Eat Al Fresco: Europe's Best Places for a Picnic

February 24, 2016

From city parks to rugged beaches, we explore Europe's best places to picnic, people-watch and promenade.

If you associate picnics with spam sandwiches and squashed fruit then it's time to revamp your lunch box. Give your picnic a little continental oo-la-la in one of Europe's coolest places to eat al fresco. We find the best city centre parks as well as shady spots to eat outside on the go. Grab some friends and a blanket and you're all set (you can leave the questionable sandwiches at home).

1. Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris

Couple Sit in Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris

In the summer, Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris' 6th arrondissement is popular with lunching locals who can be found strolling along the tree-lined boulevards or picnicking with friends. Pack suitably French fare (baguettes, cheese, a bottle of cheap plonk) and prepare to wile away the afternoon. Avoid the landscaped lawns though, these are off limits to visitors. Instead do like the Parisians and recline on one of the many green garden chairs - get there early if you want to nab a spot.

2. Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona

Parc de la Ciutadella in Barcelona

Super trendy Parc de la Ciutadella (expect bongos, yoga classes and plenty of quirky types on weekends) is a great place to picnic and people watch. Buy local tapas-style delicacies from La Boqueria Market before heading to a quiet spot here for an authentic Catalan experience. The park is also home to a boating lake, the Museum of Natural Sciences and Barcelona Zoo, so you can walk off your lunch with a stroll in the afternoon.

3. Hyde Park, London

Deckchairs by the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park

Picnics play a huge part of British culture (lashings of ginger beer anyone?) so where better to eat al fresco than London's biggest green space, Hyde Park. Home to ample grassy spots, you can also rent a row boat on the Serpentine Lake if you'd prefer to eat your pork pies and marmalade sandwiches on water. If you're feeling especially decadent, then put together a posh picnic at one of central London's food halls (Harrods and Selfridges are both nearby).

4. Vondelpark, Amsterdam

Lake and Trees in Vondelpark  Amsterdam

Nestled in the heart of Amsterdam, Vondelpark is the perfect place to picnic in the warmer months. Although there are several cafes and restaurants dotted around the park, the best way to experience this vibrant, skater-loving green space is al fresco. As well as a rose garden, the park is also home to an outdoor stage. Pack a basket (don't forget the Edam) and dine outdoors while you watch theatre and musical performances; entrance is usually free with a suggested donation of one euro.

5. Miramar Beach, Porto

Miramar Beach near Porto

A short 20 minute drive from the centre of Porto lies Miramar Beach, one of the best places to picnic in Portugal. Something about the sea-air makes us hungry and the rugged Atlantic coastline makes the perfect backdrop for a spot of lunch. You'll often find secluded, deserted areas along this stretch of sand - although there are also a few cafes plus a picturesque chapel too. In the summer, enjoy a post picnic dip in the sea; come winter, watch the surfers as you munch on your lunch.

6. Borghese Gardens, Rome

Borghese Gardens and Lake in Rome

Villa Borghese is a formal garden in Rome, popular with both tourists and well-heeled locals. In the summer, its ornate statues and fountains make it a beautiful place to picnic in style. Although seriously romantic (expect plenty of hand-holding couples) there are lots of shady spots where you can enjoy a leisurely lunch with friends too; pick up a takeaway from one of the nearby pizzerias. After, wander down to the Spanish Steps which lead up to the park.

7. Buen Retiro Park, Madrid

Formal Gardens in Buen Retiro Park, Madrid

Spain's capital has several outdoor spaces but one of the biggest is Buen Retiro which means 'Good Retreat'. With its central location and cultural activities (puppet shows, bandstand performances and boating) it's a great spot for an al fresco feast. On weekends the park gets packed with families and groups of friends - a popular choice is pre-buying lunch from nearby Mercado Anton Martin (a food market) before flaking out on the park's lawns. Come night time, the park is known for its rowdy, festival-esque vibe.

Siobhan Brewood-Wyatt After a Masters in Comparative Literature, Siobhan worked for several big-name travel companies before joining travioor. She has been hooked on travel since her teens and her biggest adventure is booking flights from Rome to Rio after a few too many beers.