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Sports and Activities


There are a million and one sports and activities to try in London, from strenuous pastimes such as rock-climbing to kickboxing, to the more leisurely: rollerblading, cycling, riding etc. As a tourist or short term visitor, you're unlikely to try any of them.

The two most popular, apart from cycling (which Britons generally don't see as a sport, more a practical form of transport, given London's transport problems} are inline skating and ice skating. Ice skating is popular in the winter months, outdoors at Broadgate, Somerset House, The Tower, Marble Arch and other locations (see below). We've included things like dancing on our nightlife pages. As for the most passive activities such watching a football or cricket match - they form the backbone of English social life.  Activities usually fall into two groups - those that involve alcohol and those that don't.  The English can't really handle alcohol and it can be an intimidating experience being in the middle of a drunken, violent crowd after a football match, though statistically you're more likely to get hurt ice-skating.


Swimming outdoors: Serpentine Lido on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, near the bridge, or Hampstead Bathing Ponds, on the Heath are the two best, though the latter is constantly under threat from silly protectionist legislation. Some individual ponds/times there can be gay pickup joints - local knowledge essential. 'Oasis' at the very eastern end of Shaftsbury Avenue has an outdoor/indoor pool.
Indoors: The Central YMCA off Tottenham Court road has a very large pool, and the Porchester Center, at the top of Queensway is a popular spa with an indoor pool. If you have club rights then the Landsdowne (Berkeley Square) and RAC (Pall Mall) clubs have excellent private pools.

Gymnasia/aerobics - Due to insurance problems, visiting a gym in London can be a nightmare as a compulsory, expensive, 'induction session' is usually necessary. However, you could probably pump iron entirely free by claiming to be about to be relocated to London and taking advantage of 'one day free trial pass' offers. Needless to say these vary almost weekly. The big gyms are Soho Gyms, Virgin, Fitness First and LA Fitness.
If you have a student card, or are an academic, then try the London University Student's Union on Mallet St, just behind Tottenham Court Road (Tube: Goodge St). For aerobics, try the Jubilee Hall in Covent Garden's Plaza (Tel: 0207 836 4835), the Queen Mother Sports Centre at the back of Victoria Station (Tel: 0207 630 5522), or the Pineapple Dance Studio in Langley St , Covent Garden (tel: 0207 836 4004).

Rollerblading: There are very few good places to do rollerblading, most of the parks ban it, the best drag is in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens - enter either via Hyde Park Corner for a fine long carriage way beside the Serpentine, or via Queensway Gate into Kensington Gardens, but watch out for the markings - skating off the prescribed areas is enforced with a fine (sometimes). A cavalcade similar to the famous Parisien one happens informally on Wednesday and Friday nights during the summer months (and in winter too, check the website) but does not have the support of local councils as there is no profit to be made from it however we can testify it is fun....
For everything there is to know about blading/skating in London, including the Friday Night Cavalcades, lessons and hire see Cityskate's excellent website - skates on Friday and Sunday, or the Wednesday night skate the latter do the excellent wednesday night roadskating lesson. A new company doing hire and information is Bananablade
If you've never done a skate before start on the Sunday Stroll, easy, off-road. Then do the Wednesday night skate or lesson (you can choose whether to do the skate, which is slower than the Friday night one, and has no music, or to go on a lesson on how to do a road-skate- costs £5 and is excellent, or a FREE beginners lesson), then do the Friday night skate, which has the most street-cred, a good music system (provided by a tricycle with BIG speakers) and goes on to a pub afterwards (the Victoria, just of Sussex Square - both Wednesday and Friday nights - they do free sandwiches for skaters also!).

Hire from: Queens Skate shop, 35 Queensway, on the North Side of Kensington Gardens 0207 727 4669 (Tube: Queensway or Bayswater)
Slick Willies at the south side of Kensington Gardens, 41 Kensington High Street, 0207 937 3824 (tube: Kensington High Street) see also Bananablade above - more places on the Cityskate and Londonskate websites - with some good special deals.

Ice Skating:   Indoor: Queens Ice bowl: 45m x 20m rink, somewhat pared-down version of its former self, as economics meant that gaming machines and a ten pin bowling alley were bolted on to increase profits on this prime site. However, the ice rink itself is partitioned off from the noisy parts of the building. 17 Queensway, Bayswater. tel: 0207 229 0172 Queensway (Central) or Bayswater (Circle) tube.
Outdoor: Broadgate centre rink: open air, small circular rink, good atmosphere. Above Liverpool St Station, seasonal, tel: 0207 505 4068. Open Mon-Fri: 12:00 - 14.30, 15.30 - 18:00 and on Fridays 19:00 - 22:00, at weekends 11:00 - 13:00, 14:00 - 16:00, 17:00 - 18:30. Skate hire available.
Somerset House's huge front quad is frozen over at Christmas (until 20th Jan) with a large rink and cafes etc. See HERE. Booking usually necessary and often very crowded. Also there are large seasonal rinks at Marble Arch (above the tube stop) which has the added advantage of the spectacle of women in complete chadour ice skating.
Due to the success of these projects, there are 5 other ice rinks open (Greenwich Royal Naval College, Canary Wharf, Hampton court, Hampstead Heath, and even one in the moat of the Tower of London To book there's a good link on the website.
List of UK skating rinks HERE

Golf: London is ringed with golf courses, and booking a game is relatively easy. For details, and how to book a game go here

Karting: there are several kart tracks in London, the minimum age varies at each one:
West London: Daytona Raceway, 155 Union Gate, Atlas Road, Park Royal, W10. Minimum age: 8 years old. Website
East London: F1 city karting, Gate 119, Connaught Bridge, Royal Victoria Dock, E16 Website
South London: Playscape Pro Racing, 390 Streatham High Road, SW16, Minimum age: 8 years old Website
Central London: Kings X raceway, York Way, Kings Cross N1. Minimum age 18 years old. Tel: 0207-833-1000

Ten Pin Bowling: Queens Ice bowl: 17 Queensway, Bayswater. tel: 0207 229 0172   (see skating, above) Website  Also Bloomsbury Lanes, Victoria House, Bloomsbury Place, Camden, London, WC1B 4DA   Website   

Softball: Regent's park, several informal games - see Time Out magazine for details.

