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Jason Allen 04/06/24


The Best Places To Go Swimming Outdoors In London

As rain-embattled Brits, it seems like the moment the clouds part and we get a precious, fleeting moment of glorious sunshine…

…our immediate instinct is to seek out the nearest body of water, and get ourselves wet again.

It’s truly the Stockholm syndrome of terrible weather. But happily there are dozens of idyllic spots for outdoor swimming in London where you can escape all that pesky heat – from open-air ponds in the middle of sprawling, unspoilt greenery to stylish art deco lidos, and a very literal oasis slap bang in the middle of Central London. Sometimes balmy, sometimes bracingly refreshing, sometimes teeming with fish, swimming outdoors is one of London’s greatest pleasures. So we’ve collated the very best of them below.

It’s a talented pool.


Rain ruined your plans? Check out the best indoor swimming pools in London


UNHEATED LIDOS

Parliament Hill Lido

parliament hill lido

Aside from its many ponds, Hampstead also happens to have the Parliament Hill Lido, a 61m long, grade-II listed Art Deco outdoor pool with stainless steel glimmering beneath the water and spacious concrete sides for lounging in the sun. In summer, the chilly waters are seriously refreshing, and if you’re braving a dip in winter you’ll at least be rewarded by the poolside sauna.

Address: Heath Lodge, Highgate, NW5 1NA | Cost? £8.20 | Prebooking necessary? Yes, book here | Refreshments nearby? There’s a lovely café on-site, but you’re also conveniently close to The Southampton Arms or London Shell Co Swain’s Lane.

Brockwell Lido

brockwell lido

Brockwell Lido is an Olympic-sized outdoor swimming pool, that, after 80 years of business (it opened back in 1937) has become something of a South London institution. It’s all extremely nice, and lovely for a dip, but it’s the Grade II listed Art Deco building wrapping the poolside which will really pique your interest because – aside from a sauna, jacuzzi, and spa area – it’s home to 400 Rabbits, a sourdough pizza spot with a lovely terrace.

Address: Brockwell Park, Dulwich Road, Herne Hill, SE24 0PA | Cost? £8 | Prebooking necessary? Yes, best done via the Fusion app | Refreshments nearby? Try local gems Llewelyn’s and neighbouring wine bar Lulu’s, or hit up Herne Hill Market on a Sunday

Tooting Bec Lido

Tooting Bec Lido

Tooting Bec Lido is the largest freshwater open-air swimming pool by surface area in the UK. Yes, there were a whoooole lot of qualifiers in that statement, but basically it’s big. And therefore unsurprisingly, it’s unheated, so prepare to be refreshed. It’s lined by a colourful rainbow of changing huts, and there’s a lovely little fountain at the end… but just to re-iterate, this place is huge. Clocking in at 91.5m, it’s almost double the length of an Olympic sized swimming pool. So it’s one of the few outdoor swimming spots in London where you won’t need to worry about space.

Newly reopened after a major makeover, you’ll notice the pool’s had a glow-up with new paving round the sides, a new lining, and a whole load of stuff you won’t notice (but will definitely appreciate) like better pipework. And still to come is a new café, a new entrance, and a ‘winter clubroom’.

Address: Tooting Bec Road, Tooting, SW16 1RU | Cost? £9.40 | Prebooking necessary? You can try just turning up, or book here | Refreshments nearby? There’s a cafe in the park, but do yourself a favour and take the 20 minute stroll into Balham for the brunch of kings at Milk.

 

HEATED LONDON LIDOS

London Fields Lido

london fields lido

London Fields Lido is a 50m long, Olympic-sized outdoor pool in – surprise! – London Fields, heated to a civilised 25ºC. A head to toe refurb in 2017 adorned the pool with swanky floodlights, meaning you can take a dip all year, anytime, whatever the weather. In fact, they even have occasional midnight swims, too.

Address: London Fields West Side, E8 3EU | Cost? £6 or £4.30 for members | Prebooking necessary? Recommended, best done via the Better UK app or online here Refreshments nearby? Pophams Bakery for a light lunch, or Netil Market for something more casual.

