Splashy secrets: What are the best spots for wild swimming in London? 

Have you ever dreamt of trading the confines of a chlorinated pool for the untamed embrace of nature’s waters? If so, buckle up: you’re in for a liquid adventure like no other.

Wild swimming, a practice as old as time, has found a new home within London’s urban sprawl. Join us as we navigate the city’s liquid landscapes, diving deep into the concept of wild swimming in London and revealing the city’s best-kept aquatic secrets. 

Hampstead Heath Ponds

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Location: Hampstead Heath, London NW3, United Kingdom

Operating hours: 7:00 AM to 8:30 PM

Admission: Free

How to get here: Take a train from London Victoria or London Bridge to Shortlands station. The park is a 10-minute walk from the station.

These ponds have been around for centuries, dug during the 17th and 18th centuries as reservoirs. Over time, they’ve become a sanctuary for those seeking a splash of something different in the city.

The Heath comprises three swimming ponds: the Mixed Pond, the Men’s Pond, and the Ladies’ Pond. And here’s the kicker: they’re all natural, spring-fed beauties. No chlorine in sight! The water quality is top-notch, meeting strict standards to ensure it’s safe for a refreshing dip.

Plus, you’ve got this incredible community of regulars – from dedicated swimmers to those who just want to bask in the sun on the banks. There’s a sense of camaraderie, a shared love for the raw beauty of nature.

Beckenham Place Park

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Location: Beckenham Hill Road, Beckenham, BR3 1SY, United Kingdom

Operating hours: Open 24 hours

Admission: Free

How to get here: Take a train to Beckenham Hill Railway Station, and from there you can walk to Beckenham Place Park.

This isn’t your typical chlorinated pool, it’s a beautifully maintained lake that’s been lovingly restored for swimmers and nature enthusiasts alike. And the water? Crystal clear, thanks to a natural filtration system that keeps it clean and inviting.

Plus you’re not just taking a dip in any old pond. The lake stretches across a whopping 285 meters, offering plenty of space for everyone. Whether you’re a seasoned swimmer or just dipping your toes into the wild swimming scene, there’s room for you.

Oh, and did I mention the on-site café? After your aquatic adventure, you can refuel with a delicious meal or a hot drink, soaking up the views of the lake. It’s the perfect post-swim treat.

Serpentine Lido

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Location: Serpentine Road, London W2 3XA, United Kingdom

Operating hours: Seasonal, approx May to September daily

Admission: £4 to £6

How to get here: Take the district line to Hyde Park Corner station. The lido is around a 15-minute walk south.

The Serpentine has been a hot spot for swimmers since the 1800s. Yeah, you heard that right! People have been taking a plunge here for centuries, making your swim more of a historical reenactment – minus the frilly bathing suits, of course.

Now, don’t let the ‘wild’ in wild swimming fool you. The Serpentine Lido offers a safe, controlled environment. They’ve got dedicated swim lanes, ensuring everyone can enjoy their splash in an organised, safe manner. 

The beauty of the Serpentine Lido is its accessibility. Open from May to September, it’s not just for the pros, as beginners and families are more than welcome to join in the fun.

Henley-on-Thames

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Location: Henley-on-Thames RG9 6ER, United Kingdom

Operating hours: Open 24 hours

Admission: Free

How to get here: Take a train from London Paddington station to Henley-on-Thames station. The town is a short walk from the station.

Now, Henley might not have an official ‘wild swimming spot’ per se, but the beauty lies in its hidden coves and tranquil stretches of the river, perfect for a cheeky swim. Picture this: finding your own secret swimming spot, away from the crowds, surrounded by nature’s embrace.

Henley-on-Thames offers an experience that’s a delightful blend of riverside charm and scenic beauty. So, while you’re not doing the breaststroke, you can wander the quaint town, grab a bite in a charming cafe, or simply soak in the town’s delightful ambience.

And oh, did I mention the Henley Swim? It’s an annual event where swimmers can take on various challenges in the Thames – a testament to the river’s allure and the growing interest in wild swimming in the area. 

