Events and eateries abound in these recently opened public spaces, where social distancing is a breath of fresh air.
London has, in recent years, seen a wealth of new spaces open to the public. Many feature outdoor dining and drinking, as well as events to keep you entertained. These spaces are where locals come to relax while feeling COVID-safer in the open air.
The best thing about these spaces? They’re all free to visit. In fact, you can watch a movie under the stars, catch a music festival, browse a photography exhibition, or find any number of other ways to be entertained without having to spend a thing. If you want to step away from the bustle of the city, and into the most exciting of London’s public spaces, then here are some top suggestions.
Top Picks for You
Granary Square (King's Cross)
This is the gold standard of public spaces. Here you’ll find fountains through which children splash on warmer days, a plethora of eateries with outdoor seating, occasional outdoor photography exhibitions, music festivals, a covered market, and a large staircase area leading down to the canal, and from where you can watch an outdoor cinema in summer. And yes…it’s all free! In winter you’ll find unique Christmas decorations, as well as carolers. In inclement weather there’s plenty of room to shop in the covered Canopy Market, in better weather, there’s another market to be found along Lower Stables Street.
INSIDER TIPBYO Picnic — there’s plenty of great places to sit.
Nine Elms & Battersea (Battersea)
Imagine this: watching a movie in a deck chair on a jetty jutting out over the Thames and beside the imposing Battersea power station, with skyscrapers sparkling in the background. Or being gently rocked by passing boats while drinking on a floating bar. Or dining on delicious Caribbean food al fresco. The area between the US embassy and that famous power station was named Nine Elms in the 17th century after a row of deciduous trees, but it’s now luxury apartment blocks that reach into the sky. Fortunately, most of the riverbank remains public domain, and it’s here where you can find food, drinks, and entertainment as the Thames slips slowly by, with easy access thanks to two brand new Tube stations.
INSIDER TIPHead up to the top deck of Battersea Barge for the best river views.
Broadgate Circle (Liverpool Street)
All those shiny skyscrapers surrounding Broadgate Circle are full of discerning city workers. No surprise, therefore, that this new public space is packed with serene green spaces and restaurants with outdoor dining serving cuisine ranging from top-quality Argentinian steak to flavorful Vietnamese, healthy Mediterranean, to Aussie-inspired breakfasts. As you quench your thirst with a botanical gin, cocktail, or perfectly roasted coffee, look up and think of all those office workers desperate to join you.
INSIDER TIPVisit outside of lunchtime hours to avoid the crowds.
One New Change (St Paul's)
The streets surrounding London’s famous St Paul’s Cathedral throng with double-decker buses, tourists, and busy business folk. Head to One New Change, however, and you can find yourself in blissful serenity. Here, just a few stories above the street, you’ll catch fresh air, as well as a spectacular view of the cathedral. In fact, if you time it right, you can even join a yoga session. If that sounds a little too adventurous er, athletic, then grab a burger or pizza from Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant (yes, it probably will be one of the best burgers or pizzas you’ve ever tasted), return to that delightful roof terrace, and dine in fresh air to the tune of cathedral bells.
INSIDER TIPYou can find a range of great value takeaway meal options in the mall below this space.
Railton Road (Herne Hill)
This lively little neighborhood space has grown in popularity in recent years. That’s most likely due to the pedestrianization of Railton Road immediately outside Herne Hill station. This has encouraged trendy cafés and restaurants such as Llewelyn’s to set up on-street seating from where you may be able to hear live music from the popular Off The Cuff venue. There’s a Sunday market where you can browse and buy top-quality produce fresh from the farm, as well as arts and crafts.
INSIDER TIPHerne Hill is just down the road from Brixton, which has numerous fantastic markets.
Queen’s Yard and River Lea (Hackney Wick)
When you step out of Hackney Wick station you may already hear the music from the bars of Queen’s Yard. This is where you come to eat and drink and party in the open air. That delicious smell is probably coming from Doh, a bakery, coffee shop, and much more, with a colorful yard just the other side of White Post Lane. Head over to the River Lea for waterside drinking and dining–Grow is a particularly fun space, with a garden terrace and mezzanine overlooking the river where musicians often perform on a floating platform.
INSIDER TIPOn the other side of the river is the 2012 Olympic Park, which has lots of fun outdoor spaces to explore.
English weather is notoriously unreliable, but you won’t have to worry about that under Boxpark Croydon’s immense roof. You also won’t have to worry about Covid–think of this space as a giant piazza, open at one end and with a breezy terrace. That lofty roof rises above dozens of shipping containers, stacked on top of one another, strung together by wide walkways, and filled with bars, shops, and 34 restaurants featuring food from across the world. As well as places to eat, Boxpark packs in events.
INSIDER TIPBougie Drag Brunch is particularly fun – book ahead.
Market Yard (Deptford)
In South East London, close to historic Greenwich, Market Yard was founded around a disused 1960’s train carriage, and the railway theme continues with a long ramp built in 1835 to transport trains to Deptford station, which is now pedestrianized. Beneath the ramp’s arches are a wealth of independent traders, which spill out into the yard with market stalls and seating for foodies to indulge in excellent cuisine. Goods on sale often reflect the season, and so this is also a great place to come and do some Christmas shopping.
