Clifton Lido

It’s still too cold for proper open water swimming, but not to go outdoors. Clifton Lido is a bit of a gem: sympathetically restored, heated, but still cold enough to whip your breath away. And you can wear a bikini.

It’s January. Clear, crisp, sun shining brightly, but doing a bit of a feeble job of warming this part of the world. Still, I’m in my two-piece and enjoying a few breathless lengths under the actual sky without a lifeguard or ceiling in sight. What joy.

This is Clifton’s rather special Lido. It’s been in Bristol since 1849, but closed in 1990. After a local campaign which gave it grade II listed status, it was restored, and re-opened in December 2008. You can see photos of the restoration project all around the venue.

The pool is beautiful. A tank design, 24m long, it is kept at a temperature of around 24/25 degrees and at a low chlorine level. There’s also a sauna, steam room and hot tub. When you use the facilities in conjunction with one another, you swim with an odd, heavy feeling that has to be good for you!

We swim, then sauna, then swim, then hot tub, steam, swim, hot tub again. This level of relaxation is quite exhausting! And builds an appetite.

This brings me neatly to a quality that none of my other favourite swimming places possess: an excellent restaurant. Downstairs, a tapas bar; upstairs, an a la carte dining room where you can also choose from a set menu or tasting menu.

We go upstairs, and choose a meal from the set menu: starter to share, main (something fishy) and then pudding to share. By this point, we are almost too exhausted to speak, and certainly too spaced out to sample from the wine list, so we just sit mesmerised by the swimmers ploughing up and down in the pool below, enjoying our food.

The restaurant is in the old pool’s viewing gallery, which apart from the modern floor to ceiling windows that overlook the pool, has plenty of industrial Victorian charm.

In the pool, in my bikini, I felt the eyes from the restaurant. But now I’m here among a curious mix of business lunches, friends meeting and people in white robes, I understand that those eyes were pretty passive: it’s hard to intently observe anything when you’re in a stupor of intense relaxation and food appreciation.

This is a gold plated outdoor swim, infused with expensive essential oils. It’s cleaned up, without being sanitised, so you still get to experience the sky above your head, and fresh, clear water – with just enough chlorine to know you’re not going to get your fingers caught in pond weed or swallow a pond skater.

No, it’s not the genuine wild swimming article, but you get to sauna, steam, hot tub and a nice massage if you want. And did I mention an amazing meal afterwards? In my eyes, it’s a good trade-off.

One day I might just do winter open water swims, but until then, I’ll take the luxury option because it is really, really rather nice.




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