London's best swimming pools
Great pools? From marble-clad baths dripping in history to modern leisure centres echoing with lifeguards' whistles, London is swimming in them
Originally opened as a wash house in 1931, the public centre recently underwent a £16.5 million restoration project, which included giving the Turkish hammam in the basement (now operated by Spa London) a lavish facelift. Its trio of hot rooms, two saunas, two steam rooms and an ice-cold plunge pool now feel incongruously luxurious given the cost of a three-hour session here (from £8.75), and the spa’s menu of signature and Elemis beauty treatments are almost absurdly affordable. The chasm between palatial looks and leisure centre prices continues throughout. A state-of-the-art gym has been installed (we love the spinning bikes facing an anytime DVD tutorial), and the five-lane pool has been spruced up: apparently 200 man-hours were spent sanding down and varnishing its 1930s wooden gallery – and it shows. What’s been preserved in spite of the primping, however, is a sense of the venue’s place in local history.
- 1-11 Ironmonger Row, EC1V 3QF
A perennial favourite with those working in the West End due to low membership rates, a fully equipped Pilates studio, large cardio theatre and up-to-date resistance training equipment. It’s not glamorous but that’s not the point here; instead it provides every possible type of workout and activity including climbing, trampolining and volleyball, taught to a very high standard (YMCA Fitness Industry Training is an industry leader and many of its graduates instruct here). A good 25-metre pool is divided for lane swimming; there’s also a chapel, therapies and a decent café to boot.
- 112 Great Russell St, WC1B 3NQ
Early mornings and the winter months are the preserve of the Serpentine Swimming Club, but from May to September there’s a warm welcome for everyone in this section of the Serpentine lake – although the water is not heated. It’s not chlorinated either, a boon for swimmers who prefer to avoid the stuff, as well as to the wildlife (you may find yourself sharing a dip with the local ducks and swans). The gated family area with a (chlorinated) paddling pool, sandpit and swings means parents can relax while their children play. There's a private sunbathing area and sun loungers for hire and a kiosk within the lido grounds makes it possible to order from the popular Lido Café next door.
- Hyde Park, W2 3XA
A 27.5m expanse of blue, the outdoor pool at the Oasis in Covent Garden is a central London revelation to the uninitiated. Once you’ve discovered the open-air heated pool, sun terrace and adjacent indoor pool you’ll be hooked, just like everyone else who’s in on the secret. The Oasis is so popular at hot summer weekends and at peak times that getting any serious swimming done is difficult – best go with the modest aim of splashing about to cool down. The outdoor parts were refurbished in 2011, with new steps to the sunbathing terrace, where there are separate areas for adults and families, and decking beside the café which serves smoothies and ice creams. Swimming is free for Camden residents aged 55 and over between 9am and noon Monday to Friday.
- 32 Endell St, WC2H 9AG
This handsome rooftop swimming pool might be on the shortish side at 20 metres but its uplifting, light-filled surroundings more than make up for it. The pool offers fitness sessions and swimming classes. Part of the Fusion Leisure group, there's also a high-tech gym and outdoor courts for tennis and netball. Once you've done a few lengths, the club also offers a good range of martial arts classes including Karate, Tae Kwon Do and Judo. A swim will set you back £8, so if you live of work nearby membership is a much more cost-effective option.
- Golden Lane Estate, Fann St, EC1Y 0SH