Charlton Lido

charlton lido heated

When Charlton Lido was refurbed back in 2013, it had both a lot of water & money poured into it. Enough to fill an Olympic sized pool, and £2 million, respectively. The upshot? It’s a 50 meter, heated outdoor pool with two sun terraces, a café, gym, tennis courts and even a BMX track on-site. So as far as London’s outdoor swimming spots go, it’s pretty well appointed. It’s also a great place to learn to swim, since they have a 20m section of the outdoor pool – only 0.7m deep – specifically for lessons.

Address: Hornfair Park, Shooters Hill Road, SE18 4LX | Cost? £11.50 or £9.50 for members | Prebooking necessary? Yes, here or via the Better UK app | Refreshments nearby? Honestly, it’s a bit dry out there. There’s a coffeeshop on site, otherwise you’re best off getting a bus into Greenwich.

Oasis Covent Garden

Oasis Lido

So, this one fills up fast. It’s in Covent Garden, it’s on a rooftop, and it’s heated, so no surprise that its dance card is well-inked. Added to which, it’s only 27m long, so it’s not exactly gigantic either. But if you keep an eye on the app and book yourself a slot, you’ll be rewarded with a very reasonably priced dip, a sun terrace, and a two minute walk to, well, everything.

Address: 32 Endell Street, WC2H 9AG | Cost? £7.20, or £15 for leisure centre access | Prebooking necessary? You bet, here or on the Better UK app | Refreshments nearby? Are you kidding? There are almost too many options. You can dive into the best restaurants in Covent Garden, but Barrafina and The Barbary are good places to start. And we’ve also put together a perfect day out around the pool right here.

Park Road Leisure Centre

park road pools

It might date back to 1926, but Crouch End’s 50m-long outdoor pool is heated. And to boot? It’s got grassy, landscaped slopes surrounding it, which are perfect for a picnic. There are diving areas, a separate children’s pool, and a whopping great leisure centre, too.

Address: Park Road, N8 8JN | Cost? £8 | Prebooking necessary? Yes, best done here | Refreshments nearby? Sourdough Sophia will sort you out with the likes of a cruffin, a sourdough pretzel, and a coffee.

Pools on the Park

Pools on the Park

P-on-the-P is a Grade II listed, white-tiled beauty on the edge of a deer park. In fact, it’s in the same green space as Kew Gardens, so you won’t be too far off some gorgeous scenery. And the kicker? It’s heated to a balmy 24 degrees.

Address: Old Deer Park, Twickenham Road, Richmond TW9 2SF | Cost? £6.50 | Prebooking necessary? Recommended, here | Refreshments nearby? Plenty – take a look at these nearby Richmond restaurants, or enjoy an al fresco pint at one of the many excellent pubs in Richmond.

Hampton Pool

hampton pool outdoor swimming

Nestled down in deepest, darkest South-West London by Hampton Court Palace, unless you’re a Tudor-era marriage junkie Hampton Pool can be a bit of a mission to get to… but you’ll be amply rewarded when you slip into the steaming water on a crisp morning, and are reminded that yes, this lido is heated to a positively scorching 28 degrees every day of the year. Built as part of the lido boom in the ’20s, the pool’s surrounded by Art Deco buildings, a sauna, and a huge open lawn, on which you can sunbathe between swims or bring your own picnic. If you’re based anywhere south or west and are looking for an outdoor pool, it’s well worth the trip.

Address: High Street, Hampton, TW12 2ST | Cost? £9 | Prebooking necessary? Yes, here | Refreshments nearby? The Sun Deck café does drinks, snacks and hot food, but The Pheasantry in Bushy Park is another nice option.

 

WILD SWIMMING

Canary Wharf Open Water Swimming

canary wharf open water swimming

Sean Pollock

Since Canary Wharf doesn’t see much actual wharf action these days, they’ve started opening up the concrete jungle’s 220 year-old Middle Dock for open water swimming every summer. It’s all approved by NOWCA (who regulate wild swimming water quality), and they’ll be offering 3-4 hour slots, daily, until September. All you have to do is sign up to NOWCA membership (£15 a year), which also gives you access to 40 other wild swimming spots in the UK. Oh, and the changing rooms are right next to Humble Grape, if you’re in the market for some post swim hydration…

Address: Middle Dock, Canary Wharf, London, E14 | Cost? TBC | Prebooking necessary? No, but possible here | Refreshments nearby? If you’re not in the mood for wine, check out one of these great Canary Wharf restaurants.

