12 urban oases where you can keep your cool

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Words by Harriet Cooper

Summer in the city needn’t mean hot and hectic. Even if the mercury is on the rise, there are plenty of opportunities to keep your cool in town.

From pools to parks, rivers to rooftop bars, here’s our pick of the urban oases across the network where you can beat the heat.

1 Surf’s up

Cromer, with its magnificent Victorian pier and long sand and shingle beach, is the quintessential seaside resort. And how better to cool down than with a bracing dip in the North Sea?

Those who like to ride the waves rather than swim in them should head to Glide Surf School on the east promenade, where you can have SUP and surfing lessons, as well as hire equipment.

Nearest station: Cromer

Surfing school

2 Wild thing

Far from being the preserve of the very brave, a growing number of wild-dippers are jumping into creeks, rivers, lakes and ponds. The River Cam, which flows through the centre of Cambridge, has designated areas for wild swimming.

The Conservators of the River Cam have deemed the upper reaches of the river as suitable, specifically Byron’s Pool and King’s Mill Weir, which are free from motor boats and rowing craft, though you may come across the occasional punt, canoe or kayak.

Nearest station: Cambridge

River Cam

3 Square deal

In the heart of King’s Cross, on the banks of Regent’s Canal, you’ll come across Granary Square. It is lined with fabulous places to eat and drink (Caravan, Dishoom, Granary Square Brasserie and Yumchaa to name a few), but the highlight has to be the choreographed fountains – all 1,000 of them, each individually controlled and lit.

Open all week during daylight hours, on a sunny day the place is like an urban beach, with young and old splashing around.

Nearest station: London Liverpool Street

4 Take a pew

Norwich Cathedral dominates the city’s skyline with its 315ft spire, in which peregrine falcons have set up home. But it’s the cathedral’s cloisters that steal the show: they’re one of the most complete features from the Middle Ages in England and the biggest of their kind in the country.

The sweeping vaulted walkways, with their ornately carved stonework and medieval roof bosses, provide a peaceful respite from the sun.

Nearest station: Norwich

Norwich Cathedral

5 In the swim

When the heat is on, head for Hampstead Heath, an 800-acre expanse of woodland and meadows in north London. The heath is home to three bathing ponds: the ladies’, men’s and mixed ponds, the first two being the UK's only lifeguarded open-water swimming facilities accessible to the public every day of the year.

There’s also the lido, an uncovered, unheated swimming pool on Parliament Hill. Afterwards, settle on the grassy slope and soak up the spectacular views of the city.

Nearest station: London Liverpool Street

Swimming at Hampstead Heath

6 Raise the bar

Looking to escape the heat and the crowds? The Radio Rooftop bar is on the 10th floor of ME London hotel in the heart of the West End, offering striking views across the River Thames. Enjoy the fresh breeze as you sip your cocktail while also drinking in the views of the Shard, St Paul’s, the London Eye and Big Ben.

During the summer months, there’s a botanical garden and Mexican hacienda pop-up on the north and south-facing terraces – ideal for enjoying the warmer weather.

Nearest station: London Liverpool Street

7 Park life

Ely Country Park, next to the River Ouse, is not only Natural England accredited, it also has green flag status – and it’s easy to see why. The rolling parkland is home to the Roswell Pits, a series of water-filled clay pits teeming with wildlife, as well as two walking trails that highlight the best of the natural fen landscape.

There’s also a new play area, and plenty of shady spots throughout the park for picnicking.

Nearest station: Ely

Ely Country Park

8 Flower power

The Fellows Garden at Clare College, Cambridge may be bang in the middle of the city, but you’d never guess. This delightful two-acre oasis is one of the most famous gardens on the Cambridge Backs, with its fragrant herbaceous borders (in summer they’re a vision of delphiniums, aconitum, ligularia and verbascum), sunken garden pond, fine specimen trees and tropical garden.

Sitting under the old yews and chestnuts, and watching the world go by, is a great way to pass the afternoon.

Nearest station: Cambridge

9 Liquid assets

The Royal Plain fountains on Lowestoft seafront are a must-see. They consist of 74 individual water jets, which shoot water throughout the day in a series of displays. Every half-an-hour, the fountains start moving to the sound of recorded music by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

They’re mesmerising for kids, while adults will particularly love them at night, when the fountain lights come into effect.

Nearest station: Lowestoft

10 Up the garden path

The Beth Chatto Gardens, just outside Colchester and easily accessible by bus, offer up seven-and-a-half acres of garden. Created by award-winning gardener Beth Chatto, who has won 10 gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show, they are a riot of colour.

On a sizzling day head for the tranquil woodland garden, with its dense canopy of tall oaks. There’s also a nursery, gift shop and tea room for that ever so refreshing cuppa.

Nearest station: Colchester

Beth Chatto Gardens

11 Tomb raider

The historical gem of St Paul’s Cathedral, with its thick stone walls and high ceilings, is remarkably cool on a sultry summer’s day. Descend deep into the cathedral’s crypt, which is the largest in Europe and runs the entire length of the building.

Here, you’ll not only find the tombs of Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and St Paul’s architect Sir Christopher Wren, but also a respite from the heat thanks to its cool marble mosaic floor and 200-plus stone memorials.

Nearest station: London Liverpool Street

12 Make a splash

The Suffolk market town of Beccles, by the scenic River Waveney, is the place to be this summer thanks to its lido. Located on Puddingmoor, there’s a 30m heated open-air swimming pool, plus separate toddler and paddling pools for water babies.

With plenty of grassy areas for sunbathing, as well as picnic tables and a cafe with an outdoor eating area, it’s the perfect place to escape to during a hot spell.

Nearest station: Beccles