With the weather warming up, there’s no better time to take the plunge outdoors. And, with so many health benefits to urban swimming, you don’t have to wait until it’s hot.
According to swimming.org, there are four key health benefits to open water swimming. Whether it’s wild water training or racking up the lengths in a lido, you can feel and look both healthier and happier in no time.
Not only can outdoor swimming help tone your torso, but the bracing activity can help with sleep problems, increase your happy hormones, boost your immune system and even prevent long-term health conditions.
What’s more, you may be surprised to know that there are plenty of places to go open swimming on your doorstep.
With this in mind, John Weller and Lola Culsán, authors of Outdoor Swimming London, share four of their favourite places to swim outdoors close to the Square Mile below…
Birch, Cheshunt (outdoor heated pool)
Minimalist and heated, the Birch pool is a 25-metre lido with chic poolside bar and kitchen in the extensive grounds of this modern concept hotel. You can use the pool if you are a Birch member or if you’re staying at the hotel.
Colourful slip-resistant tiles have been used in the swimming pool and surroundings of Birch Lido. The wooden changing huts and pastel deck chairs create a warm, earthy and sustainable feel.
The Lido Kitchen is open from 11am to dusk, while the hotel and co-working space occupy a Georgian Grade II-listed mansion with 55-acre estate, a short drive from central London.
Children are more than welcome at Birch. The smaller ones will be more than happy splashing about in the paddling pool.
Lieutenant Ellis Way, Cheshunt, Goff’s Oak, Waltham Cross EN7 5HW
London Fields Lido, Hackney (outdoor heated pool)
Tucked away in an unassuming corner of Hackney sits London Fields Lido. Built in 1932 and derelict by 1988, this East London treasure was renovated in 2006 and has never looked back, nor better.
The clean, blue water of the Olympic-sized pool is heated to a delicious 24–25 degrees. Swim here all year round and enjoy the sights of the colourful lockers, changing room doors and poolside benches. London plane trees planted on the boundary walls wave at the bohemian Hackney scene from overhead.
The community of swimmers ranges from speedy slickers to head-up smilers, though there’s not as much socialising and chin-wagging as you might find at other London lidos. However, London Fields Lido has an energy and character all of its own. If you want to experience the true magic of London Fields Lido, swim on a chilly night when ethereal mists rise over the water.
There are accessible toilets and changing rooms, a poolside hoist and level access to the pool. Hoxton Beach Café serves post-swim coffees and pastries outside the pool.
London Fields Lido, London Fields West Side, London, E8 3EU
Royal Docks, London Docklands (lifeguarded lake)
The poster child for London urban swimming, the Royal Docks do not disappoint. Dive into what was the largest enclosed docks system in the world and you have the unique pleasure of swimming surrounded by the disused cranes and warehouses of London’s industrial past alongside sleek modern buildings, while, overhead, planes take off at ridiculously steep angles from the next-door London City Airport.
With 400m, 750m and (sometimes) 1,500m routes marked out, it’s a good place to put in some distance, plus there’s plenty of room to swim unfettered by fellow splashers.
The water quality is good, and it’s checked every two weeks. Facilities may be minimal but the venue is run on a safe (lifeguards in canoes) but relaxed and friendly basis.
To fully appreciate the grandeur of the place, arrive by the Emirates Air Line from Greenwich, making this the only swim in London that you can arrive at by cable car. This is surely the most spectacular way to travel to water anywhere in the UK. From up on high you get a real sense of the sheer scale of the old docks, as well as just how inviting it all now looks.
Post-swim sustenance can be found on the floating bar (they do pizzas), or at the other restaurants and cafés surrounding this glorious stretch of water.
London Royal Docks open-water swimming, Dock Road, London, E16 1AH
West Reservoir, Hackney (lifeguarded lake)
Beyond an inauspicious approach, a Victorian former pump house stands proudly on an embankment overlooking the large sparkling oasis that is West Reservoir.
Changing quickly, we made our way down the jetty and tested our toes in the inky water, dyed to prevent algae growth. Once we took the plunge, the clean, fresh, smooth feel of the water delighted our senses. As we stroked our way away towards the reedy banks, we looked back at the scene we had been a part of just minutes before.
While we took in the waters, urban life was kept at bay. All we could do was experience the water and the unique view while congratulating ourselves for having made the effort.
Swimmers ranged from triathletes in full wetsuits to laughing friends in saggy swimming costumes. The length of the course depends on the number of swimmers and the temperature of the water. All year round there is a straight up and down 25m course; in autumn, summer and spring there are also longer loops.
Floats are provided for skin swimmers and everyone must wear a red swimming hat. There are accessible toilets and changing rooms for swimmers with disabilities, and ramp access into the water.
West Reservoir Water Sports Centre, Green Lanes, London, N4 2HA