Beckenham Wild Swimming Lake

beckenham wild swimming

To clarify, Beckenham’s wild swimming lake isn’t ‘theme park’ wild, it’s ‘David Attenborough’ wild. Fish, birds, insects, they’re all there. It’s so natural, there’s even a small risk of developing a rash called “swimmer’s itch” after taking a dunk. Hooray! And it seems redundant to add that the water can be cold. But if you can handle that, then the rewards are spectacular beauty, and a chance to quite literally immerse yourself in nature.

Address: Beckenham Place Park Lake, Beckenham Hill Road, BR3 5BS | Cost? £6.20 | Prebooking necessary? You bet, on their site | Refreshments nearby? The lovely Homestead Cafe is in a revamped Georgian stable block in the park itself, and serves stone-baked pizza & Square Mile coffee.

Hampstead Heath Ponds

hampstead heath ponds

In all there are over 25 lakes & ponds dotted across Hampstead Heath, and three of them are big enough to swim in. In classic Victorian fashion, there’s a men’s pond (Highgate), a women’s pond (Kenwood) and a mixed pond (Hampstead). Take a dip in any of them and you’ll feel the billow of silt between your toes, and if you swim across to the banks you’ll likely encounter some feathered friends as bathing companions. The women’s pond also has a couple of meadows attached for sunbathing with a good book afterwards.

Cost? £4.70 | Prebooking necessary? Yes for peak times, here – or just drop in 7-11am and 6.30-8.30pm | Refreshments nearby? Elevated pub fare awaits at The Dartmouth Arms, or at the mixed ponds, head for brunch at Silverberry.

Serpentine Lido, Hyde Park

serpentine lido outdoor swimming london

Garry Knight/Flickr

Hyde Park’s 40 acre lake, The Serpentine, was created for Queen Caroline back in 1730. It’s home to the oldest swimming club in Britain, who famously get together to race through freezing cold waters every year on Christmas Day. You don’t need to be quite as hard-core to join – you can book in for lap swimming any day of the week in summer. There’s also another section for boating if you change your mind about getting in, and a gorgeous café overlooking the water.

Address: Hyde Park, London | Cost? £5.95-7.50 | Prebooking necessary? Yes, right here | Refreshments nearby? If there’s no room at the café, you could always treat yourself at The Shed.

West Reservoir Centre, Stoke Newington

West Reservoir wild swimming london

This is one of the few wild swimming options in London that doesn’t require an induction, so you can just book and show up with nothing but your cozzie and a smile. And a bright red orange, or pink swimming cap, so they can see you in the water. And a tow float. And a hot drink. And maybe a wetsuit, if it’s particularly cold. But if you’ve nailed all that, then the reservoir’s huge (23 acres) expanse of fresh water is your playground.

Address: Green Lanes, Hackney N4 2HA | Cost? £12.30 or £7.90 member | Prebooking necessary? Yes, here or on the Better UK app | Refreshments nearby? There’s a coffeeshop on site. You’ll need it. But for something more substantial, head to Beam for brunch, or The Plimsoll for famously good burgers.

Royal Docks

Royal Docks

At the Royal Docks you’re basically in the Thames, which makes it the final boss of outdoor swimming in London. Just to be clear, technically you’re in the largest enclosed dock in the world …but it’s literally yards away from the river, and it shares the same water, so it might as well be. Only, there’s no risk of rib boats, floating restaurants, or confused whales interfering with your swim. And thankfully the water is tested frequently, and consistently marked as ‘excellent’. If you’re an open water beginner, prepare for an induction course (either online or in-person) and dive in.

Address: Dock Rd, Royal Docks, E16 1AH | Cost? £9.50 | Prebooking necessary? Yes, here | Refreshments nearby? It’s a good excuse to take the Emirates Air Line out to Greenwich, and visit the Design District Canteen. Layers is a fantastic little bakery by Trinity Buoy Wharf, or the Good Hotel (and its rooftop) is right on the waterfront.

 


Lidos all booked up? Check out these other great things to do outside in London (ignoring the bit about lidos)