Spring is finally in the air. And while longer and sunnier days would ordinarily be cause for celebration, it’s particularly pertinent this year, since the change in season signals the relaxing of lockdown rules in England.
Finally being able to socialise with friends and family, albeit in small groups and outside, is certainly exciting.
The lockdown roadmap stipulates that as of 29 March we can now meet in groups of up to six people from multiple households or an unlimited number of people from two households outdoors.
Ahead of this date, those lucky enough to have outdoor space may have been thinking about how they can transform their gardens for post-lockdown entertaining, with everything from barbecues and pizza ovens to comfortable seating and ambient lighting.
If you’re not one of these fortunate few, then the next best option is to head to the park for a picnic. And while dining en plein air takes a little bit of planning, 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.
To help you on your way to success, 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 springtime weather with this guide to everything you need.
You can trust our independent round-ups. 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 more quintessentially British than a good old-fashioned picnic basket.
This Dunelm gardenia wicker hamper (£100, Dunelm.com) received high praise in our guide to the best picnic hampers, with our reviewer commending its design that h provides the perfect space to store wine glasses, napkins and four sets of cutlery on the back of the lid.
Inside there’s also a coordinating insulated cool bag, which, according to our writer, keeps snacks at the right temperature for around four hours. It’s also “comfortable and easy to carry”, thanks to its two side handles.
Thanks to the internal cooler compartment, it will keep your food and drink cool for longer, so you won’t have to worry about your picnic perishables going bad or your bottle of white wine getting warm in direct sunlight.
“The bag itself is made from hard-wearing dark grey polyester with faux leather and chrome detailing, and features a waterproof layer to stop leaks or moisture getting in and out of the bag,” noted our writer. They added that it’s a “handy bag to take to the beach, park or a festival with a group of friends”.
And our tester was pleasantly surprised at how light it was, particularly considering the fact that it includes a 41-piece dining set with plates, cutlery, salt and pepper shakers, and a bottle opener – perfect for any family or large household outing.
For something a little kinder to your pocket, opt for this VonShef navy large cooler bag (£17.99, Vonhaus.com), which featured in our review of the best cool bags. It’s 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 (£27.99, Amazon.co.uk) came out on top. Comfortably fitting four people, it's made from a hard-wearing fleece polyester.
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 like the real deal.
M&S has all your needs covered – from this set of four picnic tumblers (£15, Marksandspencer.com) and picnic champagne flutes (£9.50, Marksandspencer.com) to the tropical jungle large lemon picnic platter (£7.50, Marksandspencer.com) and set of four tropical jungle picnic pasta bowls (£17.50, Marksandspencer.com). All these items will make picnicking a dream.
The best picnic food
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 (£2, Ocado.com), Ocado large white pitta bread (60p, Ocado.com), Unearthed slow-roasted tomatoes (£3.50, Ocado.com), Unearthed nocellara olives (£2.61, Ocado.com), some celery sticks (£1, Ocado.com) for smothering in hummus and a Moroccan style fruity couscous salad (£8, Ocado.com) will all go together to make quite the spread.
If you'd rather minimise plastic waste and make a meal at home, we’d recommend the lamb and aubergine fatteh recipe from the Jikoni cookbook as the perfect light lunch.
The best drinks to enjoy in the sun
With the extra time on your hands, why not make your own drinks?
Attend a virtual cocktail-making class and take your finished product with you to the park in an insulated flask – the Lifeventure flip-top thermal mug (£16, Cotswoldoutdoor.com) will keep drinks cold for 12 hours, and came out top in our round-up.
“Elegant rose petals are present on the nose, followed by sun-kissed strawberries and a touch of peach on the palate. A great summer wine you’ll find yourself drinking with everything from salads and tapas dishes, through to creamy goats’ cheese,” noted our writer. A perfect option for summer picnics that will transport you to a sunny holiday.
If beer is your tipple of choice, try this craft beer discovery club subscription service (£24, Beer52.com), 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 review of the best non-alcoholic spirits – gin lovers can enjoy Varner’s juniper double dry, 0% (£17.95, Masterofmalt.com), 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.
To take your mind off current affairs and give yourself a break from talking, we suggest reading Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers (£10.93, Amazon.co.uk), which took the top spot in our guide to the best new books to read and was recently longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021.
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 book 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’s podcasts thanks to it being the perfect way for children to learn without realising.
The best garden games to take with you to the park
If you’re looking for other ways to stay entertained, there’s plenty of outdoor games to keep things fun and entertaining.
The Smyths Toy wooden garden quoits (£7.99, Smythstoys.com) is “a wonderfully simple game, and generally cost-effective fun”, noted our writer in our review of the best garden games.
She added that while “setting up may be a doddle, success is harder than it looks, meaning that it holds the attention of all ages”.
The best products to stay protected in the sun
Of course, there’s nothing more essential for a picnic than protecting your skin from sun damage.
We loved this for its “perfect gel texture (neither too sloppy nor too thick)” and ease of application: “even wriggly children didn’t mind putting it on”.
Looking to upgrade your outdoor space? Read our guide to getting your garden ready for guests
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.