The smallest of our selection, this hard-to-find Gongti pool lies hidden on the cusp of Sanlitun. Apart from the lockers, there is little here that is brand new, but the facilities are nevertheless clean. Be warned, though: as with most of the pools in our selection, the single-sex locker rooms are devoid of cubicles, so be prepared to change, wash and dry yourself in front of staring eyes.
Early birds will bemoan its lazy opening hours (10am), and – at 25m in length – serious swimmers might be frustrated by the size and the lack of lanes, particularly during busy hours. The water isn’t the bluest either, but it does the job, especially as a brief calorie-burning escape from shopping in Sanlitun.
Located behind a sports centre west of the Temple of Heaven, this hidden pool is surprisingly well used. After lunch, expect large groups of retirees to belly flop into its waters, but they do at least stick to their lanes. If you don’t mind swimming laps among the masses, this is a decent alternative.
Waters here veer towards ‘murky’, so don’t forget your soap and flip-flops for the recommended post-swim shower. Nevertheless, despite the crowds, the six 50-metre lanes allow enough space to stretch your limbs, plus a separate pool for kids means that you shouldn’t be battling two generations for space.
Though slightly more expensive, this is the largest ‘natatorium’ (as they call it) in our selection, and has great facilities. It certainly proved clean and well managed: eagle-eyed employees watch your every move – albeit even in the changing rooms – to make sure that hygiene rules are upheld. A snack bar can even be found next to the pool, ever ready to reward your efforts. And while its opening hours do exclude early swimmers, you can at least beat the crowds with a late night dip.
Ten 50m lanes guarantee more than enough space for either a slow breaststroke or a vigorous crawl. It can be noisy, however, and sometimes a little crowded (despite its size), but this pool has some of the cleanest waters of the bunch, which justifies the higher entrance fee. Judge your times right and you shouldn’t have any trouble.
Conveniently located northwest of Ditan Park, this ‘inner swimming pool’ is particularly popular during lunchtimes (when best avoided). Friendly, modern and clean, the locker rooms are disappointingly tiny, although the shower rooms are separated, so you can ‘for once’ wash yourself in peace. Plus, with its 8.10am opening time, it does at least offer the option of a super-quick pre-work dip. A rarity in this city.
Another 50m wonder, but do not expect to have its six lanes to yourself. The waters may be clear and inviting, but for those in search of an escape from Beijing’s busy swell, this is not the place to go. Try to avoid the midday rush, however, and you’ll fare a lot better.
If Poseidon came to Beijing, he would probably choose the quiet waters at Huiwen (pictured) for a splash about. The pride of a brand-new sports centre attached to a local middle school, not only is it the cheapest swimming pool in our selection, it is also the best value for money.
People come here to exercise, not to play. The 50m pool has three shallow-water lanes and eight deep ones, so you’ve got space to really open up your strokes. The only downside is that the opening times do restrict you to afternoon and evening swims – although at least that means you avoid the kids.
Located in the south of Chaoyang Park, this is as extravagant as the capital's public pools get. Don't expect a gold lining, of course, but the sports complex also houses tennis courts and is streamlined for an expert swimming experience. One-off entry comes at a hefty premium, but commit to a member's card for multiple sessions and the price drops as low as 23.60RMB. Share with a friend if you're afraid your arms might fall off after 90 swims in a year.
At 50 metres long, the pool features ten lanes - eight 'speed lanes'for serious swimmers and two shallow-water lanes - as well as a separate children's play pool. The water is clean by city standards and shouldn't disappoint. Lanes can become busy during peak hours, but there's ample opportunity to pick and choose when you swim given their all-day hours.
With its entrance off a narrow hutong near subway lines 4 and 6, the public pool at Ping'anli is an excellent choice for notching up some laps on the west side of town. It's said that a few decades ago the pool used to be for military use only, later opening to civilians. Facilities are clean enough, with ample hot water for the showers. Do bring your own padlock for storing your things while you swim as none are provided. Afternoons and summer hours can be busy with young kids, but evening hours are generally not too crowded.
Don't go here looking for a pre-work swim as the pool is filled with classes and private lessons in the morning, and it doesn't open until midday for public use and free swims. But what it lacks in hours, it makes up for in its proportions and cleanliness. The 50-metre, regulation-sized pool boasts eight lanes (with options in both shallow and deep water), which are perfect for the serious swimmer.