Best places for picnics: Australia's 11 best city picnic spots

The pandemic has reminded us of the old-fashioned pleasures of picnicking. Here are some choice spots in our capital cities on which to spread your rug and enjoy the green scene.

Q STATION, SYDNEY

Why do so few people know about Q Station? The former 19th and early 20th century quarantine outpost on North Head has a scattering of historic buildings surrounded by grassy hillside covering 30 hectares of prime harbour-side real estate. Plenty of room for the kids to run about, or to find yourself a tranquil nook. Admire great views across to Manly and Balmoral, and to skyscrapers in the distance. You can get here by car or boat; a couple of cafés will provide after-picnic coffees.

TREASURY GARDENS, MELBOURNE

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Photo: Josie Withers/Visit Victoria

Visitors who can't be bothered to stray beyond Melbourne's city centre can find a fine spot for outdoor eating in the small but lovely Treasury Gardens. You'll be sharing your space with statues of Victorian worthies and office workers gulping down their lunchtime snacks on park benches. A central pond and tunnels of mature trees keep the gardens cool in summer. Fitzroy Gardens is just next door; its bandstand is a good retreat if rain intrudes, and has a pleasant outlook towards the city.

RED GUM PARK, ADELAIDE

Otherwise known as Karrawirra or Park 12, Red Gum Park is a northern section of the green ring the wraps around Adelaide's city centre. Its formal flowerbeds and statuary contrast with more open paths for walking and jogging, and from almost anywhere on its soft grassy knolls you have lovely views across the Torrens River towards downtown Adelaide. Expect inquisitive ducks to come quacking past. Stray into adjacent Angas Gardens and you'll find a barbecue spot and seasonal beds of roses.

COCKATOO ISLAND, SYDNEY

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Photo: Vanessa Levis/DNSW

While picnic space is admittedly tight on Cockatoo Island, afloat where Sydney Harbour meets the Parramatta River, it provides picnicking with views towards the Harbour Bridge, and two cafés from which to source chilled beers and ice cream. Head to the visitor centre to borrow vintage games such as quoits and cornhole to play on the lawn. Count on spending the day – you can even stay overnight – since this World Heritage site is crammed with convict and historic naval ruins that are fun to explore.

KANGAROO POINT, BRISBANE

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Photo: Bauer Media/TEQ

The riverside suburb of Kangaroo Point forms a peninsular finger that thrusts into the Brisbane River just east of the city centre. Its fringe of cliffs and pathways provide great vantage points for river and skyscraper views, with Captain Burke Park the best place to recline on the grass; the only downside is the hum of traffic from the Story Bridge overhead. Meanwhile Cliffs Park has a scenically sited picnic area whose covered tables sit within a gurgle of the river.

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EDINBURGH GARDENS, MELBOURNE

Plunder North Fitzroy for lunch supplies and then head into heritage Edinburgh Gardens for a lazy afternoon beneath one of its many superb trees. Barbecue stands and drinking fountains are bonus, while ping-pong tables, a skate park, pétanque pitch and network of paths provide diversions between courses. Avoid the carnival atmosphere of weekends if you prefer serene picnics; otherwise simply submit yourself to this park's newfound groove and take the opportunity to make unexpected friends over sandwiches and a bottle of wine (between 9am and 9pm for the wine).

NATIONAL ARBORETUM, CANBERRA

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Photo: Stuart Miller/Visit Canberra

Commonwealth Park is the obvious choice of picnic perch thanks to its views of smug white government buildings across Lake Burley Griffin. But the National Arboretum provides more subtle delights, such as a congregation of rare and marvellous trees, a bonsai collection, and an interesting bush-tucker garden. It also has some luscious lookouts. Bag a bench on Dairy Farmers Hill or the sole picnic table at nearby Nest III. There are also picnic and barbecue spots in the shady Himalayan cedar forest.

SOUTH BANK PARKLANDS, BRISBANE

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Photo: Mark Fitz/TEQ

Sometimes you have to give into the obvious, and you certainly should in the case of South Bank Parklands, the promenade, eating and entertainment precinct that unfurls along the river in Brisbane. Almost any spot here is picnic paradise thanks to a string of lush lawns and city outlooks. Riverside Green might be the top choice for its views and terrific playground, which will occupy the kids. Choose Picnic Island Green if you're looking to drink alcohol (which is allowed here and at River Quay Green) or to barbecue.

CREMORNE POINT RESERVE, SYDNEY

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Photo: Hamilton Lund/DNSW

Take the short ferry ride from Circular Quay to Cremorne Point, turn left, and you'll shortly discover the sweetest piece of foreshore lawn you'll ever grace with a picnic rug. Sit under a shady tree and gaze straight at the Opera House, Fort Denison and city skyline as you pop your champagne – this is definitely a champagne and canapés kind of spot. In high summer, bring your togs: the diminutive, harbour-edge Maccallum Pool is a hidden delight few even Sydneysiders know about.

FOOTSCRAY PARK, MELBOURNE

Business, corporate and incentive events in Melbourne. Skyline view of the city from Footscray Park
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Footscray Park in Melbourne (credit Visit Victoria)
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Photo: Robert Blackburn/Visit Victoria

Melbourne has umpteen pretty gardens for a sedate picnic, but Footscray Park is an expansive Edwardian-era creation geared towards a full afternoon of relaxation thanks to its playgrounds, fitness circuit and riverside walk, which has fine views towards city skyscrapers and Flemington racecourse. There are some well-sited covered picnic tables and park benches in the lower, more open riverside section of the park. The upper section has delightful flowerbeds, superb trees and more secluded, sloping patches of lawn for more romantically minded picnickers.

MATILDA BAY RESERVE, PERTH

While Kings Park is the obvious choice for an al fresco afternoon, it's worth trekking just beyond to Matilda Bay Reserve in Crawley, where a knob of land hooks into the Swan River and provides watery city views. The reserve is a local favourite for its walking and cycling paths, picnic tables and free electric barbecues, and shady reclining spots overlooking the river's glitter. Watch wedding couples have their photos taken, and sailboats and occasional dolphins dance on the river. Consider an evening picnic, since this is a choice place to soak up the sunset.

See also: Fabulous freebies: The 10 best free activities in Australia

See also: Ten titanic hiking treks that should be on your hitlist

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