There’s nothing quite like taking a dip outdoors. And while the UK does have some spectacular beaches, you don’t always need to head to the coast to enjoy an outside swim. Enter the lido – no bells and whistles, no flumes or wave machines – just crisp, clear water, fresh air, and occasionally some stunning scenery to enjoy while you’re swimming.
The history of the lido
Many of the UK’s lidos were constructed in the early 1900s – just as the benefits of an outdoor swim were being realised. They reached their heyday in the 1930s – at one point more than 160 lidos were open in the UK, many in spectacular art deco surroundings so they’re great to look at as well as swim in.
As holidays to the coast became cheaper, the lido’s use and appeal waned – leading to the closure of many lidos as city dwellers flocked to the sea. Luckily for the lidos, they’d developed loyal bands of followers, which led to many reopening in 1990s and early 2000s and becoming the hubs of the local community that they were all those decades ago.
The benefits of an outdoor swim
Outdoor swimming is known to have a number of benefits – from increasing your metabolism to better circulation, boosting your immune system and even better skin! Combining all this with a workout in the great outdoors (itself proven to reduce stress and promote mental wellbeing) means that a swim is a great way to finish off (or start!) a day.
These days, although the traditional image of the outdoor pool features frigid waters in the height of winter, you’ll find many heated pools, making swimming even in the rain an altogether pleasant experience. Plus, there’s something to be said about the rather glorious experience that is swimming in the rain!
So even if the heatwaves don’t last, or even if you fancy a bracing Christmas Day dip – let us introduce you to some of our favourite outdoor pools in our region.
Lymington Sea Water Baths
First built in 1833, the Lymington Sea Water Baths is the oldest lido in the UK – as well as one of the biggest at 110 metres long. Having opened in 2010 following a two-year closure, it’s now a hub of family-friendly activity, all in filtered and chlorinated seawater – so it’s safe, too.
Here you’ll be able to swim, kayak, paddleboard and zorb, as well as find 200 metres of inflatable obstacle courses that provide plenty of fun for grown-ups and kids alike.
Open: typically open from May to September Getting there: From Lymington Town station head down Mill Lane, Quay Hill, Quay Road and Bath Road toward the RNLI Lifeboat station. It’s less than 15 minutes’ before you’re facing the marina and the spectacular open air seawater bath.
On a sunny day you could almost be transported to the Mediterranean at this urban oasis tucked in the heart of historic Clifton. While the pool and spa are primarily membership-based, non-members can arrive for weekday public swimming sessions (which also offer sauna, steam room and hot tub use).
Swimmers will also find a spa and restaurant attached to this intimate venue which also offer pre-booked pool time, making it a perfect option for a relaxing couples retreat or as part of a weekend in Bristol.
Open: year-round Getting there: Clifton Down station is just a ten-minute walk along Whiteladies Road, turning right onto St Paul’s Road and Oakfield Place. Alternatively, the number 8 bus from Bristol Temple Meads takes you to just three minutes’ walk from the Lido.
Described by The Sunday Times as “one of Britain’s coolest, biggest, hippest pools”, Hampton Pool occupies a tranquil spot on the border of Royal Bushy Park. It’s open 365 days a year and even in the height of winter the pool can be found with balmy 28-degree waters, making it a welcome respite from a chilly day (even if getting out might be a challenge!)
Being just 20 minutes from Hampton Court by bus, it’s a great way to cool off and end a day exploring the palace or Bushy Park itself. Keep an eye out for the summer concerts - attracting world-class stars like Sophie Ellis Bextor, 10cc and Lulu.
Open: 365 days a year Getting there: Hampton Pool is just a 15 minute walk from Hampton station along Ormond Avenue, Ormond Drive, and then Manor Gardens.
The sister site to the Bristol Lido, the Thames Lido has a long history, and is believed to be the oldest surviving outdoor municipal pool from the Edwardian period. Originally built as the Reading Ladies Swimming Bath, it suffered a 43-year period of closure and disrepair before reopening in 2017.
These days it’s a luxury destination, perfect for a weekend away in Reading or a just a day of pampering yourself. A three-hour public swim pass available on weekdays gives you access to some of the spa facilities, though we recommend the eat and swim package – more pricey, perhaps, but making for a perfect afternoon in the sun.
Open: year-round Getting there: It’s just a five-minute walk to the Thames Lido – use the north exit from Reading station, head along Bagnall Way and then Napier Road to Kings Meadow.
Serpentine Lido, Hyde Park
Most famous for the Serpentine Swimming Club (who retain sole use of the spot in the early mornings and the winter), from May to September there’s a warm welcome to the public at this open swimming spot. With its paddling pool, private sunbathing areas and sun loungers for hire, it’s an ideal social spot for a long lunch (or an early finish).
Ideal for those who aren’t a fan of chlorinated pools, this is open water – meaning its good for the wildlife too. You can even stop for a bite – the popular Lido Café next door has a kiosk within the lido grounds.
Open: May to September Getting there: Hyde Park Corner gives you easy access to Hyde Park. From Waterloo, take the Bakerloo line to Piccadilly Circus, changing for the Piccadilly line to Hyde Park Corner.
Thermae Bath Spa
Billed as “Britain’s original thermal spa”, Thermae Bath Spa uses waters from Britain’s only hot spring in the heart of Bath. The New Royal Bath, its showcase site, is a spectacular building in the city centre, offering incredible views over the city from its open-air rooftop pool – all fed by the naturally warm, mineral-rich water from the spring below.
One of the more luxury spots on our list, it’s a fitting way to enjoy a day in Bath – or team it up with some city exploring and make a weekend of it.
Open: year-round Getting there: Just a five-minute walk from Bath Spa station, head along St Lawrence Street and Lower Borough Walls. Turn right onto Hot Bath Street to find Thermae Bath Spa.
Guildford Lido has been in continuous use since 1933, making it one of the longest-serving lidos in use today – as well as only one of a handful left from the 1930s. It enjoys a position amid four acres of landscaped gardens, making it ideal for poolside picnics and get-togethers. Heated to 24 degrees, it’s a refreshing stop if you’re staying in the town.
It’s also great for kids too – you’ll find three slides here as well as a paddling pool with interactive toys for very little ones, as well as a mini golf course for when you’ve dried off.
Open: late April to September Getting there: It’s a twelve-minute walk from London Road station – exiting from the Surbiton-bound platform, head along Nightingale Road and then turn right onto Stoke Road. Lido Road is next to Guildford College and takes you to the lido itself. If you’re coming from Guildford station, walk ten minutes to the Friary and take the number 35 bus to Guildford College.
The deepest outdoor pool in the UK (a record it shares with Broomhill Pool in Ipswich), Hilsea Lido is another survivor from that golden age of British lidos. Its 67-metre pool and ample area for sunbathers, located on the coast of the island that forms the city of Portsmouth, mean it’s a popular spot for summer visitors. It’s also featured in film – 1974 hit Tommy filmed its Bernie’s Holiday Camp scenes there.
Two splash pools are provided for the youngest visitors, as well as a two-metre diving platform above the pool’s deepest section (more than four-and-a-half metres deep!). The Blue Lagoon café offers tasty treats too – although the lido welcomes picnickers.
Open: seven days a week during the summer season Getting there: The Hilsea Lido is 15 minutes’ walk from Cosham station – head south along Portsmouth Road, crossing to the park using the subways and walking counter-clockwise around the roundabout.