Where To Go Climbing: The Best Centres In London

Ruth Hargreaves
By Ruth Hargreaves Last edited 52 months ago
Where To Go Climbing: The Best Centres In London

Red pins, major climbing centres; yellow pins, Climb London centres; blue pins, other walls or yet-to-open facilities.

We hope that this list will provide a comprehensive look at the best climbing facilities in London, plus information on what is offered at each of them. Climbing centres differ in many ways but for the most part, indoor climbing is divided into three different types: bouldering, top-rope climbing and lead climbing. For newcomers to the sport, here is a brief definition of each:

  • Bouldering — A style of rock climbing, bouldering is rope-free climbing undertaken at a low height over crash pads so that falls do not result in serious injury. Routes are graded according to difficulty and little equipment is required, usually just climbing shoes and a chalk bag.
  • Top-rope climbing — This is the style most often seen at climbing walls. Climbers are harnessed and attached to a rope which passes through an anchor at the top of the wall and then back down to a partner at ground level, who pulls the slack rope tight so the climber does not fall if they let go.
  • Lead climbing — For more experienced climbers, lead climbing presents a greater challenge as the climber is not anchored in to the top of the wall. Instead, they progressively clip themselves into different points on the wall as they ascend it, with their partner below giving out new rope as and when the climber needs it.

Bouldering at The Arch

The Arch Climbing Wall

Type? The Arch is a bouldering climbing centre. It contains over 11,000 square feet of bouldering wall, which reaches about 4 metres in height and is graded from V0 (easiest) to V9 (hardest). There are around 300-400 different routes to attempt, which get updated every eight weeks, so the regulars don’t get bored. There are also campus boards, rings, bars and a project board where you can set your own routes.

Where? Bermondsey, SE16 4DG. Map here.

When? Open Mon-Fri 6.30am-10.30pm, weekends and Bank Holidays 10am-9pm

Registration? You have to register to go climbing at The Arch (registration is free). Experienced climbers can just turn up and register upon arrival while newbies must attend an Introduction Class first (covers the facilities, safety, rules, warming up and beginner climbing technique with an instructor). You can then turn up and climb any time you like.

Price? Introduction Classes are £20 per person. A single peak-time ticket is £10 and at off peak (anytime before 4pm Mon-Fri) this goes down to £7. A booking of 10 climbs is £70 while an unlimited monthly pass is £50, two-month pass is £80, three-month pass is £110 and a six-month pass is £200. Concessions available.

Facilities? Massage and physiotherapy sessions, yoga and pilates classes, free lockers, changing rooms, showers, toilets, a cafe, an on-site shop, free parking available with a permit.

Kit-hire? Climbing shoes and chalk bags available to rent at £3 and £1 respectively, you can also buy your own at the on-site shop.

Special courses? Introduction Classes, Improver Classes, Women-Only Classes, Technique Courses, 1-1 personal sessions, corporate events and team building.

Kids? Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult at all times (max two children per adult), 12-18 year olds can climb with a letter of parental consent. The Arch does not cater for children’s parties or lessons.

Anything else? The Arch is situated in The Biscuit Factory complex in Bermondsey, a collection of buildings that began in the Victorian age when the area first developed as a major centre for food production. Learn more about the history of the space here.

Get in touch: thebiscuit@archclimbingwall.com

The Castle

The Castle Climbing Centre

Type? The Castle is a giant of a climbing centre. It offers bouldering, top-rope climbing, lead climbing and abseiling across four different levels (soon to be six as it's excavating the basement levels to make two new climbing areas). The bouldering grades range from V0-V6 and routes are changed regularly — it even publishes its setting schedule in advance. The centre contains over 450 top-rope and lead climbing routes, ranging from grade 4 to 8a, although if you want to lead-climb you need to bring your own rope.

Where? Stoke Newington, N4 2NA. Map here.

When? Open Mon-Fri midday-10pm, weekends 10am-7pm, Bank Holidays 10am-10pm

Registration? You do not have to register to go climbing at The Castle, but if you don’t you’ll need to complete an Entry Form and pay every time you climb. If you want to climb regularly, it is recommended you register (£5 one-time fee) and you can then take out a membership. New climbers need to attend a safety induction course (included in the price of entry) and if you want to have a go at roped climbing unsupervised, you'll also need to attend one of the Learn To Climb courses.

Price? One-off entry fees are £13 for non-registered climbers and £12 for registered climbers. A booking of 11 visits is £120, 20 visits is £200, while an unlimited monthly pass is £65, quarterly pass is £143, six-month pass is £255, and an annual pass is £460. Learn To Climb courses range from £55-£99. Concessions available.

Facilities? On-site shop, lockers, showers, changing rooms, cafe, a garden where food for the cafe is grown, a gym, meeting and training rooms, limited car parking.

