Say hello to the best and most beautiful outdoor swimming pools in the UK
There’s nothing quite like outdoor swimming, and while the UK might not be home to warm waters and sandy beaches, it does have some great places to take the plunge outside: lidos.
Many of the UK’s lidos were built in the early 1900s, and their heyday was in the 1930s: at one point there were more than 160 lidos in the UK. Many of these have now shut, but the outdoor pools that remain open have loyal bands of followers, and it’s easy to see why.
There are no bells and whistles with most lidos, no flumes taking up room, or cascade settings that cause the water to churn up every so often. Instead, there is just crisp, clear water and the fresh air, and occasionally the added extra of some stunning scenery to take in while you swim (or relax) outside.
And the boom for lidos in the 1930s means that not only are they great places in which to take the plunge, they’re also interesting to look at, as many retain the Art Deco styling of the time.
City dwellers, especially in London, often turn to lidos and outdoor pools when the mercury heads high; there are few things that appeal more after a day of sweating in an uncomfortable office or a packed train than a dip in a cool pool (followed by an ice cream after).
But lidos aren’t just for the warm summer months, with many now open year-round, and some even offering events like Christmas Day swims.
It may be cold (at first), but swimming in the open air in a lido has to be better than fighting for lane space in an overcrowded, over-chlorinated swimming pool, right?
Opening days and hours change at most lidos and outdoor pools depending on the season, so take advantage when you can.
From restored 1930s lidos to rooftop pools in city centres, here are 17 of the best lidos and outdoor pools in the UK.
Brockwell Lido in South London
Between Brixton, Tulse Hill and Herne Hill lies Brockwell Park – and tucked away in a corner of Brockwell Park is Brockwell Lido. Like many of the UK’s iconic outdoor pools, the lido was built in the 1930s; today, the art deco Grade II-listed building has been carefully renovated, and the little outdoor café is a dream. Added bonuses: the changing rooms are clean, the post-swim showers hot, and the staff super-friendly.
Where: Brockwell Park, Dulwich Rd, SE24 0PA
When: Opens 7.45-11.15am, daily
How much does it cost to swim: From £3.20
The Ilkley Pool and Lido in West Yorkshire
The Ilkley Lido is surrounded by emerald green hills and fields as far as the eye can see. But if West Yorkshire views from a lagoon-shaped outdoor pool isn’t enough for you, there’s also a heated indoor swimming pool open all year round and a lawned sunbathing area. There’s lot of space for parking but note that the opening hours vary according to weather conditions.
Where: Ilkley Pool and Lido, Denton Road, Ilkley, LS29 0BZ
When: Opens from spring bank holiday until September
Jubilee Pool in Penzance, Cornwall
This lovely fresh seawater pool – another 1930s art deco creation – was badly damaged in the violent storms that whipped the Cornish coast in 2014; this summer is the first time it’s been open since then. It was built in 1935 right by the ocean, with a gently curved triangular shape and high walls designed to work with the environment. Float on your back and watch the seagulls go by.
Where: Jubilee Pool, Battery Road, Penzance, Cornwall, TR18 4FF
When: Opens 10.30am - 6pm, from late May 2019
How much does it cost to swim: From £5
Shoreditch House Rooftop Lido in East London
A flashy choice, but worth it for the Instagram snaps (and the cocktails) alone if you’re not too fussed about actually, y’know, swimming. This private members club boasts a rooftop pool with views of the City and surrounding areas. Get comfortable in one of the sun loungers or hit up the garden dancing area.
Where: Shoreditch House, Ebor Street, London, E1 6AW
When: Opens 7am-10pm Monday to Saturday, 8am-10pm Sunday, all year round
How much does it cost to swim: Annual membership from £1,130
Hampton Pool, Hampton
Surrounded by the tall trees of Hampton Wick, the Hampton Lido is an affordable and easily accessible spot for unwinding. The pool is heated, too – good for those days when the sun isn’t quite strong enough to warm the water past shivering point.
Where: Hampton Pool, High Street, Hampton, Middlesex, TW12 2ST
When: Opens Monday, Wednesday and Friday 6am-9pm, Tuesday and Thursday 6am-5pm, Saturday and Sunday 8am-4pm
How much does it cost to swim: From £5.50
Pells Pool in Lewes, East Sussex
Tucked away near the River Ouse in the Sussex market town of Lewes, a 15-minute train ride from Brighton, the Pells is the oldest known freshwater outdoor public swimming pool in the UK. There’s a tree-lined lawn on which to lounge, as well as a no-frills (but very friendly) café selling ice cream and snacks. Once you’ve dried off, go for a wander around Lewes’s cobbled streets, lined with antique shops and veggie-friendly cafés.
Where: Pells Pool, Brook Street, Lewes, East Sussex, BN7 2BA
When: Opens from May 2019
Hampstead Heath Ladies’ Pond
While not technically a lido, Hampstead Heath’s ponds have been adapted for safe swimming. The ponds are split into women’s, men’s and mixed, and the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond is a particular gem. Surrounded by woodland with magical views, it feels like you’re in the middle of an enchanted forest. The best way to escape London without actually leaving the city.
