Top tip: go in the week! We queued for about 1 1/2 hours (it was worth it, though..)
Dan and I made a day trip out of Bath and it was bloody brilliant. We meandered our way through the city looking at all the tourist sites – of course we had to take a photo at the Royal Crescent! – and after coffee and a bit more wandering we joined the queue for the Royal Spa baths.
It took ages to get in but for some reason neither of us minded that too much! You can book in advance during the week, so I’d recommend doing that if you don’t mind taking a day off work. The steam rooms are currently closed for refurbishment, which means that you get a complimentary ticket to revisit before the end of the year, so that makes it pretty good value for money too.
There are two pools that you can visit at the moment, we stayed in both for absolutely ages. The Minerva Bath is located in the basement of the building and has currents and jets and a jacuzzi – fantastic!
The rooftop pool is the reason I wanted to visit, though: I’ve never seen a photo of it which doesn’t look beautiful! And it completely surpassed our expectations. The views over the city were just incredible, and watching the steam rising from the pool was very relaxing. The pool was clean and warm and I could have stayed there all day. I loved it and I’m so glad that I made the effort to tick off this one!
After the spa we grabbed a snack whilst watching a very large man drinking a 6 pint carton of milk. Lovely. We then went to the Dark Horse cocktail bar (thanks for the great tip, Alex!) and Yak Yeti Yak for a quick and really delicious dinner (thanks Celeste!) before heading back to the train station happy, relaxed, a little bit exhausted, and very much in love with Bath. Now to find a way to move there..!
Caledonian Road is a funny area, isn’t it? So much regeneration in the areas around (Islington, Kings Cross..) but it just hasn’t quite made it to Cally Road yet. And, unlike Archway Pool below, this isn’t an area I usually go through so it’s not a natural pool for me to visit. Nevertheless, Jane and I met up here on a rainy Friday night to check out what their pool was like.
When we visited, the pool was hosting a women’s only session, with female lifeguards and reception staff. Considering that quite a few of the women were wearing hijabs when they arrived at the pool I thought this was really considerate of the Better team, who run this centre, as it gives these women an opportunity to swim without worrying about being seen by men. The women-only session also had the added bonus of being fairly quiet, so Jane and I had a lane to ourselves for 30 lengths of the pool – absolute bliss!!
The pool itself was clean and warm, and shallow at both ends but deeper in the middle. It’s very much a no-frills, school sports hall type pool, with communal changing rooms with small cubicles to change in, and no cafe or relaxation area. £5.00 is a bit steep for basic facilities, but it was worth it for the chance of a lane to ourselves. I don’t think this is one I’ll be visiting on a regular basis though, sadly!
Jane and I visited Archway pool on a very, very cold Wednesday evening. I’ve been meaning to check out this pool for a long time as it’s only a short walk away from mine, but Archway isn’t usually somewhere I make a point of visiting if I can avoid it: I’m totally spoiled by having Stroud Green, Crouch End and Highgate on my doorstep.
This is another pool run by Better. I’ve been to a few of the pools that they manage over the course of the last year and I’m really impressed with the quality and cleanliness of their facilities at all sites. Out of all the pools I’ve visited so far, this is the one that felt the most non-London: I really felt like I was in a small town rather than a capital city and there was such a friendly, inclusive atmosphere here.
Archway pool is definitely more of a relaxing pool than an exercise pool: when we visited there was one swimming lane open, an aqua aerobics class and a gorgeously warm jacuzzi. The changing rooms and showers were pretty swanky, too. Definitely good value for money.
I only took one bad quality photo, but you can just about see the spiral slide – they have a wave machine too! Google images will give you some much better photos. Such a lovely family friendly pool, and a great place to spend a cold winter evening!
I dragged my sister out to her local pool for the first time, and both of us really enjoyed it. On the downside, it’s the most basic (and run-down) of the pools that I’ve visited, but the leisure centre is undergoing a big refurb so I’m sure this will change soon. On the upside, this pool was beautifully warm, very inclusive (the slow lane really was slow!) and its shed-like roof reminded me of school swimming lessons. I didn’t mind it being a bit run-down to be honest: it’s good value for money, walking distance from my place and incredibly relaxing. A great way to start a Sunday morning! As for the couple getting very amorous in the deep end… the least said the better.
Not sure I’d travel here from the other side of London, but for something on my doorstep and an excuse for a catch-up coffee afterwards with my sis, it’s pretty much perfect.
Parliament Hill is expensive – the priciest pool on my list so far. But I have to say it’s completely justified, as this pool is so beautiful. It’s right on the edge of the Gospel Oak side of Hampstead Heath, and the building surrounding it is pure Art Deco as it opened in 1938. The changing rooms are very basic and functional, but I liked the small details such as free lockers/baskets for your clothes, which made it feel more friendly than a lot of the pools I’ve visited. The pool itself is just stunning, and absolutely huge. It’s 61m in length – I took Dan with me who was absolutely adamant that a lido cannot be over 50m, and that we were just getting tired for no reason! The stainless steel liner reflects the sun beautifully and keeps this unheated pool at a lovely temperature: it was 21 degrees on our visit. It was also spotlessly clean and clear.
