London’s best swimming pools, public baths and lidos
This building is more akin to a royal banqueting hall than a swimming pool, with a high vaulted ceiling and oodles of natural light which make it a pleasant place to do a few lengths. Thoroughly modernised, the 25-metre pool is evenly split between lane and casual swims. There’s a plethora of daily classes, including Aqua Jog, Aqua Fit and Aqua Circuits. And if all that physical exercise gets too exhausting, you can relax in the steam room or sauna.
This 50-metre outdoor pool is surrounded by art deco Grade II-listed buildings that house the Lido Café 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 is active in ensuring the facility meets the needs of the community.
Opened in 1892, Camberwell Public Baths have recently been spruced up to meet the needs of the twenty-first-century swimmer. As the pool is surrounded by Victorian ironwork and skylight windows that allow natural light to stream in, swimming there can feel like bathing in a different era. As well as a 25-metre adult pool, there’s also a small children’s pool.
West End workers love this place for its low membership rates and recently refurbished 25-metre pool that’s divided for lane swimming. 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. There’s also a chapel, therapies and a decent café.
After an extensive, £2 million refurbishment, this Olympic-sized outdoor pool reopened to the public in 2013. The facility is fully heated and has two sun terraces, with a café, gym and fitness studio also on the site. Lane swimming is always available with other areas of the pool reserved for people who just want to splash about.
This 1960s Grade-II listed building in Crystal Palace Park and its surrounding pitches and courts have facilities for a huge number of sports, including athletics, climbing and beach volleyball. There are four indoor pools: a 50m racing pool equipped with a Swiss timing system and a scoreboard; a teaching pool; a training pool; and a diving pool with four springboards and three platforms. The racing pool can also be used for water polo and synchronised swimming.
There’s a wave machine! And air jets, water cannons and rolling rapids! That’s in the leisure pool, but there’s also a main pool, for those who don’t want to be whooshed around, and an outdoor lido (unheated) with a good-sized grassy terrace where you can sunbathe on hot days. Opening times are weather-dependent – you won’t get an alfresco swim if it’s less than 20 degrees outside.
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, and elsewhere in the centre are a high-tech gym, outdoor courts for tennis and netball and areas to practise a good range of martial arts, including karate, tae kwon do and judo.
If you fancy a freshwater frolic in London, one of the three Hampstead Ponds should be your go-to destination. 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. The water is chilly, even in the summer, but the experience of wild swimming in the city is unbeatable.
This south-facing, 36-metre open-air pool, with grassy areas for sunbathing, is open and heated to a balmy 28 degrees 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 pool hosts swimming lessons, water polo and a triathlon club and there’s a poolside gym and fitness studio.
Formerly known as Uxbridge Lido, the Grade II-listed, 50-metre, open-air swimming pool has been restored to its 1930s glory, complete with cascades (fountains) at either end and a heated shallow splash pool for children. The outdoor pool is now part of a leisure centre that includes an indoor pool of the same size. Out in the open, there’s space to chill by the pool and a café for post-swimming snacks.
Originally opened as a wash house in 1931, this centre underwent a huge restoration project, including giving the Turkish hammam in the basement a lavish facelift. It has a trio of hot rooms, two saunas, two steam rooms and an ice-cold plunge pool, plus a five-lane swimming pool. Apparently it took 200 hours to sand down and varnish the 1930s wooden gallery – and it shows.
The 25-metre swimming pools at The Laboratory’s centres in Muswell Hill and Mill Hill are chlorine-free – they’re cleansed using UV light technology which makes the water super clear. Each also has a poolside day spa and relaxation area with jacuzzis, steam rooms and saunas. There’s a variety of treatments on offer plus the option of taking some adult swimming lessons.
Designed by the late ‘starchitect’ Zaha Hadid, this iconic venue from the 2012 Olympic Games in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park houses a 50-metre competition pool with seating for 2,500, a 25-metre diving pool and, hidden underground, another 50-metre pool, used for warm-ups during the Olympics. The three pools can be split using movable floors and booms to create a further four swimming areas. Altogether they hold a massive 10 million litres of water and are lined with 180,000 tiles.
A dogged 18-year campaign by the London Fields User Group saved this 50-metre lido from demolition, and it reopened in 2006. After a nine-month refurb in 2017, it’s looking super swanky once again. Open year-round, 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.
