London’s Great Outdoors
As Londoners bask in the news that the capital is in for one hot summer, Sara D'Souza rounds up the city’s best alfresco happenings, from sunset horseback rides to street food festivals to pedal-powered cinemas
Who will go to the roof of a multistory garage in Peckham, cried the naysayers about Frank's Café. How wrong they were. People have been lining up around the block ever since it opened, in 2007. Up on the 10th floor you can grab a Campari cocktail, check out the sculpture exhibition and watch a perfect London sunset. For a high-rise cocktail in more salubrious surroundings, there’s the Radio Rooftop Bar at the ME London, a favorite for its clubby white leather banquettes, firepits and views that sweep from the theater district in Covent Garden down to the Southbank. Over in Shoreditch, the Boundary rooftop, with its canopy of vines and twinkling lights, is one of the East End’s prettiest spots for a sundowner.
From a rooftop hot tub cinema (yes, this really exists) to an outdoor pedal-powered free screening of Attack the Block, London does outdoor movies well. If you don’t like to work for your films, Rooftop Film Club has venues at the Queen of Hoxton in Shoreditch, the Bussey Building in Peckham Rye and the Roof Gardens in Kensington, where you can kick back in deck chair with a cocktail, a blanket and a set of headphones. Alternatively, Luna Cinema will be setting up screenings throughout the summer at Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace and Brockwell Lido, to name a few. Plus, this year it’s being supported by hip makeup brand Benefit, which will be on hand providing complimentary makeovers.
Tucked away in the middle of Regent’s Park is St. John’s Lodge, a gem of a secret garden owned by the sultan of Brunei. The lodge itself dates back to 1819 and has perfectly manicured circular gardens, tinkling fountains and shady trees to help visitors escape the city’s relentless pace. For a better vantage of the city, head up to North London, to Waterlow Park. Just off Highgate Hill, the 20-acre park has sweeping views from the Shard to St. Paul’s Cathedral and is home to three ponds, winding tree-lined walkways and a kitchen garden. The park also borders Highgate Cemetery, where Karl Marx is buried. And over in West London, the Chelsea Physic Garden has more than 5,000 medicinal and historic plants, 100 different types of tree, ranging from pomegranate to mulberry to eucalyptus, and an outdoor terrace at the brilliant Tangerine Dream Café.
On a gorgeous summer’s day in London, there are few places better to be than a sun-filled pub garden. The only dilemma is choosing the best one for you. North of the river, we love the Engineer in Primrose Hill, where you can get a proper British pint with a Scotch egg in the secluded wood-decked garden. In South London you can’t beat the The Ship right on the waterfront — it dates back to 1786 and has a recently revamped outdoor garden that looks out at Wandsworth Bridge. Hidden on a residential street in East London, the Talbot is a little Victorian find with plenty of craft ales and outdoor seating where you can catch the rays. And over in West London, the Jam Tree has a suntrap of a beer garden and hosts outdoor barbecues throughout the summer.
Every May to September since 1932 the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre has opened its auditorium (which now seats 1,250) to the public. This year you can catch All My Sons, Twelfth Night, Porgy and Bess and To Kill a Mockingbird. Don’t forget to pack a picnic and some Pimms. Head to Josephine Avenue in Brixton on July 12 and 13 for a special art fair with more than 200 exhibitors. Expect prints and photographs for sale, and artists creating live pieces on the nine white walls. And later this summer, art project the Line will install 30 sculptures along the docks and canals of East London, following the Meridian Line between Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and the O2 Center.
Now in its eighth year, the Field Day Festival (June 7 and 8) has a stellar lineup, with Metronomy and the Pixies headlining, plus Warpaint, the Temper Trap and Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz on the bill. You can catch the Arctic Monkeys performing in Finsbury Park on May 23 and 24, with Tame Impala, Miles Kane and Royal Blood as special guests. The Wireless Festival also hits Finsbury Park in early July this year, with Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Basement Jaxx, Drake, Rudimental, Bruno Mars, Ellie Goulding and Outkast all playing. Tickets are going fast, but Franz Ferdinand, Bastille and Kelis are on the list of acts playing in Somerset House's atmospheric outdoor courtyard, while Elvis Costello and Jools Holland will provide the entertainment at the picnic concerts at Kew Gardens.
Snap up everything from a leather jacket to a vintage record player at the Battersea Car Boot Sale, which is on every Sunday from 11:30 a.m. (so you don’t have to get up at the crack of sparrows) for buyers to get a first look. There’s a 5 pound entrance fee, but for the bargains you’ll walk away with, it’s worth it. To experience one of London’s oldest markets, head for Broadway Market, which has been serving the crowds every Saturday since 1890 and now sells everything from artisanal bread to handmade lingerie. Local pub Off Broadway spills out onto the street and provides a welcome stop for a pint. Sundays turn Columbia Road into London’s best-loved flower market; get there early for the pick of the bunch and head for cupcakes from Lily Vanilli in the supercute outdoor courtyard on Ezra Street.
Londoners love a good street festival (what better excuse to get out the bunting?), and there are quite a few on the schedule this summer. First up, Book Club is hosting Bookstock-on-Sea on August 25 on Shoreditch’s Leonard Street. Entrance is free, and disco band Odyssey, Prince tribute band Princeless and the Nextmen will be providing the soundtrack. You’ll also find sea salt cocktails, fish and chips and musical seaside bingo. Bermondsey Street, lauded for its foodie scene, will be hosting its annual festival on September 21, with stalls from Aqua Shard, Constancia Argentine Grill and more. The acoustic garden will be open for local singer-songwriters to show their talent. Bank Holiday Sunday (May 4) means a mega–street party at StreetFest London in Hackney Wick. Miss Dynamite headlines, and there will be skaters, break dancers, live art and graffiti.
In upscale Fitzrovia, the local favorite Bonnie Gull dishes up traditional British seafood to alfresco diners who linger over Dorset Blue Rock oysters, hot smoked trout, beer-battered haddock and more. Its new sister restaurant, Bonnie Gull Café, just opened in Exmouth Market (with 20 outdoor tables) and serves catch-of-the-day oysters, cockles, smoked mussels and langoustines. Lakeside in St. James’s Park, Peyton and Byrne’s Inn in the Park celebrates its 10th anniversary with a revamped dining room and terrace, plus its ever popular seasonal fare, including favorites like salt-baked root vegetables, slow-cooked beef brisket and sticky toffee pudding with handmade ice cream.
Get your fix of history, royalty and some cracking scenery on the Richmond Panorama cycling tour, which takes in Richmond Park, the royal deer parks, the Thames, Twickenham, Hampton Court Palace and Strawberry Hill House over the course of a six-hour ride. You can bring your own bike or rent one at the center. Alternatively, Richmond Park has Stag Lodge Stables, which has been there since the 17th century. Bordering Wimbledon Common, it has more than 70 horses that you can take for a summer evening pub ride. For water babies, Brockwell Lido is fresh from a multimillion-dollar refurbishment and now has a top café (open until 10 p.m.), while the Olympic-size London Fields Lido is heated for cooler days. Or, to really get back to the great outdoors, the Serpentine Lido is a cordoned-off section of the lake that has been a popular swimming haunt for 100 years.
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