The picnic can be traced back to 18th-century France, when someone first realized how delightful it can be to spread a blanket on the ground on a balmy summer’s day and enjoy some nibbles and a cold drink. The French term pique-nique originally referred to a group of people bringing their own wine to a restaurant. Somewhere along the way, it became the term for an outdoor get-together on the grass. In the United Kingdom, it usually includes a flask of hot tea, but the essence of the picnic remains the same wherever you are.
Apart from the food, drink, and weather, the most important element of a picnic is the location. There are some places that are just perfect for a picnic, and some that are less so. When the food and drink is good, the company is engaging, and the scenery is sublime, you have the right ingredients for a picnic.
In no particular order, here are some of the best places to picnic in the UK.
1. Combermere Abbey
Combermere Abbey is set on 1,000 acres of woodlands, parklands, and gardens, making it a serene place to explore and the perfect place to picnic. The grounds of Combermere Abbey also include The Mere, one of the UK’s largest privately owned bodies of water. It’s a quiet and peaceful place for a picnic, and that’s mainly because only those staying in the on-site cottages or bed and breakfast are able to access it.
This is a private estate, but it’s well worth a visit. The self-catering cottages sleep anywhere from four to 10 people. They are all dog friendly, and each pet is treated to their very own “pooch pack” upon arrival. Nine of the cottages reside within the cottage courtyard, and the other, the Stone Lodge Cottage, stands alone at the entrance to the estate, making for a quiet retreat. Each cottage has its own garden, the perfect place for a private picnic in the summer.
2. Abbey Of St Edmund
For a more unusual place to enjoy lunch out in the open, head to the 1,000-year-old remains of the Abbey of St Edmund in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Founded by King Canute, the abbey was once the third largest in Europe, attracting pilgrims from far and wide. Saint Edmund was martyred for his faith and enshrined in the abbey, but following the dissolution of the monasteries during the Reformation, his remains disappeared. Some say he is buried in an iron coffin under the tennis courts in the garden, which was once the monks’ cemetery. You can ponder this intriguing mystery from history while enjoying your picnic, or just marvel at the picturesque ruins.
3. Hastings Country Park
Hastings Country Park, located east of Hastings in Sussex, offers fantastic views out to sea and spectacular sunsets. Walk the trails to work up an appetite, and bring enough nibbles to get you through until sundown. Picnicking by the sea or on the beach is perhaps the most atmospheric way to picnic. Spread out a blanket or feel the sand between your toes, and relax with a scone and a cool drink.
Pro Tip: Beside The Sea offers 45 coastal holiday cottages in Camber Sands and East Sussex. The majority of their properties are pet friendly, and they are also good for multigenerational stays. The company is run by husband-and-wife Richard and Sophie; their son, Arthur; and Dougal the terrier. They live in Camber and know the area inside out.
4. Dartmoor View
Set on 20 acres of landscaped grounds, Dartmoor View is the perfect park for those looking for a relaxing countryside location to picnic. Dartmoor View is located near Dartmoor National Park and is a great base from which to explore all this area has to offer, from rolling English countryside to quaint villages. At this countryside haven, you can spend time walking, hiking, and enjoying the dramatic scenery. Facilities at the park include an outdoor heated pool, an activity field, and a charming picnic area. An artisanal pizza maker visits the park twice a week with deliciously crafted homemade pizzas.
Pro Tip: For those looking for a little more adventure, the historic Okehampton Castle, the traditional market town of Holsworthy, and the vibrant, modern city of Exeter are just a short drive away.
5. Fistral Beach
Backed by steep sand dunes that make perfect shelters from the light sea breezes, Fistral Beach is a favorite with those who like to picnic on the shores. As you eat, look out on the Atlantic and watch the surfers do their thing. The beach is dog friendly, and if you don’t have time to pack a picnic, Rick Stein’s Fish & Chips and The Fistral Stable are close by and can provide you with everything you need.
Pro Tip: Since Fistral Beach faces the west, it’s the perfect sundowner spot to glimpse the green flash. The green flash is a meteorological optical phenomenon that occurs around sunset or sunrise. It looks like a green flash at the upper rim of the sun on the sea’s horizon. Have an early or a late picnic, and you might be lucky enough to see it.
6. Ballygally Castle
County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Ballygally Castle, facing the soft, sandy beaches of Ballygally Bay, is located on the scenic Antrim Coast only 26 miles from Belfast. The castle dates to 1625 and is unique in that it is the only 17th-century building still used as a residence in Northern Ireland today. It is ideally situated near the Norman Carrickfergus Castle and Carnfunnock Country Park, a 470-acre park located between Drains Bay and Ballygally that’s perfectly suited for a stroll through the blooming flowers.
Take a picnic to Ballygally Castle, and you’ll enjoy your alfresco lunch amidst breathtaking scenery. Or if you’re looking for a break from the outdoors, you can enjoy afternoon tea in the castle’s lounge or a mouthwatering meal at the Garden Restaurant.
Pro Tip: The castle offers six large family rooms — enough room for everyone, including Ballygally’s very own friendly ghost, Lady Isabella Shaw. Those who dare can tiptoe up the winding staircase to the spine-tingling ghost room to catch a glimpse of Lady Isabella, who has been a resident of the castle for more than 400 years. The hotel is one of the largest on the spectacular Causeway Coastal Route. Game of Thrones fans staying here can visit key filming locations on a guided tour with Hastings Hotels.
7. Parker’s Piece
In Cambridge, long summer days are best spent picnicking on Parker’s Piece. From the green, visitors can enjoy stunning views of the University Arms Hotel and the tall spire of the Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs. You’ll be sitting upon one of the most significant greens in Cambridge’s history, a spot where many historic moments took place. In 1838, 15,000 revelers gathered here to celebrate Queen Victoria’s ascendance to the throne. It was also the birthplace of modern football — the place where, in 1848, the first game with official rules was played.
Visitors won’t have to wander far for the perfect picnic lunch. Located on the edge of the green is Parker’s Tavern, offering delightful takeaway lunches created by Chef Tristan Welch. The delicious menu of picnic treats includes cayenne Cheddar straws, smoked salmon, and truffle sausage rolls. For those looking for something sweet, the restaurant’s renowned Duke of Cambridge tart is a must-try.
8. Parc Slip Nature Reserve
Combine an afternoon of bird-watching with a lunch immersed in nature at the Parc Slip Nature Reserve in Bridgend, Wales. Park yourself on a bench in the 300-acre reserve for the chance to spot some of the beautiful animals who live here, including teal, water rails, and the protected lapwing, which can be seen wading in the Northern Wetlands. Afterward, pop into the visitor center to find out about the important conservation work of the reserve.