Sports in London
London is crammed full of fun activities and sporting pursuits to get the endorphins flowing. Whether you want to look ace on the tennis courts, shout "Foooooour" on the golf course or let the wind fill your sails on the open water, we've put together the essential companion to active fun in the great outdoors here in London town.
Wedged inside motionless buses as they sit chugging away in the midst of London traffic can be hot work in the summer months. We recommend breaking free and exploring the capital on a bike. With the power of the pedal you will be able to dive down tiny hidden streets, zip across Hyde Park in minutes or ride alongside the Thames soaking up the summer sun. The London Bicycle Tour Company hires out mountain bikes and more traditional models either by the hour or by the day. Based in Gabriel's Wharf, once you've picked up your bike you can be cruising along the South Bank in minutes. If you are a little nervous about venturing out on the open road alone try a unique guided tour.
London Bicycle Tour Company - Information
Mayor Boris Johnson's much talked about bike hire scheme finally launched on 30 July 2010 with 6,000 bicycles being made available to the public across 400 docking stations in central London. Sponsored by Barclays - who pumped £25 million into a scheme which will cost Transport for London and estimated £140m over six years - the public bike sharing plan mirrors that of the Velib in Paris and is based on Montreal's Bixi bicycle renting system. The project covers about 17 square miles in central London, stretching to the whole of the City of London and parts of eight London boroughs. Customers pay an access fee and then an additional fee according to how long they use the bike (up to 30 minutes is free but then fees increase exponentially from £1 for an hour to £50 for 24 hours). The scheme is open for anyone over the age of 14 and customers are able to pick up or drop off their bikes at any station they fancy. Despite warning Londoners of inevitable teething troubles, Boris has described the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme as using the "Rolls-Royce of bicycles". To us, however, the bikes look pretty simple, while mimicking (intentionally?) the turquoise and black colours of the British professional cycling outfit Team Sky. Safety worries are bound to grab all the headlines but this cycle scheme could well prove to be a welcome addition to London's transport system, especially if City Hall deliver on the 12 "cycle super highways" promised by Boris.
Phone: 0845 026 3630
Price: Access fee: 24hr - £1, Seven-day - £5, Annual - £45 (members only) | Usage charges: Up to 30 mins - Free, Up to 1hr - £1, Up to 1hr 30mins - £4, Up to 2hrs - £6, Up to 2hrs 30mins - £10, Up to 3hrs - £15, Up to 6hrs - £35, Up to 24hrs (maximum) - £50
Barclays Cycle Hire - Information
It's not exactly Formula 1 but get behind the wheel of a go-kart and you'll certainly feel like you're ready to give Lewis Hamilton a run for his money. Go-karting is one of those sports that turns perfectly rational, relaxed human beings into speed-hungry, stop-at-nothing (apart from when the marshals tell you to!) people who want to WIN! The buzz of racing your buddies as you hurtle round a circuit beset by tricky corners and tight bends is fantastic fun. The summer is a great time to get geared up and hit the track and there's no better place to get the adrenaline pumping than Revolution Karting in the East End. It's the only outdoor course in London and boasts 650 metres of track and has karts that reach a very nippy 50 mph. They also offer a good choice of different packages. You can jump in a kart and individually race, gather a group of mates and compete in a Mini Grand Prix or challenge your colleagues as part of their organised corporate events. The circuit is floodlit and open till late, making for a speedy alternative to after-work drinking. Incidentally, stay off the summer beers if you want to get on the track at all.
Playscape's indoor raceway at Streatham is an excellent venue for individual drivers, private groups and corporate events. With top class racing facilities and catering services, state-of-the-art race computer systems to track your best times and a fleet of expertly prepared karts, visitors of any age can be assured of the thrills of wheel to wheel action. Whether you are a novice or a potential Formula 1 driver, you will find that Playscape's fast and furious race sessions are geared to give you the perfect adrenalin-filled event to remember.
Gently following your ball around a golf course with the warm sun beating down on the back of your neck is a summer speciality treasured by Londoners. A less romantic view involves getting stuck in the bunker, using a pitching wedge to get out of the rough or throwing your clubs around when your fifth ball finds the water feature handily situated just before the green. But don't let that put you off! To some, London may seem like an urban sprawl but, in fact, it's home to a wealth of green open space wiith a golf course or two nestling among the trees. Here are our favourite places to tee-off in London town.
Debatably London's best 'pay and play' facility, the two well-established courses in the Royal Park have long been popular with the capital's non-golf club members. Club hire, buggies and a 16-bay driving range are all available, as are lessons with the large team of qualified teachers. Great views of the park compliment the chilled-out pace of play. Boasting 2500 acres of undulating grassland, dotted with coppiced woodland, the park is famous for its red and fallow deer which roam freely - let's just hope they don’t amble onto the driving range!
