There was a time when most gyms in London were functional, slightly clinical looking places that came with a whiff of sweat and chlorine about them. They certainly weren't the sort of place you’d choose to hang out in on a Friday night. What a difference a few years makes. Today the best gyms in London feel closer to nightclubs or fancy restaurants – some have DJs, others schedule ‘raves' and more than a few have comfy leather armchairs. In short: exercise has never been so much fun, whether you're after a bit of boxing, swimming or spinning. But where do you start? By taking a look at our round-up of the best gyms in London, of course.
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The best gyms in London
London's east end has a surprising lack of boutique gyms. Blok in Clapton is an attempt to correct this imbalance. This fitness newcomer, which opened in early 2016, is a seriously trendy offering. Occupying a former warehouse it has all the vibes of a hip Berlin hangout, with a cafe specialising in bone broth and exhibition space for local artists. It's a class-based gym and you pay-as-you-go. Their signature class is a gruelling circuits-type workout called Blok-Fit and there's also boxing, yoga, dance and calisthenics. The owners have thought about the little things too: the bathrooms even have underfloor heating, so no need to do the ‘cold floor hop’ in the dead of winter.
Swanky gym chain Third Space has cottoned on to the fact that many fitness fans have fallen out of love with hefty membership fees and restrictive contracts. So their newest gym is strictly pay-as-you-go. It offers three classes: HIIT (a mix of boxing and floor work), cycle (spinning with a focus on core strength) and yoga (take your pick from hot or ‘ambient’). The gym itself is bright and light, and the changing rooms are packed with everything you could possibly need, from hair ties to wet bags. There’s also a small café, serving healthy snacks and protein shakes in every hue.
The thinking behind Third Space is that after home and work the third ‘space' that you'll choose to spend time in is here. If you think that doesn't sound too far off members club territory then you’re right: the atmosphere at this small chain is refined. Gym equipment is top of the line, the décor is considered and the towels are extra fluffy. There’s a full schedule of strength and cardio classes, plus a wealth of instructors on hand in case you’re wondering what exactly you should be doing with that kettlebell. One stand-out feature – and a clear advantage over the wealth of drop-in gyms in the city - is that at the Soho and Tower Bridge gyms they offer a health check, which you can use to steer yourself to health and fitness glory.
Gymbox has grown impressively since it started in a car park in Holborn back in 2003. Right now in London you can take your pick from 8 Gymbox gyms, each committed to making getting sweaty and out-of-breath fun. A quick look at their schedule gives you a sense of the vibe: there’s a class called Drill Sergeant, a gruelling military fitness workout; another called Surfset where yoga is performed on mini surfboards; and another dedicated to aerial hoop acrobatics. Their gyms also feature boxing rings, functional fitness rigs, and resident DJs. This is working out with added party vibes.
Equinox gyms have a seriously swanky reputation. Established in New York in the early nineties, they opened their first gym outside America in London in 2012. Housed in an art deco building a moment from Kensington High Street station everything about Equinox says ‘high class’, and that includes the monthly fees which are £200 plus. But you certainly get bang for your buck: there’s a boxing studio, a spin studio, a pilates studio, a spa, a packed class schedule and a crèche (which gives you a pager for your piece of mind when you drop off your little ones). There are also chilled eucalyptus-scented towels and an abundance of Kiehls products in the changing rooms. Oh, and wifi available in every part of the club. If you can splash the cash, it’s the gym of dreams.
Call us shallow but we’re in love with 1Rebel’s changing rooms: spacious, with an endless row of showers and large bronze lockers that have graced many an Instagram feed. Thankfully 1Rebel’s commitment to creating an amazing gym experience goes beyond the locker room. This hipper-than-thou studio, in two buildings close to Liverpool St, focuses on 3 classes: Cycle (that’s spinning to you and me); Reshape (high intensity exercises across treadmills and benches) and Rumble (a boxing fitness class). Instructors are top of their game and classes are well planned. Be prepared though: they fall on the challenging side. But after your session you get to stand under one of their heavenly rainforest showers. Bliss.
Frame was set up to bring a more positive vibe to the whole process of getting and staying fit. That philosophy is evident a soon as you arrive at their Shoreditch gym (their first, which opened in 2009), where emblazoned on the outside is a huge mural with the words ‘Be bad until you’re good. And good until you’re great.’ You can now be ‘bad’ (or ‘good’ or ‘great, for that matter) at four Frames – in King’s Cross, Queen’s Wood and Victoria as well as Shoreditch – each offering an overwhelming number of classes. Amid the abs workouts and yoga classes there are some quirky options, like Frame Rave and Music Video, plus there’s a weekly running club. That little lot should keep even the most jaded gym bunny coming back for more.
Venue says: “We have brought back our classic brunch items. Think smashed avocado with feta, peas, mint and Turkish eggs with Harissa, yoghurt and herbs.”
This swanky workout destination is slightly more expensive than its central London counterparts, but for west Londoners after a thorough workout it’s a sweet spot to head to. On arrival you’re greeted by a huge café and chill-out area with large Chesterfield sofas – you’ll be grateful for these post-class. Downstairs is where the hard work happens. Take your pick from four fitness classes – spinning, TRX resistance, high-intensity and ‘sculpt’. (The latter a mix of ballet, contemporary dance and cardio.) There are also yoga and pilates classes on the schedule. Staff are particularly helpful and the equipment is shiny and new.
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With the Swedish Church across the road and the embassy around the corner, Marylebone watering hole The Harcourt Arms was always popular with our friends from the north. So much so that they’ve gone and bought it. The new Swede owners have dropped the ‘Arms’ from the name and turned it into more of a high-class ‘dining room in a former pub’ style set-up, but not much else has changed. The wood-panelled walls, bar and bustling atmosphere (heavy with Scandinavian voices) are still evident; but now the customers are here for cross-Nordic fine-dining rather than just öl (that’s beer in Swedish, Scandophiles). Tempting starters include sliced heritage beetroot, burratina and walnuts, glazed ox cheek and house gravadlax. Mains feature the inevitable reindeer, potato and sage dumplings, and Swedish meatballs, pink in the middle and flounced on a bed of homemade pasta. Private dining areas are also available and, if you still hanker for a beer at the old ‘Arms’, the smokers’ area at the back has been transformed into a swish, enclosed bar area. We’ll cheers – or rather, skål – to that.
Venue says: “Join us for a Scandanavian 'fika' selection. £12.50 for a choice of sandwich, cake or bun, and tea/coffee.”