London may be famously cold and rainy but summer temperatures are soaring in the capital which is why Londoners are embracing outdoor swimming with enthusiasm.
And now just in time for the latest summer heatwave in London, a new open-water swimming venue opened this week to help keep city dwellers from melting down.
Here’s a look at some of the best spots to beat the heat with a refreshing swim in the city.
Take a dip among the high rises of Canary Wharf
Open: 7am-4pm (times vary); members swim £8
Bang in the center of London’s Docklands, swimmers are surrounded by high-rise office buildings and apartments. This new site has been set up by the NOWCA group, which runs over 40 open-water swimming spots including lakes and rivers in the UK. The newest venue at Canary Wharf has a 250m or 600m loop, plus mixed-gender changing rooms and toilet facilities. See the NOWCA website for details on how to join and book. But note: there’s nowhere secure to leave your bag so don’t take your valuables with you. There’s a similar set-up not far away at Royal Victoria Docks, right where the Emirates Air Line cable car descends, so you can combine two London adventures in one day out.
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Hampstead Heath is home to three bathing ponds © AFP / Getty Images
Not one but three ponds at Hampstead Heath
Open: 7am-8.30pm; adults £4.25, concession £2.55
Perhaps London’s most storied swimming location, Hampstead Heath has three lush ponds (don’t be fooled by “pond”, these are deep cool spring-fed waterholes) to swim in. The women-only Kenwood Ladies’ Pond is a secluded swimming spot shaded from the heath by trees and gardens where you can spread out for a post-swim picnic. Entry is on a first-come basis, but unless you’re there at 7am on a sweltering summer’s day you’re probably going to queue. Nearby the Highgate Men’s Pond does what it says on the tin (it’s for men only). It also has changing rooms, cold showers, and managed numbers on hot days (also one-in-one-out). The blokes also have a diving board that you can see from across the water – it’s pretty entertaining even if you can’t swim here. On the west side of Hampstead Heath you’ll find the Mixed Pond, which is the most accessible for public transport of the three and has similar facilities, but best leave your wallet and phone at home here too.
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You can swim, kayak, SUP, or sail at West Resevoir © Getty Images
The freshest spot for a dip in London: West Reservoir Stoke Newington
Open: 7am to 8pm; one-off day pass £15
Managed by a health and gymnasium consortium, Better, the West Reservoir in Stoke Newington (close to Manor Park station) once supplied drinking water to the region, and today the water quality remains exceptionally fresh and clean. Swimming is by pre-booked sessions only, book via the Better app and website. There’s a mixed change room and toilet facilities, but no lockers for bags here either. The 23-acre reservoir shares the space with a watersports club, so after swimming the 400m circuit, you can watch learners trying out kayaking, sailing and SUPing over coffee and a melt-in-your-mouth pastel de nata from the family-run cafe overlooking the water. On Friday, August 12, they’re hosting a Night Swim with music, street food and a bar.
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You can swim or rent a pedalo at Serpentine Lido in London’s biggest park © PA Images / Getty Images
Swim in London’s Hyde Park at Serpentine Lido
Open: 10am-6pm; adults £7/ under-15 £3.50
Can you get more “London” than swimming in Hyde Park? The Serpentine Lido is a freshwater lake open for public swimming in summer only. The rest of the year the Serpentine Swimming Club members take a daily dip between 5:30 am and 9:30 am all the way through winter, and since 1864 it has run a Christmas Day race that draws plenty of spectators. There’s also a great cafe on the south side of the Serpentine with an outdoor terrace to soak up the central London action. You’ll find toilet facilities here too. A limited number of lockers are available at the Serpentine for £2.
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Beckenham Place Park is home to an open-water swimming lake © Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Step back in time at Beckenham Place Park swimming lake
Open: 7am-3pm (closed Tuesday & Thursday); adults £6/ children £3.50
The south side of the river has its own open-water swimming lake inside the rolling green fields of Beckenham Place Park. The 45m-wide lake was officially opened for recreational swimming in 2019, though locals used to take secret summertime dips in this Georgian water feature before that. As for all open-water swimming venues in London, you need to be a competent swimmer to enter the water, but the lake has a beach shore making it slightly less scary for those with less experience in open water. If you want to make a day of it, the park also contains 20 hectares of ancient woodlands and manor house plus a couple of cafes to fuel up in.
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Tooting Bec Lido is the UK’s largest freshwater swimming pool © Getty Images
The UK’s largest public swimming pool: Tooting Bec Lido
Open: 6am-8pm; adults £8.30, concessions £5.20
The largest freshwater swimming pool in London (at 91.5m long and 30m wide) the unheated Tooting Bec Lido is another South London favorite. Brightly painted changing cubicles in red, yellow and green give this much-loved lido an iconic turn-of-the-century vibe. With a paddling pool plus shallow end of the main pool it’s a great option for families with young kids or anyone not up for the more “wild” swimming venues above. There are also facilities and assistance for swimmers with disabilities. An onsite cafe serves food and drinks, or BYO and sprawl out on the grassy picnic area surrounded by trees.
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Parliament Hill Lido is open 365 days a year © Getty Images
An alternative to the Hampstead ponds: Parliament Hill Lido
Open 7am-8pm; adults £4.25/ concession £2.55
If you’re at Hampstead Heath but not a strong enough swimmer to tackle the deep water ponds, head down to the Art Deco-era Parliament Hill Lido instead. Midday swimming in the 60m unheated pool must be pre-booked for the week ahead (on a Monday at noon) via an online ticketing website (life belongs to the organized!), but early mornings and afternoons swims are on a first-come basis. Facilities include changing rooms, toilets and a sauna. The cafe here is another major reason to get down here with delicious Lebanese vegan dishes.
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London Fields Lido is the only Olympic size heated outside pool in the city © Getty Images
East London’s idyll: London Fields Lido
Open 6.30am-9pm; adults £5.40/ under-15 £3.15
Until it was resurrected in 2006 by local campaigners, this popular 50m public swimming pool on the east side of London Fields parkland was squatted with raves held in the empty swimming pool during the 18 years it was closed. Now London Fields Lido is a magnet for Hackney residents swimming laps or pootling around in the small “general swim” section. A small section of concrete at the shallow end is the spot for sunbathing or head out to the green spaces of London Fields which could be mistaken for a festival site in summer. London Fields Lido is also operated by Better (book your swim via the app or website) and has changing rooms, outdoor showers, accessibility facilities, a small cafe and an excellent falafel stand by Hoxton Beach out the front