After traveling in a city for a few days it is only natural to want to find some open green spaces and breathe in some fresher air. And if you are in Paris during warmer months, you might want to turn your excursion into a picnic or evening aperitif surrounded by centuries old trees and pathways.
For the budding botanist and tree lover, Parisian gardens frequently label their flora so you can study the native plants while appreciating some of the earliest examples of landscaping and urban gardening.
Often built for royals or the uber-bourgeoisie, parks are now open to all and offer many activities for old and young alike. Best yet, just let yourself wander about and soak in the incredible beauty that is a Paris park.
The Luxembourg Park
is a likely contender for being the most beautiful and most classic Parisian park. There is something about this vast garden, its history, its layout and its location, that makes it a really special place in every Parisian’s heart. Located right in the heart of the left bank in 6th arrondissement with a border onto the 5th, where so much of the early history of the city lies, the park includes several gardens, a large central fountain, a small palace (now a museum), children’s play areas and nearly 80 statues.
The park was first owned by the Duke of Luxembourg, from where it takes its name, but it was Queen Marie de Medici who in 1612 wanted to move out of the Louvre after the death of her husband, king Henry IV, and requested the architect, Saloman a new palace and park. At nearly 25 hectares or more than 60 acres, this is a large garden to stroll through.
The central point, and likely the most well known feature of the park is the large, central fountain where children play with those remote control boats and parents and onlookers watch from the side, perched on those famous green metal chairs. This is the most open and vast part of the park as well, but move onwards to find rambling paths of green and wild flowers, or manicured geometric gardens.
There is even an apiary in the park if you want to learn about beekeeping. There are flat areas of grass, some of which you can actually sit on, an area for boules, Ping-Pong, tennis courts and and indoor orangery. You might want to end the walk at the Luxembourg Museum, a beautiful building that is now home to interesting art exhibitions ranging from the Renaissance to Modernism.
Several years ago, the city of Paris began having rotating photo exhibitions with large scale prints hung along the walls of the north and east sides of the park. Though an odd place for artwork, the themes are often about the environment, people and travel so it ties in nicely with the surroundings.
The Park Monceau
The elegant Park Monceau, in the 8th arrondissement, has more of an intimate if not romantic quality about it. Built near the end of the 18th century by Louis Carrogis Carmontelle, an artist more than actual landscape architect, at the request of the Duke of Chartres, the park is 8.2 hectares or a bit more than 20 acres, giving plenty of space to pass a lovely afternoon strolling about and discovering all of the hidden secrets to this regal garden.
Located in an upscale, residential neighborhood, all of the entrances have massive wrought iron and gilded gates that immediately give you the feeling of entering into somewhere special. In the center of the park, along the sandy path, is a gorgeous flowering hillside, a frequent spot for wedding photos (you are sure to one or two couples).
Crossing into the park or along its outer path, you will come across massive old oak trees with trunks as thick as a car, a rolling green meadow, an old Roman colonnade that lines a small pond, a grotto, a miniature Egyptian pyramid, ponies, a small neoclassical bridge, and of course, a carrousel.
With this eclectic decoration and the small, winding pathways, it is no surprise that this park was a favorite of Impressionist painters like Claude Monet and Gustave Caillbotte. Just outside, but bordering the park, there are two great museums housed in once private mansions; the Cernushi, home to a collection of Asian art, and the Nissam Camondo, which features the incredible French decorative arts collection of the Camondo family.
The story of this prosperous family, their tragic end in WWII, and their passion for decorative arts makes for a quite a visit. There is not too much in the way of restaurants and shops so if you get hungry, there is a food stand that sells ice-cream, candy and crepes.
The Jardin des Plantes
is the main botanical garden in Paris but it is also home to a small zoo and the museum of natural history. This is the perfect garden stroll for the science lover and the amateur botanist. Located in the historic 5th arrondissement, not far from the Sorbonne, the Jardin des Plantes possesses a sense of importance and you can feel the legacy of French education and discovery.
Thanks to the King Louis XIII, the Jardin des Plantes got started in 1635 as a medicinal garden for the royals and soon developed into a larger botanical garden where classes were offered in botany and sciences. By the end of the 1700s, the museum of natural history had been founded as the small zoo, and the gardens and museums onsite continued to develop into what they are today.
Here you can find an incredible range of native flora and fauna in the “jardin ecologique” or ecological garden which is like a miniature nature preserve, as well as exotic plants from across the globe. There is a small labyrinth found by wandering up some rocky paths. Or tour the outside vegetable garden, vast sunflower patch, the peony and rose gardens, wander up into the old school greenhouse, and take the paths along the edge of zoo for some free animal siting if you don’t feel like paying to go inside!
the Buttes Chaumont
Located in the northeastern edge of the Paris, the Buttes Chaumont feels a million miles away from the city and makes for a great walking park. Coming in at 24.7 hectares or about 61 acres, it is a smidge bigger than the Luxembourg. Constructed on a former quarry in the mid 1800s during the reign of Napoleon III, it had a rough early history as it was once used as a dumping ground for chemicals, trash, and sewage.
Given a big task, the architects and horticulturalists went to town and transformed the barren ground into one of the greenest in Paris. It is also one of the hilliest, giving it some of the best views of the city as well. It is easy to get lost, or nearly lost (it is still a city park), along the rambling tree-lined pathways that traverse the park. One of the centerpieces is the lake and small “island” called Belvedere, which is home to a craggly cliff with a copy of the Roman temple of Sybille perched atop.
It is quite a view to behold and you feel for a moment as if you have stepped back in time or into a 19th century painting. There is a grotto, naturally made from the original quarry site, and a waterfall which makes for incredible photos, and a 60-meter suspension bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel of that oh-so-famous tower! There are food stands and ice cream trucks across the park and for a fantastic end of day aperitif, head to Rosa Bonheur, a popular café and bar inside the just off the rue Botzaris entrance.
La promenade plantée,
or the the tree-lined walkway in English, is a bit less on the green than these other parks but absolutely worth a visit for its unique setting and as an ideal example of urban renewal. Located on a 4.5-kilometer-long former railway, this above ground park feels like a well kept secret for locals only.
Designed in the late 1980s, and one of the first urban parks of its kind, the promenade stretches from the Bastille Opera House into the 12th arrondissement on top of the Viaduct des Arts out towards the edge of Paris and the Bois de Vincennes. It is a great way to explore these neighborhoods while also being an escape from the city itself!
Walk along green pathways, along a canal, over a bridge, through a tunnel, past stacked hanging gardens, and beautifully planted flower gardens. There are larger meadows for picnics and sunbathing. It is a bit of country life in the big city. Fun fact: The promenade was the inspiration for New York City’s Highline!
Side Notes: For green excursions a bit farther afield, have a look at others gardens like the Bois de Boulogne and the Parc Floral. The Bois de Boulogne is a vast public park on the western outskirts of Paris. Covering 845 hectares or 2090 acres, the Bois de Boulogne is really a lot more than just a park.
In fact, there are parks within this park, like the Jardin d’acclimatation, a horse racing track, the tennis complex, Roland Garros, where the French Open occurs each year, museums, a chateau, and of course miles of pathways to just wander freely. But have a good look at the map before going as some of the off path areas are notoriously sketchy, if not dangerous, particularly at night.
The Parc Floral is a big, beautiful park located on the eastern side of Paris, near the Bois de Vincennes. Created in 1969, the park is home to 35 hectares of greenery and flowers. It is a botanical garden in its own right, with an incredible diversity of floral species and carved pathways to wander about aimlessly. Easily accessible and a great place for kids as well, with rides, games and activities available throughout most of the year.