Everything you need for a picnic in the park

iStock/The Independent
iStock/The Independent

With the summer weather finally here, the need for spending an afternoon in the sunshine has never been more fervent.

Whether you’ve been without outdoor space or simply want a break from your garden, dining alfresco is officially on the cards.

Under the new government guidelines for England, we are now allowed to picnic and sunbathe in parks – either alone or with members of your household.

While you still cannot picnic in the park in Scotland, in Wales, from 13 May, the rules state: “Going for a walk and also stopping to have something to eat or sit in a park, for example, is intended to be permitted”. But, the rules still advise that “most of the time spent away from the home should be spent exercising”.

If you’re in England, there’s really no better time to up your picnic game. Dining en plein takes a little bit of planning, but it’s totally worth it.

Instead of hastily packing cocktail sausages and a cheap six-pack of beers into a plastic bag, we suggest being the person with all the top of the range kit.

We’ve compiled a range of products from our tried-and-tested reviews for the ultimate picnic set-up. We’re talking everything from cool bags to picnic blankets, as well as the best food and drink to go with it.

Banish picnic envy and get prepared to enjoy the scorching weather this bank holiday weekend with this guide to everything you need.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

The best picnic essentials

Transporting your goods from A to B needn’t be a hassle, and there’s surely nothing be more quintessentially British than a good old-fashioned picnic basket.

The Colourful Garden Company personalised picnic basket (Not On The High Street, £149) received high praise in our IndyBest review, with our tester commending its design – which provides the perfect space to store two bottles of wine upright.

It's beautifully made and should last a lifetime (Not On The High Street)
It’s beautifully made and should last a lifetime (Not On The High Street)

Undo the clasp and flip up the two sides of the lid to access the cutlery, porcelain plates, wine glasses, bottle opener, napkins and even a cooler bag.

If you’re looking for something a little more practical, the Hydro flask unbound series cooler pack 15 coolbox (Alpine Trek, £197.95) topped our test of the best cool bags.

Thanks to the smart insulation, it will keep your food and drink cool for up to two days, so you won’t have to worry about your picnic perishables going bad or your bottle of white wine getting warm in direct sunlight.

This cool bag is a good investment for the fair-weather fans as it's just so useful (Hydro)
This cool bag is a good investment for the fair-weather fans as it’s just so useful (Hydro)

The added bonus of the watertight zip means you can transport ice from your freezer to the park, leak-free, making it ideal for picnicking.

And our tester was pleasantly surprised at how compact the bag was considering its 15l capacity, and the number of pockets available was an added bonus – perfect any family or large household outing.

You can trust Regatta for straightforward high-quality outdoor products at a good price, and this 15l cooler is exactly what you’d expect (Regatta)
You can trust Regatta for straightforward high-quality outdoor products at a good price, and this 15l cooler is exactly what you’d expect (Regatta)

For something a little kinder to your pocket, the Regatta freska cool bag 15l (Regatta, £12.45) is a well-priced all-rounder that benefits from good insulation and a smart design for easy transportation.

Once you’ve got your picnic basket or cool bag ready, it’s time to turn your attention to what you plan to sit on.

In our round-up of the best picnic blankets, the VonShef herringbone picnic blanket (VonShef, £26.99) came out on top. Comfortably fitting four people, it’s made from a hard-wearing fleece polyester.

The herringbone pattern makes it look more expensive than it is (VonShef)
The herringbone pattern makes it look more expensive than it is (VonShef)

Featuring a waterproof lining, there’s no chance of a soggy seating arrangement. And most importantly, our tester praised how easy it is to roll up and secure using the leather-look carry straps.

Of course, you can’t have a picnic without melamine pieces, and if you didn’t opt for the picnic basket, now’s your chance to make your spread look the real deal.

Made from a bamboo blend, these pieces are easy to care for (M&S)
Made from a bamboo blend, these pieces are easy to care for (M&S)

And M&S has all your needs covered – from this set of four picnic bubble hi balls plastic cups (M&S, £12.50) and picnic gin glasses (M&S, £9.50) to the nautical cereal bowls (M&S, £15) and nautical side plates (M&S, £15). All these items will make picnicking a dream.

