With a heatwave in full swing and the summer holidays on the way, the idea of going for a swim in the sunshine is becoming very appealing.
The United Kingdom is filled with open-air lidos and outdoor pools, despite the islands’ propensity for rain. A golden age of lidos happened in the UK in the Thirties, with 169 pools built across the country. This number diminished as the popularity of inexpensive holidays abroad meant there was less demand for public pools at home, but the ones that do remain are often exceptionally beautiful thanks to this history and some thoughtful restoration work.
Today, with trips abroad still complicated by rising prices and airport chaos, these lidos are an even more attractive proposition. Here, we’ve rounded up some of the best pools in the country to take a swim in as the good weather continues.
1. Saltdean Lido, Brighton
A true example of a Thirties lido, Saltdean reopened in 2018 following a long period of neglect. After nearly being demolished, it was instead restored and is now the only Grade II-listed coastal lido in the country. The pool was once described by Historic England as one of the seven wonders of the English seaside and has fantastic Art Deco architecture.
The Oval Park, Brighton; saltdeanlido.org
2. Brockwell Lido, south London
One of the capital’s most popular pools, Brockwell Lido is set in a park of the same name and originally opened in 1937. These days it attracts keen swimmers stopping for laps on their commutes and most of south London as soon as the sun comes out. Stop by the Lido Café for sourdough pizza and homemade gelato from local favourites 400 Rabbits (400rabbits.co.uk).
Brockwell Park, Dulwich Road, London; fusion-lifestyle.com
3. Stonehaven Open Air Pool, Stonehaven
This Olympic-sized pool is filled with seawater taken direct from Stonehaven Bay, which is then filtered and heated to a toasty 29 degrees. Another Art Deco pool, it opened in 1938 and provided recreation (and showers) for troops during the Second World War. The pool, which looks like something from a Wes Anderson set, offers opportunities for moonlight swimming, with two session running between 10pm-midnight every Wednesday during summer.
Queen Elizabeth Park, Aberdeen; stonehavenopenairpool.co.uk
7. Shap Swimming Pool, Cumbria
At just under 1,000ft above sea level, Shap Swimming Pool in the Lake District is reputedly the highest heated outdoor pool in the country. The site is entirely run by volunteers and consists of a 16.5-metre heated pool, a new paddling pool for toddlers plus a small shop. Note the pool is usually open from May to September.
Gayle Avenue, Shap; shapswimmingpool.co.uk
4. Jubilee Pool, Penzance, Cornwall
Art fans will love the Cubist-style changing rooms in this Cornish pool. The largest sea water lido in the country, swimmers will find spectacular views out to the Atlantic. The pool is situated on Cornwall’s Battery Rocks, near Penzance Harbour, with a toddlers’ pool set within the main swimming area.
The Promenade, Penzance; jubileepool.co.uk
5. Bude Sea Pool, Cornwall
This unique part-natural, part man-made pool nestles in the rocks at Summerleaze Beach in northern Cornwall and is about as close to the sea – and the experience of swimming in the sea – as it gets. It measure 88 metres by 50 metres and is topped up twice a day by the waves of the Atlantic. Keeping the pool open is dependent on donations, fundraising, grants and the goodwill of volunteers, local businesses and visitors.
6. Tooting Bec Lido, South London
At 100 yards long and 33 yards wide, Tooting Bec Lido is the largest freshwater swimming pool in the UK. Its rainbow-coloured changing cubicles have made it a popular filming location over the years – Brad Pitt shot scenes for crime comedy Snatch here.
Tooting Bec Road, London; placesleisure.org
8. Pells Pool, Lewes, East Sussex
Dating back to the 1860s, Pells Pool is believed to be the oldest freshwater pool in the country. Beware: the pool is unheated and can get pretty chilly. If a swim here gives you a thirst, Lewes is also home to the very fine Harveys Brewery. Booking in advance is highly recommended.
Brook Street, Lewes; pellspool.org.uk
9. Parliament Hill Lido, North London
The stately Parliament Hill Lido on Hampstead Heath is open 365 days a year, so keen swimmers can always get a fix. If uncomfortably cold water is a concern, the unheated pool’s water temperature is posted on Twitter each morning so you know exactly what awaits.
