London’s best climbing gyms

Many people have asked me where I go climbing in London and are surprised to know just how many climbing gyms there are in this city.

Considering I have been to most of London’s best climbing gyms, I decided to put together a list of all the options for beginners, or climbers moving to London from elsewhere. If this encourages even one extra person to give this wonderful sport a go, I’ll be very happy!

Me and my girls at the Castle
Me and my girls at the Castle

LONDON’S BEST CLIMBING GYMS

The Castle
www.castle-climbing.co.uk

Closest tube: Manor House
Single entry price: £12.50
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 12.00-22.00; Sat-Sun 9.00-19.00
Pubs nearby: The Brownswood, a nice chilled out pub with a beer garden for summer

My review

This is the biggest climbing centre in London. It has top rope, bouldering and leading areas, and lots of auto-belays in case you have no climbing partner but want to do long routes. It really is set in what looks like a medieval castle, which used to be an old water tower, and had many levels for you to explore.

It offers climbing courses, and you will have to do one if you are going to climb ropes without supervision. You will not need one to just boulder, but it would be a shame to miss out on the ropes.

It is one of my favourite climbing gyms, largely because it has a really nice atmosphere and it is really easy to spend a whole Sunday just hanging out here. It has a great cafe, which serves organic veggie food sourced primarily from their own garden, at very reasonable prices. There is also quite a large climbing shop.

However, it can 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 (£7.50 per entry). 

Mile End Climbing Wall
www.mileendwall.org.uk

Closest tube: 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: The Victoria – really nice pub, 5 mins walk from the gym, does food, drinks, and even tea and cake

My review

Primarily a bouldering gym, but has a roped climbing area, which even includes one auto-belay. I climb here regularly because it is a 10 min walk from my house.

The routes here tend to be quite hard for their grade, which will make you sweat a bit. However, there are loads of routes suitable for beginners and even special beginner areas, so you are not intimidated by more experienced climbers around you. There is also a semi-outdoor area which is very nice in the heat of the summer.

A good place to give climbing a go. It also does not tend to get quite as busy as some other climbing gyms in the evenings. The staff here are really friendly and it has the cheapest tea and coffee of any gyms I go to – teas start at 60p!

The Arch
www.archclimbingwall.com

Closest tube station: Bermondsey
Single entry: £10
Opening hours: Building One – Mon-Fri 6.30-22.30; Wkend 10.00-21.00; Biscuit – Mon-Fri 12.00-22.30; Wkend 10.00-21.00
Pubs nearby: St James of Bermondsey – nice pub, the only food it serves is pies and snacks though; beer garden for summers

My review

This is purely a bouldering gym, one of the biggest ones in London. It currently has three buildings – The Biscuit and Building One near Bermondsey and The Arch North in Burnt Oak; I have never been to the latter, though.

It is a good place to try out climbing as you do not need to do a long course, though you do need to do an induction for £20 if you go without an experienced friend. All the difficulty levels are colour-coded and you can expect all routes of the same colour to be a similar level. 

My main issue with this place is that it is so popular it gets really busy, especially in the evenings straight after work. As in, there will be a queue to get in. 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 is a little more chilled out. 

The Reach
www.thereach.org.uk

Closest stations: Woolwich Dockyard; Woolwich Arsenal + bus 177/472; North Greenwich + bus 472/161
Entry price: one-off registration fee of £5; single entry £10
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 10.00-22.00; Sat-Sun 10.00-19.00
Pubs nearby: I haven’t yet discovered one…it’s sort of in the middle of nowhere

My review

The Reach is a bit of a pain to get to, given when it is situated, but that does discourage many people from going, which means you do not have to queue for routes and can enjoy your climbing in peace.

Much of the climbing here is leading, and there is a good mix of routes, with a new massive overhang project wall built recently which is very hard work! There is also plenty of top ropes for beginners, though, a number of auto-belays, and two bouldering areas. So a good mix. As ever, you would have to do a course to climb on ropes or get someone experienced to show you. 

