Seven Of The Best Picnic-Friendly Cities
Parc Des Buttes Chaumont, Paris. Photograph by Kiev.Victor/Shutterstock
The top spots to enjoy an alfresco lunch in the urban jungle.
Summer is a time of relaxation and renewal, a time to lean back, take the weight off and escape the cares of the day-to-day for a week or two. The only problem is, with limited holiday, we don’t always have time to lean back, take the weight off and hop on a flight to Andalucía. Lots of us are chained to our desks, sweating and harrumphing and praying for our lunch hour, let alone the weekend. In those instances, you need to take your pleasures where you can. You need to find a place of relaxation in the city. That is where the picnic comes in. Food, wine, sun, a bit of grass between your toes… It’s the closest lots of us will get to a period of calm. And who doesn’t want to spend some time outdoors with friends, good food and wine? Picnics are one of the great boons of summer – you don’t need a beach to make memories. So, to help those of us who are stuck in the city, or who just want an idea for how to spend our lunchtimes, we have found the best places to picnic across the globe.
Richmond Park, London
Richmond Park, London. Photograph by Mr Simon Quinn
Richmond Park began life as a deer park for Charles I, he whose head was unceremoniously removed. His court came here to escape the plague that was ravaging London in 1625. Stand in the middle of the park and you see the wisdom of his plan. It is colossally big, some 2,500 acres in total, its endless grassland being broken only by the odd thicket or house, where various major generals or minor members of the royal family are billeted. Sharing the place with them are its real residents, the fallow deer. Their presence and its proximity to town make it an extraordinary place for a picnic. Take the train 30 minutes from the centre and you find yourself in an oasis of calm that seems more like the rolling countryside of Sussex or Devon than southwest London. The best place for a picnic is the ornamental woodland in the area known as the Isabella Plantation. When all is said and done, if it was good enough for haughty Charles I, then it is good enough for us to play rounders in.
What to pack in your hamper: a healthy Tonno e Fagioli white bean and tuna salad from Albert’s Deli in Richmond.
What to wear
Villa Borghese gardens, Rome
Photograph by Mr Frank Bach/123rf
Rome is great. We love its beautiful-people-filled streets, its wonderful trattorias, even its preferred method of transport – the Vespa – is cool, but one can actually have too much of a good thing. In the Eternal City that is OK, because you can always retreat to the Villa Borghese. It may be the third largest park in Rome, but this 197-acre space is by far the most charming. It began life as the gardens of the hard-living Cardinal Scipione Borghese’s party villa on the edge of the city, though nowadays partying is discouraged. Lounging, however, not to mention a picnic next to the lake with its Temple of Aesculapius island in the middle, is positively encouraged. Plus, when you’ve finished, you can go and visit the collection of Mr Gian Bernini statues built up by the cardinal, who was a patron of the arts and a Roman big wig aside from anything else, in the villa itself. Be sure to book in advance.
What to pack in your hamper: cold pasta from Mama Pasta on Via del Moro.
What to wear
Rockaway Beach, New York
Photograph by Mr Julian Walter/Offset
Ms Patti Smith eulogised Rockaway Beach in her memoir M Train. “The transformation of the heart is a wondrous thing, no matter how you land there,” she wrote, a tad pompously, on falling in love with the place. At any rate, when you arrive, you can see why she’s such a fan. Jump on a $2.75 ferry from Lower Manhattan, alight at Rockaway Peninsula in Queens and you find yourself to all intents and purposes in another world. You are now a mere 10 minutes from the golden brown sand of the US’s largest urban beach, the Atlantic air is blowing in your hair and all is well in the world. Find a secluded spot with your partner, lay out your food and pretend you are a million miles from the obligations of the city. If you need any supplies, just head into the small town of Rockaway Park, which skirts the sand.
What to pack in your hamper: ham and Swiss croissants from Rockaway Beach Bakery or go all out with the jalapeño and cheddar-studded scones.
What to wear
Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Paris
Photograph by Mr Joachim Hiltmann/imageBROKER/REX/Shutterstock
When Parisians say, “Let’s go to the park,” they usually mean a small street square with a corner of turf and a sign saying “Keep off the grass” and that’s fine, because the most majestic city in the world can’t have it all. But, that said, there is one exception to the rule – Buttes Chaumont, a 61-acre park in the northeast of Paris in the 19th arrondissement. There is endless green, a beautiful artificial lake and even a replica of the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, arranged on a 50m-high cliff, all of which were created by Mr Jean-Charles Alphand for the Universal Exposition in 1867. To traverse this green and pleasant land is to be amazed that, until the mid-19th century, this place had the most sinister of reputations, being both a refuse dump and excruciatingly close to the place where Paris put the bodies of its criminals. That’s quite a history, but quickly forgotten as you open that second bottle of rosé. As night falls, leave the families behind and head to the hip hangouts of Rosa Bonheur or Pavillon Puebla, which are both open until midnight.
What to pack in your hamper: a bottle of something agreeable that you have picked up from Lavinia in Opéra and transported with due reverence to the park in a cool box.
What to wear
Tempelhofer Feld, Berlin
Photograph by Mr Oleksandr Prykhodko/Alamy
Once upon a time, Templehof was one of the Big Three European airports, along with the now defunct Croydon Airport and private jet port Le Bourget in Paris. Unlike Croydon, Templehof saw off wars, both hot and cold, and the fall of the Berlin Wall, only being retired in 2008, much to the chagrin of some Berliners. Still, that is all ancient history now, as the whole, vast edifice has been turned into a recreational ground known as Tempelhofer Feld. Nowadays, 200,000 Berliners visit the park to cycle, skate and fly kites (yes, it’s a thing). Though, with its vast, beautiful, brutalist structures, we prefer to just sit in the Columbiaquartier and enjoy this microcosm of Berlin life.
What to pack in your hamper: a smoky tofu sandwich and a smoothie from New Deli Yoga in Kreuzberg, because, frankly, you probably need some health-giving food after a night (and probably day) out in Berlin.
What to wear
Shinjuku Gyoen, Tokyo
Photograph by Mr Tom Bonaventure/Getty Images
Often visitors to Tokyo are drawn to the many delights of Yoyogi Park and, though we like the place, it comes an easy second to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in our book, because it is so much more sedate. Just jump on the JR Yamanote line to Shinjuku and walk east down Kōshū Kaidō and you see it, an oasis of rice in a city of concrete and glass. Entry costs $2, which may at first rankle – until you see the formal French Garden, the landscaped English Garden, the Japanese Garden with a teahouse and the Taiwanese pavilion, all of which are perfect distractions for when you have eaten your sushi and can’t quite bear to go back into the real world.
What to pack in your hamper: sushi, lots of it, from Itamae Sushi.
What to wear
Wendy’s Secret Garden, Sydney
Photograph by Mr Robert Polmear
Where now there is a beautiful patch of green in the almost suburban Lavender Bay, there was not long ago a piece of derelict railway land. Unloved and full of rubbish, it was overlooked by the house of Ms Wendy Whiteley, who was married to the artist Mr Brett Whiteley. On his death, she funnelled her grief into creating a public monument for him – a secret garden. And what a job she did. With its winding pathways, battalion of sculptures and picnic benches, it is a leafy haven in a modern metropolis. Sydney is not lacking in green spaces, but none has quite the peace, or the pathos, of this little patch of green.
What to pack in your hamper: the to-die-for lemon meringue tart from Jean Louis Joseph and a good book.