Kit-hire? Climbing shoes and harnesses are available to rent for £2.50 each, while a belay set, helmet, ground anchor and chalk bag are £1 each.

Special courses? Have-a-go and Learn to Climb sessions (for beginners), Improve Your Climbing, Women With Altitude, private tuition, corporate events and team building, drop-in sessions, first-aid courses, outdoor courses and expert masterclasses. Plus all the children’s clubs.

Kids? The Castle offers a range of courses for young people including weekly climbing clubs, holiday courses, school groups and birthday parties. Children must be accompanied by an adult, although experienced 14-17 year olds may climb unsupervised once they’ve passed the Under 18 Assessment.

Anything else? It isn't really a castle, though it looks like one. The Castle is an old, grade II listed Victorian water pumping station that was converted and opened as a climbing centre to the public in 1995. More on its history here. It’s 45 metres at its tallest point and, if you wish, you can abseil down the main tower (it’s fun, we’ve tried it). Another fact — you can see the Emirates Stadium out of the windows at the top of some of the climbing walls.

Get in touch: info@castle-climbing.co.uk

Click to explore inside Mile End Climbing Wall.

Mile End Climbing Wall

Type? Mile End Climbing Wall offers bouldering, top-rope climbing and lead climbing, with around 16,000 square feet of climbing surface. It has its own route setting blog to let climbers know when changes are on the way. It also houses the ‘Monkey House’, where bouldering routes cross the ceiling and require plenty of hanging around.

Where? Mile End, E3 5BE. Map here.

When? Open Mon-Fri midday-9.30pm, Sat & Sun 10am-6pm

Registration? You have to register to climb at Mile End Climbing Wall, although the price of this (£2.50) is included in the induction packages. New climbers have a choice of three options: the First Time Entry deal gives you an induction tour before leaving you to explore the non-rope climbing areas yourself, the Taster Session gives you an hour and a half of supervised climbing with the opportunity to try both bouldering and top-rope climbing, and the Beginners Course includes six hours of tuition, with instructors takes you through everything you need to know to become an independent and unsupervised top-rope climber.

Price? The introductory courses are £14 for the First Time Entry deal, £20 for the Taster Session and £50 for the Beginners Course. A single peak-time ticket is £8.50, at off peak times (Mon-Fri midday-4pm) this goes down to £7.50, and under 18s cost £5. A monthly pass is £45, two-month pass is £80 and an annual pass is £350. Concessions available.

Facilities? Lockers, toilets, changing rooms, showers, tea and coffee, on-site shop, parking available.

Kit-hire? Climbing shoes available to rent for £3 (free for under 18s), harnesses are £2.50 each, krab and belays are £1.50 each and top ropes are free.

Special courses? First Time Entry, Taster Session, Monkey House Introduction, Weekend Beginners, Evening Beginners, Bouldering Levels 1 & 2, Women’s Bouldering Levels 1 & 2, NICAS Levels 1-4, CWA/CWLA/SPA assessments and qualifications, first aid, strength and conditioning training, improver classes, outdoor classes and private groups.

Kids? There is no lower age limit to children climbing at Mile End under the supervision of a registered adult (max two children per adult), but only eight-year-olds and older can join one of the supervised sessions. The wall also offers National Indoor Climbing Award Scheme (NICAS) sessions for young people, which is a UK-wide scheme with a five-step syllabus to accredit individual climbing achievement, for candidates aged eight and upwards. Birthday parties also welcomed.

Anything else? Mile End Climbing Wall opened in 1989 and is located inside an old pipe engineering works at Mile End Park. It is often said to be the oldest dedicated climbing wall in the country.

Get in touch: enquiries@mileendwall.org.uk

Urban Ascent

Urban Ascent

Type? Urban Ascent is a dedicated bouldering centre with roughly 100 different problems to tackle alongside three stamina circuits, a barrel and a cave. Grades range from V0-V6 and there’s a viewing gallery with sofas overlooking the climbing areas so you can watch in your breaks.

Where? Parsons Green, SW6 4HH. Map here.

When? Open Mon-Fri 2pm-10.30pm, Sat & Sun 10am-8pm, Bank Holidays 10am-4pm

Registration? Visitors must register to climb at Urban Ascent and can either take out a full annual membership (£5 one-off fee) or a one-off day membership (£2.50), which only covers you for that day. Beginners can either attend an Induction which lasts around 15 minutes and covers the basic safety features of climbing plus a tour of the centre, or a Beginners Course, which lasts for an hour and includes the induction plus some time to learn some climbing techniques.

Price? The Induction costs £20 and the Beginners Course is £30. Once one of these is completed, the prices are £10 for a single climb, or £6.50 at off-peak times (weekdays 2-5pm). A booking of 10 visits is £70, a monthly pass is £50, three months is £120, six months is £210 and an annual pass is £395. Concessions available.