The cafe here offers really tasty food and value for many (you must try the sweet jacket potato!), and the music mix tends to be pretty good.

West One
Facebook page

Closest tube: Baker Street/Marble Arch
Single entry price: Climb London members £9.50; day visit £11.80
Opening hours: Mon-Thurs 14.00-22.00; Fri 14.00-21.00; Sat-Sun 9.30-18.00
Pubs nearby: Duke of Wellington, Crawford St, W1H 2HQ

Review

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 Seymour Leisure Centre, inside which it is located, and the transition means there may be a few operational glitches.

However, it is a great place to check out some very interesting routes. Many of them have been set by Mike, one of the instructors here, who is 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 on some weekday evenings between 19.00 and 21.00, when everyone comes from work. If you can get here early though, before the rush, you get the whole place to yourself.

Westway
Westway Sports & Fitness

Closest tube: Latimer Road
Single entry price: one-off fee of £5; entry price £10
Opening hours: Mon, Tue, Wed, Fri 9.30-22.00; Thurs 8.00-22.00;
Sat-Sun 8.00-20.00
Pubs nearby:
The Garden Bar is recommended by Westway staff – great food and only a stone’s throw away!”

My review

Located inside the Westway gym complex, this climbing centre offers both bouldering and roped climbing, but it is best for leading, in my opinion. It is my favourite in terms of grading, which is much closer to outdoors than other places I’ve climbed at, and the variety.

I find the bouldering in this gym super-hard, but the long routes are usually really interesting and are reset really often, so you’ll never get bored.

There are enough top ropes for beginners to give climbing a go, and there are also a couple of auto-belays for warm-ups and solo sessions.

This climbing gym is not a dedicated climbing centre like the Castle as it is located inside a larger sports complex, but there is a nice cafe that is open until 8pm and a climbing shop with a really good variety of kit. It is also far less busy that the Castle, especially on quieter nights, such as Mondays or Fridays. 

Me leading a route at the Castle
Me leading a route at the Castle

A FEW OTHER CLIMBING GYMS

Swiss Cottage
Sports centre website

Closest tube: Swiss Cottage
Single entry price: member £8.60; non-member £11.25 
Opening times:
Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri 11.00-21.00; Thurs 11.00-21.30; Sat-Sun 9.00-18.00
Pubs nearby: Ye Olde Swiss Cottage, very nice and homey

My review

I used to climb at this gym from time to time, but have not been for ages. It is another former High Sports gym that is transitioning to the management of the sports centre within which it is situated. It is also small, like West One, and primarily a top-rope gym, with just a few lead routes. 

One major disadvantage is that it is partly open-air, with just a mesh wire protecting it from the elements, so gets freezing in the winter! The grades on the routes are often 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 have never been to the others. You can check them out here and try the one near your home or work.

Vauxwall
www.vauxwallclimbing.co.uk


Nearest tube:
Vauxhall
Single entry price: one-off fee £3; single entry £10.50
Opening times:
Mon-Fri 6.00-22.30; Sat-Sun 9.00-19.00
Nearest pub: Royal Vauxhall Tavern; By the river: Brunswick House; bars in the St Georges development

This is also a dedicated bouldering gym. It is much smaller than the others I mentioned. I have never been here, so asked my friend Ali to leave a review.

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!

White Spider
www.whitespiderclimbing.com

Closest station: Tolworth (train from Waterloo)
Single entry price: non-registered £12; registered £10.50
Opening times: Mon – 14.00-22.00; Tues-Fri 10.00-22.00; Sat-Sun 10.00-19.30
Nearest pub: A bit industrial, so probably best to go elsewhere

Again, I have not been here myself, 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.

 

Have I missed your favourite? Is there anything else you would like to know? Please leave a comment and I will get back to you.

3 thoughts on “London’s best climbing gyms”

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