We’d love to write a joke about London’s many lidos, open-air pools, and wild swimming spots…
…but our humour is a little too dry.
So instead, we’ll just have to settle for a simple rundown of the best in the capital – sometimes balmy, sometimes bracingly refreshing, sometimes teeming with fish, but always glorious. So here are the finest spots for open-air swimming in London, broken down into heated, unheated, and wild categories.
It’s a very talented pool…
Rain ruined your plans? Check out the best indoor swimming pools in London
Aside from its many ponds, Hampstead also happens to have the Parliament Hill Lido, a 61-m long, grade-II listed Art Deco outdoor pool with stainless steel beneath the water and 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 be rewarded by the poolside sauna.
Address: Heath Lodge, Highgate, NW5 1NA | Cost? £7.45 | Prebooking necessary? Yes, book here | Refreshments nearby? There’s a lovely café on-site, but you’re also conveniently close to The Southampton Arms.
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 quick dip, but it’s the Grade II listed Art Deco building siting at the poolside which will really pique your interest because – aside from a sauna, jacuzzi, and spa area – it features 400 Rabbits, a sourdough pizza spot with a lovely terrace.
Address: Brockwell Park, Dulwich Road, Herne Hill, SE24 0PA | Cost? £5 | Prebooking necessary? Yes, best done via the Better UK app | Refreshments nearby? 400 Rabbits, or hit Herne Hill Market on a Sunday
Tooting Bec Lido – CLOSED FOR REFURBISHMENT
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. When you’re swimming in London, it’s one of the few places where you won’t need to worry about space.
Address: Tooting Bec Road, Tooting, SW16 1RU | Cost? £8.30 | Prebooking necessary? Yes, best done on the Places Locker app
HEATED LONDON LIDOS
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, and fitness studio on the site. So as far as London’s outdoor swimming spots go, it’s pretty well appointed.
Address: Hornfair Park, Shooters Hill Road, SE18 4LX | Cost? £11.50 | Prebooking necessary? Yes, best done 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 checking out these Greenwich restaurants.
London Fields Lido is a 50m long, Olympic-size, outdoor pool heated to 25 degrees in – you guessed it – London Fields. It’s relatively new too (well, relative to other lidos, that is) having been completely refurbished in 2017. Now it has 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? £5.40 | Prebooking necessary? Yes, best done via the Better UK app | Refreshments nearby? Pophams Bakery for a light lunch, or The Duke of Richmond for everything else.
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? £6.85 | Prebooking necessary? You bet, best done 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.
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.
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? £5.60-11.20 | Prebooking necessary? Yes, best done on their site, app, or phone (020 3772 2999) | Refreshments nearby? Plenty – take a look at these great Richmond restaurants, or enjoy an al fresco pint at one of the many pubs in Richmond.
Nestled down in deepest, darkest South-West London, 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-west and are looking for an outdoor pool, it’s worth the trip.
Address: High Street, Hampton, TW12 2ST | Cost? £8.15, plus £3.30 for sauna | Prebooking necessary? Not necessary, but best to guarantee a slot by booking here | Refreshments nearby? The Pheasantry in Bushy Park is a solid option.
Since Canary Wharf doesn’t see much actual wharf action these days, they’re opening up the concrete jungle’s 220 year-old Middle Dock for open water swimming. 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? £8/session, plus £15 annual membership | Prebooking necessary? No, but possible via the ACTiO app | Refreshments nearby? If you’re not in the mood for wine, check out one of these great Canary Wharf restaurants.
To clarify, Beckenham’s wild swimming lake isn’t ‘theme park’ wild, it’s ‘David Attenborough’ wild. Fish, birds, insects, they’re all there. Apparently 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? £5.80 | Prebooking necessary? You bet, on their site | Refreshments nearby? The lovely Homestead Cafe is in the park itself for stone-baked pizza & Square Mile coffee.
In all there are over 25 lakes & ponds dotted across Hampstead Heath, and three of them are for swimming 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? £4.25 (or £66.85 for a Summer Season ticket) | Prebooking necessary? Yes, right here (tickets for the week ahead released Mondays at noon) | Refreshments nearby? Elevated pub fare awaits at The Dartmouth Arms, or later in the day it’s well worth popping into Swain’s Wine Bar.
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.
This is one of the few wild swimming options in the city that does not 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? £11 | Prebooking necessary? Yes, best done through the Better UK app | Refreshments nearby? There’s a coffeeshop on site. You’ll need it. And if you fancy a 20 minute stroll down to Church Street, you can refuel at The Good Egg.
At the Royal Docks you’re basically in the Thames, which makes it the final boss of London swimming. 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? £8 | Prebooking necessary? Yes, best done on the site | Refreshments nearby? It’s a good excuse to take the Emirates Air Line out to Greenwich, and visit the Design District Canteen. 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…)