Summer in London can be a joy. The rooftop bars fill with beer-sipping sunseekers, food fans pack a picnic and head to the London parks, and others cool off with a cone from one of the city’s many ice cream parlours.
But when the temperature really rises, jumping into a fountain (or perching near to one) can be the only way to cool off. Here in London there are some corkers - both in the city’s major parks and in amongst the landmarks. Whether you’ve got little people who enjoy a paddle, or you want to try your hand at dodging the jets - here are the best public fountains in London - just remember to pack a spare set of clothes.
RECOMMENDED: The best of outdoor London
Best for: a colourful cool-off
This impressive courtyard offers an escape from the bustle of King's Cross, and its expanse of playful fountains are just the thing for a hot day. No less than 1,080 fountains create the drama in fashionable Granary Square at Coal Drops Yard. With spurts choreographed to erupt at different heights, children can skip through the water as the jets shoot ever higher, before it all goes momentarily quiet – then the fountains begin to bubble all over again.
Best for: splashing with a view
On a sunny day, people adore jumping through the fountains near The Scoop amphitheatre from London Bridge. Sadly, The Rill - a shallow stream laid into the pavement - has been bricked up, but the fountains themselves remain, with 200 spouting jets and views of City Hall and Tower Bridge in the background.
Best for: culture and chill
Somerset House's snowy-white neoclassical architecture provides salubrious majesty, while the 55 fountains in the Edmond J Safra Fountain Court provide mischief. With water jets sprouting in an orchestrated sequence, the fun is trying to predict what will happen next. Fountains operate from spring to autumn and are turned off during courtyard events such as the Summer Screen film series, so check the website to make sure they’re on before you set off.
Best for: fun with the kids
Designed for maximum impact with 195 choreographed jets in a ribbon formation, Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park fountains are irresistible to kids and adults alike. They rise in unpredictable sequences for hours of splashy fun. Find them near the Aquatics Centre and the ArcelorMittal Orbit.
Best for: ankle-deep paddling
The V&A's Italianate courtyard is home to a beautiful lake fringed with water jets. The oval-shaped central water feature is surrounded by shallow steps which are perfect for little feet, and fragrant lemon trees fringe the garden lending an extra sensory dimension to the elegant space.
Best for: a post-art sprinkling
Cool off after a cultural day out at the Royal Academy of Arts with their water fountains at the entrance courtyard. The lights and nozzles of the courtyard fountain are laid out to match the position of the stars and planets on the night in 1723 when Sir Joshua Reynolds, artist and RA Founding President, was born.
Best for: fast refreshment (but definitely not drinking)
The Grade II listed Russell Square is one of only three London squares designed by Humphry Repton. The fountain was added later, but it fits in well, providing a place for relaxation and refreshment for kids (and brave adults).
Best for: a proper soaking
The Hub Playground, on the east side of the park, is equipped with a fantastically designed fountain featuring gently undulating hills, water jets and giant slides. It's open during the summer months from 11am to 5pm from the last weekend in May until the first week in September. There's more water play in the V&A Playground on the west side of the park near Grove Road, which has toddler-friendly water pumps and a sandpit.
Best for: a lunchtime paddle
The Barbican Centre, a vast concrete estate of around 2,000 flats and a leading arts complex, is a prime example of brutalist architecture, softened a little by time and rectangular ponds of friendly resident ducks. The lakeside terrace and adjoining café are good spots to take a rest and dip your toes.
Best for: a shower showcase
Not content with their impressively vast area, Battersea Park's fountains also put on a water jet show. Gaze and be mesmerised by the main display (daily 10am-6pm) and the additional Crystal display (10am-5pm, on the hour every hour for 10 minutes), and enjoy the cooling spray that comes off them if you position yourself in just the right downwind spot. Ah, refreshing!
Best for: dashing through
The Joy of Life fountain, next to Aldford Street North Gate, alongside Park Lane, is a popular spot for splashing around in when the weather heats up. Judging by the frolicking bronze figures on the water, that's exactly what T. B. Huxley-Jones had in mind when he designed it.
Best for: cultural cascades
The Japanese-style Kyoto Gardens in lovely Holland Park are home to koi carp and bridge at the foot of a waterfall (not exactly a fountain, but it's so pretty we had to include it). In summer, open-air theatre and opera are staged in the park.
Best for: a bit of bird-watching
Rising spectacularly from the central lake is the Tiffany Fountain, which has a purpose as well as making a good photo point – it aerates the water to benefit the resident wildlife. The lake is home to numerous species of wildfowl, including pelicans that have been kept here since the 17th century. The pelicans are fed between 2.30pm and 3pm daily, though they have been known to supplement their diet at other times of the day with the occasional fish.
Best for: monument admiration
Depicting a sea god with two mermaids at his feet, this sculpture fountain can be found in the pretty surrounds of Queen Mary's Gardens, opposite the Jubilee Gates near Regent's Park Open Air Theatre.
Best for: putting the pedal to the metal
This big spray gun is the focal point in Victoria Park's boating lake, across from the pretty pagoda. The resident ducks and geese seem to enjoy the shower, and if you take out a pedalo, you can enjoy the cooling effects of the spray, too.
Best for: spotting a famous feature
Right outside the impressive National Gallery, Trafalgar Square's lion sculptures and fountains have been attracting droves of tourists for decades. As glorious as they are, the grand fountains are strictly no paddling - but you can still cool off while sitting on the side.
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