I’m slightly obsessed with picnics. The tiny sausage rolls, dappled sunshine, bubbled beverages, a blatant disregard for tables, communal pots of hummus, relaxed laughter and did I mention miniature scotch eggs? As the seasons turn, I’m already planning a little dining en plein air – so thought it was only fair to share 9 of the best secret picnic spots in London that I’ve found so far!
I’m someone who used to keep a picnic blanket under her office desk (for sunshine emergency situations you understand), when I went freelance I bought my phone plan specifically so I can use it as a laptop hot spot in blossoming gardens and I may or may not have a bottle opener on my key ring. Case in point: my autumnal picnic above – I’ll take literally any excuse to unroll one of my many picnic blankets.
Over the years we’ve discovered that there are a few classic places that are lovely to visit, but not so ideal for picnicking – like Primrose Hill – unless you’re prepared to walk for ages or try to stop bottles rolling downhill or St James Park – it’s just too little really. This list of the 9 of the best secret picnic spots in London have all passed the Emma picnic test with flying colours.
There are a few things to remember; sunscreen is necessary – all us blue-hued Londoners don’t tend to suit lobster red, take napkins and hand wash, gather a decent amount of drinks and if you want to make friends, carry a bottle opener. The beauty of picnics is that they can be as simple as a loaf of bread and a selection of salads, or a complicated confection of champagne, caviar and silver tined forks.
Top tip: asses each and every patch of grass for the longevity of sunshine (nb: a picnic specific unit of measurement) before laying down your picnic blanket.
1. Bow Creek Ecology Park
Just escaping the shadow of Canary Wharf’s glass and concrete towers lays this U-shaped nature reserve near Canning Town station. Wildflowers now cover what was an ironworks, shipyard and coal wharf. A DLR track carrying commuters almost cuts the ecology park in half and adds to the surreal peace of being able to watch the rush of the city from a distance.
2. The Barbican Conservatory
Who knew that such Brutalist architecture in central London hid a multi-level tropical forest? The Barbican Conservatory is more of a ‘take a sandwich and grab a corner bench’ than ‘unroll your picnic blanket’ kind of spot, but it’s a great spot for a work day picnic. Free to enter, the large conservatory is allegedly the second biggest in London and is home to exotic fish and over 2,000 species of tropical plants and trees. The residential estate itself was originally built to replace housing destroyed in the Second World War and also houses a labyrinthine layout of an arts building.
3. Postman’s Park
A short walk from St Paul’s Cathedral lies one of London’s most touching monuments: George Frederic Watts’s ‘Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice‘. Within the quiet Postman’s Park, nestled beneath a tiled roof, are just over 50 ceramic plaques, each commemorating an ordinary person who lost their life trying to save others. Many of the descriptions are truly heartbreaking, and you can easily spend an entire lunch break contemplating their selflessness. There’s also a free app called ‘The Everyday Heroes of Postman’s Park‘, which you can use to learn more about each individual memorialised on the monument.
4. Red Cross Garden
Originally intended to give Southwark children from nearby tenements a space to play, this Victorian garden has been restored to its original design, complete with pond, cottage, bandstand and formal borders. It’s an important fixture in the capital’s social reform history. While relaxing in the restored bandstand, gazing up at the glass prism of the Shard it’s hard to imagine the view back in 1887 when it was surrounded by workhouses, factories and slum dwellings. Fact of the day: Red Cross Garden founder Octavia Hill went on to co-found the National Trust.
5. Kensington Park
The last time I visited Kensington Palace Park with friends was all very last minute on a Friday. At 12.20pm, one of us messages to confirm our cinema date. By 12.32pm we had binned that thought entirely (we hadn’t gotten around to booking the tickets anyway) at the mention of the picnic blanket that I keep under my desk for emergency sunshine occasions, and arranged to convene at High Street Kensington Station as soon as we could sneak away from our screen-based obligations. Armed only with said picnic blanket, a glimmer in our eyes at the thought of sunshine and our bank cards, we swanned into one of the local supermarkets and shopped away.
6. St Dunstan-in-the-East.
The thick stone walls of this bombed-out medieval church near Aldgate have been almost smothered by nature and it makes for a curiously peaceful experience within the throb of the City. Leaves, vines and branches poke, cling and climb to this Grade I listed ruin. Perfect for atmospheric folk/prog-rock band photos and some quality daydreaming. Beware: this can be an Instagram hot spot.
7. Anywhere in Richmond Park
When you live in London for a long time as an expat or a Bow bells local, it’s easy to forget just how amazing Richmond Park is. Sitting amongst the trees, soft mossy grounds and groups of deer wandering through completely uninterested in the spellbound humans, Richmond Park on the ancient edge of Surrey is my absolute favourite on the outskirts of London…
8. Soho Square
Straight off Oxford Street, this is one of my favourite spots to escape the chaos that is central London.
9. Hampstead Hill Garden and Pergola
Thousands wander across Hampstead Heath’s wild and undulating parkland every year, but very few discover this eerie and elegant pocket of faded grandeur on the West Heath. Built by Lord Leverhulme at the start of the twentieth century as a setting for his extravagant parties, it includes impressive gardens and a dramatic elevated walkway, where overhanging plants create a lush canopy and tangled roots twist around smooth stone columns. A little window into the world of the Edwardian super-rich.
Has this post inspired you to explore a little more of London? I can thoroughly recommend these 10 traditional picnic spots in London, I utterly adored Chiswick House and Gardens, Greenwich – the home of time, possessing a myriad of historic royal links and panoramic views of London, cast off your responsibilities for a wander through St James Park, or while away an hour or two in between brunches and afternoon teas in one of these secret London places that tourists miss.
Or, sit at your desk and stare at a screen. Entirely up to you…
What are your favourite green spaces?
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