The seasons are a bit confused in Paris this year, with spring ironically arriving around the same time as the summer solstice. Now that it’s finally possible to go outside without a heavy jacket, scarf and mittens, the idea of emerging from cafés and museums to discover what else Paris has to offer may seem more appealing. The city prides over three-dozen reasonably sized recreational areas, though tourists tend to flock headliners such as Jardin du Luxembourg or the Jardin des Tulleries. Below I’ve posted my seven favorite parks and gardens, chosen for their aesthetic pleasure, tranquility and distinctive charm.
Where to Visit If…
Promenade Plantée – Stretching three miles long and crossing four parks, this walkway was built on an obsolete railway line, beginning at Bastille and ending at the boulevard Périphérique. It offers the unique view from the Parisian rooftops while walking amongst vibrant vegetation.
You Want to People Watch:
Jardin du Palais Royale – While centrally located by the whimsical Palais Royale metro stop, the garden manages to keep a calm, relaxed atmosphere with relatively little intrusion from tourists. Surrounded on all four sides by 17th-century Parisian architecture, the garden dates back to the 1600s when it gave repose to French nobility before the Palace of Versailles. Today, the garden remains a great place to duck away from the city, sit and toss coins into the fountain or people watch under the shade of lime and chestnut trees. Marble sculptures scattered throughout add the signature artistic touch of Paris. Stores and cafes line the border of the garden, but the prices have stayed within the realms of royalty.
Square des Batignolles – After checking out the surrounding markets and quaint boutiques, stop by this picturesque park. Dozens of ducks and geese decorate its small pond while koi swim in the twisting natural spring that leads to a small waterfall. Over ten tree species coexist in this tiny park, with a solitary tropical palm tree locked in a glass-walled greenhouse.
You Want to Play Sports:
Arènes de Lutèce – Pass through an unremarkable doorway on Rue Monge and suddenly you’re in the midst of the Gall-Roman era. Built between the 1st and 2nd century, up to 15,000 people gathered at the arena to view circuses and gladiatorial combats before its conversion into a cemetery during the barbaric invasions. In the 1200’s it was completely filled in during the construction of a city wall, only to be rediscovered and reconstructed in the mid-1800’s. Today, the stage and cages are still distinguishable, acting as a backdrop to old men playing pétanque and young children kicking soccer balls. Numerous others line the elevated benches, reading, chatting or simply enjoying this little piece of tucked-away Paris.
You Want to go for a Bike Ride:
Bois de Boulogne – Its history dates back to the early 1200’s when it was a hunting and retirement ground fornobility. During the Hundred Year’s War it became a refuge for robbers and remained a dangerous passageway for many years before finally being renovated in the early 18th century. Over the following centuries, artists fawned over the peacefulness and beauty of this forest, with Zola, Flaubert and Proust writing it into their works, and Manet, Renoir and Van Gogh depicting it in their paintings. Today it is two and a half times bigger than Central Park, offering landscape gardens, an authentic château, a zoo, greenhouses, horse racing tracks, two artificial lakes, a campground and the tennis stadium that hosts the French Open. In addition to biking, horseback riding and boat rowing are also available and permitted.
You Want to Mix with the Locals:
Parc Monceau – Near the luxury apartments and mansions of the 8th arrondissement, Parc Monceau is an elegant English-style park whose colorful flowers, well-trimmed lawns, winding walkways and follies invoke a whimsical timelessness. Come here during the day to find nannies chasing after small children, impeccably put-together women taking a stroll (in heels, nonetheless) or businessmen meeting during their lunch break.
You Want to Have a Picnic:
Parc Floral de Paris – A botanical garden within the borders of the Bois de Vincennes, it boasts over 3,000 plant varieties, including 650 types of irises and more than 250 tulip varieties. Azaleas, rhododendrons, geraniums, ferns and dahlias can also be found amongst the ponds, paths, pavilions and patios. Every weekend in June and July the park also hosts free jazz concerts.