West Reservoir Centre

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Location: West Reservoir Centre, White Post Lane, London, NW10 2QX. United Kingdom

Operating hours: 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM

Admission: Entry to the centre is free, charges may apply for some activities

How to get here: Take the London Overground to Willesden Junction station, then a short bus ride.

Now, you might wonder, “Is it safe?” Absolutely! The West Reservoir boasts a dedicated swimming area with clear and filtered waters, so you can dive in without worrying about encountering any mysterious pond creatures. 

What’s more? It’s not just about the swim. The West Reservoir Centre offers various activities to keep your aquatic experience exciting. Think kayaking, paddleboarding, and even sailing. It’s like a water-based amusement park, minus the long queues and overpriced snacks.

And let’s not forget the picturesque setting. Surrounded by nature and stunning views of the London skyline. After your swim, you can lounge on the deck and take in the scenery – the perfect post-dip relaxation.

River Wey

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Location: Thames Lock, Jessamy Rd, Weybridge KT13 8LG, United Kingdom

Operating hours: Open 24 hours

Admission: Free

How to get here: Take a train to Guildford station. Upon reaching Guildford station, you can either walk or take a short taxi ride to reach the River Wey. 

The River Wey doesn’t have a fancy clubhouse or designated lanes like some of the other swimming spots you might find. Nope, here, it’s all about finding your little patch of riverbank and taking the plunge.

It’s not just about swimming, though. The River Wey is an adventure waiting to happen. Think riverside walks, picnics on the grassy banks, and perhaps even a spot of fishing, if that’s your thing.

Pangbourne Meadows

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Location: Pangbourne Meadows, Berkshire, United Kingdom

Operating hours: Open 24 hours

Admission: Free

How to get here: Take a train to Pangbourne station. Upon arriving at Pangbourne station, exit and head south on Station Road. 

The real charm of Pangbourne Meadows lies in its wild swimming opportunities. The river’s gentle currents make it a dream for swimmers looking for a more natural experience. You won’t find any lanes or marked areas here – it’s the epitome of “go with the flow”.

As for accessibility, it’s a breeze. With various access points along the riverbank, you can find your perfect spot easily. Plus, the train station is within a stone’s throw of it, making it an excellent day trip destination from the heart of London.

London Royal Docks

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Location: London Royal Docks, London, United Kingdom

Operating hours: Open 24 hours

Admission: Free

How to get here: Take the DLR from various locations in London, including Bank, Tower Gateway, or Stratford, depending on your starting point.

Let’s address the elephant in the room, or should I say, the fish in the water. The water quality in the Royal Docks has significantly improved over the years, so yes, you can actually swim here now. 

Thanks to extensive regeneration efforts, the docks have transformed from their industrial past to a haven for aquatic activities. Plus, the area around the docks is a hub for fun-seekers, offering buzzing events and waterside dining spots. 

Imagine a day packed with a refreshing swim followed by chilling out at a cool waterside cafe – talk about a well-rounded experience.

Ruislip Lido

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Location: Ruislip Lido, Hillingdon, United Kingdom

Operating hours: Open 24 hours

Admission: Entry to the area is free, charges may apply for some activities

How to get here: Take the Metropolitan or Piccadilly Line to reach Ruislip station. From there, exit the station and head west on Station Approach. Continue straight onto High Street until you reach Ruislip Common. 

Ruislip Lido is where the sandy shores meet nature’s embrace in a delightful paddling paradise! You might think of it more as a spot for leisurely paddling rather than full-on swimming, but boy, is it a gem you don’t want to miss.

Every Londoner’s summer bucket list needs a sweet dose of Ruislip Lido magic. Located in zone six, it’s a hit, especially among families. The playgrounds, climbing frames, and even a miniature train offering lakeside trips – it’s an amusement park on nature’s doorstep! 

Grantchester Meadows

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Location: Grantchester Meadows, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom

Operating hours: Open 24 hours

Admission: Free

How to get here: Take a train from London King’s Cross station to Cambridge station. 

