Swimming in the Beijing Olympic Water Cube

After hearing that Beijing was on my work trip itinerary I immediately did a bunch of research to figure out if you could actually swim in the famous Water Cube from the 2008 Beijing Olympics (officially called the National Aquatics Center).  And sure enough, you could!  Sweet!  Given I had to stay the weekend in Beijing, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to knock out my swim workout in a decidedly unique place.

First up was getting there.  It took three subway trains and about 30-35 minutes until I had arrived at the Olympic Sports Center subway stop:


Once there I made my way up onto the vast Olympic Green area that acts as the glue with all the former Olympic venues on both sides.  This was packed with people out enjoying the unusual not-as-smoggy day here in Beijing:


I took a brief detour to go check out the Olympic Stadium, which afforded me a bit better view of the Water Cube.  It’s really hard to explain just how big the building is (the Water Cube).  It’s probably about the size of two Costco’s stuck end to end, and then stacked 2-3 high.  It’s massive.



I headed on in to buy my tickets.  The ticket purchasing process was decidedly non-English in nature.  I handed over what I deemed to be ‘enough’ cash, and she handed back some amount of change and a ticket to go on in.


I did enjoy this sign on the fence as I went in: “Your Wish – Our Ways”.  Translation:  Burger King this is not.  Their way or the highway.


Inside there was a number of vast hallways and spaces.


For example, this one had the training pool on one side, and the competition pool on the other:


There was also some tie-in with the London Olympics as well:


And then even places to eat inside – brilliant if you ask me.  I could transition right from swimming to ice cream and a hot dog:


While I found a map, it didn’t really help me in my quest to find tickets.  It’s interesting here though to pick out which maps/signs are from the Olympics, and which are post-Olympics.  The general trick to telling is if they have French, it’s pre-Olympics (since it’s required by the IOC):


Also of note is that none of the little souvenir shops contained any Olympic branded items.  Everything is branded as “Beijing” or “Water Cube”, but no Olympic logo or wording to be found.



Eventually I did find the next ticket location – this time to buy my pool ticket and then locker ticket.  Apparently the first ticket was for the facility or something.



The cost for the warm-up pool was fairly straight forward – and basically about $4US.


After picking up a locker RFID tag, I headed into the locker area.  You’ll note I didn’t say locker room, as that wasn’t the case.  Instead there were changing/shower rooms, and then locker area was a long giant hall shared by everyone.  Actually, in many ways like it is in France.


Upon validating my locker worked (you can go into it as many times as you like), I headed through the doors into the actual changing room/shower area.  They were behind the meat freezer looking flaps:


Once done inside, the lockers themselves were actually fairly spacious – I liked the separate levels for shoes:


Then it’s through the showers into the pool deck:


It was here that I fiddled with my watch and changed it from 25m to the 50m pool length:


Then I dropped off my sandals at the sandal station:


With that, I was ready to go.  Time to swim!


Wait, say what?  A wave pool?


You’re damn right it was.  In fact, it’s not just a wave pool these days, but also multiple water slides, a rafting river, and even those mushrooms that squirt water.


Obviously, this was going to take some time to fully appreciate.






And appreciate I did.  For example, I did a few lengths of the wave pool.  Which, was apparently common.  Folks went out to the very far deep end and “swam” back and forth there.  More akin to doggy-paddle actually.  Fear not, no shame in that.  It’d be just like my first triathlon.


And then there’s the water slides.  Check out this one, it actually goes back up again.  That’s just crazy talk.


The whole facility is really quite massive:


Which may leave you wondering about that competition pool and the warm-up pool.  Well, they were certainly there.  Except, for a few short days that overlapped my stay, they were busy hosting the Water Polo world championships.  So apparently, that ticket I bought outside was actually for the water polo world championships:



On the bright side, I did get to watch China and USA play for a bit, and then later watched Canada and Australia go at it.




Having never watched water polo before, it seems like a rather tiring sport.  Lots of swimming involved.


Next to the competition pool was the dive pool.  It wasn’t open to swimming, but is apparently host to a reality TV show in China – ‘Stars in Danger’.  You can skip around this YouTube clip to see it in action, around 8:20 is a nice concise 60 second or so look at how it works.


Which leaves the warm-up pool.  Unfortunately, because of the water polo competition it was reserved for their use, and thus closed to the general public:



It’s really a beautiful pool otherwise though:


Normally however, they actually fill the bottom of the pool with a raised deck, and then split the pool in half.  One half is for non-swimmers, and the other half for swimmers.  You have to actually pass a ‘test’ (essentially swimming up and down the length of the pool), and then are even given an ID so they can validate you aren’t going to drown.

