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After months of lockdown and restricted movement, you’re probably a bit tired of your local parks by now. So why not cast your net a little wider and seek out one of these impressive picnic spots in the London area.
Some of these locations might sound a little, well, obvious at first blush, but we’ll lead you to a few spots you might not be aware of.
The leafy park is well known for its views over central London and Canary Wharf. The old observatory marks the top of the most famous hill. But this one’s full of tourists. For a much quieter picnic, and views just as spectacular, head to the eastern end of the park. Here, another peak gazes out on North Greenwich, giving exceptional views of the O2, river and cable car. If you’re not fussed about the view, some of the nearby lower sections of the park are almost always free of people, and peppered with mature trees to boot.
Another pretty obvious one, but the Heath cannot be overlooked as one of London’s premier league picnic spots. Crowds flock to Parliament Hill which is celebrated for its views of Westminster and the City, but the Heath holds many other exceptional places to spread out the blanket. My tips would be to head to what’s known as the Tumulus in the middle of the Heath (it’s marked on most maps). This small hillock was once thought to be an Iron Age barrow, but no evidence has ever been found. The views here are only of the Heath, but it is a much quieter part of the open space. I’ve often observed kestrels circling and diving, away from the human bustle. The other top spot on Hampstead Heath is up towards Highgate, a little west of Kenwood House. This area commands stunning views towards the City. You’ll probably be sharing the aspect with others, but it’s nowhere near as crowded as Parliament Hill.
Evidence that you're not the first to think of picnicking on Richmond Hill.
Over to the west of town, Richmond Hill affords such stunning views of the Thames that it’s been painted by the likes of Turner. The choice views are on the slopes west of King Henry’s Mound and down towards Petersham. However, if you want to be closer to the river, try the Terrace Gardens just south of the town centre. (Thirsty parents can also nip up to the excellent Roebuck nearby, which must have the best views of any pub in London.)
St James’s Park
The Royal Park is not on a hill, but it is extraordinarily and uniquely picturesque. The park contains some of London’s most vibrant flowerbeds. Couple this with an ornamental lake, views of Buckingham Palace and Horseguards, some very tame squirrels and a trio of actual, real, live pelicans, and you have a park with much to offer the family of picnickers. The southern end of the park is the quietest, and also has some very attractive (and massive) mature plane trees to gawp at. Look out, too, for soldiers marching past on Birdcage Walk.
Quite possibly south London’s most attractive park, Brockwell’s got it all. Lido, miniature railway, mature trees, BMX track, ponds, excellent playground and -- for present purposes -- a stunning view of central London. Don’t be scared off by the lack of tube, either. Nearby Herne Hill station has very regular trains into central London.
Crystal Palace Park
South London’s other main contender for best all-round park must be this slightly larger open space. Generations of kids have got all giddy over the dinosaurs (only 4 of which are actually dinosaurs!). It also has a hedge maze, statue of Guy the Gorilla, sports centre, skatepark and playground. The best place for a picnic, though, is up on the terraces that once supported the Crystal Palace itself. The vast building burned down in 1936, but small fragments remain here and there (make it a game to track them down). This is the highest point in the park, with lovely views over south London.
Chiswick & Hammersmith
And finally, we need a spot beside the Thames. Forget central London -- it’s too crowded for a picnic, and most of the riverfront is taken up with buildings or concrete walkway. Head west, however, and much of the Thames path, from Putney onwards, is calm and green. One of the best spots to settle is on the north bank at Duke’s Meadow (Chiswick) or anywhere along the promenade that leads from the meadow to Barnes Bridge. A quiet series of terraces seem custom made for those with picnic hampers. The only downside is that you’re a long walk from the nearest supermarket if you run out of finger food. Furnivall Gardens in Hammersmith is an alternative if you want a patch of grass by the river that is closer to shops and transport.
Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.