When you think of London, you may conjure images of Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Westminster and Big Ben mixed with the hustle and bustle of Kensington and Oxford Street. You may not link London with outdoor swimming, however people have been swimming the Thames for over 400 years. As the river is now too dangerous to swim in past Putney, lidos and outdoor pools are finding a new lease of life and fast becoming a popular destination for families, as well as the more dedicated swimmer. Indeed with the opening of the new outdoor pond situated in the middle of King’s Cross, memberships to outdoor swimming clubs has been increasing. In total there are now 17 outdoor lidos and ponds, each with their own touch of magic and loyal band of swimmers. Here, we explore the top 10:
1. Hampstead Heath Ponds
Hampstead Heath has not one but three bathing ponds; one of which is a mixed pond, one is designated for women (Kenwood Pond) and the other for men (Highgate Pond). As they are ponds, be prepared to swim among wildlife including ducks and coots. You may even find the odd tree dipping its branches into the cool water. It’s easy to forget that you are situated in the heart of London when you are gently gliding through the water, being part of nature and relishing in the greenery, when streets away you’ll find shops, traffic and a lot of concrete.
The water is cool, around 18C, so brace yourself for a chilly dip. Wetsuits are generally not encouraged. Very little has changed in the ponds since they first opened; the ladies’ pond opened in the 1920’s, and its regular swimmers say that it’s never the same. There’s always something new to look at. It may be a bit “plain and low-key”, as one member suggested, but it is a tranquil place to relax and unwind.
2.Parliament Hill Lido, Hampstead Heath
Also located in Hampstead Heath, Parliament Hill Lido is a 60 x 27m unheated outdoor swimming pool. It has Grade II listing as it is lined with stainless steel; the only one that exists in the UK. It is accessed through the cafe, which is great if you’ve already been to the Heath’s ponds and need to warm up a bit before bracing the cool temperature of the Lido.
3. The Serpentine, Hyde Park
The Serpentine has long been an iconic place in London. Situated in the popular Hyde Park, it is an area of beauty in the middle of one of the world’s busiest cities. It is a popular spot for athletes and tourists alike, and is home to the UK’s oldest swimming club, The Serpentine Swimming Club. The shower facilities are lacking, however Premier Club Rewards members can find the Shaftesbury Hyde Park International hotel just a stone’s throw away, so booking a room beforehand would not only give a great base to get ready for your swim, it would also ensure a hot shower after experiencing the chilly Serpentine.
The water of the Serpentine is clear and clean and a popular destination for families who can hire pedalos and glide above water.
4. Serpentine Lido, Hyde Park
If the thought of swimming through the middle of the Serpentine doesn’t appeal, you may be more enthusiastic about swimming in the lido. It is a sectioned-off area of the Serpentine, complete with deck chairs for sunbathing. As it is not chlorinated or heated, you still may find yourself swimming among the wildlife. There is also a gate are for families, containing a chlorinated paddling pool and play equipment for children.
5. Brockwell Lido, South London
Known locally as “Brixton’s Beach”, Brockwell Lido is a 50m outdoor pool famous for it’s relaxed ethic and sense of community. The art deco building that houses the on-site cafe is Grade II listed. It is a much loved lido which was opened in 1937 but closed in 1990. With pressure from locals it was reopened in 1994, and was recently allowed to be open all year round. It also has excellent shower facilities.
6. Kings Cross Pond
The newest outdoor swimming area, the King’s Cross Pond, opened in May 2015. The pond has brought a sense of the modern outdoor swimming world into one of the most urban areas of London. The hope is that this inspires more people to take up outdoor swimming and bring it into a new era, which in turn may necessitate the need for more outdoor swimming facilities. It is the place to go on a warm summer’s day with friends, where you can sit, relax and put the world to rights.
7. Charlton Lido, South-East London
Charlton Lido is an outdoor pool, heated at 25C all year round It was fully refurbished and opened in 2013. As it is heated, swimmers can actually stay in for a reasonable amount of time, therefore making it popular with families. There is a cafe on site selling a selection of hot drinks and snacks.
8. London Fields Lido, Hackney
Originally built in the 1930’s, London Fields Lido was reopened in 2006 after a lot of campaigning by the locals. It is right in the heart of Hackney which is a densely populated area. On warm sunny days you’ll find this lido packed with people needing a bit of the outdoor life. It is heated and open all year round until 9pm. There is also a reasonably priced cafe.
9. Tooting Bec Lido, South London
The vast expanse of the water at Tooting Bec Lido measures 90m. It is over 100 years old, Europe’s largest outdoor pool, and long recognized as the UK’s home of cold-water swimming. The great thing about Tooting Bec Lido is that because of its size, when it is busy you can still find somewhere to swim without bumping into people.
10. Hampton Pool, South-West London
Hampton Pool is situated close to Hampton Court Palace. It is hugely popular with families, boasting warm water (28C), slides and a paddling pool warmer than the main pool. It is also a popular venue for concerts, gigs and theatre productions.
Each pool and pond its own charm, a sense of community mixed with pleasure and sport. They are truly hidden gems which are slowly starting to sparkle again.