There's a lot to be said for drifting on a lake aboard a giant plastic swan, and London's parks and boating lakes are the perfect place for messing about on the water. We've rounded up London's rowing and pedalo options, but if you spot one we've missed, let us know in the comments below.
Note, boating is weather dependent, so it's worth checking with the individual companies before you travel if the weather's a bit iffy. Also check for specific season start and close dates, as they may change according to the weather.
Boating at Alexandra Palace
Is there anything you can't do at Ally Pally? The hilltop fortress and park is home to an ice rink, theatre, skate park... and a boating lake.
The fleet consists of both rowing boats (styled as swans, dragons, flamingoes and VW Beetles) and pedal boats, each holding up to four people. Hire is for half an hour, and takes place at the Lakeside Cafe which is... yep, right beside the lake. Handy for a pre- or post-sail ice cream or coffee.
The lake is located at the most northern point of Alexandra Palace Park, behind the palace building, and handily close to the car park, or a 15-minute (uphill) walk from Alexandra Palace station.
Alexandra Park Boating Lake. Open March-October. No booking.
Boating in Finsbury Park
Up to four people can share a rowing boat in Finsbury Park — you'll find them moored up near the cafe and public toilets. You can also buy duck and swan food to feed the pond's feathered residents. The pond has an island in the middle, so why not challenge your crew to see how many laps you can do in your hire period (30 minutes, extendable to an hour in quiet times). Note: you're not allowed to step onto the island itself.
Finsbury Park Boats. Open mid-April to October. No booking.
Boating in Crystal Palace Park
The Lower Lake is the place to head for all your boat business in Crystal Palace, located right by the model dinosaurs. It's all about the pedalos here, with a decent-sized lake to roam around during your 30 minutes on the water. No dinosaur-bothering though — we don't want a repeat of Jurassic Park.
It's located close to both Crystal Palace and Penge West stations.
Park Boats London, Crystal Palace. Open Easter-October. No booking for small groups (call or email ahead for more than 20 people).
Boating in Dulwich Park
Park Boats can also be found in Dulwich Park, on the lake at the south corner of the green patch. Again, it's pedalos a-go-go rather than rowing boats (the people of south London must have excellent calves...). The park's Dulwich Clock Cafe is just a couple of minutes' walk from the lake, and Dulwich Picture Gallery is a five-minute walk in the other direction, should you wish to combine your exertions with culture (or visit the gallery's excellent cafe).
Park Boats London, Dulwich. Open Easter-October. No booking for small groups (call or email ahead for more than 20 people).
Boating in Greenwich Park
Due to its hilly nature, you might not think of Greenwich Park as somewhere with decent bodies of water, but the petite Greenwich Boating Pond can be found at the bottom of the hill at the northern end of the park, close to Queen's House and — top tip — closer to Maze Hill station than Greenwich station.
At time of writing, the Greenwich Park boating lake remains closed, with plans for it to reopen in late Spring.
Boating in Victoria Park
40 boats are available to hire at Victoria Park's West Boating Lake (located in the south west corner of the park with the Chinese pagoda in the middle, not to be confused with the model boating lake or the East Lake in this well-watered park).
Regal Boat Hire supplies the rafts, both row boats and pedalos, for 30 minutes at a time. There's a maximum of three adults or two adults and two (small) children in the pedalos; and four adults, or three adults and two (small) children in the row boats. The decent-sized lake offers an obstacle course of three islands to navigate around and two foot bridges to row beneath.
Regal Boat Hire, Victoria Park. Open March-October. No advance booking.
Boating at The Serpentine, Hyde Park
Perhaps London's most famous boating spot of all is Hyde Park's Serpentine, the lake running through the middle of the Royal Park.
Lengthy though the Serpentine is, boating is reserved to the eastern end — you'll find the boat hire company on the northern shore of the lake, just a few minutes' walk from Serpentine Bar & Kitchen.
The boating season usually runs April-October, but for 2022, the start of the season is delayed until July, as Royal Parks is preparing to operate the service itself, rather than using an external company.
Boating on the Serpentine. From July 2022.
Boating in Regent's Park
Regent's Park has a large, Y-shaped boating lake and a smaller one just for children. The large one offers both rowing boats and pedalos, while the children's lake has child-sized pedalos, perfect for wearing them out during the school holidays.
As with Hyde Park, the Regent's Park boating season usually runs April-October, but for 2022, the start of the season is delayed until July, as Royal Parks is preparing to operate the service itself, rather than using an external company.
Boating in Regent's Park. From July 2022.
Boating in Hollow Ponds, Leyton Flats
On the western edge of Leyton Flats, Hollow Ponds Rowing Boat Hire loans out rowing boats to carry a maximum of five people. Choose whether to take your boat for half an hour or a full 60 minutes. Ice creams, drinks and snacks are available to buy from the boat house, and there's a small car park located right next to the boat house, usually with an ice cream van in residence.
Boating at Hollow Ponds. Open March-September. The same company offers boat hire at Hainault Park Boating Lake and Valentine's Park Boating Lake.
Boating in Danson Park, Bexley
Watersports centre Danson Park Adventures is located on the lake at Danson Park. Among its offerings are 20 rowboats, available to hire and able to hold five people (dogs welcome too).
Pedalos are also available, though these are confined to the smaller pool area, and aimed more at families with younger children. Up to four people can share a pedalo, and a bank overlooks this part of the lake, from which anyone who doesn't have sea lake legs can watch the fun. Sailing, canoeing and kayaking are among the other water-based pursuits available.
It's located about a half hour walk from both Welling and Bexleyheath stations, though local bus routes serve the park too.
Boating in Danson Park. Open weekends March-October (every day in July and August). No booking.
Swan pedalos in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford
Fancy swanning about on a pedalo in the shadow of Olympic venues? Head to the pontoon next to the London Aquatics Centre and hire one of the 10 swan pedalos to ply up and down the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park waterways. They're operated by the same company which offers boat tours of the park, so they know the area well.
Swan Pedalos at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Open weekends and school holidays, April-October.