Parks, Gardens And Greens: The Best Al Fresco Lunch Spots In London

By Londonist Staff Last edited 23 months ago
Parks, Gardens And Greens: The Best Al Fresco Lunch Spots In London

The sun is shining, a breeze is blowing, and you're stuck indoors eating a soggy sandwich behind your desk. Let's be honest, it's not the greatest of lunch breaks is it? Which is why we're encouraging you to slip out of the office and munch that packed lunch al fresco, not al desko. Here are some prime spots to catch a bit of sun with your sarnies.

Crossrail Place Roof Garden, Canary Wharf

Open every day to the public during daylight hours, this Roof Garden is a peaceful haven and a far better spot to tuck into a spot of lunch than your desk. Turned on its side, Crossrail Place is taller than the Shard end to end and the space is brimming with exotic plants from across the word, with each quadrant representing a different hemisphere — a nod to the merchant ships that once travelled across the globe to trade in West India Dock. It's covered too, so if it rains, your sarnies won't get soggy.

Cardinal Place, Victoria

Photo by shadow_in_the_water from the Londonist Flickr pool.

Nestled away from the much trodden streets of Victoria, Cardinal Place Roof Garden sits above the hustle and bustle of one of the city’s busiest commuter hubs. The space is ideal for those who are looking for a quick lunch or coffee. They have a Thursday food market too.

St Dunstan-in-the-East, City of London

Photo by Doug from the Londonist Flickr pool.

Created in the 1970s from a bombed out church destroyed during the Blitz, St Dunstan-in-the-East is a garden blessed with sacred peace. Its ruinous surrounds make for the perfect spot to ruminate on the impermanence of everything while you chew on a cheese and onion sandwich from Tesco.

Camden Lock canalside

Photo by Steve Reed from the Londonist Flickr pool.

It's by no means a place for a bit of peace and quiet, but few locations are as good for people watching as Camden Lock. Old punks, crusties, hipsters, rock star wannabes, barges, tourists, suits, old, young, you name it — they're all here. The braver people tip toe across London's last remaining twin lock and sit on the island between the two. As you munch lunch, ponder the fact scenes from James Bond film Spectre, The Interceptor and 24 were shot here.

The Phoenix Garden, Soho

Photo by stevedexteruk from the Londonist Flickr pool.

Home to the West End's only frog population, The Phoenix Garden is a fantastic space to get away from the hustle of Soho. Opened in 1984, it is a natural space, which undergoes very little maintenance — and that's the way they like it. Little-known yet just a minute's walk from Charing Cross Road, it's a true city centre escape. It's also run by volunteers and entirely reliant on donations, so if you do enjoy the garden please consider becoming a 'Friend of the Phoenix'.

Postman's Park, City of London

Photo by Chris from the Londonist Flickr pool.

Located in the Square Mile and squeezed between St Martin's-le-Grand and Little Britain, lies Postman's Park. It so frequently appears on 'best kept secrets in London' lists that this small garden is in reality rather well known, but that doesn't stop it from being a marvellous picnic spot. Flower beds, meandering paths and the City's only handkerchief tree give you plenty to look at while you devour lunch. But the real highlight is taking a wander past the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice – a wall of plaques commemorating individuals who risked their lives in order to save others. More on the history of Postman's Park here.

St Paul's Cathedral, City of London

St Paul's Cathedral. Photo by Sam Codrington.

No seats left in Postman's Park? The area around St Paul's Cathedral is busy, undoubtedly, but there is always a lunch spot to be found. Festival Gardens, wrapping around the sides and rear of the cathedral, has a plentiful supply of benches and low-level walls perfect for a sit-down. But more often than not we find ourselves perched on the steps of St Paul's itself. Sure, you don't get the lush green surrounds, but you have the ultimate tourist-watching spot and it's one hell of a backdrop.

Bunhill Fields, Old Street

Bunhill Fields.

Just down the road from Old Street station, this City Road cemetery comprises of 1.6 hectares and is a must for history buffs. An estimated 120,000 bodies are buried here, including the likes of Daniel Defoe, Susannah Wesley (John Wesley's mum), Eleanor Coade, John Bunyan and William Blake. Alongside the headstones and tombs lies gardens filled with trees, lawns and shrubs, giving Bunhill Fields a peaceful, woodland vibe. Just watch out for the cheeky squirrels.

Jubilee Gardens, South Bank

Aerial view of Jubilee Gardens (Photo SBEG)

Cross over the Thames and London's South Bank is a haven for al fresco lunching. Benches, steps, walls and gardens pepper the area between London Bridge and Westminster Bridge. Contrasting with the winding, narrow roads north of the river, South Bank's promenade is wide and open, offering a fantastic view across to London's skyline. Jubilee Gardens by the London Eye is the largest green space in the area with plenty of grass to sprawl out on (and an adventure playground for little lunch-goers too).

Red Cross Garden, Southwark

Red Cross Garden (and cottages, behind).

Another south London lunch favourite is the Red Cross Garden. Originally created in 1886, the garden was the outdoor counterpart to a series of mock Tudor cottages built by uber-reformer Octavia Hill. Her goal was to build an 'open air sitting room for the tired inhabitants of Southwark'. In that she succeeded, although the garden fell into disrepair during the second world war with much tarmacked over and the rest overgrown. But thanks to a cash injection from the Lottery Heritage Fund, the garden was restored back to its former Victorian glory by Bankside Open Spaces Trust in 2006, and once again is the tranquil, lovingly preserved haven it was always intended to be.

Culpeper Community Garden, Islington

Photo: Culpeper Community Garden.

In need of some lunchtime respite near Angel tube station? This tiny open space is run exclusively by local people, for local people, and is an oasis of pathways, ponds and plants. Culpeper Community Garden may not be big but it is beautiful, with plenty of nooks and crannies rife for exploration. Enjoy your scoff surrounded by flowers and bumblebees, wander the vegetable plots (maintained by community groups, children and local residents without gardens) and just soak in the peaceful surrounds. It's charming.

Goldsmiths' Garden, City of London

Goldsmiths' Garden.

A final sneaky City hideout perfect for lunch, Goldsmiths' Garden off Gresham Street is easily missed. The site was formerly the churchyard of St John Zachary (hence it is sometimes referred to as the St John Zachary Garden) and exists today as an upper level area with a few trees and benches, plus a lower level sunken garden. This sunken garden, complete with manicured lawn, water fountain and Britain's only public monument to newspaper-making, cannot be easily seen from the road and therefore is often found utterly devoid of visitors when all other City parks are packed.

Last Updated 25 July 2018