Paris has some of the most beautiful parks and gardens in the world, and thanks to the city’s compact nature, most of them are easy to walk to. There’s nothing nicer than having a picnic on a sunny day with a bottle of chilled rosé while the kids kick a ball around.
The gardens in Paris are typically French. They’re well-maintained, have gorgeous flowers, and often resemble a piece of artwork. The Jardin du Luxembourg is a good example of this, with the Luxembourg Palace (housing the French Senate) providing a stunning backdrop to children playing with boats in the fountain. It’s in a great location, right across from the Pantheon and up the road from Notre Dame and the Sorbonne University, making it an ideal place to stop and give your feet a rest in the deck-chairs or join in a game of pétanque with the locals.
The Jardin des Plantes is one of my favorite botanical gardens. Across from the Gare d’Austerlitz train station (south-east Paris), you’ll also find the Natural History Museum and the world’s oldest zoo sharing the grounds. Make sure you go during the spring, when the flowerbeds are bursting with color.
Parks in Paris
The parks in Paris have a more relaxed attitude than the manicured gardens. Buttes-Chaumont is such an example. Built in 1867, at the same time as the Champ de Mars Universal Exhibition, it was constructed over old quarries, and is a blend of English, Chinese and French architecture. I love the trails and little paths that lead off along the winding hill, the bridges, and the little temple at the very top which gives a great view of Paris. For the children, the grass slopes are ideal for rolling down! For the adults, the bar Rosa Bonheur in the middle of the park is a hit among locals and tourists alike. Open until midnight, it’s the perfect place to watch the sun set over the city, or even have a dance in the club downstairs. Be aware, it’s very popular!
Of course, perhaps the two most famous parks are the Champ de Mars, leading off from the Eiffel Tower, and the Tuileries, between Place de la Concorde and the Louvre. With the former, I often wonder at the masses of tourists eating sandwiches under the tower’s giant iron legs. If they were only to take a few steps back, they’d see the picnic-perfect grass that hosted the launch of the world’s first hydrogen-filled balloon in 1783.
If you head to the Tuileries in the morning, you’ll see an army of joggers making the most of the tourist-free hours. Don’t feel guilty if you’re not up for joining in. It’s a great place to prepare your feet for the Louvre or the Champs Elysées, situated at either end of the gardens.
Watch Where You Sit!
One crucial piece of information: not all of Paris’ grass is meant to be sat on. For the most part, you cannot sit on the grass in formal gardens (jardins). It’s tantamount to sitting in a flowerbed, and you’ll quickly find yourself chased off by a gardener. Believe me. The wisest thing to do is look for the locals: if the only people sitting in the middle of a carefully manicured lawn are waving a map around, think twice. But if there are groups of students revising in the sunshine, or sun-worshipers stretched out on rugs, it’s normally safe to sit. You might also want to look out for signs that (comically) read “pelouse en repos”: literally, the grass is “resting”, warning you not to plop down on it!
Breathe Some Fresh Air
If you want to feel like you’ve escaped from the city, you don’t have to go very far. The Bois de Vincennes and Bois de Boulogne are the two large green spaces you’ll see on any map of Paris, to the east and to the west of the city. If you’re a cyclist, there are some great trails to follow as well! The Bois de Vincennes hosts the beautiful Chateau de Vincennes, and well as the Parc Floral, with its many family-based attractions. The Bois de Boulogne boasts the pretty Jardin Shakespeare, where you can watch open-air theater performances.