You can see the ‘risers’ stacked up to the left (sorry for the slightly fuzzy shots here and there, they don’t really clean the glass – so it was pretty dirty):


I was really bummed that the pool was closed.  While I’ve heard it’s a pretty mixed experience – it still would have been a fun experience, at least once.  With my swimming fail completed (ok, I can’t really count time under a squirting mushroom as a fail – that’s always a WIN!), I started working my way back out.  By now, it was dark out.  And from the inside the blue of the cube was clearly visible.



Once you got outside, it was full on blue glory!


And, across the way the Birds Nest was also glowing away:



From there I walked the nearly mile back along Olympic Green to the subway and headed back to the hotel.  Mission sorta accomplished.


As always, thanks for reading!


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  1. Shame about the main pool being closed. But it wasn’t a total waste. Very entertaining photos. The photos remind me of a pool I visited in hong Kong. It was far too overcrowded. There was only standing room in the pool. No chance of doing any laps!

  2. dave

    Very cool! I’d love to swim there. I just went up to Piscines Picornell here in Barcelona yesterday at the Olympic Park…it was sad to see how much the stadium seems to be crumbling away. The pool was awesome though, although I was slightly disappointed it had been divided up into 25m lanes rather than the full 50. The water cube really looks like a whole other situation. Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games pool just opened last week and I’m looking forward to trying it when I get home. Hopefully it’ll stay as busy as the Beijing complex once the games are over.

  3. Did you go down any of the slides?

  4. Adam R

    When I was there in 2010, the whole water cube was closed for remodelling to put in the slides etc. I didn’t even get to go inside, so your effort wasn’t a complete fail.

  5. If there is no race, usually the warm up pool is open to public, 50 RMB/2hours( I didn’t remember the exact price).
    And if you have month pass, the race pool opens sometimes(didni’t remember the exact time neither, but should be work time, maybe 9-11am).
    Yes. You can swim in the same pool where Phelps broke WR!

    • Eli

      And didn’t swim here when he was in the DC area? link to nbac.net (The pool Phelps, Katie Hoff, and others trained in)

    • DC Rainmaker

      Yeah, the pool he predominantly trained/trains in isn’t terribly special. Kinda dark and kinda small. Thus, wasn’t a huge draw for me. Plus, it doesn’t have waterslides.

  6. Very, very cool! My hubby and I lived in China last year. Visiting the Water Cube was one of my favorite memories!

  7. OJ

    Good to see they have English signs there now. When I went there with my wife in 2010 getting into the training pool was an adventure in itself!

  8. Mike D

    Great looking spot, but my god, the e-coli count in that pool has to be off the charts…. 😉

  9. Champ

    Rey, so many people there. Did you get to swim at least 50 meters without hitting anyone?

  10. Whoa, I had absolutely no idea the water cube housed much of anything now, much less water slides and a wave pool. That’s awesome.

  11. Berkshire Yorkie

    An update, having just been today.

    Tickets cost RM30 for spectating only and RM50 “for swimming”. My wife brought the former and I brought the latter. Despite the occasional signs the process remains very un-English and took a fair bit of navigating.

    When I got to the changing room I was informed about ‘The Test’ – cue drum roll…….this cost another RM10 and I was told that I’d have to take this to swim in the competition pool. Otherwise my swimming ticket only allows swimming in the training pool, which as noted above has articificial ramps – which, together with the crowds render a tumble turn – and anything other than a very disrupted swim – impossible.

    Onto the test, which required me to swim 200 metres without stopping. (I’ve since found out that it’s a municipal regulation in Beijing that access to deep pools requires a council-issued certificate. This applies to ALL pools apparently, and if you haven’t got the cert then the pool can devise their own test).

    After the test I stood by the desk that separates the training and competition pools, trucked, goggled and dripping wet, and was informed that in fact passing the test didn’t entitle me to swim in the competition pool – what it did entitle me to do was to return to my locker in this sodden state and retrieve a further RM80 to swim in the competition pool.

    All this accomplished I did finally get to do my normal routine in the competition pool of the 2008 Olympic Games. The setting was awesome and the mere fact I was sharing the same pool as all those greats made everything worthwhile.

