Hyde Park is a wonderful resource and a fantastic day out for anyone living in, or visiting London. Served by several tube stations, and with a wealth of free attractions such as the Diana Memorial and Serpentine Gallery, the highlight on any sunny day has to be a stroll around the epic man-made water feature The Serpentine. Created for Queen Caroline in 1730, a walk around this lake (starting and ending at Lancaster Gate tube) offers a range of elements. You start at the Italian fountains - this formal garden is incredibly beautiful on a summer's day; benches face white stone fountains - lots of them - with the odd swan swimming in the pools. A dramatic waterfall fountain with ornate carvings sends the water crashing down into the next phase of the lake; a section where reeds and plants are encouraged and many rare water birds feed in peace. Following on from that, The Serpentine becomes more recreational, and it's here that you can hire rowing boats or, for a unique experience, spend some time swimming in the lake yourself in the wonderfully beach-like Serpentine Lido.
It's an incredible experience sunbathing and swimming surrounded by the world famous park and rooftops of London. What's even more incredible is it only costs £4.50 (Adults - £1.50 kids) for unlimited time - and you can bring your own snacks (although there is a tea/coffee/ice cream stand too). There are changing rooms (of course) but also a well maintained garden with picnic benches, separated by a small footbridge from the lakeside sunbathing/swimming zone - so it really is set up for you to stay all day! Now that is fantastic value.
As the water is in a lake, in the full sun, it is not as cold as sea or river bathing. The lake swimming area is safely roped off from boats and pedalos (although ducks do pop over to look at the curious swimmers) and fully supervised by lifeguards. In the garden area, there is a kiddy-pool with fountains - and if swimming isn't your thing, many people came to sunbathe and enjoy the beach-like ambiance.
We went on a Sunday afternoon - we expected it to be rammed full but actually, we were pleasantly surprised! The building dates from the 1930s and is quite quirky, so a few tips I would suggest are:
- The Ladies' changing rooms are very small. If you're shy about changing, I would suggest wearing a cossie under your clothes upon arrival, and waiting for a cubicle only as you leave;
- Lockers cost 20p, however they sometimes run out on busy days. The Lido itself is secure, and many people choose to bring their bags with them to the lakeside, perhaps leaving someone who swims less to keep and eye on them;
- You may hire sun loungers but there is a grassy bank on the lakeside upon which most people simply used towels to sunbathe;
- The showers are outdoor cold water showers and you can't use soap (because it would run into the lake!). If you have very sensitive skin - or are worried about being muddy - do as I did and take some baby wipes.
- You cannot take alcohol or glass over the bridge to the lake area, however disposable plastic containers are fine. Normal picnic ware was being used (even champagne bottles!) in the garden area, and there are tables there too.
- There is a cafe just outside the Lido, however it is quite expensive. If you don't want to bathe but fancy a picnic instead, the grass area by the Italian fountains has a marvellous view and toilets, recycling bins, benches etc'.
Now I have tried the Serpentine Lido I shall definitely be returning; a clean, comfortable beach-like experience in the centre of the city. It goes without saying, I paid for my own ticket and this review is simply based on a day out we thoroughly enjoyed!
Where is your favourite 'unexpected gem'?