London should be lauded for its 21st century lido renaissance, but it has many fine indoor efforts too. From barrel-vaulted Victorian water palaces, to spanking new Olympic venues, these indoor pools are the best this city has to offer.
Pretend to be an athlete: London Aquatics Centre, Stratford
There's pleasure to be had just in ogling the late Zaha Hadid's undulating Aquatics Centre — not to mention reminiscing about all the breathtaking things that happened here during the 2012 London Games. But you don't need to be Tom Daley or Siobhan-Marie O'Connor to take a dip; this is part of the Olympics/Paralympics legacy, which means for a few quid, you can do the backstroke and admire the oceanic ceiling. Tackle one of the crazy-high diving boards, should you dare.
Also swim in: Crystal Palace National Sports Centre is home to the Stratford pool's older, brutish brethren. We have a soft spot for it — it's got crazy diving boards too, plus it tends to be less congested than the Aquatics Centre. [Currently closed for refurbishment]
London Aquatics Centre, Olympic Park, E20 2ZQ
Has proper Turkish baths: Porchester Centre, Queensway
Porchester Spa is a turn up for the books — a gorgeous, barrel vaulted 30m pool, adjoining art nouveau Turkish baths (steam room, sauna, loungers) dating back to the 1920s. (The latter is a sweating, swearing mass of flesh and gossip that's as fun and as salacious as any good boozer.) Since our last visit, the spa's been spruced up, although we've been told a spa pass still gets you into the large pool — you just need to book a swim slot in advance to coincide with the spa session.
Also swim in: The colonnaded grandiloquence of the Royal Automobile Club's Pall Mall residence. Legend has it that this is where Her Maj learned to swim (the Queen, not Madonna). It's also the only pool on this list we've not been to. And believe us, we've tried.
Porchester Spa, Queensway, Bayswater, W2 5HS
Quiet Sunday swims: Marshall Street Baths, Soho
While we may have lost the likes of Acton and Hornsey Baths for good, it's comforting to know that some fine pools once laid to waste have been restored and refilled. Marshall Street Baths — just off Carnaby Street — is one such story. In fact, the barrel-vaulted pool with wedding cake walls and marble floor, has now come back from the dead twice. Opened in 1850, it was rebuilt in the 1930s, and — after closing in 1997 — reopened again in 2010. Aside from its central Soho location, Marshall Street is wonderfully quiet on a Sunday afternoon (whenever we've been, anyway). Sometimes the only people to keep you company are the lifeguard and the cherubic fountain up the shallow end.
Marshall Street Baths, 15 Marshall Street, Soho, W1F 7EL
A dip in the City: Golden Lane, City of London
There are lashings of pools in the City of London but to our knowledge, only one is open to the public without a membership. The pool's sunken, many-windowed layout makes it feel a bit like you're in an aquarium — especially when passers-by press their noses against the glass and gawp down at you. Embrace it, and pretend you're a shark. You used to be able to learn to scuba dive here, but its seems that's now moved to Ironmonger Row Baths near Old Street (another gem of a pool as it happens).
Also swim in: If you like windows, take a dip in this Canary Wharf pool, which feels like you're swimming in the Thames.
Golden Lane, Golden Lane Estate, EC1Y 0SH
Wash away your sins: Repton Park, Fairlop
Some might see it as sacrilege — others, as an ingenious use of a former chapel. One thing's certain — you won't swim anywhere in London quite like Repton Park, what with its watery nave, and steam room for a confessional box. It is, alas, a membership-only pool and to make the most of it, you'll have to up sticks to the fringes of Essex. Judging by how many people click on our article on this place, it wouldn't surprise us if one or two of you have already done so.
Also swim in: We can't really think of anything comparable in London. Maybe the repurposed church at Mercato Mayfair, but that doesn't have a pool. Answers on a postcard.
Virgin Active Repton Park, Manor Road, Woodford, IG8 8GN
Swim indoors and out: Richmond Pools on the Park, Richmond
Variety is the spice of life, and at Pools on the Park you can happily flit from indoor to outdoor pool, all morning/afternoon long. There's nothing particularly stunning about Richmond's indoor pool architecturally, but it is a long 'un (over 33 metres long), so you're not constantly bumping into fellow swimmers. And you've got to love that bracing little hugging-yourself-waddle, as you brave it from covered pool to lido, and back again.
Pools on the Park, Old Deer Park, TW9 2SF
Swim for free: The Castle Centre, Elephant and Castle
The Castle Centre in Elephant and Castle offers free swims to Southwark residents on Fridays, and at certain times on weekends. There's another incentive to visit too; a poolside sauna and steam room which are also free to access (how very European). The Elephant pool itself is bright and relatively modern, and there's a smaller pool for the kids.
Also swim in: Other pools in Southwark, including Dulwich and Camberwell, do free swims too. Tower Hamlets also offers free swim Fridays to residents; we recommend the stunning York Hall in Bethnal Green (which is currently being refurbished, due to reopen in May 2022).
The Castle Centre, 2 St Gabriel Walk, SE1 6FG
Also read: Love Your Lido: Outdoor Swimming In London