    In truth it wasn’t my best ever swim – the pool was quite empty, but there’s no attempt to separate swimmers by speed or stroke so although there were only 3/4 others in my lane, all were a good deal slower than even my modest speed, so I was prevented from turning on one occasion and baulked by slower swimmers probably 7/8 times.

    But all worth it and then some, just to swim in that pool!! As a postscript we inadvertently took a wrong turn on exiting the Water Cube, and about 70 yards the wrong side of the entrance gate, i.e. where pretty well no-one will see it – is a large sign explaining the labyrinth process for getting to swim in the competition pool, in perfect English!!

    Finally thanks for the original blog, it was a great help to me and I recommend anyone wanting to go to read it.

    • Bernard

      I know it’s been a few years, but any chance you or anyone else has a photo of the swimming instructions? I mean the sign you mention at the end.


  12. tim

    Unfortunately!The competition pool and the warm-up pool are great.But the wave pool?Even for Beijing local, I did not dare to try.Every day is full in the pool.You’re so brave!

  13. Great information… although i read it already in 2013, i had to re-read it 🙂 As I’m moving from being part-local in Paris to part-local in Beijing, i’m interested in regular swimming in this Water Cube (in Paris it was sometimes really crowdy and impossible to swim, but it was cheap and close to my home).

    ‘m interested in buying either a year pass, or for 15 entries… anybody knows, whether i need to pass this swimming test every time or do you get a certificate after passing the test for the first time?

  14. Jason

    Hey Ray,

    We are returning to Beijing with our two children in a little over a month and both of them are dying to go to the Water Cube. They are both good swimmers and I am sure of their abilities in the wave pool and slides but my wife wants to know if the facility is chlorinated, I’m not worried about it but she wants to know before committing to the subway ride out. Can you help me out?

    • Eeks, I don’t remember (three years ago now), I’m sorry!

    • Well… In the last year and the half I never managed to go for a swim in the Olympic Pool 🙁 as I live a bit away, its usually a hassle (i do go occassionaly for a long run in the park), and i prefer taking a pool near Chaoyang Park in the eastern part of Beijing (which is darn expensive – if one time visit in Paris was 3 eur, here it costs 95 rmb (12-13 eur). And regarding the water in this pool, it is chlorinated. I can image that pools in Olympic park are also chlorinated. Well… Don’t bet on going to the pool and asking. If you don’t speak chinese, It would be easier to beating Bolt in 100m than getting the right answer.

  15. Jason

    Thanks Ray and Matty for the responses, I appreciate it.

