Best picnic spots in the City of London
The City of London probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind for a picnic, but on closer inspection London’s Square Mile is peppered with perfectly manicured green oases, perfect for unfurling a picnic blanket.
What’s more, most of them are hiding in plain sight, somehow ignored by the thousands of tourists and city workers who hurry past on a daily basis.
There’s something strangely cathartic about separating yourself from the throng to grab ten minutes basking in the sun (no it doesn't always rain in England) while admiring the striking contemporary architecture juxtaposed with some of the city's most important historic buildings. There are few places in the world where it is possible to observe such rich cultural and historic diversity in such close proximity.
In this guide, we're going to reveal our five favourite city picnic spots and provide some clues as to their origins. From medieval city walls to the fire of London, bombed out churches and ancient burial grounds, we're going to take you on a whistle stop tour of some of the most unlikely alfresco dining locations. Diamonds among the chaos of one of the world's busiest capital cities, each with its own unique story.
If you're unfamiliar with the City of London, it's worth taking a moment to provide some background. The City of London is in fact a very special borough of Greater London. So special that it has an independent police force, government and its own Mayor. You'll know you're in the city by the two silver cast iron dragons and red that adorn the numerous bollards and signposts, as well as the police men's helmets. The City of London traces its origins back around two thousand years to a settlement called Londinium which was established by the Romans in 43 AD.
Although its inhabitants refer to it as the 'square mile' it is actually about two square miles in size, stretching from the Tower of London to Temple along the north side of the River Thames to Chancery Lane in the west and Liverpool Street in the east.
1. Roman Fort Gate
Located next to the Museum of London and along London Wall, our first picnic spot provides access to the Roman fort ruins and views of the iconic 1960s Barbican, which is now a Grade II listed building. You can access the gardens from London Wall by taking the road that leads to the underground car park beneath the museum and taking the small unassuming path shown below.
You can walk around the Roman Fort's western gate, the back of which is shown below, that used to be patrolled by Roman sentries as they controlled access to the west of the city. This is one of the few above ground locations where you can see the Fort ruins. Much of the rest is either in the Museum of London or in the car park beneath.
When visiting the gardens it is impossible to miss the Barbican Centre. Love it or hate it, there are plenty of people who do both, it is definitely worth a look. You can even find a spot with views over one of its famous water features and you might be luck enough to spot some of the rather large goldfish.
This is by far our favourite spot, given its proximity to one of the most ancient parts of the City as well as some of the newest architecture. Plenty of space for a family picnic and ideally situated to combine with a visit to the City of London Museum.
2. Postman's Park
Postman's park gets its name from the postmen and women who used to work at the General Post Office next door and spent their lunch breaks relaxing there. Who can blame them. The park provides a wonderful sanctuary from the busy surroundings.
It's also famous for the Watts memorial, which was built in 1900 by the painter and philanthropist GF Watts as a tribute to the 'heroic men and women' who had made the ultimate sacrifice while saving others.
Glazed Doulton tablets commemorating acts of bravery have been placed along one wall in the park, most detailing lifesaving acts involving children.
The garden also contains a sun dial surrounded by flowerbeds and park benches, as well as a small fountain.
Shaded on all sides by the buildings, Postman's park makes a wonderful picnic spot with plenty of choice, from grassy areas to park benches.
More recently, Postman's Park experienced a renaissance when it featured in the 2004 BAFTA and Golden Globe winning film, Closer. In the film Natalie Portman, playing Alice Ayres, uses one of the names on the Doulton tablets to fabricate a new identity. Click here to view the clip as they discover the park.
3. Saint Dunstan in the east Church Garden
The Church of St Dunstan has had an eventful history. It was originally built by the Saxons, then rebuilt in 950 AD and then rebuilt again by Sir Christopher Wren following the Great Fire of London in 1666.
The remains that you can visit today are what was left after it burned down again during the Blitz in 1941 and include the steeple and tower that Christopher Wren designed in 1700.
Since the Second World War, the structure was left largely untouched until 1967 when the remains were turned into a public garden. Only a stones throw from the Tower of London, it is perfectly secluded spot to enjoy a picnic lunch and read a book before heading back on the tourist trail. Or back to the office:)
We just love the way this beautiful little park is located in the shadow of the Walkie-Talkie, one of the capital's most impressive modern office buildings. Yes, this was the building whose concave glass sides, when first built, concentrated the sun's rays enough to fry eggs on cars parked in the street opposite.
4. Christchurch Greyfriars Church Garden
Now a beautifully tendered City garden, this site was once home to the Franciscan Church of Greyfriars, which was established in 1225 and was the burial ground for many famous people, including four queens.
In common with several city churches, Greyfriars was partially destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666 and then again at the hands of the Luftwaffe during the Blitz in 1940.
The tower that Sir Christopher Wren designed is the only part of the Church that remains today. Thankfully for us, though, the rest of the building's footprint has been redesigned as a garden, which includes an amazing rose garden that was added in 1989. A row of trees marks the position of the nave and box-edged beds show the position of the pews.
On a beautiful day, this is a truly stunning garden, located only a two minute walk from St Paul's Cathedral, Paternoster Square, site of the London Stock Exchange, and also BT's London head office in Newgate.
5. Churchyard of Saint John Zachary
The Churchyard of Saint John Zachary is a beautiful multilevel garden, incorporating areas of grass, gravel, park benches, a fountain and two enormous plain trees.
It is a fantastic piece of garden design, both at street level and below, which creates a wonderful sense of calm right next door to the Lloyds TSB building.
Yet another picnic spot that wouldn't exist if it wasn't for the destructive forces of the past. Destroyed by both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz, the Churchyard of Saint John has been redesigned as a garden on two occasions, winning an award for Best Garden on a Blitz site in 1950.
As well as being a church, the site was the property of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in 1339 who used it as the site of the earliest recorded livery hall.
If you're looking for some ideas to help you plan perfect picnic, why not check out our 10 hacks to ensuring your picnic goes according to plan: everything from ideas to equipment.
Did you enjoy our latest picnic guide? Then you might also enjoy the other articles in this series, which include a guide to picnicking at Glyndebourne opera and Henley Royal Regatta.
If you are looking for a beautiful wool picnic blanket, then please take a look at our collection.