Sun in London inevitably means barbeques, shorts and the long-awaited reappearance of the ice cream van. Even if it is March and 6°C. But sometimes – yes sometimes – London does get hot. And for those days, when the pavements are scorching and London goes al fresco, only a swim can cool you off. While the city may have no natural coastline to speak of, it doesn’t mean a chlorinated pool is your only option. From rivers to reservoirs, here are seven of our favourite wild swimming spots in London.
7 Best Wild Swimming Spots in London
1. Serpentine Lido
It’s hard to miss the 50-acre lake at the heart of Hyde Park, but few people know you can actually swim in it. Head to the Lido Cafe, where you’ll find the large cordoned-off lake. It’s bracing, unchlorinated and prone to visitors from ducks and geese in the summer, but it’s undeniably idyllic. For hardcore wild swimmers, there’s the Serpentine Swimming Club, the oldest swimming club in Britain, which meets daily from 6:00 am to 9:30 am. There’s also a gated family area with a chlorinated paddling pool, sandpit and sun loungers for rent for families.
2. Hampstead Heath Ponds
Overheated Londoners have headed to London’s hilly heaths for centuries to cool down. The mixed-pond is open all through the summer and threre’s a small changing room too. The single-sex pools, also known as Highate pools, are open throughout the year. For post-swim sustenance, head to the farmers market held every Saturday for a warm cuppa and a slice of cake.
3. Ruislip Lido, Hillingdon
This one requires a schlep out to zone 6 but it still counts as London — just about. The 60-acre lake is set on the edge of Ruislip Woods and features its own man-made beach. Technically a reservoir, it was built in 1811 but didn’t become a popular swimming spot until the 1960s.
It’s still a very popular destination in the summer, so make sure you get there early to stake out your spot. There’s also a woodland trail, miniature railways, pub, picnic areas and a cafe, all within walking distance.
4. River Colne, Rickmansworth
Further out still, at the end of the Metropolitan Line, is the River Colne in Rickmansworth. You’ll need to embark on an immodest 6-mile walk from Rickmansworth Aquadrome to get there, but it’s a pretty walk through woodlands, buttercup fields and babbling brooks. The wild swimming spot is located just after the footpath at Bury Lake. There’s a fast current but the water is shallow, perfect for those looking for a relaxing and cooling dip.
5. Stoke Newington West Reservoir
One for hardier swimmers, Stoke Newington West Reservoir has been a prime urban sailing and kayaking destination for years. Since 2013, it has doubled up as an open-swimming pool too. It’s part of Woodberry Wetlands, a picturesque pocket boasting 23-acre waters. The pool is particularly good for swimmers training for open-water competitions, but it’s still worth a trip if you’re looking to float on a hot day.
6. London Royal Docks
With its city skyline backdrop, London Royal Docks is perhaps the most picturesque swimming spot on our list. It’s not strictly ‘wild’ since it is technically a pool, but its origins are a little unorthodox. Well suited to everyone, whether you’re looking for open-water swimming training or midsummer loops, it’s one of the safest and most welcoming environments in the city. Water temperature reaches a toasty 24 degrees in the summertime and is tested fortnightly too.
7. Beckenham Park Place Lake
The newest addition to our list, the Beckenham Park Place Lake only opened in March 2021. There’s been a lake on the site as far back as the 1700s, though until recently it was filled in and used as a golf course. The 285m-long swimming lake reaches 3.5 metres deep in some parts. Helpfully, there are fully-trained lifeguards on duty at all times. If you fancy something different, you can also try your hand at paddleboarding, with sessions run by PTP coaching.