  16. Laurence Rietberg

    Great blog, thanks. Visited Water cube with my family last week. My wife speaks Mandarin that makes holidaying in China easy for me. The first ticket office just happened to have only one ticket left and couldn’t tell my wife if any other ticket booth had any. Speak Mandarin & it’s no less an ordeal. You’re up against language + bureaucratic hurdles as a non-Mandarin speaking foreigner. We circumnavigated the cube and luckily found another office with engiugh tickets for our family. We could have paid via WeChat pay, but unless your a Chinese national it’s unlikely you’ll have access to a local SIM & attached bank card facility on your big smart phone thatbthe locals all have and carry in their hand or on their ear. Reached locker station but we are in winter so we didn’t have to battle crowds – had the opposite problem though – kids wanted water park not pool but only the Olympic pool was open, not the water park. Lockers outside not in use – paid for pool ticket (first ticket was just to get into facility and some English about not being able to use cash inside – need some kind of wrist band I add a minimum credit to – but that was misleading – we used cash for pool ticket, locker ticket and deep water test. Lockers were inside the male & female separate entries – the whole process feels like all the checkpoints at a Chinese airport or bank to reach the thing you came there to do. Locker tags used a kind of metal RFID tag. Worked well and separate shoe area nice. Locker change area a little tight – ironic given the size of the facility. Waded through freezing outside temperature water on the way from locker/change area to pool area. Must be some kind of foot disinfecting staton. I’m a fairly unfit Aussie, so I can swim and dog paddle but failed the 200m swim test after being asked to dog paddle 30 seconds with my hands raised out of the water. I wore a yellow cap to indicate I was being tested – was worn over my own cap that was required – no personal head cap, no entry. The lady testing me made no bones about me failing the test – being an Aussie the only thing hurt was my pride – in Oz we don’t have such a strict protocol for deep water use – they were obviously testing fitness as well as swimming ability. Staying afloat with a dig paddle doesn’t cut it. Might be acceptable in Oz but “this is China” as staff will be quick to tell you in admonishing your boldness in daring to ask questions about it. Actually one of my kids passed the test – if my wife told me about the 200m I would have prepared myself – she was only told about the dog paddle by the locker checkpoint so she was as in the dark as I was that left me unprepared. After telling my daughter what’s involved, and a warm up, she passed no problems. I could have passed doing a slow crawl breaststroke – as long as I don’t stop they were appearing not to be concerned about speed – but obviously the deep half (sliced longways down the middle with platform on shallow side as you correctly indicate) they intend for the deep side to be used by those intending to swim not just play & float. Besides, they are not going to tolerate horse play with bomb dives in the deep part, so it was a bit really an option for me unless I was prepared to just swim without people milling around getting in the way. In the end I spent my two hours of ticket value on the raised platform side – and put paid to failed effort and 10 yuan test fee (must be the low season fee?) and swam 4 laps around the people swimming on the shallow side. As I’m 2m tall (yes, taxis are a squeeze, playing around on the shallow side was a bit like standing in a Japanese public bath with clothes on – not much to do but lie in the water! The eating area was nice – many shops shut but KFC was open and nice after the swim. There was a virtual reality demo of the 2022 Winter Olympics and free to try after registering on WeChat – we don’t have sims as they’re hard to get for foreigners apparently but the lady was happy to enable WaterCube WiFi with her password on our smart phones to endorse their website on our WeChat and watch the VR of the 2022 games for free – basically we sat in pods with headphones & VR goggles for 5 minutes & it showed the main pool being converted into an ice rink. Photos were taken looking over the large space with banner for 2022 games & the Chinese flag. Don’t think I saw any Olympic Rings except one official location in the whole building. Photos turned to key rings were free and 5 nicely laminated photos & holders set us back 100 yuan + 5 free key rings. Compared to Oz or NZ tourist photo prices I thought that was an absolute steal. Overall an interesting experience – the pool definitely felt and looked chlorinated, and I thought 4 life guards with few people in the pool was overkill – they were not dressed to jump in water at a moment’s notice either – funny. I’m used to Oz where it’s all about hiring as few people as possible to save money, so there’s always minimal staff. Here there’s someone watching you at every turn. I thought I locker station wanted me to scan a fingerprint scanner but thankfully she put that one away.

    • Laurence Rietberg

      Just to add a few more interesting points – the hair drying station back out in the locker checkpoint space (next to unused lockers) was nice & popular – with only one available hair dryer one obvious local in the know brought her own that she plugged in and out to do her hair and not wait for other girls to finish.

      Funny with all the attendants watching you at every step, a door was open next to the hair drying station that looked like the exit – except there was no Chinese exit signage. Where you most need English it seems the locals are having a joke and don’t provide it. But having somewhere is perhaps for their defence should you ever feel the need to complain about a lack of English signage. Ironically it was one door that had no attendant but was wide open. It confused a couple of people trying to find the exit – so much about the way in seems very man-trap like that it is easy to forget the exit is up the same stairs you came down. Couldn’t see a lift anywhere in sight – I guess there is one somewhere obscure for spectators in wheelchairs?

      The door it turns out led to “VIP room”. No VIPs around but why the door was wide open is just another oddity to add to one’s Iong list of funny Chinese oddities forming ones Chinese cultural experience.

      The cotton buds on the locker checkpoint circular counter (like a big prostate with male and female entries on each side) were a nice feature but I waited 10 minutes for a scavenger to use a pair of long tongs to collect cash reclaimable recyclables out of the bin as the locker checkpoint bin cleaning guard questioned his desire in fishing out one by one the pieces out of the deep bin. All the while held my used bud (made with rigid wood of the local variety with generous cotton wool, not the soft plastic variety) so as to not be rude and dump my used one past the scavengers face as yet another bit of rubbish to get in the way of his fishing out recyclables.

      The free VR display had the added advantage of giving us free Wifi in the Cube to check our email and surf the web while we are our KFC. And finally – I should praise KFC that amazingly had freshly ground coffee – hard to find in Beijing (and I don’t count Starbucks as the real deal). Was nice after a swim!

  17. Tom

    Heya, just to say that I read this whilst in Beijing, and was successfully able to swim in the cube – never thought it would have been possible! Doing the deep water test was funny 🙂 Pool was a bit busy, and the etiquette was terrible (slow breaststrokers in the fastest lane pushing off just before I flip etc), but still a fantastic experience, so thanks for writing this!