Boating: on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, or the Boating lake in Regent's park. Seasoned rowers should try the clubs along the river in Putney.

Sailing/windsurfing: Queen Mary's Reservoir is the best bet - a large expanse of water right under Heathrow's flightpath, but raised up 50 feet so it catches the winds. Tel: 01784 248881. Train from Waterloo to Sunbury or Ashford (beware this is NOT the Ashford in Kent) then bus or taxi.   Website

Tennis: most of the parks have tennis grounds. Regent's Park's Inner Circle courts (0207 486 4216), Hyde park (see HERE for details) or Battersea park (tel 0208 871 7542) are best. The latter has 13 floodlit courts.

Squash/Badminton: Central YMCA 112 Gt Russell St, off Tottenham Court Road is best and easiest. Tube: Tottenham Court Road. Tel: 0207 343 1700.

Bicycling:  Despite pledges from government and Euro money, London is not really the safest of places to cycle: cycling is not a big sport in Britain and not enough of the movers and shakers do it for any impetus to be behind campaigns such as Sustrans.  Cycle lanes are intermittent, and the road surface generally not good.  Where there is a good surface, such as in a Park, cycling is usually banned.  That said, if you are used to cycling in a big city, then it's the fastest way to travel.
For hire try:
Go pedal or   London Bicycle Tour Co who are next to the Oxo Tower on the South Bank.
The London Cycling Campaign maintains an up-to-date list of where to hire bikes in London.
For more details and stuff try
CTC which is the national cycling organisation who can help with anything bike .

Polo: The British brought back this game from their time in India, codified it, and re-exported it as a game for the rich. However in London you can learn or actually play with little experience at Ascot. Courses at weekends mostly. Website

Riding: Riding in Hyde Park on Rotton Row is a special, though expensive, treat - if you want to do this then dress up (it's not compulsory, but adds to the fun). Hyde Park Stables (0207 723 2813) or Ross Nye Stables (0207 262 3791), both in Bathhurst Mews, just north of the park are the places to go. Horse Riding

Running: the Serpentine Running Club in Hyde Park welcomes visitors Website You might also wand to look at "The British Golden Jubilee 10K open Road Race" - which is an annual run that goes past the main tourist monuments...

Jogging: any of the parks or along the South bank of the Thames (as far as Greenwich is possible) or North Bank, out to Canary Wharf. 


The English invented sport, even the French admit that (see Le Guide Routard).  Football, Cricket, Rugby, Tennis, boxing, even downhill skiing, all had their origins here.  Then other people learned how to play and beat us at our own game.  Thankfully the English still believe in sportsmanship ("It's not cricket", meaning 'it's not the done thing' is still a common expression) and the importance of taking part, which for the past few years is all our international teams have managed.

Soccer: The England team may lose out to small African countries, but its clubs are still amongst the best:  there are more Manchester United supporters in Africa than there are in England. Most Brits watch the games on television - look out for pubs advertising large-screen transmission - a good site to find them is here. It's also useful for watching your home team while you're away.

If you want to experience the game live at its best we suggest Chelsea  (in Chelsea) or Arsenal (in Highbury) - both are top rate clubs, though ticket prices can be high, and sell out very quickly, many local fans don't manage to get tickets. Buy in advance even for smaller clubs, especially when they are playing the bigger ones... not so many star players but good games and cheaper and more available seat prices. American visitors not familiar with football have told us that matches at lesser clubs are really cool even if they have no 'names'. We are endebted to Andrew Hewitt for information about small clubs - his recommendations:

QPR (Queens Park Rangers - like many clubs their name reflects their old location) are in White City, just behind the BBC Television centre and close to the tube. They're newly promoted so attendance is usually good. On match nights just follow the crowds.
CHARLTON very friendly and family-oriented club - good value tickets, actually has creche facilities (!) Trains from Charing Cross or London Bridge, ground is very near the station (Nb Charlton is quite hilly)   Website  

Cricket - at the MCC or the Oval.  This is the most passive of spectator sports as a game can go on for as long as five days, and whole mornings can pass when nothing seems to happen. People will cheer when nothing discernable has occurred. The commentators are always sent cakes by lady fans and spend their afternoons discussing it on radio.  Best go for a one-day test and see England get beaten by one of its small former colonies. Cricket in UK Website  

Rugby: Twickenham. - more genteel than football, much more skillful than American Football - derived from a famous cheat at Rugby School. Rugby Website

Tennis: Wimbledon, during the season. Website.

Rowing: Henley, during the season. Website

Polo: on Sunday afternoons you can watch this game of the rich at Ham Polo club. Website .

Racing, horses: Windsor, Epsom or Kempton Park are the most easily accessible by public transport, special train services are laid on for each meeting.

Racing, dogs: Only Wimbledon now remains of London's erstwhile vibrant dog racing scene. Despite attempts to talk up the sport it remains at heart the sport of working class men in tweed caps. If you want to know all about the sport read 'The Dogs' by Laura Thomson. It's actually a good read even if you're from Korea and prefer your dogs on a plate. website 

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