Beijing National Aquatics Center (The Water Cube) | 国家游泳中心（水立方）
Beijing, Beijing Province, CHINA (PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF)
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I swam in the fast lane and most swimmers were doing slow breast stroke. It was not terribly satisfying swimming, I was always running into people who wouldn't yield. Slower swimmers didn't wait at the wall but began swimming s-l-o-o-o-o-w-l-y just as I reached the wall. Maybe one of 60 people was swimming free in the whole pool.
The pool was beautiful and it was a thrill to experience the facility. But beware - if you're a fast swimmer and want to knock out a real workout, you can forget it - at least the day I was there.
Entering the swimming center costs 30 yuan (about $5) just to look around, and there's not that much to see. Actually swimming costs an additional 30 yuan or 60 yuan total (~$9). The opening times are very confusing and I'm still not sure what they are; no one spoke any English so I was at the mercy of the translation app on my phone to try to decode the signs. (The sign on the door said 9 AM to 9 PM, while the website said 12:30 to 9 PM, and the ticket I bought said 12:30 to 7:30 PM... but people were still swimming at 8 PM). You can buy tickets at the booth right outside (I had to do a lot of gesticulating to indicate that I wanted a swimming ticket as opposed to a visitor ticket). You have to pass through a metal detector to enter the building.
The competition pool (Pool 1) was not open for general swimming, but you could go into the bleachers and take pictures, etc.
The warm up pool (Pool 2) is the one that was open. As others have said, it has been divided lengthwise, with five 50m lanes that are about three to four feet deep, and five 50m lanes that are about six feet deep. You need to pass a swim test (consisting of two minutes of treading water and then 200m of swimming) to use the deep lanes. You can either pay 30 yuan plus bring a passport photo to get a permanent certification, or you can pay 10 yuan ($1.50) to take the test and be allowed in for just one day. (Pay the locker room attendant and then give the receipt to the lifeguard stationed near the deep lanes). Swimming caps are required, but I didn't see any sign of the medical exam that other reviews have mentioned.
Based on the other reviews, I was expecting to have a frustrating swim, but the pool was not too crowded at 6 PM on a weekday -- maybe three to five people per lane. Most were swimming slow breast strokes, but were very courteous and allowed me to pass. I had a really pleasant swim, actually. The water was cold by my standards (white board said 25ºC [77ºF]).
The facility itself is beautiful, especially at night when the outside of the building lights up in colors, which you can see from the inside because the walls and ceiling are translucent. The locker rooms were clean and had an electronic lock system. The bathroom area connected to the locker room, on the other hand, was filthy -- smelly, dirty walls, etc. It didn't make any sense because the rest of the facility seemed so well maintained.