and state authorities have taken water samples during the bathing season and tested them for the types of bacteria that indicate pollution from sewage and livestock.

The waters were then judged “excellent”, “good”, “adequate” or “mediocre”, according to European Union standards.

The view of the Dwejra Inland Sea and the Blue Hole Cave through the arch of the old boathouse in the fishing village of San Lawrenz, Gozo Island, Malta.
Malta and other Mediterranean resorts were also in the top five. (CNN/Adobe)

Swimming in poorly rated waters can lead to illness – if the water is swallowed, swimmers may suffer from stomach upset or diarrhoea.

France had a total of 99 bathing spots classified as “bad”, meaning they had to close throughout the following bathing season, with measures put in place to reduce pollution and eliminate health risks.

Sites classified as mediocre for five consecutive years must be permanently closed – this is the case for 31 bathing places in Italy, eight in France and two in the Netherlands.

This rule is part of the Bathing Water Directive which was adopted in 2006 and has led to a continuous increase in the proportion of excellent sites since then.

The quality of EU waters is generally high, with minimum water quality standards met at 95.2% of all sites assessed.

The cleanest bathing waters in Europe:

  1. Austria (97.7%)
  2. Malta (96.6%)
  3. Greece (95.8%)
  4. Croatia (95.7%)
  5. Cyprus (93.3%)
  6. Denmark (91.9%)
  7. Germany (90.4%)
  8. Bulgaria (89.8%)
  9. Lithuania (89.2%)
  10. Portugal (88.5%)

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