Winter Swimming at Bristol Lido

When taking a weekend break in the west country city of Bristol, UK (voted by Rough Guides as #4 in the Top 10 Best Cities in the World to Visit – 2017), one doesn’t really think of going swimming – mainly as Bristol is not located by a beach and this is the UK, hence cold most of the time, so you’d be forgiven for overlooking the fact Bristol has as rather smart outdoor Lido and Spa.  My visit to the city entailed a visit to the Bristol Lido and Spa, and I visited it in the winter!  Read on to discover my Bristol Lido experience.

Bristol Lido
Bristol Lido

**Disclosure**: I was a guest of the Bristol Lido and Spa.  All thoughts and opinions remain my own**

Bristol Lido – some history

Located in the upmarket Clifton district of the city, Bristol Lido didn’t always start out as one of the most unique spa destinations in the city.  In fact, it’s one of the oldest remaining Lido’s in the UK.  For the uninitiated, a Lido is an outdoor swimming pool.  There are some in London, the one on Hampstead Heath probably the most heard of, but Bristol Lido opened its doors to the public in July 1850 at a charge of one shilling (approx. 5p in today’s money) including two towels for entry from 6am to 3pm and from 4pm onwards went down to 4D (4p in Victorian money, including one towel.  I have tried to find out what that is today, but can’t, sorry.  If you find it, let me know!)
Built in an Egyptian style, the Bristol Lido operated as a pool for over 100 years offering a place not only to exercise, but to also socialise.  A real hub for the community.   The 1930s saw it become the very first electrically heated pool in the UK.

Alas, in 1990 the Bristol Lido closed as it had, over the years, gradually fallen into a state of disrepair.  It was sold to a Housing Association in 1998 who fought for 13 years to demolish this once thriving heart of the Clifton community and develop the site into flats.  There was a lot of protest from the locals and in 1998, the building was awarded a Grade 2* Listed Building status, preventing it from being knocked down.  The locals had won!  In fact, this status had place the Bristol Lido into the top 6% of Listed Buildings in the country (and there are a lot of them in the UK, given the country is riddled with old Victorian, Georgian and Elizabethan buildings).

Fast forward to 2006: a  well-reputed restaurant city restaurant company, the Glass Boat Company, were given permission to restore the pool and surrounding buildings.  The Bristol Lido re-opened its doors in 2008.  Open 7 days a week to members and non-members alike, the heated pool is back with the addition of spa facilities, sauna, a 75 seater restaurant in the old viewing gallery of the pool giving you a full view of the pool below through floor to ceiling windows and a poolside bar with indoor and outdoor seating.
It’s quite remarkable to see how this once almost derelict hub has now been restored to its former glory (all buildings are designed  retaining the original Victorian features) and, once again, is a place for people to exercise and socialise.

My Bristol Lido experience

During my stay in Bristol, I was lucky enough to be hosted on a spa day experience, kindly arranged by Visit Bristol.  I’d heard about the Bristol Lido and to be honest, had never thought to go to an outdoor swimming pool in my own country: the UK isn’t really amenable to outdoor swimming, especially in the winter!  Yes, that’s right: my Spa Day was to take place in early January 2017.
OK – apparently the temperature of the pool is roughly 24 degrees C (75 degrees F) and as I arrived, I could see steam rising off it.

Bristol Lido - Look closely, can you see the steam?
Bristol Lido – Look closely, can you see the steam?

Great!  Not cold at all!

thought I.  But I’m jumping ahead of myself.  First came my Head, Foot and Hand massage.

Massage treatment

There are several treatments on offer in the Spa section of the Bristol Lido.  Facial?  Deep relaxation?  Mood enhancement?  You name it, they have it.  I opted for a Foot, Hand and Head Massage which is reputed to be good for stress relief (yes dear readers – it can be stressful running a blog!)

Having changed into a robe, I was led into the waiting area for the spa and drank lots of water whilst filling out a medical form.  Then my therapist came to take me into the room; a beach hut themed place designed for relaxation.

Receiving my spa treatment at the Bristol Lido with Lauren, my therapist.
Receiving my spa treatment at the Bristol Lido with Lauren, my therapist.

One hour later, and feeling incredibly relaxed, I was in two minds whether I wanted to bother going for a swim if I’m honest, I felt so relaxed and thought I could just sit and drink the tea provided in the Spa rest area.