Heath Lodge, Parliament Hill; parliamenthilllido.org
10. Thermae Bath Spa, Bath
Those scared of frigid waters – or who never think a pool has been heated enough – can find solace at Thermae Bath Spa. Britain’s original thermal spa, the 18th-century building was renovated in the early noughties and has since become the city’s most popular outdoor pool. The rooftop pool is filled with warm thermal waters fresh from one of Bath’s three springs and offers panoramic views across the city.
The Hetling Pump Room, Bath; thermaebathspa.com
11. Ilkley Pool & Lido, West Yorkshire
On the edge of Ilkley Moor, this is one of the best outdoor pools in the north of England. The main pool is freshwater and unheated and there is a large lawned sunbathing and picnic area. When the weather does turn, there is an indoor heated pool here too.
Denton Rd, Ilkley; bradford.gov.uk
12. Sandford Parks Lido, Cheltenham
One for more serious swimmers, given the 50m length of the main pool; in 2012 this Cotswolds lido was offered as an Olympic training facility and was used by the Malawi team. The pool is also family-friendly, with a smaller children’s pool, paddling pool and a few slides for good measure.
Keynsham Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire; sandfordparkslido.org.uk
13. Tinside Lido, Plymouth
A beautifully restored semi-circular sea water pool with lots of Art Deco features, a fountain at its centre and direct views onto the sea. Boat enthusiasts will be able to watch all sorts of vessels floating into nearby Plymouth harbour. Open-air cinema nights are also occasionally hosted.
Hoe Road, Plymouth, Devon; everyoneactive.com
14. Lymington Sea Water Baths, Hampshire
One of the oldest in the country, the Lymington Sea Water Baths (or Lymington Lido) has a pedigree stretching back to the late 18th century when the therapeutic benefits of bathing in salt water were beginning to be recognised. The site has been refreshed many times but the 110-metre sea water pool is still one of the largest baths in England.
Bath Road, Lymington; lymingtonseawaterbaths.org.uk
15. Bristol Lido, Bristol
The oldest heated outdoor swimming pool in Britain, this Grade-II listed lido was built in 1850. However, the Victorians might struggle to recognise the now glamorous spot with its spa facilities, restaurant and poolside bar. It now stands as the sister lido to the similarly swish Thames Lido, listed below. To visit, you’ll either need a membership – which is so oversubscribed the waiting list has closed – or book a spa package, which starts from £25 per person for a two-hour session.
Oakfield Place, Clifton, Bristol; lidobristol.com
16. Gourock Outdoor Pool, Renfrewshire
Unlike a lot of UK pools, this Scottish saltwater option has diving boards available. The River Clyde runs past the pool, creating spectacular views for swimmers. The oldest heated outdoor pool in Scotland, opening in 1909, the pool was recently refurbished as part of a £1.8m renovation project, and now also has an onsite gym, as well as improved accessibility.
Albert Rd, Gourock; inverclydeleisure.com
17. Droitwich Spa Lido, Worcestershire
Another modernised pool dating from the 1930s, this one offers lots of space (40-metre pool), a children’s wet play area, sun terraces and a Lido Café. Repairs have recently taken place on the centre of the saltwater pool and its summer season is in full swing.
Droitwich Spa Leisure Centre, Briar Mill; wychavonleisure.co.uk
18. Thames Lido, Reading
The long-closed Reading’s King’s Meadow swimming pool was reopened five years ago as the Thames Lido. An open-air bathing area has stood on the site since 1860, and in 1879 local authorities built the largest pool in southern England, a whopping 79 metres in length, but for men only, with water supplied from the nearby Thames. A women’s pool was added in 1902. Designed to guarantee Edwardian ladies total privacy, it is surrounded by a handsome building, and it is this pool that survives today.
Alongside the 25-metre pool, heated to between 21C and 25C, visitors will find a 120-cover restaurant, a public bar, and a spa – usually open from 6am to 10pm, seven days a week. Use of the pool is rather dear, however, with entrance fees of around £20. Still, the steep price does give access to one of the country’s most luxurious lidos.
Napier Road, Reading; thameslido.com
19. London Fields Lido, East London
You may need to wade through a sea of sunbathing hipsters, but London Fields Lido is a undeniably lovely spot on a sunny day. A pleasure even if the weather turns, the pool has the benefit of being heated to 25 degrees all year round.
London Fields West Side, London; better.org.uk
20. Arundel Lido, West Sussex
A good-sized outdoor pool dating from the 1960s, which affords nice views of Arundel Castle. Sessions cost £6 for non-members and £3 for members (annual membership costs £50).
Queen Street, Arundel; arundel-lido.com