140 best wild swims and lidos within easy reach of the capital
Discover the best lidos, river beaches, wooded lakes and hotel pools – all about an hour from central London on public transport. Perfect for anyone who loves to swim outdoors under a big open sky.
Combining lavish photos, enticing travel writing and all the practical information you’ll need to choose and plan your next adventure, including local eateries, river walks, places of interest and accessibility information. Encompassing more than 140 beautiful and varied venues where you can swim wild, paddle board, picnic or take the family for an unforgettable day out. It also includes information on winter swimming, local swimming groups and events.
Outdoor Swimming London takes you on an aquatic tour of the region’s finest rivers, lakes and outdoor pools.
- Discover hidden beaches and secret islands
- Cycle and walk along bucolic riverside meadows
- Swim in sparkling lakes within secluded woods
- Glide through turquoise water and chalk pools
- Visit some of the region’s finest art deco lidos
- Enjoy poolside cocktails and sushi
- Treat yourself to luxury spa and swim breaks
- Jump and slide in outdoor aqua parks
- Test yourself on longer circuits at some of the best training lakes
Best for wild swims
Top places to take a natural dip near the capital
Best for cold-water winter swimming
We’re brrr-ave, we’re bold, we don’t mind the cold
Best for kayaking & paddle-boarding
Find your perfect place to paddle
Best for lane swimming
Release your inner Olympian and keep yourself fit
Best for open-water swimming in private lakes
The best lifeguarded wild swimming spots in and around London
Best for accessibility
Accessible open-water and outdoor swimming venues
Best for heated winter swimming pools
Swimming in the lap of luxury, all year round
Best for literary and historic swims
Swims which inspired great books and swims near famous places
Best for food & drink
Tasty post-swim food and well-earned tipples
Best for kids and families
The kids will want to come back again and again and again
Best for trains, boats and cable cars
As long as there’s a swim at the end of the journey
Best for waterside picnics
Idyllic spots to spend the day eating your signature dish
Best for long cycle rides from London
Your swim will feel that much sweeter after a long bike ride
Best for long walks
Reflective river and canalside strolls
Best for hotels, clubs and special occasions
Splash out and pamper yourself with these swanky swims
About the authors
John Weller is a photographer and travel writer, born and bred in north London. Lola Culsán is a half-Spanish former stand-up comic who teaches in north west London. When at home, they can often be found taking the waters on Hampstead Heath. They are passionate year-round outdoor swimmers and authors of Wild Swimming Spain (2016) and Hidden Beaches Spain (2021).
Table of Contents – Outdoor Swimming London
Overview map 6
Getting about and prices 10
Swimmer’s kit and safety 12
Cold-water swimming 14
Staying legal and respecting others 16
Open-water swimming with a disability 17
Best for… 18
Greater London 28
Surrey & Sussex 78
Berkshire, River Thames & Oxfordshire 120
Bucks, Beds & Cambridgeshire 166
Hertfordshire & Essex 186
Swim safety 252
Water quality 253
Copyright & acknowledgements 256
Introduction – Swimming and living in London
If you’re tired of London, go for a swim outdoors, you’ll feel different.
Swimming beneath an endless expanse of sky brings freedom and fun. Nothing fills the air with happiness like the squeals of children playing at a busy open-air swimming pool. John’s long hot summers were spent exploring the boundless beauty of Hampstead Heath and swimming with his sisters at Parliament Hill Fields Lido. Wealdstone Lido was a vital ingredient in Lola’s childhood along with summers spent with her Spanish family on the Costa Dorada. We’re both passionate about swimming and we love discovering new places to take a dip. So we joyfully set off to find roofless places to swim within (about) an hour’s travel from London, using only public transport where possible. Our quest took us to lidos, rivers, lakes, beaches and hotels, where we were met with unbridled enthusiasm and unfettered optimism from pool managers, lifeguards, lake owners and fellow swimmers.
The UK’s lidos, many saved from the bulldozer by determined communities, provide an oasis of summer fun and winter exercise. From Oxford to Southend we found splendid places to swim in the Thames. All around London we discovered former gravel quarries that are now filled with water and restored to nature; here you can swim ‘wild’ in the private lakes under the watchful eye of lifeguards. Many hotels near London have outdoor pools and offer luxurious breaks or spa days for that special occasion. We’ve even listed a few beaches easily reached by train and perfect for a day beside the seaside.
If there is a charge for a swim we have put £, ££ or £££ at the end of the directions to give a rough idea of cost but we’ve provided website addresses for you to look up the price before you go. We’ve included handy directions and travel options for each of the swims and information about access for people with disabilities is provided where available.
Getting around London and the home counties is easy. We walked, jumped on buses, took the Tube or a train and hailed a couple of cabs. Often we cycled, pedalling along the flat towpaths of the Grand Union Canal and River Lea to places like the Jubilee River or Ware Lido, usually taking the train home, tired but still buzzing with excitement. We’ve also suggested a few places to enjoy a post-swim breakfast or pub lunch.
We have swum in all the spots described in this book at different times of year and have tried to be clear about each swim, including any signage, and leave the reader to make informed decisions about staying within the law (see p16). Information is provided to the best of our knowledge, based on local research, but does not guarantee any right to swim. Some of our rivers, like the Thames, have been steadily getting cleaner, but we still need to be aware of what is being pumped into our waterways and make our own choices about the safety of bathing in them, especially after heavy rain.
Whether you’re a dawn dipper, lane legend, wild swimmer, sun worshipper, Wim-Hof disciple, menopausal mermaid, wet-suited warrior, head-up breaststroker, fun-seeking family, or anyone else who just can’t resist getting their toes into water in the great outdoors, this guide has something for you.
We had a lot of fun researching Outdoor Swimming London and we hope that our book inspires you to have some fantastic days out and embark on some wild adventures of your own.
John & Lola