Picnicking in London
Ah, London in Summer. Or perhaps I should say “Ah, London when it’s above 10 degrees”. Out come the fair-weather runners, the frisbee-flinging city boys and the hordes of picnickers taking up every inch of grass on the lawns. The good weather invigorates the city with an infectious energy, prompting droves of lads and lasses to take to the park, coolbox in one arm and beach ball in the other. Picnic season is truly upon us. And what better way to celebrate it than by giving you the lowdown on our favourite al fresco dining spots? Have a read and you’ll be munching figs and feeling the grass between your toes in no time. Click on the bold titles for links to locations on Google Maps.
This mountain (by London’s standards) just above Regent’s Park in north London is the traditional picnicker’s choice for an afternoon laze about in the sun. It’s famous for stunning views over the London skyline, so you’ll be in good company as you drink your aperol spritz, purchased from any of the many bars, cafes or supermarkets just minutes from the base. If you go to any of the places mentioned in this list, let it be Primrose Hill.
The City of London houses many little-known green spaces that are perfect for a surreptitious snack. The Postman’s Park is one of these hidden treats, a lovely spot set in old parish burial grounds. Named for its proximity to the offices of the now-defunct General Post Office, the park is bustling with history and greenery. Just a few streets north of the chaotic St Paul's area, this hidden gem is a relaxing break from the busy city life clattering away nearby. Make sure to check out the memorial to everyday heroes, installed over a century ago and still being added to.
Holland Park is a gorgeous open space in west London filled with sports pitches, the remains of a Jacobean mansion house, a cafe, a youth hostel, all manner of wild and tame animals and - most importantly - a Japanese garden. This delightful spot has koi carp swimming in a pond beneath a waterfall, peacocks roaming free and charming Japanese-style landscaping and horticulture. A great place, then, to quaff saki and contemplate zen.
A favourite of young east Londoners, London Fields atop Broadway Market is teeming with street life whenever the sun is out. It’s one of the few parks where barbecues are permitted (begrudgingly) and there’s a swimming pool, pubs, bars and restaurants all within a couple of minutes’ walk. There’s plenty of space but it fills up quickly, so do expect to brush shoulders with other pleasure-seekers. And if you’re looking for a way to shed a few calories after your extravagant lunch, join a game of pick-up at the central basketball court.
Regent’s Park is surely one of the most well-stocked parks in the country. Boasting a zoo, a university, a canal, sports pitches and flower gardens, it’s a tremendously popular place to spend a sunny afternoon. One part in particular attracts the attention of picnickers: the open air theatre in the south-west of the grounds. Here, you can take along your own food and drink and enjoy some gory Elizabethan drama, or purchase a drink a from the longest bar in London running the length of the stalls. Tickets aren’t free, but for the charms of the stalls, they’re worth the price.
A day trip to the site of a former chemicals factory might not be high up in your to-do list, but the strange beauty of Thames Barrier Park will change your mind. Situated in the regenerated Docklands area and overlooking the monumental tidal barrier that keeps Londoners dry in the event of a storm surge, the ultra modern park offers an intriguing and contemplative experience with sculpture-like fountains and peculiar gardening structures. It’s almost an art gallery, but you can eat a packed lunch without being reprimanded by a curator.
In an ancient district of central London populated by wigged barristers and medieval churches lies a serene garden walled in from the rest of the city on the bank of the Thames. Walk along Fleet Street and down past the 18th century mansions lining the passages and find a remote spot of calm, beautiful on a sunny day with the many trees providing dappled shade. Park up under an oak, have a cup of tea and think of England. Lubly Jubly.
In 2012 London hosted the Olympic Games and an entire new district of the city was reformed and reborn. Stratford, which you can see from almost anywhere in east London thanks to its snaking red steel Orbit Tower, has benefitted from the millions of pounds invested as part of the legacy of the games and is now a very pleasant area to walk and relax. Surrounded by the towering swimming, athletics and boxing arenas, the Olympic park can feel rather surreal, but this only adds to its charm. Nearby are various other sites of interest, such as the Westfield shopping centre, up-and-coming Hackney Wick and the canal and Lea river, leading the Olympic Park to become a local favourite for families and revellers alike. But be sure to check on the footy results on game days as West Ham fans leaving their home ground may be a little high-spirited after a win.