Lidos and outdoor swimming pools in London
Beat the heat with a dip in one of the city's lidos, pools or swimming ponds
Whether you're looking to swim yourself fit or simply escape the summer heat, nothing beats a refreshing dip in the open air. Luckily, London has loads of options for front-crawlers and pool-posers alike, with open-air facilities in every corner of the city. Just remember: no heavy petting.
London's best swimming pools and lidos
Originally dammed-off clay pits, the ponds are run by the City of London Corporation. It is consulting with local residents about essential works to protect against flooding, which – though unlikely – could be catastrophic if a large quantity of rain fell over an extended period. In the meantime, the three pools remain open to ladies, men and mixed groups (including accompanied children aged eight-15, at the lifeguards’ discretion) respectively. The Men’s and Ladies’ Ponds are open all year round but to use the Mixed Pond in the winter season you must join the Hampstead Heath Winter Swimming Club. Even in the summer the water is chilly.
- Hampstead Heath, NW5 1QR
South London’s vast pool, with its iconic, Pantone-coloured changing huts, has been treasured by fortunate locals since it opened as a bathing lake in 1906. At just over 90m, it’s this country’s largest outdoor freshwater pool and inspires devoted swimming all through the year, although to swim in winter you must be a member of the well established South London Swimming Club, which has been based at the lido almost as long as it has existed. Facilities include a paddling pool for kids, a café, and lockers for small valuables.
- Tooting Bec Rd, SW16 1RU
After an extensive, £2 million refurbishment, this 50-metre pool was reopened to the public in early 2013. The facility is fully heated, with a new fitness studio and café scheduled to open in 2014.
- Hornfair Park, Shooters Hill Rd, SE18 4LX
The 1990s update of the original ’30s lido is housed in a complex which includes an indoor pool, cinema and bowling alley. The (unheated) lido is now far smaller, but still has a grassy terrace. Opening is weather dependent – you won't get an al fresco swim if it's less than 20C outside. Indoors, swimmers can plough up and down the main pool or enjoy the leisure pool’s wave machine.
- Great North Leisure Park, Chaplin Square, N12 0GL
The 50-metre pool is surrounded by art deco Grade II-listed buildings which house the Lido Café (winner of a Time Out Eating and Drinking award for 'Best park cafe' in 2011) and exercise studios, offering year-round dance and pilates classes and activities for pre-school children. An eclectic range of events are organised on the site, from film nights to furniture fairs, and the Brockwell Lido Users' Group (www.brockwelllido.com) is active in ensuring the facility meets the needs of the community. On weekdays before 10am admission is free to people over 60. Opening for 2012 commences on April 20.
- Brockwell Park, Dulwich Rd, SE24 0PA
Formerly known as Uxbridge Lido, the Grade II-listed, 50m, open-air swimming pool reopened in 2010, restored to its 1930s glory, complete with cascades (fountains) at either end and a new, heated shallow splash pool for children. The outdoor pool is now part of a new leisure centre that includes an indoor pool of the same size. Out in the open, there’s space to chill by the pool and café for post-swimming snacks. Festivities are planned for the opening weekend of 2012 (Apr 28), including the Fustin Cup race, celebrating the 'first in' the pool.
- Hillingdon Sport and Leisure Complex Gatting Way, Uxbridge, UB8 1ES
A dogged 18-year campaign by the London Fields User Group saved this 50-metre lido from demolition, and it reopened in 2006. Open year-round, it’s now run by Greenwich Leisure Ltd. It’s heated and well used: during busy holiday periods it closes at lunchtime between sessions to make sure as many people as possible can enjoy it. Picnicking is off-limits but there are two cafés.
- London Fields Westside, E8 3EU
Built in 1938 and refurbished in 2005, the Grade II-listed Parliament Hill Lido measures a generous 60 metres by 28 metres. It has a stainless steel pool liner (the only one in an outdoor pool in the UK) which gives the water a metallic shimmer – not that you'll be able to tell when it's packed full of people on a sunny day. The lido is unheated, but wetsuits are permitted at the lifeguard’s discretion. There are two sessions a day (7-9am and 10am-6pm) with an additional adults-only evening session on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. There's a paddling pool for under-fives and a cafe.
- Parliament Hill Fields, Gordon House Rd, NW5 1LP
This south-facing, 36-metre open-air pool, with grassy areas for sunbathing, is open and heated to a balmy 28C all year round. Built in 1922, it was saved from closure in the 1980s by a group of local residents, who continue to take part in fundraising activities and more practical tasks including gardening and other maintenance. The group has rebranded itself as the Poolside Swim & BBQ Club and holds swimming and social sessions outside of normal pool hours – anyone is welcome to join. They also run a series of summer concerts and the line up for 2012 includes Turin Breaks (Jul 6), Bellowhead (Jul 13) and Pink Floyd tribute act Brit Floyd (Jul 7). The pool also hosts swimming lessons, water polo and a triathlon club and there's a poolside gym and fitness studio.
- High St, Hampton, TW12 2ST
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
At busy weekends and during holiday periods, separate sessions for lane and fun swimming operate at Crouch End’s 50-metre lido, formerly known as Park Road Pools, which is heated and dates from 1929. There are diving areas, a children's pool, grassy slopes for sunbathing and a cafeteria. The centre also has an indoor pool, exercise studios and therapy rooms. Provisional opening date for 2012 is May 4.
- Park Rd, N8 8JN
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
Fancy a side of fresh air and sunshine? These are the best tables in town
Dig out the kagoul; London's open-air theatre is worth risking the rain for
Banish boredom with these great ideas for the holidays
For warm weekends of sun-soaked supping, look no further
Our guide to making the most of the city on two wheels
Get trim on the cheap with our guide to the city's best running routes, events, shops and more
Prefer to stroll yourself slim? These are the most scenic places to do it
Where to squat, press and lunge your way to a finer physique