What sets Cambridgeshire apart is the rare opportunity for diving. The deep banks along its river spots allow the daring to take the plunge. It’s like finding a unicorn in the wild swimming world of the UK. 

Diving in a river? Well, that’s something you don’t stumble upon every day!

But, here’s the kicker: this slice of swimming paradise might not be around forever. There’s talk of the college that owns the area considering a ban on swimming. So, if you’re planning a visit, the time is now! 

Chipstead Lakes

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Location: Longford Lake, Chipstead Near Sevenoaks, Kent, United Kingdom

Operating hours: 7:00 AM to 8:30 PM

Admission: £13.00

How to get here: Take a train from London Bridge to Sevenoaks

This lake gem, operated by TriSwim, offers a variety of swim circuits – 750m, 400m, or 200m – providing options for different swimming preferences. What’s more, there’s a shallow bay for those who might feel a bit wobbly in the water.

The best part? Age is just a number here. Everyone is welcome! Whether you’re looking to fine-tune your swimming skills or introduce a little one to the world of open-water swimming, Chipstead Lake has your back. 

Canary Wharf

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Location: Mackenzie Walk, London E14 4PH, United Kingdom

Operating hours: 12:00 PM to 3:00 PM

Admission: £15

How to get here: From Canary Wharf station, you can walk to Mackenzie Walk in approximately 10 to 15 minutes

What makes this place sizzle? It’s all about the sheer thrill of swimming in one of London’s most iconic water bodies. The swimming zone, brimming with lifeguards, offers up to 600 meters of aquatic playground for you to enjoy. 

Now, who’s invited to this aqua-party? Anyone over the age of ten who can confidently navigate the waters is welcome. And here’s the twist – you need to book your slot in advance. No spontaneous swims here, it’s all about planning your aquatic adventure.

To gain entry to this fantastic aquatic realm, you’ll want to snag a NOWCA membership card for £15. But the best part? This card isn’t just your golden ticket to Canary Wharf, it opens the doors to more than 40 pools! 

Luxborough Lake

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Location: Luxborough Lake, Luxborough Ln, Chigwell IG7 5DF, United Kingdom

Operating hours: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM

Admission: Free

How to get here: Take the tube to Roding Valley, from there you can walk to Luxborough Lake

While it might not be the ultimate wild swimming destination, Luxborough Lake certainly isn’t short on charm. This picturesque oasis near Walthamstow offers a serene environment perfect for a leisurely stroll or a relaxing picnic. 

So, while Luxborough Lake might not be the go-to spot for wild swimming in northeast London, it’s a haven for enjoying the beauty of nature and observing the wildlife that calls this area home. 

Practical tips for wild swimming in London

Research safe and legal spots in London

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Wild swimming is like Pandora’s box – full of excitement and unpredictability. Before you cannonball into the nearest waterhole, the golden rule is to research, research, research! Do your homework about the spot you’re eyeing for a swim.

What does this research entail? For starters, take a dip into the depths of the Internet. Look for information on your chosen swimming location. Are there any potential hazards? Currents to be mindful of? Is the water quality up to snuff? 

Knowing these details beforehand can prevent unexpected surprises.

Pay attention to weather conditions and water quality

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London’s weather is a bit like a box of chocolates – you never quite know what you’re gonna get. So, keep an eye out for any forecasted storms or strong winds. They might turn your dreamy swimming adventure into an unexpected challenge.

Now, let’s talk about water quality. It’s the unsung hero of a safe swim. Before you dive in, give the water quality a once-over. Is it crystal clear or murkier than your morning coffee? Clear waters often mean better visibility, but murky waters can sometimes hide potential risks. 

Be on the lookout for any visible signs of pollution or debris, as these could dampen your swimming mood faster than you can say “cannonball!”

Have a buddy system

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Swimming solo might sound adventurous and all, but having a buddy is like an extra layer of security for your wild swimming escapades. It’s like having your very own cheerleader, but more importantly, an extra pair of eyes to keep an eye on you and your surroundings.

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