Other countries treat swimming pools as everyday, matter-of-fact occurrences. It’s normal in, say, California or Australia to simply have a pool in the garden, just lying there ready to be dived into. A perpetual personal lido bobbing away for your enjoyment. Over here it’s a louche luxury enjoyed by only the richest, and in London even then it’s likely impossible unless you can hollow out a three storey basement to your Belgravian townhouse.
Which means there’s simply way more mystique, more fun and outright enjoyment to a city pool. Because in London you have to sniff out the greatst pools, they’re not in the garden but they’re underneath luxury hotels, perched on rooftops or even in a church!
Here are the London pools that we didn’t know even existed (and a few we did)…
Not the breakdown recovery people (at least, not any more), The Royal Automobile Club, or RAC, is the perfect combination of contemporary London club, with a young and relatively diverse membership, and modern facilities all encased in an old-school traditional clubland look and vibe.
Housed in a magnificent clubhouse on Pall Mall, the club also has one of London’s grandest pools, with Romanesque columns and marble floors and walls, all underground and hidden from the world.
Lobby a member to take you along, best enjoyed after a game of squash and before a slap up dinner…
Where: 89 Pall Mall, St James’s, SW1Y 5HS
From nave to positively naval, pews have made way for pools at Repton Park, this Virgin Active in East London.
For an immersive baptism in church swimming, head to Woodford Green, where you can also enjoy the prettiest gym roof in the whole of London.
The former chapel really is a place of sanctuary, with physio and spa facilities on site. Hallelujah!
Where: Repton Park, Manor Road, Repton Park, IG8 8GN
Everyone loves a rooftop pool, and The Berekely delivers in spades (or buckets, given it’s water). With its retractable roof, the Knightsbridge hotel boasts one of London’s most glamorous pools.
The Berkeley, a hotel that’s no stranger to a superlative, sets a literal high bar with its rooftop open air pool but it’s also a gateway to a secret garden. Available to guests and spa-goers, it’s worth doing everything possible to find a way up there this summer.
Lounge around, take a swim, grab a treatment or order in food and drinks. Best paired with a night at the hotel and an excellent meal at Michelin starred hotel restaurant Marcus.
Where: Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, SW1X 7RL
As part of its renovation, the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park has revitalised its gym with new state of the art facilities, including this sleek, industrial-chic, heated stainless steel 17 metre swimming pool. For good measure, the pool also has a lap-timer.
After swimming, chill out in the sauna or steam room, ‘the Rasul water temple’ or the Four Senses lounge.
Where: 66 Knightsbridge, Knightsbridge, SW1X 7LA
On the corner of Berkeley Square, The Landsdowne club might look like any other West End private members’ club (big, posh, imposing – it’s actually none of those things once you’re inside). But venture down a winding staircase off the front lobby and into the basement and it opens out into a cavernous gym and pool (big, posh, imposing).
The art deco styling, not to mention the unexpected splendour, make this a must-swim location. Afterwards, perhaps a spot of fencing in London’s smartest fencing salles (how many are there?), or pop upstairs for a slap-up dinner.
Where: 9 Fitzmaurice Place, Mayfair, W1J 5JD
One word: ‘brrrrrrrrrrr’… Gluttons for punishment will be breaking the ice and diving into The Serpentine on even the coldest of days (it’s a thing, they do), but fair-weather swimmers are welcome too at this Hyde Park institution.
Unlike traditional lidos, The Serpentine is a man-made lake, with birds and fishes and so on, and the location, right in the middle of central London, is unbeatable. As long as you don’t mind eels writhing past your legs…
Where: The Serpentine, Hyde Park, W2 2UH
Ever wonder how hipsters keep cool? Probably not. But it’s not hard to see why Shoreditch House remains one of London’s most popular private members clubs.
Yes it has great restaurants, an exclusive membership list and fantastic facilities, but surely the real reason is the rooftop pool?
Heaving in summer, but for good reason. The pool may be shallow but it’s cooling and perfect for the summer sun.
Where: Ebor Street, Shoreditch, E1 6AW
Take in one of the most spectacular skylines in the world from the top of one of the city’s most iconic buildings. After all, where better to gaze at St Pauls or The Gherkin from, than partially submerged on the 52nd floor?
Officially the highest pool in Europe and with one of the capital’s best hotels tagged on.
Where: The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, London Bridge, SE1 9QU
Beneath the graceful exterior of this crisp Whitehall iceberg lies a subterranean darkness that’s alluring and luxurious in equal parts.
ESPA Life spa offers visitors a gym and thermal floor, an incredible pool, a vitality pool, amphitheatre sauna and steam room. As if that wasn’t enough there’s also an ice fountain as well as relaxation areas and ‘experience showers’.
And the best thing is that when you’re done with wellness, you can saunter upstairs and enjoy a slap up meal at Tom Kerridge’s wonderful Kerridge’s Bar & Grill.
Where: Whitehall Place, Westminster, SW1A 2BD