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Picnic in style while watching the opera at Glyndebourne

Have you ever wanted to enjoy a sumptuous picnic while spending an afternoon watching the opera at an idyllic British country house surrounded by people who've dressed up for the occasion? If the answer is yes, you should think about joining the 90,000 other people who enjoy the opera at the Glyndebourne festival every year.

A guide to picnicking at Glyndebourne

Nestled in the beautiful South Downs countryside in East Sussex, a trip to the opera at Glyndebourne is up there with the other classic British summer time events like Henley Royal Regatta or Royal Ascot, albeit this, like Holland Park Opera is definitely an artistic rather than a sporting triumph.

Set up in 1934 by two opera lovers, Glyndebourne has been on a mission ever since to make exceptional opera accessible and affordable to everyone, as well as to nurture young talent.

You can either opt for the full Glyndebourne experience by attending one of the 70 plus performances at the main festival which runs from May to August every year or try to catch one of the events on the tour.

The tour has run from October to December every year since 1964. Starting off at Glyndebourne it brings opera to more than 55,000 people around the country, taking in eight towns including Canterbury, Milton Keynes, Liverpool, Woking and Norwich. 

How do I picnic at Glyndebourne?

In the garden, of course! Glyndebourne is one of those quintessential British events that is famed as much for the style in which people take part as for the exceptional quality of the event itself.

Unfurling your picnic rug in the gardens and tucking in to your picnic alfresco style while dressed up in your best evening wear is as integral to the overall experience as the opera itself.

People picnicking in the garden at Glyndebourne opera

No holds barred, some of the picnics are exceptional affairs laid out on the finest picnic blankets with silver cutlery and crystal decanters. Bottles of bubbly, fine Burgundy and the very best of Bordeaux are consumed alongside elegantly put together plates of classic British summer time cuisine. Plates of smoked salmon, coronation chicken and summer pudding, all on display.

The doors to Glyndebourne normally open after 13.00, with most performances starting around 15.00. Broadly speaking, your dining options are as follows:

1. Bring your own picnic and find a spot in the gardens.

Turn up after 13.00 and pick a spot to lay out your picnic blanket and hamper before waiting for your guests to arrive or have a walk around the grounds. Click here for a map and list of the different locations in the garden.

Picnicking in the gardens at Glyndebourne festival

2.  Pre-order a picnic from Leith's, the on-site caterers.

They normally have two picnic options: the Leith's picnic, an all inclusive alfresco dining experience including furniture and a porter for around £54.00 per head; and the Garden picnic, an informal picnic experience with shared treats for around £39.95 per head.

Click here for more detail.

Click here for the all important wine list.

If you're looking for a hamper to take along as a gift to a picnic you've been invited to, then we recommend you take a look at the Little Yorkshire Hamper company. They've got some really nice selections of predominantly locally sourced produce (obviously the Prosecco comes from Italy) that can be bought online.

For some extra tips and ideas to help you plan the perfect picnic, check out our 10 picnic hacks for some ideas and useful bits of equipment.

What to do if it rains?

Essentially there are three 'covered' options available to you.

There is a free to use marquee with a limited number of tables and chairs that accommodates up to 200 people located next to the car park, so convenient for ferrying your goods back and forth from the car.

You can book a place for £10 per head in the Garden Marquee which is located in the Orchard. Call the Box office on +44 (0)1273 815 000.

On the Upper Circle level in the theatre itself, there are also a small number of tables suitable for picnics available on a first come first served basis, so not a banker! The organisers recommend bringing your own fold up tables and chairs to avoid disappointment as this area can get very busy, especially if the weather turns for the worst.

When can I eat?

This is the easy part and not dissimilar to arranging meals during performances at other opera venues like Covent Garden Opera House.

Typically, once you've arrived and set up, you can start serving hors d'oeuvres before the performance starts with a view to settling down to your main course during the 90 minute interval.

If you are planning to attend one of the tour venues in the autumn, intervals are typically only 20 minutes with people dining either before or after the performance.

If you are one of those people that is liable to get carried away by the atmosphere and lose all sense of timing, don't worry as there are a series of clearly audible bell calls: ten, five and three minutes to mark the start of the performance and end of the interval.

I've heard it's smart. What should I wear?

Most people attending the festival wear formal evening dress, which is a tradition that was encouraged by the founder John Christie as a way for the audience to show its respect for the performers.

However, don't forget you are in England, so come prepared with some stylish cold and wet weather protection: blankets, jackets etc, as the show must go on...

Likewise, the gardens are just that, beautifully manicured soil and grass, so make sure you bring footwear that doesn't leave you stranded in the lawn like a croquet hoop!

Flat shoes...

How to buy tickets

Public booking opens online on Sunday 3 March, 2019 at 18.00.

You can buy tickets online or by phoning up the box office. While some tickets are undoubtedly pricey at around £235, there are some bargains on offer with standing tickets in the stalls on offer for around £15. If you are a younger opera fan between 16 - 29, there is also the option of joining the Glyndebourne under 30 scheme to be eligible for priority tickets at around £30.

A top tip from seasoned Glyndebourne goers is to phone up the box office on a regular basis to check for last minute returns +44 (0)1273 815 000. We have also been advised that while tickets tend to sell out quickly, there are normally tickets available throughout the summer festival season.

The theatre at Glyndebourne opera

How do I get there?

By far the easiest way to get there is by car, especially if you are bringing a picnic hamper and associated furniture. Failing that, you can join fellow opera goers on the hour-long train journey from London Victoria to Lewes station. What's wrong with getting into the spirit early? There are even free coaches laid on between the station and Glyndebourne.



Credits and photos: Many thanks to the organisers at Glyndbourne for allowing us to use the photos in this article. Photo credits to: Sam Stephen and Leigh Simpson.

If you enjoyed our guide, you may be interested in browsing our extensive collection of pure new wool and recycled wool picnic blankets, perfect for taking with you to Glyndebourne.