South London’s parks
The last year has afforded us few ways to socialise other than on foot and outside in open spaces. As a result, I think I can safely say I’ve now visited every single park south of the Thames. As the days get longer and summer fast approaches, here’s my round-up* of what South London’s parks have to offer (with the odd historical fact and food recommendation thrown in for good measure). *in no particular order
Many Londoners are quick to cite Battersea Park as their favourite park in the capital. This is unsurprising given its spacious size (200 acres!), riverside views and abundance of sports pitches. This more than makes up for the limited transport options (well by that I mean lack of tube station). By day, this Victorian park is home to the very popular Pear Tree Café. By evening, if you’re looking for food and drinks, it’s just a short stroll to Battersea Power Station, which has been brought back to life with a buzzing restaurant and bar scene. You’ll find yourself walking through a bit of a building site if you head home via Nine Elms rather than Battersea Park but this area is hotting up as the work’s completed.
Much like Battersea Park, you can find lots of buggies, dogs and runners. It’s very flat, which is ideal if you’re looking for a relaxed and slow-paced walk. There’s a pond and the shrubbery is well looked after. There’s a very popular Gail’s in Dulwich Village nearby if you’re looking for a coffee and I can confirm that their triple chocolate cookies rival the likes of M&S’. You can also find an Oddono’s here if you fancy a gelato (check out my gelato walking tour of London post). Also, did you know that Queen Mary regularly frequented the park? This explains why one of the park gates is called Queen Mary’s Gate Entrance.
Brockwell Park is a firm favourite for south Londoners and I can see why. It’s pretty vast, has lots of foliage, a few hills, and even boasts a lido. I’m yet to go for a swim (that'll never happen) but I’ve heard it’s a good one. If you’re there on a Sunday between 10am-4pm, definitely head to Herne Hill Market as it's practically next to the park and has a good selection of food. I’d recommend the tartiflette, who doesn't love cheese and potatoes. If you’re there on a summer evening and can't be bothered to bring a picnic, you’ll be pleased to hear that I successfully managed to pick up my Deliveroo dinner from the park entrance. The less good parts are the long trek back home and walking through Brixton at night.
Peckham Rye Park and Common
This park is often overlooked by Londoners, which is a shame as it's home to 113 acres of grassland, a very St James’ Park-kind-of-lake and tranquil gardens. Both times I’ve visited the park it’s been really sunny, which due to the open grassland (ideal for picnics) makes it a prime spot for tanning! There’s the Round Café for snacks too and the toilets are always open. Did you know it’s a Victorian Park and it’s recorded as being cultivated before the Norman Conquest in the 11th century (according to Southwark Council that is…)?
Who hasn’t heard of Clapham Common? It's probably one of the most popular parks for 20-somethings in London, helped by the decent transport links (Clapham Common and Clapham South tube stations, and it’s on lots of bus routes). It’s a great place to meet for a picnic, especially as the council has added loads of Portaloos since the virus hit. Much like Peckham Rye Park, there’s plenty of open space, so it’s perfect for catching a few rays. I bet you didn’t know that it was originally ‘common land’ and mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as being part of the Manor of Clapham. Now you know.
This Edwardian park will be a pleasant surprise; it’s bigger than you might think and showcases some ponds and apparently many rare trees! Who knew. While it may not be Hampstead Heath, it also boasts a decent view of the London skyline. One thing to note, don’t be fooled by Google Maps’ pin on M&S (I should become a brand ambassador). It’s actually in King’s Hospital, so it’s a little awkward to justify the visit to pick up picnic supplies in the middle of a pandemic. If you want to extend your walk, check out Camberwell nearby. The nearest train station is Denmark Hill.
There isn’t much to say about Larkhall Park except that it’s a pretty small and boring South London park, so not one I’d recommend for a stroll. However, it’s super close to Little Portugal (between Vauxhall and Stockwell), the Portuguese quarter of London, which is most definitely worth a visit. There's lots of cool cafes and I ate the most heavenly pastel de nata from Lisboa Patisserie, which had been baked to utter perfection. Custard tarts are under-rated.
Other parks not mentioned
This round-up should give you some inspiration / a starting point to get exploring and picnicking. If you need a few more ideas, check out my top five self guided London walking routes post, which includes info on Richmond Park. I haven't forgotten about the beautiful Greenwich Park either (a Royal Park that’s a mere 590 years old), but I'm planning a dedicated post on everything Greenwich has to offer.
A quick heads up that I wouldn’t bother visiting Burgess Park or Southwark Park. The former is pretty dull and there’s a lack of tasty food or drink to be found anywhere nearby, which you might agree is problematic. The latter is nice enough but is lacking a unique selling proposition (USP). Enough said, I hope that helps!