London’s outdoor swimming pools
One great bonus of summer in London is the choice of places for an outdoor swim. From historic lidos, to wilder swimming in lakes and ponds, there are plenty of opportunities for a cooling dip. And many of these spots are just a stone’s throw from Newington Green and Islington.
For the purists, there are unheated pools, but if you’re looking for a bit more comfort, you’ll find warmer options too.
Read on for our complete guide to London’s lovely lidos.
Outdoor swimming – a history
Tooting Bec opened its outdoor swimming lake in 1906, but lidos really began springing up across the UK in the 1930s, alongside a growing interest in healthy outdoor exercise.
While hardy types enjoyed the thrill of cold water swimming, the lidos were also a place to relax and socialise. There was always a bit of European glamour associated with them too – they were even named after the lidos (beach resorts) near Venice.
Wartime austerity saw the lidos close, and while some reopened, the rise in holidays abroad led to many being drained for good by the 1980s.
In spite of the British climate, lidos have an enduring appeal, leading to successful campaigns to save threatened lidos and reopen others.
Some of the pools are open to the public all year round, others restrict entry to club members. Be warned, lidos get very busy on hot weekends – even massive Tooting Bec can have queues lasting hours – so get there early!
Here’s our selection of pools and lidos you might like to try.
London lidos close to Islington and Newington Green
If you’re looking for a truly natural swim, and don’t mind being joined by the odd duck or two, Hampstead Heath Swimming Ponds are a unique experience.
Originally clay pit dams, the ponds have been used for swimming for more than a century. There are three ponds; a men’s, a ladies’ and a mixed pond. The water’s cool, naturally, but less so than the unheated lidos and there are lifeguards on hand.
The ponds do get busy on hot weekends, and there’s limited room for lounging on the banks, but you can head onto the heath to relax after your swim. Entry is £2 – you’ll need cash for the machine. The nearest station for the mixed pond is Hampstead Heath Overground. The men’s and ladies’ ponds are close to the Kenwood entrance to the heath.
Parliament Hill Lido
If you’d like something a bit closer to a swimming pool, that’s also easily-reached from Newington Green, visit Parliament Hill. It has the added appeal of views right across London. This grade II-listed lido has a 60 x 28m unheated pool. There’s a paddling pool for the under 5s and a café. The pool itself has a metallic liner, giving it a silvery glow as you swim.
This recently refurbed Hackney lido is heated and open all year round. There’s a 50m pool, café and large sundeck (picnicking isn’t allowed). During busy periods it has morning and afternoon sessions to give more people the chance of a dip – and you can book online to avoid the queues. Trendy Broadway Market is close by for a post-swim snack.
If you don’t mind the cold, Stoke Newington’s West Reservoir is a great place to try open water swimming. Sessions take place at weekends and some evenings during the summer months. You can try sailing and kayaking too. Open water swimming is £10 for non-members and all swimmers must complete an induction first.
Take in amazing views and the beautiful surroundings of Hyde Park with a swim in the Serpentine. The Serpentine Lido is open weekends in May and from 10am daily in June, July and August. Entry is £4.80 for adults. There’s a lido café with waterside tables, a children’s play area and paddling pool, a sun deck and a 30m x 100m swimming area – just watch out for the swans!
For a warmer dip, check out the 27.5m outdoor pool at the Oasis Sport Centre, Endell Street, Covent Garden. This heated pool has a sun terrace, café, family area and adjacent indoor pool – and it’s right in the middle of the West End. The pool does get busy during hot summer weekends so don’t expect to notch up too many lanes, but it’s great for a cooling dip in a heatwave. Open all year round.
Other London lidos
Head south on the Northern Line for this amazing 90m pool with its iconic coloured changing huts. There’s a paddling pool, café and large grassy area for sunbathing – or enjoying some shade. It’s unheated and swimming one of its huge lengths can feel like a mammoth effort. It’s open to the public from 1 May to 30 September and entry is £7.70 for adults.
This grade II-listed art deco lido in Brockwell Park, Herne Hill was saved from extinction in 1994, following a local campaign. It’s a lovely friendly spot with an award-winning café, dance and pilates classes and after-hours activities including film nights. You’ll find it close to Herne Hill station. Peak time entry costs £6.10 for adults. The pool is unheated and open from 6.30am.
Charlton Lido, on Shooters Hill Road SE18, reopened in 2013 after a £2m refurbishment. It is 50m long, heated year-round to 25 degrees and has a separate toddlers’ pool. There’s plenty of space for sunbathing plus a café.
The former Uxbridge lido was restored in 2010 and features a 50m open-air pool with impressive fountains at either end. There’s a heated splash pool for children and plenty of room to sunbathe. It’s set within a leisure complex, which includes a 400m running track.
With its water heated to 28 degrees, balmy Hampton Pool might feel like a hot bath after some of the lidos mentioned. This cute pool, close to Bushey Park, has a real community feel. There’s a grassy area for sunbathing and picnics, a café and sundeck, plus a gym and a range of events including concerts and late-night swims. It’s also open 365 days a year.
London is an amazing city to spend your summer and Newington Green and Islington are well placed for all it has to offer – including lidos. To find out more about buying or renting nearby, contact us today.