One of my favourite things about Barcelona is the adapted swimming beach wheelchair service. They have amphibious wheelchairs on some English beaches, but nothing this good. In Barcelona you can swim in the sea using amphibious wheelchairs at two locations. The first was Nova Icaría, which I visited, and the second was Sant Miquel, which I didn’t). There is also a hydraulic lift at a third, Forum, which didn’t work out for me.
This isn’t a winter service, and only becomes an everyday service during the height of the summer season. However, it is such a wonderful setup for disabled people who couldn’t swim any other way. Beaches are traditionally incredibly inaccessible (sand, wheelchairs, not a great mixture). Just having a boardwalk to the sea is only worthwhile if your wheelchair can enter the water, or if you can walk in. For people who can’t, there needs to be a safe way of getting into the sea. It’s here that the assisted bathing service steps in.
How to book and attend the adapted swimming
It’s important to note that the service only available when the flags are green for swimmers. You can call them (see the number on their website) to check whether the service is running that day. If the flags are yellow they don’t think it safe to swim.
You now need to book your slot in advance. If you only need assistance getting into the water at Nova Icària and Sant Miquel, then you use your slot. You can stay in the water for as long as you want. The people working at the beach wheelchair service will help you out when you are finished. If you need their support with you in the water, it’s limited to 20 minutes at busy times. You and the people with you have to be able to do the work involved in getting tyou ready to swim. The staff will help with the swimming end, but you have . When I went in June, it wasn’t busy. That said, in the height of summer I think it would be very very busy.
Unfortunately, for me, the adapted swimming at Fòrum was a no-go. I’m starting with this disappointment, so you can read further down about how great Nova Icaría is. It certainly more than made up for this.
At Nova Icària and Sant Miquel they have amphibious wheelchairs. At Forum instead, you have to be able to transfer to a small chair and then sit upright in it. The staff then lower the lift into water of up to 5 metres deep.
Once in the water, at Forum, you can absolutely surround yourself in floats. However, you and/or your companion need to be able to swim you back to the hydraulic chair to emerge. This meant relying on a companion or companions who are very strong swimmers, and I didn’t want to do this. With water that deep, it didn’t feel safe.
For me, balancing upright in the chair-style lift they provided didn’t look like something I could safely do either. Eventually I decided against it, and just lay under the sunshades and relaxed and wrote this instead.
This was disappointing for me – but I’m glad I came and found out, because otherwise I wouldn’t have known – and the other beaches are definitely far better.
Nova Icaría was brilliantly equipped. They had an excellent Changing Places space, with shower, changing bed, height adjustable toilet, bidet – everything. They also had a hoist to get you into the beach wheelchair if necessary (though I just went with being lifted by their staff for ease). I lost count of the number of amphibious beach wheelchairs they had on offer for adapted swimming. Once in the water, you could stay in their beach wheelchair like a floating sun lounger. However, they also had a wide range of floats and life-jackets which I decided to try on my second trip.
To enter the sea, they simply wheel the chair down the beach and into the sea. I decided to remain on the wheelchair, rather than using one of the lifejackets. This was because I was worried about breathing and the risk of aspiration. The staff made sure I always had two of their assistance team with me (or one plus my companion). With this, I felt completely safe lying there, sunning myself.
I had such a wonderful time that it really was the high point of my trip, and something I’d wanted to do every day. Unfortunately, despite the blazing sun, the weather had other ideas and the flags were yellow for several days. I was very glad I went on the first possile day – and on my last possible day I was able to swim again. If swimming is a crucial point of the trip for you, make sure that you check every day that they’re open.
I didn’t go to Sant Miquel, because I suspected that it would be far busier than Nova Icaría, and I wasn’t quite clear on whether it had a Changing Places toilet. However, it’s more central than Nova Icaría, easily located from Barceloneta or Ciutadella metro stations. Walking there, you can also approach through the gorgeous Gothic Quarter.
It certainly has the amphibious wheelchairs they have at Nova Icaría but you would have to try it to find out more.
Why adapted swimming matters
It could sound almost unnecessary. Having a service that allows disabled people into the sea can’t be cheap – but it is important. Barcelona often revolves around the sea, and being able to participate in that is valuable. I saw so many families, friendship groups, and couples enjoying their time in the water, building connections, and having fun. Holistically, we need ways to be properly in nature and our communities, and this essential service is one of them.