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As wonderful as London is, sometimes it’s nice to do something a little different to the more traditional sightseeing, especially during the summer. This article looks at alternative excursions in and around the city.

So you’ve done most of the art galleries, including the two Tates, and you’ve spent the best part of a day in the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Science Museum. You might just now be ready for a break from all that culture. If so, then grab a copy of the tube (subway) map, and head a little way out of the city for some refreshing alternatives.

London’s Urban Beaches

One of London’s best-kept secrets is its outdoor swimming pools, or lidos. Although an alarming number of these pools have closed over the last 50 or 60 years, there are still some outstanding pools open, some with stunning Art Deco designs. The majority of these pools are “seasonal,” opening only during the summer, usually from May to September. Although most are unheated, given the summers that the UK has been enjoying recently, this shouldn’t pose any problems!

Measuring 90 meters x 30 meters, Tooting Bec Lido, in south west London, is the largest open-air swimming pool in England—it’s also one of the oldest, having opened in 1906. It’s hugely popular and attracts some 2000 visitors a day at the height of the season. Children love this pool, as its paddling pool has fixed water pistols they can use.

The pool has a neat and functional design, and is surrounded by the trees on Tooting Bec Common. There are charming, brightly-colored changing huts alongside the pool which make quite a spectacle when contrasted against the shimmering blue of the water. This is the home of the South London Swimming Club, whose members get to swim there all year round. It makes a great alternative to the hot concrete of the city, especially with the wide-open space of the Common so close. The pool is open for the season from late May daily between 10am and 7.30pm. The nearest tube stations are Tooting Bec and Balham.

London’s Wildlife

Well, perhaps it’s not on the scale of hiking in the Canadian Rockies, but there are some wonderful parks, not too far from the capital, in which to get close to nature. One of these is Richmond Park, the largest open space in London, covering 2500 acres—it offers real sanctuary from the hustle of everyday London living. The park is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a National Nature Reserve, and a Special Area of Conservation. The park is home to a large number of ancient oak trees which, together with surrounding decaying wood, help support a range of scarce invertebrates. Over 1000 species of beetle have been recorded in the park. So, although not on the same scale as bears in the Rockies, still pretty impressive! The park is open from 7am in the summer (7.30am in the winter) and closes at dusk all year round. The nearest tube station is Richmond.

London’s Most Overlooked Mode of Transport

You might not even need the tube map for this one… The River Thames is vastly under-used when it comes to transporting London’s passengers. And although you might not see this as a way of getting from A to B, consider this particular journey so if you want to visit Richmond Park (above), take a look round Hampton Court Palace—once the home of the Tudor king, Henry VIII, rich in history and set in wonderful surroundings—or sample the botanical delights of Kew Gardens, one of the world’s leading botanic gardens, with landscaped lawns and greenhouses.

As well as being a useful mode of traveling, cruising along the Thames is a great way to see the sights without having to peer through the gaps in between the heads of those in front of you! This way you get a 360 degrees panoramic view wherever you sit. Westminster Passenger Services operate a scheduled service up river from central London, with daily sailings to Kew, Richmond, and Hampton Court from April until the end of October. Pick the boat up at Westminster Pier, which is next to Westminster Bridge (opposite the Houses of Parliament). The journey from Westminster Pier to Hampton Court takes approximately three hours (it’s always wise to confirm departure times as these can change due to tidal conditions).

These alternatives aren’t so far away from the city that you’ll feel you’re missing out on the action; yet they can give the visitor that much-needed peace and escape when it seems that every person on the planet has come to vacation in London!

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