Facilities? Lockers, showers, changing rooms, cafe, shop behind reception, no parking available.

Kit-hire? Climbing shoes and chalk bags available to hire for £3 a session.

Special courses? Beginners Course, Bouldering Levels 1 & 2, 1-1 tuition, team building/corporate sessions, school group coaching courses.

Kids? As well as hosting birthday parties, Urban Ascent caters for children in two ways: weekend kids clubs for ages 5-7 and 8+, and weeknight progressive courses that usually run for six weeks for children aged 5-14. Parents who want to take their kids climbing need to be a member and have completed an induction course.

Anything else? Only opened in 2012, Urban Ascent is the new kid on the block and was built and designed with a leading climbing wall construction company. It also has a rather distinctive look, with white walls and red matting.

Get in touch: info@urbanascent.co.uk

The Reach

The Reach

Type? At The Reach you can boulder on around 650 square metres of bouldering surface or hit the ropes with around 750 square metres of roped climbing, ranging from grades 4-8a. Try out one of the 80 top-rope routes up to 11 metres high, one of the 50 lead climbs, or have a go at the free-standing 4 metre-high boulder on the ground floor.

Where? Woolwich, SE18 5NU. Map here.

When? Open Mon-Fri 10am-10pm, Sat & Sun + Bank Hols 10am-7pm

Registration? To climb unsupervised at The Reach, visitors need to be registered as a member. Experienced climbers can turn up and join (£4 one-off fee), but beginners must complete either a Taster Session or the more extensive Basic Skills course, where you’ll learn how to handle ropes and harnesses, tie the essential knots and also climbing techniques.

Price? Taster Sessions are £20 and the Basic Skills course is £60. Guest entry is £11 but once you’re a member, one-off visits cost £9 or £6 off-peak (weekdays before 4pm), under 18s cost £5. A booking of 10 visits is £80, a monthly pass is £48, three months is £120, six months is £190 and an annual pass is £350. Concessions available.

Facilities? Lockers, showers, toilets, changing rooms, on-site shop, cafe and free parking available.

Kit-hire? Climbing shoes can be rented for £3, a harness is £2.50, belays and karabiners are £1.50 and a chalk bag is £1.

Special courses? Taster Session, Basic Skills course, NICAS Levels 1-4, group climbing, private tuition, indoor lead climbing tuition, adult improver course, bouldering tuition, training room tuition, school and youth group sessions, team building/corporate sessions.

Kids? There’s no minimum age for children climbing under the supervision of an adult member (max two kids per adult), and 14-17 year olds may climb unsupervised with parental consent if they pass the Under 18s assessment. The Reach, like Mile End, offers National Indoor Climbing Award Scheme (NICAS) sessions for young people, plus a young climbers' club for ages 7-17. Parties can also be booked for 7-17 year olds.

Anything else? The Reach first opened in early 2010 and is situated right by the River Thames. It sells itself as ‘South London’s largest climbing wall’ and refers to its walls by name, such as: The Slab (an unusual 11 metre high wall at a 30 degree angle), Razzle Dazzle (inspired by Colorado Mountains) and The Overhang (a lead wall with two angled facets at 35 degrees and 25 degrees).

Get in touch: Contact page

Climb London's West 1 centre

Climb London (various)

Type? Climb London is the London arm of the UK-wide company High Sports. There are seven different sites in the capital, all based inside sports centres or gyms. Each site offers top rope climbing and most have bouldering and lead climbing walls too, although they are smaller than the dedicated centres. What exactly is on offer varies from centre to centre so please check in advance.

Where? Brixton, Swiss Cottage, East Ham, Crystal Palace, Hendon, Hackney, West 1 (Baker Street).

When? Each centre has different opening times, although most are open until 10pm on weekdays.

Registration? If you don't want to commit to membership at one centre then Climb London membership is a good option. Becoming a member costs £9.50 for a year and that gives you access and reduced prices across all seven locations. You do not have to become a member to climb, but you will be paying full price each time you visit. As with the other centres, experienced climbers can get started right away but beginners must complete a safety test before they can climb unsupervised.

Price?: Individual visits across the centres range between £8-£11.25 or £6.50-£9 if you're a member. As might be expected, the West 1 location in central London is the most expensive, while Hendon works out the cheapest. Unlimited monthly passes are £43.25 across all sites.

Facilities? All sites offer toilets and changing facilities but vary beyond that so check before you go. If you want the traditional cafe, shop, rental equipment options that you find at the larger centres, then Swiss Cottage and West 1 are your best bets.

Kids? Junior climbers are welcome at all centres although they must be accompanied by a Climb London adult member. Parties and school groups are catered for at most sites, plus there are junior climbing clubs at all locations other than Hackney.

