(Editor’s note: It’s been one of the hottest, driest summers in Europe’s history, and – no surprise – wild swimming increasingly is a thing.)
So, I’ve covered why wild swimming is so popular and hopefully sparked some sort of interest or at least a tepid curiosity in the sport. But where does one swim in the built up metropolis that is London?
Whether it’s ponds, the river, or a local lido, I’ve made a comprehensive list of the best places to (legally) try wild swimming in London.
Let’s start with the natural bathing spots, those that give you a feel of the countryside and that much needed city break. London is aplenty with wild swimming spots. Time Out recently heralded our city as the greenest in Europe, with more than 3,000 green spaces, and a few of these spaces boast some glorious swimming ponds.
Sometimes one needs to fully submerge oneself to really feel a break from urban life. I’d recommend Hampstead Heath Ponds, the West Reservoir in Hackney, and The Serpentine in Hyde Park. Accompany your swim with a brisk walk in the leafy surroundings, or an afternoon tea at one of the local cafes.
Be sure to check out their websites for full information and up-to-date info. Also, a lot of open water swimming places have limited changing facilities so come ready to swim.
What you need to know:
Perhaps the most well-known of London’s open air swimming spots, the Hampstead ponds comprises three separate ponds – a ladies, men’s and mixed pond. Be sure to book ahead if you’re thinking of going on a sunny day – it gets busy!
It can get cold, too. If tentative, City of London regularly tweets the water temperature on Twitter.
Entry is 4.05 pounds, and 2.42 pounds for concessions
Café, terrace, water sports centre with kayaking and sailing too. Booking in advance is highly advised – and you might need to purchase a membership too.
Home to the oldest swimming club in Britain, heart of the famous Christmas day swim race.
Grab a morning coffee or evening drink at the Lido Café Bar overlooking the Serpentine.
Price for a full day is 7 pounds, concessions 4 pounds.
But maybe you like London’s gritty, urban feel. Maybe you don’t care about green space but want to feel fully immersed, if you aren’t already, in city life. If so, I have a few very inner-city spots in mind as long as you don’t mind the audience of busy corporate workers.
Check out the swim spots in Canary Wharf (yes, you heard it correctly, Canary Wharf) and London Royal Docks. Definitely an experience like no other.
What you need to know:
Opened in partnership with Love Open Water, this swimming spot is nestled in the waters of Middle Dock where swimmers can enjoy the glorious views of the One Canada Square and Newfoundland skyscrapers.
Swimming requires you to purchase a NOWCA membership (which give access to all 40 NOWCA UK swimming locations) on top of the open water swimming session charged at 8 pounds per 3-to-4 hour session.
Alternatively, look out for the free NOWCA Swim event offered regularly.
Home to many a swimming race but also has a casual area for leisure swimmers.
Same as Canary Wharf, swimmers must purchase a NOWCA membership before the session price (8 pounds).
Those looking for something farther afield, perhaps those with access to a car, there are plenty of spots within a couple hours of London. Check out Frensham Great Pond, the River Medway, Beckenham Place Park swimming lake and Denham Lake.
About 1.5 hours from London by car, Frensham Great Pond has small sandy beaches it is family friendly but it can get busy on warm days. Also, note that the swimming area is smaller than most.
The River Medway, Tonbridge
This spot is 30 minutes by train from London Bridge station. Picture a tranquil and truly rural swimming experience.
Beckenham Place Park swimming lake, Lewisham
Although still in Greater London, this swimming lake is a little hard to get to by public transport so probably one for those with access to a car. An historic site, the lake is dated to the Georgian times and has once again been refilled for 21st century swimmers. Wade in on the large sandy beach but be aware that you’ll need to book in advance.
Entry – 5.70 pounds
Denham Lake, Buckinghamshire
Only a couple hours’ drive from London, surrounded by Denham Country Park the lake is usually a spot used for water skiing but has been opened up to swimmers for 5 pounds per session.
However, if after all of this you still yearn for the sterile environment of a pool (no shame in that) then try one of a plethora of London’s many lidos. Forming the centre of local social life these lidos are often attached to cafes or indoor pools, making them a great day out with friends or family.
Located minutes from West End, with an open-air heated pool, sun terrace, and indoor pool. London’s best kept secret it can get very popular on hot days.
£6.15 for non-members, various discounts for members.
Built in 1922, the 36-metre open-air pool with grassy areas for sunbathing, open and heated all year round. Home to many a social activity, it has recently been rebranded the pool as the Poolside Swim and BBQ Club holding social activities outside of pool hours.
You can also do night swims here.
Entry – 5.60 pounds off peak, 4.30 pounds concessions. Peak prices vary.
Olympic-sized and Grade II listed, this open-air pool has recently been restored to its former glory from the 1930s. It has fountains at both ends and a shallow heated splash pool for children.
Now part of the leisure centre, which also has an indoor pool.
Entry – 4.70 pounds for non residents, 2.20 pounds for non resident concessions. Discount for residents available.
Largest open-air freshwater swimming pool in the UK! Purchase a free membership online before visiting; this allows you to “pay as you move” for any swims, gym sessions and classes.
Great social swim in an art deco grade II listed building. Also home to the Lido Café and exercise studios.
Entry – 8 pounds, 5 pound concessions
Part of Pools on the Park leisure centre in Old Deer Park in Twickenham. Very family friendly. Highly advised that you book in advance as it can get very busy.
London Fields lido is looking great following a nine-month refurbishment in 2017. Heated and can get quite busy so book ahead!
Entry – 5.25 pounds for non-members
Olympic sized pool at heart of Greenwich, Charlton Lido is looking pretty swanky following a 2 million pound refurbishment in 2013.
Fully heated, the lido has two terraces, with a café, gym and fitness studio also on the site.
Entry – 10 pounds, 5-to-7.50 pounds concessions
Part of a big complex including an indoor pool, cinema and bowling alley. Small and unheated with a grass terrace. Be sure to check opening hours on the website, the lido is weather dependent, no swimming allowed if it’s less than 20 degrees outside. But inside swimming is open all year round and the leisure centre also has a wave machine.
Entry – 6.90 pounds, 4.25 pounds concessions for non-members.
Finally, be sure to look out for London’s latest swim spot currently waiting to be built. East London Waterworks Park is holding a crowdfunding campaign to buy the Thames Water Depot in hopes of transforming it into a community owned biodiverse par, so look out for that in the future!
Amelia Anderson is London born and raised and has never stopped exploring the city. Having moved to Oxford for her bachelor’s degree in History of Art, she has now moved back to study Gender Studies at University College London.