If parks are the lungs of a city, Paris suffers from chronic breathing difficulties. The sprawling, semi-wild public parks that decorate cities like London and Berlin simply don't exist here; the closest the city can offer – the Bois de Vincennes and Boulogne – are so criss-crossed with roads and footpaths that any semblance of the countryside is lost. The city excels at grand manicured gardens in which the French can indulge their passion for geometric designs, but the best of these – the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Tuileries – tend to get inundated with sun-starved locals and snap-happy tourists as soon as the weather turns to anything better than 'drizzling'. With this in mind, we've hunted out six alternative green spaces in which peace and quiet are still in abundant supply. From two-acre rock gardens to a 30km-long stretch of overgrown railway, these represent the best and greenest of Paris's hidden wildlife. Pack your picnic and enjoy.
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To discover more offbeat gems, including galleries, restaurants and bars, visit our Secret Paris page.
Directly adjoining the Père-Lachaise, the Jardin Naturel shares the cemetery’s tranquil ambience, with none of the morbidity. It’s sizeable for a Parisian neighbourhood park, and its marriage of playground and concealed location ensures that your company will consist mostly of local families and the occasional dog-walker. It also boasts an especially rich biodiversity for the city, with a focus on the wild flora of Île-de-France; but even if you can’t tell your apiaceae from your apocynaceae, the peaceful, secluded setting is enough reason to come and plonk yourself on a bench for an hour or three. Just across the Rue Lesseps is the park’s extension, the Jardin Lesseps...Read more
Nestling at the heart of the left bank’s Jardin des Plantes is this lush tribute to mountain flora. Around two thousand different species are arranged according to continent of provenance, surviving thanks to the microclimate created by the surrounding trees and the shallow valley in which the garden is situated. This also ensures that it remains somewhat hidden, overlooked by the families and joggers who populate the neighbouring gardens. The Jardin Alpin isn’t big – you can cover it in five minutes – but it compensates with its atmosphere of dense verdant calm. One to head to with a book and a long afternoon ahead of you.Read more
The spectacular, ten-acre jardin alone makes a visit to the Albert Kahn Musée & Jardins in Boulogne-Billancourt worthwhile: Each section is modelled on a garden from around the world – rocky Vosgienne forest, Japanese village gardens, contemporary Japanese gardens and English and French gardens – and makes for a wonderful, lazy afternoon away from the hubbub of central Paris. On Tuesdays and Sundays between April and September (except July and August), in the pavillon du thé, you can even partake in a Japanese tea ceremony, led by a tea master from Kyoto’s Urasenke school. Albert Kahn was an early-20th-century banker and philanthropist...Read more
Behind the Sacré-Coeur, just next to Montmartre’s vineyard, this garden is part of a very old piece of fallow land that was slowly reclaimed by nature. The trees, plants and flowers are self-sown, and created their own little meadow before the City of Paris decided to turn it in to an official biodiversity enclave in 1987. It’s only local flora and fauna, but it’s in fine fettle, especially as the garden is only open to the public once or twice a month in order to leave the vegetation in peace. The plot’s 1,480 square metres shelter hundreds of plant and animal species, from the pond-dwelling toad to the horse chestnut trees overhanging the path and the stinging nettles which, thanks to the handy educational signs...Read more
In stark contrast to the promise of its name, the Champs-Elysées can be hell on earth for pedestrians. Those who’ve come to see the Arc de Triomphe, only to be swallowed up by the unnavigable mess of traffic and window shoppers, may be surprised to discover that the avenue was still surrounded by parkland as recently as a century ago. Patches of landscaped greenery still flank it on either side, of which the clandestine Jardin de la Nouvelle France (formerly Jardin de la Vallée Suisse) is doubtless the prettiest corner...Read more
A kind of illicit pedestrian counterpart to the boulevard périphérique, the Petite Ceinture is one of Paris’s least well-guarded secrets, in both senses. Essentially a disused railway that loops around the city like a ‘little belt’, the route has lain derelict since the last commercial train rattled along its tracks last decade. As the council vacillates over its future function, groups of urbex enthusiasts armed with torches explore its grimy industrial charms. Save for three short stretches in the 12th, 15th and 16th arrondissements that have been opened to the public...Read more