It rained no end on our way down to the lido but cleared up by the time we got there. This seemed to have driven away a lot of the Bank Holiday crowds, so there was loads of space and also loads of serious swimmers. Almost everyone there was wearing a wetsuit and doing endless lengths of the pool, which was inspiring – though impossible for Dan and I to match! In the showers afterwards I heard women talking about their upcoming 10k swims, river swims, triathlons and so on. Made me want to take swimming more seriously and definitely showed me a different side to the London swimming scene.
On a side note, the cafe is also very lovely with views over the playing fields on the Heath on one side and the lido on the other. Great sandwiches and amazing looking cakes! I’ve got a feeling this is one pool I’ll be spending a lot of time in!
First things first: this isn’t a swimming pool, it’s “an art installation you can swim in”. I have to say that put me off a bit, but I put my prejudices aside and booked a Sunday afternoon session for what turned out to be a lovely sunny day. The pool is a freshwater pond complete with lily pads, reeds, and views over the concrete jungle of London. It’s great being in a small slice of nature in a very urban part of the city, and the pool was lovely and clear and warm. Only 41 people are permitted per 3/4 hour session to keep the pond at an equilibrium so tickets sell out in advance, and with good reason: this place is a great hidden gem. The staff will put out tables and chairs for you if you want to have some food and drink, and the lifeguards were friendly but unintrusive (which seems to be surprisingly rare in London pools!).It’s supposed to be a temporary feature but I am crossing my fingers that it becomes permanent. Definitely my favourite pool so far!
Oh – and scroll down for a bonus pic of me looking super grumpy. I promise I was having a really good time!!
This is the newest pool I’ve visited so far: it’s only been open for two years. It was getting ready for an open day when I visited, so there were lots of free activities for locals being advertised and balloons everywhere – very cheerful! The pool is located (along with a library and offices) in the old grade II listed Town Hall building, and the facade of the building is pretty much unchanged: so unchanged in fact that I walked straight past it at first! The pool was spotlessly clean, with decent changing rooms and plenty of space on a Friday evening. Absolutely loads of kids doing swimming lessons, which made me remember how much I hated doing lengths of my school pool. These kids were having a much better time!!
Park Road lido is one of the largest lidos in London, and just down the road from me in Crouch End. It opened in 1929 and is maintained by Haringey Council. I can’t believe I’ve never been here before! It’s huge, you can bring a picnic and stay all day, I felt like I was on holiday. Apparently it’s heated, but it didn’t feel like that to me…! Brrr! The lido recently had an £8 million makeover, so it’s well-maintained and clean, with landscaped grounds and a smart cafe area. It’s very family-friendly: I would say about 80% of the people there were parents with young children. I had a lane entirely to myself (apart from a friendly mallard getting in my way) – total bliss. One slight negative: the lifeguards were completely draconian. I understand that kids running and bombing into the pool can be annoying, but the way they told them off was far too harsh, especially considering that this is a pool that is deep enough to dive into! I’ll be back for a late night swim next time, as I can’t think of a nicer way to watch the sun set.
Ironmonger Row is a council-run Grade II-listed facility in Old Street, which opened as a public wash-house in 1931. It reopened in 2012 after extensive renovations, and I’m ashamed with myself for never visiting when Jane and I lived round the corner. I took Gareth J. along with me, and we swam in the main pool then sat on the stands watching everyone. This pool is so clean and well-maintained, and it’s lovely to watch from the stands. We went at peak time and there was plenty of space, it didn’t feel overcrowded in the slightest.
Gareth’s review: “I don’t know who funded the expensive but great refurb, but I’m glad they got in there pre-austerity.” Spoken like a true council employee.
Another day, another council-run pool. The Oasis centre is another central pool: this one’s located near Tottenham Court Road and Shaftesbury Avenue. There is an indoor pool which is entirely functional and perfectly decent, but the heated outdoor pool is just lovely. It was refurbished in 2011 and it feels like a holiday resort, with the slightly shabby flats wrapping around the pool. When I visited the sun was streaming down but the air was still cool: perfect! As you can see in the photo there is outdoor seating, so this would be a great place to visit in the summer, though apparently it gets very busy!
This council-run art deco pool is absolutely beautiful, and well worth the money. It’s located one street over from Carnaby Street, so about as central London as you can get. It was refurbished in 2010 and still has its 1930s Sicilian marble floor and barrel-vaulted ceiling – you can tell that a lot of money and care was taken in the refurb. Really felt like I was stepping back in time, and it’s so much more glamorous than I was expecting for a council pool. There are period features everywhere, such as the original dark wood ticket booth in the reception area. I’ll definitely be back!