London never did strike me as a place for outdoor swimming, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the capital actually boasts several fantastic al fresco swimming spots. The trend first came about in the 1930s, which prompted councils to set up hundreds of outdoor pools (or as we call them lidos) across the country for all to enjoy. Since then, a number of these lidos have closed for good, but those that have stood the test of time, or have been saved from closure by committed campaigners, remain firm favourites in the community, especially in those sweltering summer months.
Here, I’ve rounded up my top five picks in London, ranging from toddler-friendly venues to heated pools for those brave wintertime swimmers.
Fancy a swim with the swans, ducks and geese in London’s most famous park? The Serpentine lake right in the centre of Hyde Park has a roped-off open water lido, as well as an accompanying paddling pool and children’s play area, making it a fantastic spot for both adults and kids. The waterside Lido Café and Bar is also a great place for a post-swim meal or drink.
Opening hours: 10am-6pm every day in June, July and August. In May, it is only open on weekends and Bank Holidays.
Pricing: £4.80 (Adults); £3.80 (Concessions); £1.80 (Child). Tickets are cheaper if bought after 4pm.
London Fields Lido
For an outdoor pool that’s open all year round, head to London Fields Lido in Hackney. It’s the city’s first floodlit and heated Olympic size pool, so you know you’ll be able to work on your strokes regardless of temperature and time of day. Those looking to perfect their technique, or simply hoping to learn how to swim, can join one of the many swimming classes on offer too.
Opening Hours: 6:30am-9pm
Pricing: £5.10 (Adults); £3 (Child). Memberships and short-term passes are also available.
Tooting Bec Lido
This is one of Britain’s oldest open-air pools, and it remains the largest freshwater lido in the UK- a whopping 91m long! The lido is largely concealed from view by trees, and upon entering, you’ll be greeted by vast turquoise water and brightly painted changing cubicles, which are a nice touch. Tooting Bec Lido is also home to the South London Swimming Club (SLSC), one of England’s oldest swimming clubs who have been holding races at the lido every Sunday since 1908, so it’s perfect for hardy swimmers who are looking for a challenge.
Opening hours: 6am-7:45pm from 1st May to 31st August; 6am- 4:45pm from 1st to 30thSeptember. Exclusive access for SLSC members during winter.
Pricing: £7.70 (Adult); £4.70 (Concession and Child)
Hampstead Bathing Ponds
There are three natural swimming ponds in Hampstead Heath- one for women, one for men and one that’s shared by both, and they are quite possibly the most magical spots to paddle in! Although colder, or some would say shockingly chilly, you will be rewarded with a serene swim amongst wildlife and greenery, an experience worth braving the cold for. However, if you still prefer a classic concrete pool, look no further than Parliament Hill Lido down the hill in the Heath. This 60m long pool has more than enough space for all, and there’s even a baby pool for little ones to splash about.
Bathing ponds opening hours: The ladies’ and men’s ponds are open year-round, from 7am to between 2:15pm and 8:30pm depending on the season. The mixed pond is only open in the summer from the 1st of May.
Bathing ponds pricing: £2 (Adult); £1 (Concession). Memberships are also available.
Lido opening hours: From 7am to either 6pm or 8:30pm (evening swimming is available on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights only)
Lido pricing: £7 (Adult); £4.50 (Concession). Tickets are cheaper for early morning, evening and winter swimming.
Beckenham Place Park Lake
Once a Georgian watering hole, then later filled and forgotten, Beckenham Place Park’s lake has since undergone a hefty £4.5 million restorative makeover. Currently, additional safety features are being put in place, so it remains closed to the public and is due to reopen after changes have been successfully implemented. Until then, remember to keep this one on the radar for when you’re in the mood for a wild outdoor swim.
Our London insider Isabel has been scouring the streets to uncover some more amazing places for you to discover. Check out her guide to London’s Best Parks for a Picnic Spots and stay tuned for some exciting content on the way. Can’t wait? Be sure to follow her escapades on Instagram: @bels_trails, or follow her footprint on the Like Locals app. Available for free on iOS and Android.