Located just off Carnaby Street, this elegant art deco pool is one of central London’s best-kept secrets. Originally opened in 1931, the stunning Grade-II listed building has recently been restored to its former glory. The pool is a good size – 30.5 metres with three lanes – and features a spectacular barrel-vaulted ceiling and marble floor. Spa London, the brilliant affordable spa chain, has facilities here featuring thermal suites: two aroma rooms, two saunas and a relaxation lounge.
The outdoor pool at 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. Oasis is so popular on hot summer weekends and at peak times that getting any serious swimming done is difficult – best to go with the modest aim of splashing about to cool down.
Crouch End’s 50-metre lido is heated and dates from 1926. There’s a paddling pool, grassy slopes for sunbathing and a cafeteria. At busy weekends and during holiday periods, separate sessions for lane and fun swimming operate. The centre also has a 25-metre indoor pool plus a teaching pool and a diving pit.
This Grade II-listed lido has a stainless steel pool liner (the only one in an outdoor pool in the UK) which gives the water a beautiful metallic shimmer – not that you’ll be able to tell when it’s packed full of people on a sunny day. The generous 60 x 27-metre pool is unheated, but wetsuits are permitted at the lifeguard’s discretion. There’s also a paddling pool for under-fives and a café.
This 25-metre pool is accommodating for both exercise fanatics and water babies, water temperature is kept at a comfortable 27 degrees and there are opportunities to lane-swim or paddle in the shallow end. But it’s the extras that make Peckham a great go-to pool: as well as a sauna and steam room, the hydrotherapy pool – kept at a toasty 32 degrees – is on hand for those with creaky joints.
Built in the 1960s and featuring both a lido and an indoor pool, this centre in Richmond’s Old Deer Park also includes a spa, fitness centre and paddling pool. The heated outdoor pool and its lush grounds open during the spring and summer months only, weather permitting.
The Porchester Spa, located in a spectacular building built in 1929, is one of London’s more authentic spa experiences. Don’t expect the fluffy white-towel and ambient-music experience, this is the spa to come to if you like pools – it has a 30-metre swimming pool, 23-metre teaching pool and a plunge pool for cooling off after a stint in one of the three Turkish hot rooms.
If you’re looking for a grandiose glide through water, this swimming pool in a converted cathedral will float your boat. Treat yourself to a swim in Repton Park’s Virgin Active indoor pool, under stained glass and high wooden ceilings. Whether you’re a taking a dip for the first time or swim like a fish, the pool hosts swimming lessons and one-on-one sessions. While you’re there, you can also pay the nearby sauna, steam room and jacuzzi a visit – perfect for sweating out those unholy toxins.
Early mornings and the winter months are just for the Serpentine Swimming Club, but from May to September everyone can swim in this section of the Serpentine lake. The water isn’t heated, so swimming here is an invigorating experience, as long as you don’t mind sharing your dip with ducks and swans. There’s a gated family area with a paddling pool and playground, plus a private sunbathing terrace and a kiosk operated by the Lido Café next door.
This well-established leisure centre has been renovated with smart new changing rooms, a crèche and swanky new gym. The pool – a comfortable 33.3 metres with six wide lanes – retains a pleasantly old-fashioned feel and attracts all ages. On our last visit, there was an Aqua Fit class going on, which was proving extremely popular with the over-60s, but there are all kinds of other classes on offer too, open to everyone.
This huge leisure complex boasts a dazzling 25-metre main pool with eight lanes and a 20-metre teaching pool for those who don’t like to swim in straight lines. There’s a full programme of aqua fitness classes and swimming lessons on offer and a variety of other sports and activities around the centre. People come from far and wide to tackle the impressive climbing wall and there’s a massive sports hall, outdoor football pitch, a lovely café and all sorts of yoga and aerobics classes, too.
South London’s vast pool, with its iconic coloured changing huts, has been treasured by fortunate locals since it opened as a bathing lake in 1906. At just over 90 metres, it’s the 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. Facilities include a paddling pool, a café, and lockers for small valuables.
Bethnal Green’s York Hall has a worldwide reputation for its boxing facilities but there’s a lot more on offer. The centre has a great 33-metre, eight-lane pool and a 12-metre training pool providing classes and swimming lessons for all ages. And it’s home to the budget spa chain Spa London, where facilities include steam rooms, a Turkish hammam and plunge pools, and you can get a massage, facial or body wrap for well under £50.
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