London is a brilliant place to be in summer. The sun is out (a lot of the time), temperatures often top 25 degrees celsius (sometimes more), and the city's cafe-lined pavements, beer gardens and rooftop bars buzz with seasonal cheer. But the best place to soak up the balmy summer vibes? The capital's awesome parks. Away from the obvious choices - we're talking the likes of Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and Clapham Common - there are dozens of alternative, picnic-friendly retreats in a city that is 47% green space. Dotted across London, this super six offer an enticing blend of nature, culture, sport and food and drink, so slip on your sunnies and enjoy.
Hedged by genteel mansions, towering housing estates and photogenic canals, 'Vicky Park' has been a breath of fresh air for east Londoners since it opened in 1845 (named after the monarch at the time, Queen Victoria). Spanning 86 hectares between Hackney and Stratford, it's a mix of grassy lawns, playgrounds, tennis courts, bowling greens, a Chinese pagoda and a handful of scenic lakes, the largest of which you can navigate on rowing boats and pedalos. For a caffeine hit, or a tasty breakfast (try the eggs benedict or full English), check out the lake-side Pavilion Cafe. If you're here in the afternoon, The Royal Inn, on the park's north side, is perfect for an alfresco pint. The park also hosts annual music festivals like All Points East (a 10-day event that is staged at Victoria Park in May and June).
Most of the time when you're rambling through the rolling meadows and woodland of Hampstead Heath, you'll feel like you're in the countryside. But Trafalgar Square is less than seven kilometres away and from Parliament Hill, one of several vantage points in this wild and wonderful expanse, you'll get great panoramas of London's skyline. Sweeping across the capital's north, the heath is huge - three times larger than Victoria Park - so it's easy to find your own secluded, tree-shaded spot in which to cuddle up, or dip into that novel you've been meaning to read. If you're keen to get active, and don't mind rubbing (bare) shoulders with strangers, take a plunge in the open-air bathing ponds on the heath's eastern fringes. They're split into mixed, men's and women's areas.
Outdoor swimming is one of the draws of this leafy south London park, which is home to the Brockwell Lido, an Art Deco gem that's been here since 1937. In recent years it's been heavily restored and its waterfront Lido Cafe is a snazzy addition. Big on seasonal British produce, the cafe tempts bathers and spectators with its healthy breakfasts, all-day brunches and leisurely lunches (fuelled by wine or local craft beer). Within walking distance of the vibrant multi-cultural neighbourhood of Brixton, Brockwell Park is a favourite chill-out spot of London pop icon, Adele. She spent much of her youth here, hanging out with friends, drinking cider, singing and playing her guitar.
You might struggle to locate these gardens on a map - they're hidden in the suburb of Forest Hill, 15 minutes by train from London Bridge - but they're one of the capital's most cherished escapes, especially for families with young children. Grassy slopes and beautiful botanical displays fan out from the Horniman Museum - a free-to-enter attraction that showcases flamboyant exhibits like African folk masks, an Alaskan totem pole and cabinets of stuffed animals. Kids usually prefer going nose to nose with the live alpacas, goats, sheep, guinea pigs, rabbits and chickens that reside in the gardens' Animal Walk. From the nearby Edwardian bandstand, there are superb views of central London, with the Shard, western Europe's tallest building, sure to catch the eye.
Wedged between the districts of Kensington and Notting Hill, Holland Park is a delightfully rustic slice of well-to-do west London. Wandering along its wooded trails, don't be surprised to encounter squirrels and strutting peacocks and all sorts of birdlife, from robins and woodpeckers to tits and finches. At the park's centre is a laid-back cafe, plus the Belvedere, a dapper restaurant housed in the 17th century ballroom of a Jacobean mansion. Close by is the Kyoto Garden, a haven of cherry trees and ornamental water features created by a Japanese designer. In summer, Holland Park hosts open-air theatre and opera, and its spacious playing fields teem with frisbee-throwers and picnickers.
Three times the size of Hampstead Heath, this former royal hunting ground is a bit big to cover on foot. So grab some wheels - there's a cycle hire outlet at the park's Roehampton Gate - and pedal along its paved roads and off-road trails, which course by peaceful duck ponds, ancient oak trees and wide open spaces crawling with deer. Seek out the Isabella Plantation, a wooded enclave brimming with Rhododendrons and other colourful flowers. You can get refreshments throughout the park, including at The Butler's Pantry, a tearoom at Pembroke Lodge, a stately Georgian pile whose gardens are graced by King Henry's Mound. This elevated lookout has views east towards central London and on a clear day, you'll peek St Paul's Cathedral, 20 kilometres away as the crow flies.