5 of the Best Urban Swimming Pools in the UK

Summer in town. It can be an unseemly affair, especially if you have to negotiate public transport during a hot spell, which in some places especially – London I’m talking to you –  can feel like a giant unsettling game of dodge the armpit/leg/open-toed s(m)andals. Gents, it’s called a pedicure. Get one.

Urban summer is all a bit real, is what I’m getting at. Luckily there are plenty of outdoor pools and lidos dotted around this island, which provide just the tonic to the harsher aspects of modern life. Nothing quite soothes the soul like a dip outdoors – and since not all of us are members of Shoreditch House, here are five of the best public pools in urban environments in the UK.

Kings Cross Pond Club, London

King's Cross Pond Club

London already has quite a few original Art Deco lidos in its ‘burbs – Tooting Bec, Herne Hill and London Fields among them – not to mention the 100% natural Hampstead Ponds where you might manage a celebrity sighting in between hair-raisingly cold and murky dips, followed by necessary sunbathing sessions on the grass (I once saw Rebel Wilson there). The most recent addition to the outdoor swimming scene is part of the large scale redevelopment of King’s Cross. Just north of the Central Saint Martins building, King’s Cross Pond Club designed by Ooze Architects is being billed as an art installation – you, the swimmer, are engaging in experimental art – but basically it’s a chance to cool off somewhere central with some London landmarks and a couple of cranes as your view. This is also the UK’s first man-made fresh water public pool, so you know, shower before you go in and keep it that way.

Lido Bristol

Bristol Lido | 1970s | Urban pools | The Chromologist

One of the oldest surviving lidos in the UK, Bristol’s architectural gem opened originally in 1849 and now stays open all year round. It closed for business as ‘Clifton Baths’ in 1990 and was left to ruin for 20 years before a local campaign sparked renewed interest and English Heritage issued the site with a Grade II listing. The photo above shows the pool in the 1970s – you can tell because nobody is Instagramming themselves – but it’s pretty much the same today, if a bit more on the chi-chi side. There’s a poolside restaurant, bar and special events space as well as spa facilities and an outdoor hot tub. It’s also heated, so no need to put a brave face on things or spend 30 minutes edging in.

Tinside Lido, Plymouth

Tinside lido | Urban pools | The Chromologist

Another Grade II listed site, Plymouth’s Tineside Pool is a salt water pool, which reaches out into the harbour in a sensational semi-circle design. Built in 1935, the lido survived Hitler and went on to have a glamorous 1950s hey day – you can picture the costumes. But by the ’70s it had fallen foul of the Brits’ new-found love of going abroad and by 1992 it had closed and fallen into disrepair. What’s becoming a familiar tale happened next, when local campaigners pressurised the city council into a major renovation. It’s now open every year from late May until mid September.

Gourock Lido, Inverclyde

Gourock pool | Wiki | The Chromologist

Gourock Lido is also a salt water pool, and one that benefited from a £2 million refurbishment a few years ago and is now joined to a sports centre. Its source is the River Clyde, which is on the other side of the lido’s walls and is often seen crashing over them. Legend has it that a man once found himself swimming next to a shark and the 33m pool is also the subject of one of Martin Parr’s photographs – an account of both of which you can read about here. The water is filtered, cleaned and maintained at a temperature of 29 degrees C, which you can imagine is quite helpful it being Scotland. I say that as someone who grew up some 20 miles away from here in Glasgow, where many of the pool’s patrons journey from. Dating back to 1909, this is the oldest heated outdoor swimming pool in Scotland and like many of the pools featured has a core fan base who pitch up early in the morning for their swim in the summer months when it’s open. The braver still attend Midnight Swim sessions.

Jubilee Pool, Penzance

Jubilee Pool | Penzance Art Deco Lido | The ChromologistOur final choice comes with a warning: It’s not currently open and the image above shows the pool in happier times.  The winter storms of 2014 battered the gorgeous 1930s Jubilee Pool in Cornwall’s town of Penzance and it’s now the subject of a campaign to raise funds to fix it – read about it here. It’s a real beauty of a place, jutting out into the sea and conjuring up scenes worthy of a Slim Aarons photograph. Fans of Art Deco architecture may find themselves tempted to contribute and we hope it gets back on its feet, but it sadly won’t be open in 2015.

Jill Macnair


Jill Macnair has worked as an interiors journalist for 13 years, contributing to titles including Elle Decoration, The Sunday Times and The Guardian. She set up cult interiors blog My Friend’s House in 2009 with Ros Anderson and continues to run the forum daily.

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