No! It’s not every day I get to go to a Lido, so I decided to brave the cold English winter and go for a dip.  But first I needed to shower.

Swimming

Before you go into the pool, you need to take a shower – and you must shower naked.  There are showers indoors and outdoors around the pool area.  The reason for this is because the Lido uses virtually no chemicals in the pool, so in order to keep it clean a special pre and post-swim body wash has been created for the swimmers to use.

Wash naked in the Bristol Lido
Wash naked in the Bristol Lido

After washing and putting my costume back on – in I went to the pool.  Re-assuring myself that it can’t be that cold, what with it being heated by over 500 solar panels situated on the roof of the restaurant, I still didn’t quite jump in.  Maybe if I’d had a sauna first, I would have done, but I decided a slowly, slowly approach was best.
And I did it!  Eventually – after about 5 minutes, admittedly – I entered the pool, did a swift 6 lengths then got out, grabbed my towel and went back inside to once again, shower naked with the post-swim specially designed body wash (provided for free).

With my blood pumping around my body, I met with my host from Visit Bristol and we went to the viewing area to dine.

Lunch at the Bristol Lido

From 12pm-2:45pm lunch is served, with dinner served at 6pm-9:45pm.  We ate off the set menu and I chose a Starter of smashed avocado, coriander and chili toast and then jumped in straight to the Dessert of Chocolate tart, clementine and whipped cream.  Yum!  Note: I realise from the picture below that it doesn’t look like a lot, but I wanted to leave room for my evening meal.  It’s possible to eat more from the set menu, but I chose only the starter and dessert.

My lunch at the Bristol Lido
My lunch at the Bristol Lido

Note: The restaurant at the Bristol Lido is multi-award winning, therefore expect to be served nouveau cuisine.   The restaurant also serves a contemporary Breakfast from 8am – 11:30am and Tapas at the bar from 12pm-10pm.   A lot of different options to choose from!

Conclusion and Facts

I’d never been to a Lido before, let alone a Spa/Lido.  I was impressed with how Bristol Lido had transformed itself into a place of relaxation whilst retaining its original splendour.  I would never have seen myself swim outdoors in the British winter, but I am so impressed with the pool and the temperature that I am glad that I did.
The Spa is an added touch, with numerous therapies to choose from.

Have you ever visited a Lido?  Share in the Comments.

Bristol Lido@BeyondBexswims in winter!

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32 COMMENTS

  1. We had at least three lidos in Nottingham (UK) when I was growing up and they were great fun. Unfortunately they have all closed now, the last (Bulwell) closed in the 90s if I remember right. Looks like you had a really good stay !

  2. I live in Bristol and still haven’t managed to make it to the Lido. I will make it a must for the summer. My friends highly rate the Lido

  3. What fun! I’ve never been to a lido, but the experience looks like something I’d throughly enjoy! I love that you can eat on site with such a diverse menu. Good for you for braving the waters.

  4. The Bristol Lido sounds lovely. What was the outside temperature when you visited? I’ve been in an outside heated pool when it was cool and steam was rising from the pool. It can be quite nice (except for the part of running into and out of the pool), but I’d think twice about it if the temperature dipped much below 10 degrees Celsius.

    • Thanks Donna.
      It was about 10 degrees (Celcius) outside when we visited…and water temperature about 24 Celcius. Yes, it was a chilly British winter’s day!

  5. I’ve done a few day spas but they are hard to find…certainly where I live. Although going into the pool in January (brave you!) might be daunting, I think it’s all about the unique experience!

  6. That lunch certainly looks like a worthy reward for the adventurous dip in the lido. Really enjoyed reading about your experience and the photos really told the rest of the story. Did not know these Lidos existed in the UK. Nice post.

    • Thanks Christine. There’s not too many of them left now – but if you ever make it to Bristol, or London, do check them out.

  7. I’ve always loved the name Lido and this feels like a nice intimate version, toss in a nice spa experience and that becomes a wonderful destination for some me time!

    • Thanks Maria – I did wonder as I walked up to it, but once I was in, it was pretty ok! And I made sure I did a few lengths to get the blood pumping

  8. Great piece! My sister lives in bristol , I might visit her in the month of April, We did plan about Lido last time I visited her but couldn’t go, but after reading your piece and knowing great things about it and because of the great lunch, I am definitely going there! 😀 Thanks for sharing! really appreciate it! 🙂

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