Jardin des Plantes: the oldest park
Jardin des Plantes was inaugurated to the public in 1640 as the first botanical garden of the French king. Today, visitors can admire thousands of species of plants and flowers. Part of the collection is indoors, in 2 monumental tropical greenhouses. But most of the attractions are outside in various themed gardens, such as a rose garden, an educational garden and a somewhat hidden Alpine garden with heavenly features. Along the outskirts of the park are also 3 lovely natural history museums. There is also a zoo, La Ménagerie, where the sound of children playing among the falling autumn leaves is often drowned out by the exotic animal sounds.
Parc de Bercy: a vineyard in the city
Behind the Gare de Lyon, on the eastern side of Paris, lies Parc de Bercy, a park that stretches along the bank of the River Seine. The park was laid out less than 15 years ago on the site of a former wine depot. This former wine warehouses now house bars and cafés, and the old railway tracks in the park are a reminder of its previous function. A small vineyard was planted here as well. In addition to the beautiful flower gardens, there are a surprising number of water gardens: from natural ponds with water lilies to modern fountains that gurgle gently. Students enjoy some late sunshine on the wide grassy lawns – the university library is located directly across the river.
Buttes-Chaumont: a park with a view
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, laid out in a former chalk quarry, has some huge variations in altitude. In addition to the large grassy lawns where (unlike most Parisian parks) people play football and enjoy picnics, the 19th-century Buttes-Chaumont also features romantic caves and waterfalls. The large central pond has a lush rocky island with a small temple on top. From its highest point, the park offers spectacular views of the Sacré-Coeur and northern Paris. After an autumn walk in the park it is time for a drink in the trendy Pavillon Puebla, a café-restaurant set in a former hunting lodge with 2 large terraces.
3 small hidden parks
Paris also has many smaller parks, some in very surprising locations. Square des Arènes de Lutèce is a colourful mini park around the ruins of a Gallic-Roman amphitheatre in Paris, near the Quartier Latin. The entrance is hard to find. It is also the same with the Jardin Catherine-Labouré, near the department store Le Bon Marché. This charming park with a vegetable garden and orchard is tucked away behind a discrete entrance on Rue de Babylone. Another lovely small park, also on the left bank, is the Jardin du Musée de Cluny. This symmetrical medieval garden full of herbs is accessible for free, even if you don’t visit the museum.