If you're at all familiar with impressionist painting, which so often depicts Parisians at lazy picnics in romantic green settings, you know that Paris' myriad parks and gardens have long been a source of inspiration. In Paris, a park is almost never a mere plot of grass reserved for sports, and a garden is rarely a random selection of flowers and plants. Parisians pride themselves in making their city's parks and gardens places of elegance, artistic detail, and symmetry-- even the romantic gardens have been carefully planned to imitate nature. Take a stroll, picnic, and revel in these idyllic green spots.
Established by Italian monarch Marie de Medicis in the mid-17th century, le Jardin du Luxembourg and its Florentine-style palace are arguably Paris' most popular places to seek fresh air and sun, stroll, and play. On the weekends the park is brimming with strollers, and children enjoy traditional puppet shows ("guignols") and boating on the park's ponds. Adults will appreciate the park's botanical arrangements, dramatic Renaissance-style layout, elegant statues of France's queens, and iron chairs for reading or lazing. One downside: there is little picnic space at Luxembourg, as most of the grass is "at rest".
Bois de Vincennes: "Les Poumons de Paris"
Affectionately dubbed "Paris' lungs", the Bois de Vincennes (Vincennes Wood) is a sprawling, English-style romantic park at Paris' eastern border famous for its lyrical lakes, pathways, gazebos, and hilly picnic areas. The park is almost three times larger than Central Park in New York. There is also a zoo, a farm, permanent fairgrounds, and a botanical park where open-air jazz concerts are held in the summer. If you want to get a breath of bucolic air but want to stay close to Paris, this is the place for you. Try a boating picnic on the lake, rent a bicycle, or amble among the trees.
Tuileries Garden: A Regal Spot Indeed
The Tuileries is Paris' oldest and most lavish garden. Its royal roots stretch to the 16th century when Marie de Medicis commissioned a palace behind the Louvre. Henry IV and Louis XIV would pursue construction and the palace housed the last monarchs of France until it was burned down in 1871. The elaborate royal gardens remained.
Today, the gardens are the starting point of a gorgeous and edifying walk from the Louvre to the Champs-Elysées, forming what is referred to as the "triumphant line". The gardens also feature sumptuous sculptures by Rodin and Maillol and eye-catching, artful symmetry. Great for kids, too.
Jardin des Plantes: For Educational Strolls
A scientific hotspot located in the learned Latin Quarter, the Jardin des Plantes is the site of the city's excellent Museum of Natural History. Built in 1635 as a royal botanical garden, the Revolution of 1789 transformed the garden into a public site.
The park features thousands of species of plants, including tropical varieties, roses, irises, and a botanical garden. A labyrinth adds a poetic touch.
If you're looking for an educational and picturesque visit, the Jardin des Plantes is a great choice. Kids will enjoy the onsite museum, where they can see realistic models of all types of animals. They'll also have fun at the zoo (Menagerie) at the Jardin des Plantes, the oldest in the world and full of odd creatures.
Buttes-Chaumont: For Romantic Picnics
This reigning favorite of romantic-style parks is in Paris' northeastern 19th arrondissement, little-explored by tourists and prized by locals. The enormous park's steep man-made bluffs, bridges, lake, and 30-foot waterfall all perfectly mirror the 19th-century romantic movement's desire to bring nature back into urban spaces. Here you'll find none of the formalist pomp and rigid symmetry of places like the Tuileries garden. Buttes-Chaumont is a great place to read, picnic, nap, or act out torrid scenes from Wuthering Heights. Another perk: you'll get off the postcard trail and see one of Paris' secret corners.
Parc Montsouris: A Quiet Spot in South Paris
Nestled in a quiet corner of south Paris, Montsouris is an English-style park complete with imitation-wood pathways, rolling hills, a pond, and statues. Its nearly 1400 trees, many of them at least a century old, provide poetic shade, and there's plenty of room to sprawl out and picnic.
Kids will enjoy the park for its many playgrounds, pony rides, and traditional puppet theatre.
The Montsouris park has been referenced in French literature and film, including Jacques Prévert's amorous poem "The Garden".
Bois de Boulogne
The western counterpart of the Bois de Vincennes, the Bois de Boulogne is a vast expanse of green on Paris' west outskirts. Originally the site of royal hunting grounds and a monastery, the Bois de Boulogne has been thoroughly adopted by today's Parisians as an essential place to breathe and play.
Another romantic-style park, the tamed wood offers visitors waterfalls, bluffs, lakes, and breathtaking walks among oaks, cherry trees, and countless other varieties. The park is also known for its devoted cyclists, its enormous children's garden, and its seedy night scene--incidentally, stay away from the park at night.
Promenade Plantée (The Planted Promenade)
Built above ground on a defunct railway, this unique 2.7 mile stretch of gardens is one of Paris' most charming places to take a stroll. As soon as spring rolls around, the Proménade Plantée bursts into dazzling color and features cherry and chestnut trees, climbing vines, and all variety of wildflowers and botanical plants. Benches all along the path offer great opportunities for sitting back and people-watching, cuddling, or just enjoying the spring aromas. There are also some great views of tucked-away Paris lofts and terraces, sculpted rooftops and balconies. Bird-watching opportunities abound, too.
Parc de la Villette: Ultracontemporary Paris
Perched high in North Paris, not far from Buttes-Chaumont, is a contemporary park situated between the Cité des Sciences et de L'industrie and the Cité de la Musique, both important cultural spots. The park is designed in an urban spirit, bringing together greenery, architecture, and contemporary sculpture. Several thematic gardens, galleries, eateries and cultural centers are found throughout the park. Vast open spaces also referred to as "prairies," provide great opportunities for picnics. In the summer, free open-air movies are screened at the park.
This is another educational spot that is great for kids.
Established by Napoleon III as Paris' first amusement park for the general public, the Jardin d'Acclimation offers old-world fun in the form of rides, a petting zoo, gardens and restaurants, a puppet theatre, and much more. This one's great for the kids.
Parc Andre Citroen
This ultra modern park was built on a former industrial site on the left bank and named after the French automobile manufacturer Citroen. A hybrid of styles, including French, Japanese, and English, come together to create a unique contemporary setting. The park features several thematic gardens, including an herbal botanical garden, a garden especially for children, and a resolutely contemporary garden that plays on color and light and fuses water, metal, and greenery. The park's large greenhouse hosts summer exhibits.
Try exploring the Parc Andre Citroen to get a glimpse of Paris' modern face.