From wild swimming to picnics in the park
Despite facing famously unpredictable weather, the London locals always make the most of their Great British summer. Overnight, rooftops transform into bars. Parks turn into open-air stages. Ponds, lakes and lidos become prime spots for wild swimming. And you won’t have to venture far from your boutique hotel to soak it all in.
Start off central in Hyde Park’s Serpentine Lido. Home to Britain’s oldest swimming club, beginners and seasoned swimmers flock to this historic site each summer. Although it’s open every day from 6am to 9.30pm, steer clear of the chilly morning water. It’s slightly warmer, and just as refreshing at midday. But no matter when you go, you can swim soundly, knowing there’s a lifeguard nearby.
The tale of three city ponds
First built in the 1770s as reservoirs, Hampstead Heath Ponds have grown to become one of the top spots for wild swimming. Two of the ponds are gender-specific – so if you’re a mixed-gender couple hoping to swim together, head for the third. Though slightly smaller and less secluded, it’s a great place to splash in cool waters on a sweltering day in the city. What’s more, there’s a bounty of nature to be discovered here. Look out for kingfishers, cormorants, herons and ducks. If you bring a snorkel, you might even spot some crayfish, though they don’t often approach swimmers.
While many ponds have places to hang your belongings, there are rarely lockers. So be sure to store your valuables in the safety of your boutique hotel.
Less wild. Still alfresco
Swap deep green ponds for sparkling blue waters – London has plenty of pools and lidos to dive into. And the best kept secret in outdoor swimming? Oasis Sports Centre.This expanse of crystalline water is a tranquil gem in bustling Covent Garden. Take a dip in the open-air or indoor pool, or soak in the summer sun on the outdoor terrace. To make the most of this heavenly hideaway, avoid peak before- and after-work times and weekends, and enjoy the Oasis in near solitude.
Life’s a beach
Why choose between city break and beach escape? Camden’s Roundhouse Beach gives you the best of both. Arrive early to secure your deckchair. Sip boozy slushies in the sun. Watch a live band, a dance show or a hit film on the big screen.
Another great beach substitute, Brixton Rooftop is a music lover’s dream. Cuba-inspired music and décor in a rooftop setting make this unlike any other ‘beach’ you’ve been to. To complete the illusion, just add water at Ruislip Lido in Hillingdon. With a wide stretch of sand next to a large lake, it’s the perfect place for a picnic. Though you can’t swim here, there are some spectacular scenic walks.
In the light of the summer evening, go for a tipple on the Thames at The Tattershall Castle – a floating boat-turned-bar.
The world’s an open-air stage
With so many eclectic open-air events happening in London, you might need to make a shortlist. Musicals, movies, plays and comedy acts grace the stage at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Their al-fresco auditorium seats 1,250 people, so you and your friends can watch dazzling performances under starry skies.
Famous names and up-and-comers perform each year at the Summer Series at Somerset House – an intimate gig in an 18th-century courtyard. Be sure to secure your tickets early as they sell out fast.
Opera Holland Park happens every summer in the heart of West London. Six opera shows unfold under a canopy in one of the city’s most peaceful parks.
Time for tea
After all your outdoor adventures, a trip to The Ampersand hotel in South Kensington for afternoon tea is a must. This themed event is currently inspired by the neighbouring Science Museum. Sprinkle toppings on scones using novelty test tubes. Sink your teeth into a shortbread dinosaur, and marvel at the rings of the chocolate mousse planet. This original take on the British classic will have you seeing stars.