This nine-hole par-three course next to Chiswick Bridge is in immaculate condition and has the most extensive practice facilities in the London area including a 50-bay floodlit driving range, large putting green and a six-hole course for instruction. Friendly and relatively unpretentious for a golf club (the usual dress code applies!) and very suited to those nervous golfers lacking the confidence to wrestle a full-sized course, it attracts a whole raft of golfing folk from enthusiastic novices to experts looking to improve their handicaps. You need your own clubs and golf shoes with soft spikes, so don't turn up empty handed.
OK, so you may not be able to soak up the rays on these indoor courses but it's a brilliant idea that has been stylishly executed and there are two Urban Golf centres to choose from: Urban Golf Soho and Urban Golf Smithfield. Dearly loved by frustrated city-dwellers, these indoor golf centres offer 50 of the world's best courses from the comfort of one of six high-tech simulators. There are lounge areas and a full bar service to complement this hassle-free way to tee-off. From have-a-go beginners to seasoned golfers, this is the ideal place to practise your stance, swing and shot by picking the holes you want to play on championship golf courses from The Belfry to Banff Springs and matching your skill (or lack of) to the challenge set before you. Lessons and rather snazzy clubs are supplied if need be.
Urban Golf Smithfield - Information
With the raw smell of polished leather, the rush of flying manes and the exhilarating speed of the gallop, what could be more refreshing on a summer's day than speeding along on horseback? This summer, follow in the footsteps of generations and gallop under the great skies of... well, Hyde Park. Okay, so it's not the rugged plains of Montana but riding along Rotten Row - the place to be seen side-saddling back in the 1700s - is a magical experience on a sunny morning. Riding out with an instructor from Hyde Park Stables, you have five glorious miles of bridleways to explore with most hacks taking you alongside the Serpentine. Horses here have calm characters, so you won't suffer the embarrassment of getting thrown off into the lake to the amusement of picnickers and passers-by. Riding boots and hats (be warned, not hugely flattering) are provided free of charge and the stables recommend casual clothes and sensible shoes. Staff are, no doubt, used to city slickers, who haven't been on a horse in donkeys' years, heading out for a summer outing.
This fab game emerged in 1980 and has taken the world by storm. Popular with adrenalin junkies and alpha males, paintballing is an action-packed, mission-driven pastime that is heaps of fun with a group of friends or a bunch of colleagues and guaranteed to get even the most laid-back person's competitive juices flowing. The Paintball Centre in Canary Wharf is the UK's largest indoor venue and the 40,000 square feet of 'play zone' incorporates three areas: a super air inflatable field, village scene complete with houses and guard towers and a World War II setting. Players are equipped with protective clothing and special marking guns, with plenty of paintballs to whistle through the air. Teams are set an imaginative variety of top secret missions demanding teamwork, strategy and a good aim! There are three packages on offer; all include semi-automatic guns, face masks, overalls, padded hoods and gloves plus paintballs but the silver and gold packages include body armour and more ammo than the bronze.
London's most central paintballing experience can be found on Tooley Street at London Bridge. This urban paintballing centre is located underneath the railway arches and zones include a Vietnam Village, Apocalypse London and a Super Airball made up of inflatable barricades. Of course, playing inside and within quite tight confines means this is a whole new, er, paintball game - but once you've adapted to your new surroundings (like any top aspiring commando) you'll be pumping your pellets like there's no tomorrow. The central location means this is a great place for corporate events and parties such as birthdays, stag or hen parties. And once you're back on the streets of London you won't ever look at passing pedestrians in the same way.
An export from England's colonial years in India and contemporarily codified as a game for the rich and horsey (but given a touch of celebrity cool by the younger generation of royals), polo is in fact an all-access sport. Why not embrace a rather exclusive English tradition and try a spot of polo yourself this summer? Down at Ascot, they run a fantastically well-constructed 'Discover Polo' lesson. During the two-hour introductory session, Ascot's experts will lead you in a group lesson with other new polo-playing wannabes. Novices will learn the rules and tactics including the polo swing and how to ride on a polo pony. These lessons include a mini-game or, in official terms, a chukka. After the lesson, for an additional fee, you can take part in a further instructional chukka. Set in the beautiful surroundings of the Surrey countryside with top-of-the-range facilities, highly-trained staff and veteran, well-behaved ponies, this is a challenging yet safe experience for those who fancy a day out of town or girls who have aspirations to marry a prince. Whatever the case, it's all jolly good fun!
