Where will you try out rock climbing for the first time?
Climbing doesn’t have to be an obsession, it can just be a fun sport to break up the monotony of going to a gym. Many people have asked me where I go climbing in London and are surprised to know how many different climbing gyms there are in London, so I thought I’d put together a list of all the options out there, especially considering I’ve been to most of them. If this encourages even one extra person to give this wonderful sport a go, I’ll be very happy!
Here are my top five picks:
Closest tube station: Manor House
Single entry price: £12.50; concessions £7.50
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 12.00-22.00; Sat-Sun – 9.00-19.00
Pubs nearby: The Browswood, a nice chilled out pub with a beer garden for summer
This is one of the biggest climbing centres in London, and has top rope, bouldering and leading areas, and auto-belays in case you have no climbing partner but want to do long routes. It offers climbing courses, and you will have to do one if you are going to climb ropes without supervision. You won’t need one to just boulder, but it would be a shame to miss out on the climbing experience with ropes!
It is one of my favourite climbing gyms, and had a nice atmosphere. It also has an awesome cafe, where they serve organic veggie food sourced primarily from their own garden, at a very reasonable price. There is also quite a large climbing shop.
However, it does get extremely busy on evenings and weekends, and it is the most expensive of all the gyms unless you are a student or have some other reason to get a concession price.
Closest tube stop: Mile End
Single entry price: one-off registration fee £5; adult climb £9.50
Opening hours: weekdays 10.00-21.00; weekend 10.00-18.00
Pubs nearby: A really nice pub called The Victoria 5 mins walk from the gym, does food, drinks, and even tea and cake
Primarily a bouldering gym, but his actually has a top rope area, which even includes one auto-belay. I climb here regularly because it’s a 10 mins walk from my house, but I do find the routes here a little harder than the Arch most of the time. However, there are loads of routes suitable for beginners and some are even situated in beginner areas, so you aren’t intimidated by other climbers around you. A good place to give climbing a go! It also doesn’t tend to get quite as busy as the arch, though it is smaller.
The staff here are really friendly and it had the cheapest tea and coffee I’ve seen anywhere – teas start at 60p! However, you will be asked for a 50p deposit for a locker, and you’ll feel bad asking for it back, as all the money goes to the charity that runs the gym.
Closest tube station: Bermondsey
This is purely a bouldering gym, one of the biggest ones in London. It currently has two buildings – The Biscuit and Building 1 – but the former is set to be closed eventually. It’s a good place to try out climbing as you don’t need to do a course – you can just go and give it a shot. All the levels are colour-coded, black being the easiest, and you can expect all routes of the same colour to be a similar level.
My main issue with this place is that it’s so popular it gets really busy, especially in the evenings straight after work. You can avoid the crowds by going to The Biscuit building – older, so less popular, but still very good – or coming on the weekend, when it’s a little more chilled out.
Closest tube stop:
Entry price: one off registration fee of £5; single entry £9
I wouldn’t try them
This is actually my favourite climbing gym, apart from the fact that it’s so far away from everywhere! But that does discourage many people from going, which means you don’t have to queue for routes and can enjoy your climbing.
Much of the climbing here is leading, and there is an awesome mix of routes, with a new massive overhand built recently which is very hard work!! There is also plenty of top ropes for beginners and a number of auto belays, and two bouldering areas. So a good mix. As ever, you’d have to do a course to climb on ropes or get someone experienced to show you.
Closest tube stop: Baker Street/Marble Arch
Single entry price:
Pubs nearby: The Harcourt, W1H 4HX; Duke of Wellington, Crawford St, W1H 2HQ
A much smaller climbing gym, but one that is close to my heart because it was the first place I started climbing in London. It is mostly top rope, though the routes all have clips for quickdraws, so leading with your own equipment is possible. There is also a bouldering area. The gym used to be owned by High Sports but the management has transitioned to the owner of the Seymore sports centre, inside which it’s located, so there are some glitches in the running of the place. However, it a great place to check out some very interesting routes. Many of them have been set by Mike, one of the instructors here who I famous for setting hard and well-thought out routes. You are guaranteed to sweat on these trying to figure out the next move!
This gym is nice in quiet periods, but can get very busy between 7pm and 9pm, when everyone comes from work. If you can get here early though, before the rush, you get the whole place to yourself!
Other climbing gyms
Closest tube stop: Latimer Road
Single entry price: one-off fee of £5; entry price £10
Located inside the Westway gym complex, this climbing centre offers both bouldering and roped climbing, but it is best for leading, in my opinion. Leading is where you are not attached to a rope at the top of a climb and are instead clipping your rope in every few meters as you climb up – in a similar way to what you do when you sport-climb outdoors. I find the bouldering in this gym super-hard, but the long routes are really nice. And there are enough top ropes for beginners to give this a go, but you would have to do a course or go with an experienced climber to supervise you.
The gym doesn’t have as nice a feel as a dedicated climbing centre like the Castle, as its inside a complex, but there is a cafe inside the complex and a climbing shop too. It’s also far less busy, especially on quieter nights, such as Mondays or Fridays.
Closest tube stop: Swiss Cottage
Single entry price:
Pubs nearby: Swiss Cottage
Review: I used to climb at Swiss Cottage from time to time, but haven’t been there for ages. It’s another former high sports gym that is transitioning to the
management of the sports centre it is based in. It’s also small, like west 1, and is a top-rope based gym, with a few lead routes.
One major disadvantage is that it’s party open-air, with just a mesh wire protecting it from the elements, so gets freezing on the winter! The grades on the routes are a bit of a Mish-mash as well, so you may find yourself flashing a 6b put struggling on a 5+. If you live in the area though, it is worth checking out for convenience.
There is a range of high sports climbing gyms still operating across the city, but I’ve never been to the others. You can check them out here and try the one near where you live.
Nearest pub: Royal Vauxhall Tavern; By the river: Brunswick House; bars in the St Georges development
Review: I’ve never been here, so asked my friend Ali to write a few words.
Vauxhall climbing centre is small but perfectly formed and it goes out of its way to solve many bugbears with bouldering centres. Firstly, it has a system of tags on specific routes like ‘SS’ or ‘JS’ which stand for sit start or jump start. Secondly, air con is so useful in the summer! Thirdly, it has a set of permanent routes, highlighted by the fact they are wooden, which are all independently graded, so that you can judge your improvement over time against a consistent base. Finally, showers! It is amazing to have a place which allows you to clean up after a session instead of making the long trek home smelling like a dog. There is also a cafe inside for those post-climbing teas and coffees!
Closest tube stop: Swiss Cottage
Single entry price:
Again, I haven’t been here, but here are some thoughts from my friend Alec:
First impressions are a little disappointing, the iPads to log in are so slow and unresponsive that I had to register as a woman to get in… There was also a queue out of the door and only two toilets in the whole place. On the plus side there are two good and varied bouldering areas with a good level of challenges, and lots of friendly people to offer advice. Returning two weeks later I discovered plenty of good routes for top rope or leading, including some impressive looking stalactite features that were beyond my abilities. The grading was a little suspect with some fiendish 4+ and 5’s (many of the 6a’s were easier). A great cafe, the centre is far less busy than the queues at the door suggest.