The best lakes in London for aquatic adventures

Must-see lakes in the London metro area

Whether you want total tranquillity, summer swimming or rowing boat adventures, London's lakes are the place to be. How many lakes are there in London? It depends on how large a lake is, but a fair guess is 10-15 within the M25 along with countless ponds and smaller lakes. Many of them are great destinations for a day trip so let's take a dip and explore the best candidates.

  1. Dive into wild swimming at Hampstead Heath lake
  2. Mix deer watching with blissful quiet at Richmond's Pen Ponds
  3. Hire a boat and cruise the waters of the Serpentine
  4. Swim or kayak at Hackney's West Reservoir
  5. Run from dinosaurs at Crystal Palace's Lower Lake
  6. Enjoy tranquil strolls near Stanmore's Summerhouse Lake

The great thing about visiting lakes in London is that they are almost always free of charge, tend to be free of crowds, and also offer some unexpected activities. So if you want an offbeat London weekend and the weather's set fair, they are good places to head. And with wild parks, museums, cafes and animal attractions close by, they are more than just attractive water features. With that in mind, here are some lakes that shouldn't be missed.

1. Dive into wild swimming at Hampstead Heath lake

Ask anyone where the best place in London is for open air swimming and they will almost certainly say Hampstead ponds. Once upon a time, these lakes were constructed to meet London's ever-growing demand for drinking water. However, they were eventually superseded and became a place for the people to cool off and exercise. Nowadays, there are two sets of swimming ponds: the Highgate side and the Hampstead side of the Heath, and it's important to know which one's which. The East Heath hosts the mixed bathing pond, while the Highgate side has ponds for men and women. All have a small entrance fee, and the water's chilly so take your time to get acclimatised!

Best for:Wild swimming

While you’re there: Climb Parliament Hill for stunning views across London.

2. Mix deer watching with blissful quiet at Richmond's Pen Ponds

Richmond Park is famous for its large deer population, the stunning gardens of Isabella Plantation and Pembroke Lodge, which was home to 19th century Prime Ministers. But it's also home to Pen Ponds, one of London's most picturesque lakes. Located roughly at the heart of the park, this Richmond Park lake was created in 1746 as a home for wild fowl (probably for Royal hunts). Since then it's become a haven for nature, with thriving goose and duck populations and frequent visits from local deer. All within 45 minutes of central London.

Best for:Wildlife watching

While you're there: Discover the Japanese azaleas at Isabella Plantation.

3. Hire a boat and cruise the waters of the Serpentine

First laid out in 1730 in Hyde Park, the Serpentine is the most central lake on our list, and the easiest to reach for most visitors. It's famous for hosting a club of daredevil swimmers who take the plunge on Christmas Day, but most of the time the waters aren't open for non-members. Instead, you can rent a boat and oars for some restful rowing or test your pedalo skills within sight of Buckingham Palace. And the waterside cafe is a great place to unwind after splashing around.

Best for: Rowing and pedalo fun

While you're there: Visit the Serpentine Gallery for modern art exhibitions

4. Swim or kayak at Hackney's West Reservoir

Located off Green Lanes near Manor House station in Hackney, the West Reservoir is a real hidden gem. It's recently been extensively improved and is rapidly becoming a water sports centre, offering kayaking, sailing and even open water swimming. There's an excellent bistro cafe with a waterside terrace, and the reed beds are a haven for wildlife. It's amazing what you can find in London so close to busy urban streets.

Best for: Kayaking and canoeing

While you're there: Try out your climbing skills at the Castle Climbing Centre

5. Run from dinosaurs at Crystal Palace's Lower Lake

OK, so you aren't going to be eaten when you visit Lower Lake in Crystal Palace, but this is a great place for a jog. Located in the south-west corner of Crystal Palace Park, Lower Lake has its own walking and running trail, which passes by David Wynne's Gorilla Statue. It also passes through the park's famous dinosaur collection which has been roaring across the water since the 1852 Great Exhibition.

Best for:Dinosaur spotting

While you're there: Tackle the 160 feet diameter maze in Crystal Palace Park.

6. Enjoy tranquil strolls near Stanmore's Summerhouse Lake

Possibly the most beautiful spot in north-west London and definitely the most appealing Stanmore lake, Summerhouse Lake in Bentley Priory Park is an unexpected delight. The lake was created in the 1840s by Queen Adelaide who wanted an idyllic spot for a retirement gazebo. She got her wish and the lake remains an oasis of peace. The rest of the park is kept wild as a nature reserve, and it's a joy to explore.

Best for:Picnicking like royalty

While you're there: Check out the 9m wide and 500 years old Master Oak

Find your perfect destination

Sign up to our newsletter

We'll send you exclusive offers and sneak peeks of our best deals,
plus travel tips and the latest advice on where you can go.