Following the golden age of the lido in the 1930s, outdoor swimming in London and the UK experienced a steady decline, as more and more Brits began jetting off to sunny lands during the summer months. While hundreds of pools across the country were closed, sunseekers in the capital are in luck – lidos in London are not only some of the best in the country, but also still easy to find. Read on for our pick of the best outdoor swimming pools in London.
King’s Cross Pond Club
An oasis of calm smack bang in the middle of bustling King’s Cross, this naturally-filtered, fresh water pool (the first man-made one in the UK) began life as an art installation, courtesy of Ooze Architects and artist Marjetica Potrc. Not your typical lido, this pool is surrounded by an ever-evolving landscape featuring wild flowers, grasses and bushes and with chlorine-free water that is purified by submerged water plants and wetland. ‘Of Soil and Water’, aka King’s Cross Pond Club, is designed to highlight the contrast between urbanity and the natural world.
This 91.5 metre pool (almost twice the length of an Olympic-size competition pool) is the largest swimming pool by surface area in the UK, indoor or outdoor, as well as one of the oldest, having opened in 1906. The pool is bordered on one side by a row of iconic, brightly-painted changing cubicles, a popular location for photo shoots and filming.
Home to three famous, fresh-water bathing ponds (one each for women, men and mixed bathing) Hampstead Heath also boasts the large, Grade II-listed Parliament Hill Lido. The pool, which first opened in 1938, is unheated, but after a major refurbishment in 2005 it was fitted with a stainless steel liner – the first outdoor pool in the UK to have one – which helps retain heat as well as giving the water a metallic shimmer. The lido is worth visiting for its gorgeous 1930s art deco design alone.
This flood-lit, heated, Olympic-length pool is open until late all year round, whatever the weather. The London Fields Lido was the subject of an almost 20-year struggle to see off the threat of demolition, reopening in 2006 to become one of the area’s most most popular public venues, and hailed as an important success story in the fight to both preserve and repopulate Britain’s lido collection.
Small-fry sizewise among London’s lidos, this 33 metre lido joins an indoor pool, spa and fitness centre to make up the Grade II-listed Pools on the Park complex in Richmond’s Deer Park, which has been recognised by Historic England as architecturally significant. Despite being heated, the lido is only open during the summer months.
Another Grade II-listed Olympic-length pool, Brockwell Lido is almost upstaged by its award-winning café, a popular weekend brunch spot with locals. Built in 1937, it is another beautiful example of art deco architecture, with a rocky history to boot — it was closed in 1990 and subsequently saved by its community. The lido is open every day, all year round, thanks to the efforts of cold water enthusiasts, the Brockwell Icicles.
Not a pool, but it would be sacrilege to talk al-fresco swimming in London without giving an honorary mention to the renowned Serpentine Lido, home to the UK’s oldest swimming club, who commandeer this hundred metre stretch of Hyde Park’s Serpentine Lake in the early mornings. The lido is accompanied by a chlorinated paddling pool, sun terrace and access to the adjacent Lido Café.