When it’s a sweltering summer’s day in the city, there’s only one place to seek respite – at one of the capital’s outdoor swimming pools and lidos. Open-air swimming has seen a major resurgence over recent years, with many of London’s favourite pools receiving welcome upgrades and refurbishments. And with the announcement that outdoor swimming spots can now reopen from 31st March, a cooling splash is finally back on the agenda. Here we’ve rounded up the loveliest alfresco spots in London to take the plunge.
Tucked away in one corner of vast Tooting Common, this Victorian outdoor swimming pool is best known for its retro, brightly coloured changing rooms, painted in an eye-catching variety of hues that conjure up childhood trips to the seaside. Open until September, it’s the largest open-air freshwater lido in the country, meaning it never feels too crowded – an added bonus in Covid-19 times – and there are plenty of sheltered spots to seek out shade on sunny days, whether underneath one of the surrounding towering trees or in the gazebos at the family-friendly end.
Tooting Common, Tooting, London SW16 1RU
Glide past the resident ducks and geese at the Serpentine’s 100-metre-long swimming area, which has to be one of the most charming places in central London to take a dip. Surrounded by the bucolic delights of Hyde Park, it’s the perfect spot to get away from it all right in the heart of the city. Open until the end of August (apart from a few hardy souls who brace the icy waters for the annual Christmas Day swim), head over to the Lido Café and Bar after your swim for an al fresco coffee or glass of wine.
Hyde Park, Kensington, London W2 2UH
This south London gem in Herne Hill’s leafy Brockwell Park has been around since 1937 and has become something of a local landmark. Surrounded by an Art Deco, Grade II-listed building that houses a fully equipped gym, there’s plenty of space for sunbathing beside the Olympic-length outdoor swimming pool, which is open year-round. It also comes with a smart poolside café that serves up artisan sourdough pizzas from neighbourhood favourite 400 Rabbits – nab a table on the terrace overlooking the water with an Aperol spritz in hand and watch as the sun dips behind the trees.
Brockwell Park, Herne Hill, London SE24 0PA
This popular east London outdoor swimming pool is open all year round, come rain or shine – a fact it celebrates by adorning its walls with a selection of large-scale photographs by Australian photographer Madeleine Waller featuring its bravest swimmers shivering their way into the pool through the snow. Mercifully, the water is heated during the winter (it’s the only 50m-outdoor pool in London to do so) and blissfully cool in the summer, meaning coming for a splash here is always a thoroughly enjoyable affair.
London Fields West Side, Hackney, London E8 3EU
These three ponds in Hampstead Heath are some of the dreamiest places to try open water swimming in the capital, surrounded by weeping willows and bulrushes and home to resident ducks and moorhens. Open year-round, the Men’s and Ladies’ Ponds are tucked away on the Highgate side of the heath, while the Mixed Pond is closer to Belsize Park. All are lovely but the Ladies’ Pond is the most special, veiled by oak trees to offer ultimate privacy for a bit of topless swimming and sunbathing, should you fancy it.
Hampstead Heath, Hampstead, London, NW3
For north Londoners who don’t fancy the wild swimming options at the nearby Hampstead Bathing Ponds, this all year outdoor lido is a popular choice. The 60m-long pool offers plenty of space for some socially distanced lengths, as well as spots for lounging beside the glittering water, which has added sparkle thanks to the pool’s stainless steel liner, the only outdoor lido in the UK to have one. There’s also a baby pool for little ones to splash about in and shady gazebos for afternoon snoozes.
Gordon House Road, Hampstead, London NW5 1NA
Not that many people know about this heated rooftop pool at the top of the Oasis Sports Centre, making it a true hidden oasis. A five-minute walk from Holborn, it’s the only outdoor swimming pool in the West End, making the location hard to beat, and it’s open until 10.30pm on weekdays. At less than 30m long it’s on the smaller side, making it better suited for those after a quick splash rather than a lengthy swim session. But on hot summer days it’s a real sun-trap and the terrace and café offer plenty of reasons to stick around.
32 Endell Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9AG
Just a minute’s walk from Richmond train station, this open-air pool is situated in pretty Old Deer Park and surrounded by trees and lush greenery. There are two pools here, an indoor and an outdoor option, with the latter only open during the summer months and heated to a pleasant 24C. Come for a dip before taking a turn around the deer park or a walk along the river nearby – this stretch of the Thames in Richmond is one of the most attractive in all of London.
Twickenham Road, Richmond, London TW9 2SF
For some wild swimming in the capital, head to the Lewisham park where you can take a dip in a 283-metre-long, 45-metre-wide lake. The crescent shaped lake loops around elegant trees in the heart of the park, which was converted from a golf course into a lush space of meadowland and woodland in 2019. The water comes from pre-existing streams and a new borehole, with reeds and aquatic plants absorbing unwanted nutrients and oxygen pumps keeping the water clean. The lake’s greatest depth is 3.5 metres, but a beach area at one end gently slopes into shallow waters, making it ideal for kids to play in. Visitors must book their one hour swim ahead of time, so be sure to secure your slot.
Beckenham Hill Rd, Beckenham, BR3 5BS
Part of the Charlton Lido and Lifestyle Club, this South London pool is an impressive, Olympic-sized outdoor swimming option. Located behind the fitness centre in a tree-lined block in Hornfair Park, this lido is ideal for serious swimmers who don’t want the distraction of park crowds or gentle paddlers. 50-metres-long and with 4 lanes, the pool is heated year-round, meaning dedicated swimmers can get their strokes in no matter the weather. Visitors can pop into the next door cafe to recover post-swim, or for those who want to push themselves even further, there’s the new outdoor cycle studio facing the pool for a spin class in the fresh air.
Hornfair Park, Shooters Hill Road, London, SE18 4LX
Formerly known as Uxbridge Lido, this Middlesex outdoor pool is historic. The 1930s Art Deco-style pool is Grade II-listed, with elegant tiling surrounding the pool and a geometric symmetry that was a signature of the decade. The lido measures an athlete-appropriate 50-metre length — in fact, it was used as a training pool for the 2012 London Olympics — making it more than suitable for ambitious swimmers. For family groups, there’s a heated shallow pool for children to play in — be warned, the rest of the pool is not heated, so swimmers are guaranteed an invigorating dip.
Hillingdon Sports & Leisure Complex, Gatting Way, Uxbridge, Middlesex, UB8 1ES
For a pool that has something for every type of swimmer in the family, look no further that this Crouch End lido. The main draw is the 50-metre-long outdoor heated pool, but the site also boasts a teaching pool, paddling pool and even a diving pit. Enclosed by a high yew hedge, the pool is surrounded by sun terraces and grassy banks for swimmers to lay out in the sun and dry off post-dip. While the lido dates back to 1929, in 2015 the site underwent an extensive restoration and revamp, ensuring the facilities are up-to-date.
Park Road Pools and Fitness, Park Road, Hornsey, London, N8 8JN
Since opening in 2004, the outdoor pool has been a popular spot particularly for its moonlight swims, where visitors can take dips under the stars until 9pm. The 36-metre-long tiled pool is located in the woodland outside Bushy Park, and is surrounded by grassy banks for lazing in the sun between swims. In addition to the heated main pool, where two or three lanes are typically reserved for speedier swimmers, there’s a shallow learner pool for babies and toddlers to take their first dips with parents. Be on the lookout for their Summer Picnic Concerts series too, which looks set to return with live outdoor musical performances this summer.
Bushy Park, off the High Street, Hampton, Middlesex, TW12 2ST