Where: Kenwood Ladies Pond Hampstead Heath, Highgate, London NW5 1QR
When: Opens from 7am, daily; closing times vary
How much: From £2
Tinside Lido in Plymouth, Devon
Like the Jubilee in Penzance, Tinside Lido allows you the luxury of looking at the sea while swimming in a saltwater pool. Perched right on the shore with a swooping, rounded design, it’s a thing of beauty – and has been voted one of the 10 best outdoor pools in Europe.
Where: Tinside Lido, Hoe Road, Plymouthm PL1 3DE
When: Opens from May 2019
Nantwich Outdoor Brine Pool, Cheshire
The Nantwich ‘salt pit’ (a brine spring) has long been known for its health benefits: after WWI, soldiers used to be brought here to recuperate. The Nantwich outdoor pool opened to the public over 80 years ago; today, it’s heated, but staff say that some of their oldest customers still remember swimming in freezing temperatures as children in the 1930s and ‘40s.
Where: Nantwich Swimming Pool and Gym, Wall Lane, Nantwichm CW5 5LS
How much does it cost to swim: From £5
Thermae Pool in Bath
Thermae Bath Spa is a must if you’re visiting Bath – not just for a massage and a facial, but for the views of the city from the outdoor rooftop pool. Immerse yourself in steamy water while taking in the view of Bath’s distinctive sand-coloured rooftops, golden church spires and the rolling hills nearby.
Where: Thermae Bath Spa, The Hetling Pump Room, Hot Bath Street, Bath, BA1 1SJ
When: Opens 9am-9pm, daily
How much does it cost to swim: Varies depending on treatment
London Fields Lido, East London
Not exactly the most under-the-radar option on this list. London Fields has long been shorthand for hipster overload, and its pool gets absolutely rammed during the summer months. But not without reason: there’s a sweet, sensibly-priced little café and it’s heated, too, so you can stay in the water until 9pm.
Where: London Fields West Side, Hackney, London, E8 3EU
When: Centre opens from 6.30am-9pm, all year round
How much does it cost to swim: From £1.30
The Lido in Bristol
Dating back to 1849, this heated outdoor pool is one of the oldest surviving lidos in the UK. Today, it’s been sensitively renovated: the viewing gallery of the old Victorian Clifton Pool has been transformed into an award-winning, glass-fronted restaurant and tapas bar, and there’s even a spa, where you can book in for a post-swim massage, facial or exfoliation treatment.
Where: Lido, Oakfield Place, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 2BJ
When: Monday to Friday 1-4pm for non-members, 7am-10pm daily for members
How much does it cost to swim: From £20 for non-member session
Sandford Parks Lido, Cheltenham
Sandford Parks Lido, one of the largest outdoor pools in the country, opened in 1935, at the heart of the boom for lidos that happened in the Thirties. Set in landscaped gardens in Sandford Park, the 50m main pool is heated, meaning you can enjoy it even at the chilliest point of the season. And if you fancy trying something different while you’re there, the entrance charge also includes basketball, volleyball and table tennis.
Where: Sandford Park Lido, Keynsham Rd, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL53 7PU
When: Opens March 30, 2019
How much does it cost to swim: From £2.70
Tooting Bec Lido in South London
Tooting Bec Lido is the largest fresh water pool in England, and also one of the country’s oldest lidos: it was built in just four months in the spring of 1906. It’s home to the South London Swimming Club (SLSC), one of England’s oldest swimming clubs, which holds events for members and non-members, including weekly races. The water is described as “clear and cold”, but once you’re in the water, encircled by trees and birdsong, you’ll find yourself relaxing.
Where: Tooting Bec Lido, Tooting Bec Road, London, SW16 1RU
When: Winter swimming (members only). Opens from 7am/dawn-2pm, daily; summer swimming (open to the public) from 6am-8pm daily May to August, 6am/dawn-5pm weekends (non-members) and daily
Serpentine Lido in Central London
Head to one of London’s most famous green spaces for a summer swim in the open air. Serpentine Lido is located in the lake in Hyde Park, and is open to the public from May until September. If you want to brave the waters during the colder months, you’ll need to be a member of the Serpentine Swimming Club.
Where: Serpentine Lido, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Paddington, London, W2 3XA
When: Opens 10am-6pm, daily from June to August, weekends and bank holidays in May
How much does it cost to swim: From £3.10
Saltdean Lido in East Sussex
This Art Deco design pool is the only Grade II*-listed lido in the UK, and was saved from ruin by residents who set up a community interest company. The pool opened in summer 2017 after a refurbishment and there is currently a fundraising push to renovate the lido building. Located in the coastal village of Saltdean, about five miles east of Brighton, the lido held its first Christmas Day swim in 2018.
Where: Saltdean Lido, The Oval Park, Saltdean Park Road, Saltdean, Brighton, BN2 8SP
When: Season begins May 2019
Ruislip Lido in West London
It’s not often that you think of London as home to a beachy paradise, but with Ruislip Lido the city gets pretty close. This 60-acre lake sits on the edge of Ruislip Woods, a beautiful national nature reserve which you can walk through to get to the lido. And once you’re there, you can chill on the sandy beaches. There’s no swimming allowed in the lake, but it’s a small price to pay for the beautiful surroundings.
Where: Ruislip Lido, Reservoir Road, Ruislip, HA4 7TY
When: Opens at 9am all year round, closing times vary
How much does it cost to swim: Free
Images: Provided by venues, Getty
This article was originally published in June 2016.