The best picnic food

Once you’ve got your picnic basket, blanket and melamine sorted, it’s time to get to our favourite part: the food.

By now you’ll be accustomed the fact that food shops have adapted their opening hours to accommodate the surge in demand for essentials, but it’s always worth checking supermarket opening times so you’re not left empty handed if there’s some extras you need to pick up during your next essential shopping trip.

In our opinion, you can’t go wrong with a DIY mezze platter – and the array of nibbles on offer at Ocado is quite something.

Sabra authentic houmous (Ocado, £2), essential Waitrose pitta bread (Ocado, 60p), Unearthed slow roasted tomatoes (Ocado, £2.50), Unearthed nocellara olives (Ocado, £2.50), some Ocado celery sticks (Ocado, 90p) for smothering in hummus and a Waitrose cous cous and roasted vegetable salad (Ocado, £2.25) will all go together to make quite the spread.

Made to a traditional Middle Eastern recipe – it's a rich and decadent taste and full of flavour (Sabra)
Made to a traditional Middle Eastern recipe – it’s a rich and decadent taste and full of flavour (Sabra)

If you’d rather minimise on plastic waste and make a meal at home, we’d recommend Tom Kerridge’s recipe for Cajun salmon paired with a green salad for the perfect light lunch.

Box it all up in a trusty container – Black + Blum’s stainless steel lunch box came out as the best in our round-up of reusable lunchboxes – and you’re good to go.

The best drinks to enjoy in the sun

With the extra time on your hands, celebrate the three-day weekend by making cocktails.

Attend a virtual cocktail making class and take your finished product with you to the park in an insulated flask – the Blue Marble bamboo 360ml flask (Amazon, £19.95) will keep drinks cold for 12 hours, and came out top in our round-up.

And since pale rosé is this season’s coolest colour for wine, pair your food with a Lalomba de Ramón Bilbao rosado 2018 (Great Western Wine, £23.50), which impressed us in our guide to the best pink wine.

Made from only the most perfect, hand-picked berries, the elegant acidity, along with the orchard and red fruit flavours will instantly transport you back to a sunny holiday.

If beer is your tipple of choice, try this craft beer discovery club subscription service (Beer52, £24), which contains a mix of eight beers (choose between a selection of light and dark beers or solely light beers – the latter being vegan-friendly), a magazine and snack.

For those who prefer to go alcohol-free, we’ve picked out the strongest contenders in a round-up of non-alcoholic beverages – gin lovers can enjoy Strykk’s Not Gin (Ocado, £16), which mimics the real deal thanks to the heavy juniper and botanical profile.

The best books and podcasts to stay entertained

While many of us have longed to sunbathe in the park, there is a fear that we might get bored, especially if this is a trip with someone we’ve been in lockdown with for a while and conversation is running dry.

Howard is a superb writer and storyteller and if you enjoy this, you’ve got four more Cazalet books to look forward to (Picador)
Howard is a superb writer and storyteller and if you enjoy this, you’ve got four more Cazalet books to look forward to (Picador)

To take your mind off current affairs and give yourself a break from talking, we suggest reading The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard (Waterstones, £8.99), which came out as the best uplifting book to read during lockdown in our round-up.

If you prefer to let someone else do the reading, My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (Audible, £12.99) came out top in our review of audiobooks. Our tester noted that this deserves one of the widest possible audiences, so it’s certainly one for everyone.

If you need to keep little ones entertained, download a podcast for your kids to enjoy. You’re Dead To Me (BBC, free) topped our test of the best kids’ podcasts thanks to it being the perfect way for children to learn without realising.

The best products to stay protected in the sun

Of course, with the weather set to be a scorcher, there’s nothing more essential than protecting your skin from sun damage.

Mimitika has included Vitamin E to help neutralise free-radicals and stop premature ageing (Space NK)
Mimitika has included Vitamin E to help neutralise free-radicals and stop premature ageing (Space NK)

And Mimitika sunscreen body spray SPF30 (Space NK, £21.50) won the hotspot in our review of the best sunscreens for SPF and UV protection.

The milky spray is easy to apply and blends in within four or five strokes, leaving behind no white marks. The real bonus though is that it’s non-sticky and has a pleasant tropical scent.

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