Answers from Our Experts (3)
London has its fair share of sports clubs and swimming pools, but the best water activities in the capital are undoubtedly those that take place outdoors. We'll start with the leisurely ones and graduate to those that require a little exertion or daring (or both).
A trip on a Thames riverboat is an atmospheric way of experiencing the city. Hop on a London Transport river bus service or take a sightseeing tour with City Cruises and learn about the history of the Thames as you go. The Regent's Canal is another charming watery route through the capital. Check out the London Canal Museum's website for a list of boat operators that navigate the picturesque Little Venice-to-Camden route.
Take to the tiller yourself in Regent's Park and Hyde Park, where you can hire row and pedal boats by the half hour and hour respectively. Or go kayaking on the Thames and Regent's Canal with London Kayak Tours. The Lea Valley White Water Centre, meanwhile, where the canoeing and kayaking events of the London 2012 Olympic Games were held, offers white water canoeing, as well as kayaking, sailing and rowing.
If you're happier in the water than on it, take a dip at one of London's lidos – at London Fields the water is kept at a comfortable 25 degrees celcius, while Tooting Bec, the largest fresh water, open air swimming pool in England, is unheated. My favourite place for open air swimming in London is the ponds at Hampstead Heath. Choose between the serene and civilised Men's and Ladies' Ponds or the more child-friendly Mixed Pond – all three are open 365 days a year.
There's really only one answer to this question - it has to be a speedboat tour on the Thames!
Rib Tours London operate from Festival Pier and offer a 50-minute jaunt first upriver and then down. Board the bright orange boat outside Festival Hall and head straight for the Houses of Parliament, one of London's most beautiful buildings and best seen from the water, its numerous windows glinting in turn as you pass by, its towering Gothic turrets stretching away above you.
From here the boat turns downriver, passing a different landmark every few seconds: the London Eye, the Tate Modern, St Paul's Cathedral. There's a great view of the City from the river, its ever-growing skyscrapers seeming all the larger from this angle. Spot the Gherkin and check on the progress of the burgeoning so-called Walkie Talkie building. As the City fades behind you, look out for Shakespeare's Globe on your right and the Tower of London on your left.
On reaching Tower Bridge the speed restrictions are lifted and your driver will really let it rip, turning the boat first one way and then immediately the other, lifting several feet on one side as it turns. One minute you are several feet in the air, whizzing along past the buildings, looking down at the rest of the boat, the next down at water level, looking up at the other passengers. Exhilarating – and surely London's greatest thrill ride.
Adults £29, children £19.50
There's all sorts of watery fun to be had in the capital, from swimming in Hampstead Heath to white-water rafting in Lee Valley. But without doubt, the best aqua-based activity in London is a tourist boat trip along the Thames.
The city's iconic waterway can be traversed with several different tour companies, but perhaps the most informative and interesting is the simply-titled City Cruises. Not only do they operate high-speed hop-on, hop-off services, running all the way from Westminster to Greenwich, but they provide commentary along the way - so you don't miss a thing.
Alternatively, if you want to combine the joys of a river cruise with some street-level sightseeing, consider London Duck Tours. Their unique amphibious vehicles offer two different perspectives on this unique city.