Blading is a fantastic way to get around town - it's fast and healthy - and London is great for skaters with scores of excellent paths and parks. You may not win many friends in the walking community but you can cover a lot of ground, get fit and see the sights at the same time. If you're ready to get your skates on, why not join the London Skate which cruises around town every Wednesday evening? Kicking off in Hyde Park, these supervised two-hour skates around town go at an 'intermediate' pace along planned routes, which vary from week to week. A few hundred guys and gals up for the craic on inline blades or, rather coolly, '80s retro roller skates is a sight to behold, especially as they roll out a pretty serious sound system (not in the rain!) to accompany the skate and create a party vibe. There's also the London Friday Night Skate, which is similar but, you guessed it, on Friday nights. If you're keen to join the throng but can't stop or turn, Skatefresh (skatefresh.com) offers rollerblading and inline skating classes in Hyde Park and other locations.
It may seem perverse but some people find being shouted by an army officer a great motivator when it comes to getting fit. This explains the huge success of British Military Fitness, taking place at a park near you. All fitness instructors are (ex or current) armed forces hard nuts so they're used to keeping the rabble in check. It's not as bad as it sounds and the mix of running, stretching and circuit training can even be quite sociable - it's a great way to meet people in your area as well as getting fit. As the weather warms up, summer is the ideal time to get out of the stuffy gym and train outdoors - not that a bit of snow would get in the way of this dedicated bunch. British Military Fitness train in plenty of parks across London (they're the ones in green and red bibs being shouted at) so it's easy enough to find one near you - see list below. Alternatively, you can sign up with a running club like the Serpentine Running Club (run by volunteers) who organise regular running, training and - once you're up to speed - racing days. Training runs take place on Wednesday evenings as well as Saturday and Sunday mornings and take in some glorious views of the capital. They meet at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park and runs go round the park and into Kensington Gardens, straight past Kensington Palace; it's a beautiful sight and will no doubt take your mind off your sore legs and the fact that your face is guaranteed to look like a beetroot! Longer sessions add Green Park and St James's Park to the route. The deal with both running clubs is that you can try them out first to see if you catch the bug before deciding whether you want to become a fully-fledged member.
The Welsh Harp reservoir is one of London's best kept secrets. It is a tastefully preserved conservation area along a mile-long stretch of water. You can hoist your sails up and fly across this watery expanse from Wembley Sailing Club, which has a fleet - including Lasers, GP14s and a couple of Fireflies - all in shipshape condition. Dinghy sailing really is the best way to learn the ropes (literally) before moving on to chartering your own yacht! Adults can sign up for the RYA Level 1 course at Harp Sailing School and then take out the club's dinghies to brave the open water in. There is also a small armada of single sail Optimists. These robust boats are very difficult to capsize, making them ideal for children to learn to sail. The instructors turn children's sailing into an art form, interspersing Sunday afternoon sails with picnic cruises and games on the water. Anything to do with sailing can be pricey but this club is as affordable as it gets. If you are planning a day on the water, we do recommend you phone beforehand to avoid disappointment.
With all the Wimbledon mania in June and early July, lots of Londoners take to the courts to serve up a winning volley or two. The capital is peppered with tennis courts - it's just knowing where to find them. We've selected some super courts, ideal for brushing up on your backhand and baseline lob this summer.
When the Wimbledon bug catches and you're itching to get out on the court for your yearly tennis fix, head for Regent's Park in the heart of London. Located on the western side of the park this is a real gem of a place to dust off that old wooden racket and see if your follow-through is as smooth as you remember. While people are encouraged to just show up and play, non-members are still allowed to book a court three days in advance. With 12 hard courts, modern changing facilities and a café for post-match refreshment, this really is a fantastic centre for summer play.
It's amazing to think they managed to fit some tennis courts into Waterlow Park. One of our favourites, this beautiful park occupies a dramatic sloping site overlooking the city and was given to Londoners by Sir Sidney Waterlow as a "garden for the gardenless". Retaining a secret garden charm with tree-lined walkways and ponds on different levels, it's one of London's finest landscaped parks and is a lovely spot for tennis. The six immaculately kept courts have been attractively built into the hill. Take a picnic, play a set or two, then catch a few rays in the park afterwards. It's absolutely idyllic.
Offering some of the most substantial tennis facilities in the capital, tennis enthusiasts can choose from one of Battersea Park's 19 floodlit courts. Courts are available for booking and they run a really comprehensive string of coaching courses throughout the summer months. Battersea Park itself is a lovely summer spot. Serve up a treat on the court and then chill-out on the grass to catch your breath and enjoy the pretty surroundings. A small kiddies' zoo, a deer enclosure and the famous Peace Pagoda are just some of the park's top attractions.