Get in touch: Contact page

Westway Climbing Centre, photo by by Oli Scarff at Getty Images

Westway Climbing Centre

Type? There's something for everyone with 200 square metres of bouldering wall, 350 climbing routes and 110 roped lines too, graded from F3 to F8a. Routes are changed every month and bouldering problems go up to a massive V10 grade. It also has a campus board, traverse wall and training rooms.

Where? White City, W10 6RP. Map here.

When? Open Mon, Tues, Weds and Fri 9.30am-10pm, Thursday 8am-10pm and weekends 8am-8pm.

Registration? Registration to become a Westway member costs £5 and new climbers must complete a Beginners' Climbing Course before they can climb unsupervised (although a registered competent adult climber can supervise up to two novice adult climbers at a time). Experienced climbers can register and start climbing straight away.

Price? The six-hour Beginners' Climbing Course costs £95. A single peak-time ticket is £10 and at off peak (weekdays 7am-5pm) this goes down to £8. A monthly pass is £53, a three-month pass is £111, six months is £211 and an annual pass is £399. Concessions available.

Facilities? As part of a large sports centre, the Westway Climbing Centre offers a cafe, on-site shop, toilets, lockers, showers, changing rooms, underground paid car park available.

Kit-hire? Climbing shoes and harness hire available for £2.60 each.

Special courses? Beginners courses, private tuition, ladies climbing and Bouldercise (a fusion of bouldering and other workout exercises).

Kids? Westway offers National Indoor Climbing Award Scheme (NICAS) sessions for young people, plus after school climbing, birthday parties, family climbing sessions, junior tasters and teenage sessions.

Anything else? Westway Sports Centre is located under the A40 Westway flyover, near to the Westfield shopping centre. If you want a break from climbing then you can keep your pulse racing with a variety of other available activities such as tennis, football, swimming, fives, cricket, netball, basketball and general fitness in the gym.

Get in touch: climbing@westway.org

Vertical Chill in Ellis Brigham, Covent Garden © Red Letter Days

Want more?

Just want to give the sport a go? Here are some other walls around the capital where you can play monkey for the day without feeling overwhelmed by a giant climbing centre.

Vertical Chill  
For a climbing experience with a difference, try Vertical Chill — an 8m ice wall tucked away at the back of the Ellis Brigham store in Covent Garden. The temperature is kept at a balmy -5°C to -7°C, and budding John Snow's are provided with the necessary outer layers, axes, crampons, harnesses, helmets, eye protection and gloves. Beginners are welcome and the cost is £50 for a one-to-one session, £35 as part of a group or £25 if you're a pro and already have all your own gear.

Glass Mill Leisure Centre
Adults and juniors are both welcome to clamber on the 8.5m climbing wall at Glass Mill Leisure Centre in Lewisham. All abilities welcome and expert instructors are on hand to give you a leg up if you need it. Prices range from £6.50-£12.65 with discounts for Lewisham residents.

Salmon Youth Centre
Salmon Youth Centre in Bermondsey (round the corner from The Arch) has an outdoor climbing wall that 7-19 year olds can master as part of the Cliffhanger Climbing Club. The centre also offers activities such as table tennis, boxing, football and trampolining and it only costs 50p per session once you become a member. If you've spotted a climbing wall while travelling into London Bridge on a National Rail train, then this is it.

Coming Soon: Clip 'N Climb Chelsea
Due to open to the public on 28 March, Clip 'N Climb Chelsea is set to be a theme-based roped climbing experience, allowing visitors 22 separate climbing challenges such as 'The Skyscraper', 'Dark Tower' and 'Stairway to Heaven'. It looks like a novel climbing experience rather than one for real enthusiasts, and its theme park-esque surroundings will probably be a hit with kids parties and school groups. No experience is necessary and the 90 minute sessions are £19/£14 for adults and £14/£9 for children.

Coming Soon: VauxWall
Keep your eyes peeled for the appearance of this new climbing centre, due to open to public this spring (it still looked very much in the construction phases when we went to take a look a couple of weeks ago). Located under the railway arches in Vauxhall, VauxWall is set to be a bouldering centre with 500 square metres of surface that caters for early morning commuters, opening at 6am and staying open until 10pm. Prices haven't yet been announced.

The bonkers-looking Clip 'N Climb Chelsea

And finally...

If you don't like to set your sights too high, then we might have found the perfect climbing wall for you. Possibly the smallest climbing wall in London, Fortune Street Park's children's playground boasts a two-foot high wall with a 45 degree incline, complete with eight varying holds on which to challenge your scrambling abilities. Beginners welcome, no charges, sadly no kit hire or showers available, but Giddy Up Coffee is directly opposite for when you work up a thirst.

Fortune Street Park's 'climbing wall'.

Last Updated 11 March 2014