While Mumbai is known more as a concrete jungle than a garden city, there are some surprisingly spacious parks here if you know where to look. Three of the largest ones can be found in the Fort area of South Mumbai, which was established by the British in the 18th century; adjoining the western side of Fort George, a wide open expanse (called the Esplanade) was partly turned into a series of recreational spaces when the fort ramparts were demolished nearly 150 years later. These maidans—Oval, Cross and Azad—are now home to many of the city's budding cricket teams.
Meanwhile, Mumbai is the only Indian city with a national park within its limits. Read on to learn more about the city's best parks.
A short walk from the Kala Ghoda Arts Precinct, the 22-acre Oval Maidan is an ideal place to take a break from sightseeing: It's surrounded by some of the city's most significant Victorian Neo-Gothic and Art Deco style buildings, which collectively form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the eastern side of Oval Maidan are medieval looking architectural gems such as the Bombay High Court, Rajabai Clock Tower, and Mumbai University. Mumbai's Art Deco district is to the west.
During the week, the Maidan attracts early morning joggers, office workers on their lunch breaks, and evening walkers. On weekends, it comes alive with competitive cricket matches and practice sessions. You may even be able to join in and have a go at fielding!
Just north of Oval Maidan, near Churchgate railway station, smaller Cross Maidan gets its name from an old stone crucifix in the northern part of the park where there used to be a Portuguese church. Cross Maidan garden was restored in 2010 and features designated space for sculptures and art, seating, and a children's play area. A 30-foot tall white steel installation, designed to be a futuristic depiction of Mahatma Gandhi's iconic charkha (spinning wheel), is the focal point. The garden is also home to the serene 18th-century Bhikha Behram Well, where Parsis gather to pray.
Foodies will definitely want to devote some time to exploring Khau Galli (eat street) on the western side of Cross Maidan. Lining the eastern side of Cross Maidan is Fashion Street, one of the top markets in Mumbai where you can pick up cheap clothes in the latest designs.
The triangular-shaped Azad Maidan lies between Cross Maidan and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus railway station in South Mumbai. This sprawling 25-acre park is the hive of cricket activity, with an astonishing 22 pitches vying for room. It's usually always buzzing with young cricket players but unfortunately much of it is currently taken over by Metro train construction works. At the southern end of Azad Maidan is Bombay Gymkhana sports club, which notably hosted India's first Test cricket match in December 1933. The southeastern section of Azad Maidan is the city's official space for protests and political rallies.
Horniman Circle Garden
An oasis of calm in the busy Fort banking district, Horniman Circle Garden was the epicenter of Bombay under British rule in the 18th and early 19th centuries. It was an open ground known as Bombay Green, where cotton and opium merchants used to trade. The ground was developed into a park ringed by grand commercial buildings in the mid-19th century, and called Elphinstone Circle after the governor at the time. It was later renamed Horniman Circle Garden.
Of particular interest are the Neo-Classical Asiatic Library and Town Hall, the Venetian-Gothic Elphinstone Building, Saint Thomas Cathedral, and the historic well under a banyan tree where traders would met. Some of those traders grouped together to form the Native Stock Exchange, which later became the Bombay Stock Exchange. Keep an eye out for the old restored water fountain at the front of the garden—the well is beneath it.
Kamala Nehru Park and Hanging Garden
Kamala Nehru Park and Hanging Garden atop swanky Malabar Hill have quirky topiary animals, a children's playground with an Old Woman’s Shoe, a fish pond, and an outstanding panorama of Marine Drive and Girgaon Chowpatty (beach). A favorite hangout spot of local families since it opened in 1952, the park is named after the then Indian prime minister's wife. It was recently revamped and given a nursery rhyme theme, making it a kid-friendly destination. The view is worthwhile, too, especially at sunset. Banganga Tank and Walkeshwar Jain Temple are other attractions in this neighborhood.
Tucked away in an isolated corner of South Mumbai, in affluent Breach Candy, Amarsons Garden is ideal for a soothing low-key stroll by the Arabian Sea without the crowds. This park isn't on the tourist trail and isn't easily reachable by public transportation, which makes it refreshingly peaceful. In addition to walking and jogging tracks, there's a children's play area, and benches to sit on and admire the sunset. The only drawback is that Coastal Road construction works have partially obscured the sea view. The park is open daily from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tata Garden is another park nearby that overlooks the sea.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Park
A historically significant park covering 27 acres of the city's central Dadar neighborhood, Shivaji Park has hosted gatherings of freedom fighters, a movement for the formation of Maharashtra state post-Independence, and groundbreaking political rallies. Like many other important landmarks in Mumbai, the park is named after revered Maharashtrian warrior-king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. There's a bronze statue of him riding his horse on the western side of the park, which is also where the Ganesh temple and Bengal Club are located (the club hosts Durga Puja festival celebrations every year).
The park is also used for cricket matches and other sports, including Mallakhamb, a traditional Maharashtrian sport that involves the astonishing performance of gymnastics on a vertical pole. Try to catch a training session at Samarth Vyayam Mandir, or participate in a Mallakhamb workshop.
Not only is this the only national park within city limits in India, it has a complex of more than 100 ancient Buddhist caves on one hill. Known as the Kanheri caves, they were hand-carved out of volcanic rock from the 1st century B.C. to the 10th century A.D. While you're here, you can book a tour with a naturalist to walk along the nature trails, rent a bike and take it for spin, and visit the Nature Information Center's butterfly garden.
Feeling adventurous? Take the Mumbai local train there for a memorable day trip. Lush Aarey Milk Colony in Goregaon East is an extended part of the park, and acts as a buffer between the park and the city. Its main attractions are paddle boating at Chota Kashmir and Picnic Point Garden.
Maharashtra Nature Park
It's hard to believe that remarkable Maharashtra Nature Park was a garbage dump until a group of locals came up with a plan to convert it into a mangrove forest and educational park showcasing various types of Indian trees. This vast 37-acre park is situated right next to Dharavi slum, infamously dubbed the "largest Slum in Asia." Yet, it remains largely unheard of. Indian ornithologist and naturalist Doctor Salim Ali planted the first tree in 1983. The park's forest is now home to a multitude of birds, butterflies, reptiles, and spiders. Go during butterfly season in November for the best sightings. There's also an educational center, bird observation platform, vermicomposting, and a plant nursery. Opening hours are 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.