Come rain or shine, picnics are a British speciality. On a sunny day, Londoners head in their droves to the city’s green parks determined to make the most of the weather, picnic baskets in tow.
And why not? Thanks to the Victorians, London has wide open spaces, packed with wildlife right in the heart of the bustling city. Whether it’s a park run, a gourmet picnic or an evening of classical music, join us for a tour round London’s very best parks and picnic spots which the locals would rather we kept a secret…
Tips for picnicking in London
There’s nothing better than eating delicious food, washed down with a glass of something cold, with the warm sun on your face and a background hum of children playing or bands performing.
But the British weather isn’t always reliable, so it is always a good idea to set off prepared. Bring waterproof jackets just in case and plenty of blankets to lie down on and wrap up with once the sun goes down.
And there is the important question of what to eat.
Banish ideas of eating soggy sandwiches and lukewarm drinks — we think everybody should picnic in style. But how?
Looking to the past, cookery icon Mrs Beeton, writing in her book Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, suggests that a picnic menu should include treats like roast duck, sponge cakes, veal and ham pies or perhaps a Christmas pudding (she included the caveat that that it ‘must be good’).
The street food trend is very popular in London and can provide you with warm and scrumptious sustenance for your picnic.
If you want to put your own picnic together, you can curate your own hamper with simple but delicious cold meats, cheeses and something sweet from a local bakery. And the most important thing when drinking Champagne or white wine is keeping it cool. So make investing in a good cooler part of your preparations.
Alternatively, Fortnum and Mason and Harvey Nichols do wonderful ready-made hampers full of hand-picked goodies.
And remember, just because you’re eating outdoors doesn’t mean you have to forego good crockery, glassware and cutlery. It makes the food taste so much more delicious than eating out of a Tupperware box with a plastic fork.
A short history of London’s Parks
The Victorians were fascinated by nature and botany. But along with the progress the Industrial Revolution brought came a lot of pollution, and they became concerned about the damage it was doing to their favourite flora — and people’s health.
In response, several rich philanthropists created public parks which allowed everyone to experience a slice of nature while working in the city. These same parks are still enjoyed by Londoners today.
London’s most impressive parks (known as the Royal Parks), such as St James’ Park and Regent’s park were created as private grounds for royalty, and only opened up to the public later on.
Then there are the little pockets of green space tucked away in corners of the city which were built by rich aristocrats to breathe in some fresh air in between trips to their country residences. Many of these, along with expertly designed landscaped gardens at stately homes, are open for public enjoyment.
Where to picnic: London’s best green spaces
• Alexandra Park
Between 10am and 3pm every Sunday, you can catch the award-winning Alexandra Palace Farmers’ Market which showcases London’s best suppliers. You’ll have the freshest locally-sourced picnic basket in London, which you can enjoy in the spot of your choice in this sprawling 196 acre park.
• Holland Park
If you’re craving some tranquility in your day, the serenity at the Kyoto Gardens in Holland Park is just what the doctor ordered. Created by Japanese landscape architects, you’ll be lulled into a relaxed state by the sound of the waterfalls and the koi carp bobbing up and down in the pond.
• Waterlow Park
London is one of the busiest and most exciting cities in the world, but that also means that space is at a premium and not everyone has the luxury of having a garden at home.
Waterlow Park was bequeathed to the public by Sir Sidney Waterlow as a ‘garden for the gardenless’ and is a favourite picnic spot for Londoners craving some nature. It was even included in Belle about Town’s list of London’s top five secret picnic spots.
• Regents Park
Known as ‘the Jewel in the Crown’, Regents Park is one of London’s Royal Parks and a popular spot for outdoor events, a game of cricket or a lazy picnic.
Many Londoners might not know this, but tucked away in Regents Park, you can stumble across London’s very own secret garden…
St John’s Lodge and its accompanying landscaped gardens is one of only two villas to have been completed by John Nash, the man who designed Regents Park in the early 19th century. Originally intended to be a private residence, the public can now enjoy the statues, ponds and lime trees in this enchanting hiding place.
• Camley Street Natural Park
The London Wildlife Trust calls Camley Park ‘paradise on your doorstep’, and we can see why.
If you’ve just hopped of the Eurostar on your way to London and are in need of some fresh air, Camley Park is a hotbed of biodiversity and greenery and has a host of community events that take place throughout the year.
• Richmond Park
Photographer Alex Saberi famously captured the changing of the seasons and the unexpected natural wildlife with his stunning shots taken in Richmond Park. From elegant swans in the pond to deer (both red and fallow) and rabbits roaming the park, he’s done a wonderful job of showcasing one of London’s most iconic parks.
• Ham house
You’ll forget you’re in urban London at Ham House, with its elegant landscaped gardens. If it does rain, there are plenty indoor activities which are just as fun: you can enjoy fresh produce grown from their gardens at the Orangery Café or indulge your curiosity with a guided tour of the building.
• Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Catch stage adaptations of To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, The Winter’s Tale and The Sound of Music while picnicking in the open air.
• Proms in the Park
This September, Hyde Park will be filled with the sounds of performances by the BBC Big Band, the BBC Concert orchestra, the Royal Choral Society and more as the Last Night of the Proms celebrations take place. Bring a bottle of wine and a hamper and settle down to an evening of excellent entertainment.
What are your favourite London parks? Why not share your tips for a successful picnic by leaving a comment for us below?