INSIDER TIPLittle Nan’s does an awesome bottomless boozy brunch, complete with cocktails served in teapots.
Merchant Square (Paddington)
This square is much more…watery than most. Just steps away from Paddington station, it wraps around one end of the Regent’s Canal. You can either get on the water by strolling on a floating park (which often hosts live music), taking a paddleboard trip to nearby Little Venice, or hiring an electric boat to cruise past London Zoo on your way to Camden Market. In fall, a floating cinema will entertain visitors, and if you’re feeling daring you can step into a fountain maze. You’ll no doubt be awed by a bridge that splits into four as it rises and lowers, or another which unfurls to allow people to cross. After all those aquatic adventures, visitors will be pleased to find a variety of food trucks, as well as that ubiquitous seating outside of a range of restaurants and bars.
INSIDER TIPIf you do cruise (or walk) to Camden, then look out for the hyena and warthogs as you pass London Zoo.
East Village (Stratford)
Created amidst the stadia of London’s 2012 Olympics, the apartments of East Village once housed athletes, but are now home to thousands of Londoners. Those lucky enough to live here have on their doorstep 35 acres of parks, movie screenings, food festivals, and live outdoor theatre. At Halloween the village is transformed into a series of spooky scenes; at Christmas, it becomes a magical vista of lights and choirs.
INSIDER TIPLook at the East Village website for all upcoming events.
The Yards (Covent Garden)
In Mercer Square, you can see little models of old scenes set into the brickwork, with information boards beside them explaining all. In the summer there’s a screen showing live sport and movies, and at one end the smell of much-loved Dishoom tempts visitors onto the outdoor tables to sample delectable food from old Bombay. In December choirs put on festive performances, with mulled wine and hot chocolate available too. As you’re walking through the Yards you may well be tempted into Stanfords–London’s famous map and travel bookshop–a great place to buy gifts.
INSIDER TIPFollow The Yards on Twitter for their Christmas events such as performances and craft making.
Crossrail Place Roof Garden (Canary Wharf)
This roof garden features immense glass walls, as well as some glass roof sections (which you’ll be grateful for during a London rainstorm). Designed by the same people who created the spectacular British Museum foyer, and cylindrical Gherkin skyscraper, Crossrail Place Roof Garden features the same geometric glass constructions as those found atop these other buildings. The garden itself consists of plants from numerous locations across the planet–a reflection of the garden’s proximity to the Prime Meridian. As well as admiring the flora, you can also find restaurants from which you can grab takeaway food and drinks, plus regular free events held at a small auditorium.
INSIDER TIPDon’t miss the free story machine at the entrance, which prints out free 1,3, and 5-minute nature-inspired tales.
Royal Docks (Royal Victoria)
Once the calling point for cargo ships across the world, Royal Docks has been transformed into a series of public spaces, the most lively of which can be found around the Emirates Air Line cable car station. On land are bars, and the soon-to-be-opened Crystal building which will be one of the most sustainable buildings in London. On the water, you’ll see wakeboarders splashing to and fro, or maybe some intrepid open-water swimmers. This London public space truly feels very different from the rest of the city.
INSIDER TIPHop on one of those cable cars and you’ll be transported over the Thames to Peninsula Square, which often bustles with events and is home to the huge O2 Millennium Dome.
Brown Hart Gardens (Mayfair)
On a much smaller scale than most of the public spaces we’ve seen so far, Mayfair’s Brown Hart Gardens is just a few steps from the throngs on Oxford Street but, with plenty of peace and space, you’d think you were many miles away. In fact, old bylaws stipulate that you can neither sing, shout, nor practice gymnastics in this park! The Victorian buildings surrounding this space once housed London’s poor, but you’ll now find a luxury hotel looming over one end. Take a moment to explore one of the temporary art installations, people watch at the snazzy eatery, or grab some top-quality food at a nearby deli and tuck in while seated amongst the planters and water feature.
INSIDER TIPLook over to the Beaumont Hotel and you’ll see a gigantic cubistic man crouching down on one of the roofs. This was created by artist Anthony Gormley and inside is a huge (and hugely expensive) suite.
Wembley Park (Wembley)
Visit this space and you’ll be following in the footsteps of the stars. Or, rather, their handprints, because here you’ll find London’s equivalent of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, with prints from artists who have performed in Wembley’s famous arenas, including Madonna, Dolly Parton, Lionel Richie, Shirley Bassey, and George Michael. Wembley is also a famous sports venue, and you’ll probably get to Wembley Park by walking along the huge Olympic Way. There are numerous serene parks (perhaps the most tranquil of which is Weaver Way, where gentle water features may momentarily distract you from the excellent range of adjacent shops), as well as an impressive collection of outdoor art.
INSIDER TIPAvoid times when a match is being played or an event is being held — public transport can get very crowded!