The French capital is well known for being built-up, polluted – and, in warm weather, ever so slightly stuffy. That means a bit of fresh air can be a very good thing here, especially when a heatwave strikes. You can’t get out of town super-fast – and the sea’s hours away – but for a 105-square-kilometre city crammed inside a ring road, Paris has a disproportionate number of brilliant parks and gardens to kick back and relax in.
Whether you’re after a riverside stroll, a chilled-out picnic spot, an outdoor yoga or aerobics class, or somewhere that’s particularly rich in flora and fauna, there’s a green space for you on this list. The City of Light may well boast all manner of magical things to do, but these Paris parks must rank among the city’s most marvellous sights. Why not take a look and explore for yourself?
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Paris
Best parks and gardens in Paris
What’s it good for? Picnics, views over the 19th, aperitifs at buzzing park bar Rosa Bonheur.
Tell me more? If you’re looking for gardens a little less formal than the Tuileries and the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is definitely worth a stroll. Set high up in Belleville and often missed by weekenders keen not to stray too far from the tourist loop, this 19th arrondissement park is one of the city’s most magical spots. The Buttes-Chaumont, with its meandering paths, waterfalls, temples and vertical cliffs, was a former gypsum and limestone quarry.
Closest metro: Botzaris/Buttes Chaumont
What’s it good for? If you fancy a proper day out, Chopin concerts in summer, wildlife on Paris’s doorstep.
Tell me more? Spread out over 865 hectares, the Bois was once the Forêt de Rouvray hunting grounds. It was landscaped in the 1860s, when artificial grottos and waterfalls were created around the Lac Inférieur. The Jardin de Bagatelle is famous for its roses and water lilies, and contains an orangery that rings to the sound of Chopin in summer. The Jardin d’Acclimatation is a children’s amusement park, with a miniature train, farm, rollercoaster and boat rides.
Closest metro: Porte Maillot
What’s it good for? Kids’ activities galore, feisty chess games, abundant sunbathing space around the boat pond.
Tell me more? This 25-hectare park is a prized family attraction. Kids come from across the city for its pony rides, ice cream stands, puppet shows, pedal karts, sandpits, swing boats and merry-go-round. Look out for the intense games of chess that take place on the wooded side of the park – and pop by the gorgeous Institut Giacometti afterwards.
Closest metro: Vavin/Odéon/Saint-Sulpice
What’s it good for? Decent cycle paths, a scenic route through the city, views into plenty of glitzy Parisian living rooms.
Tell me more? In 1969 the steam engines on Avenue Daumesnil’s viaduct whistled their last and the train line between Bastille and Vincennes closed for ever. Though the Bastille station was eventually replaced by today’s opera house, the viaduct was converted into glass-fronted workshops and boutiques for local artisans (the Viaduct des Arts). The old lines became La Coulée Verte (also known as the Promenade Plantée), a 5km trail made up of elevated gardens, the Jardin de Reuilly and tree-lined cycling paths.
Closest metro: Bastille/Ledru-Rollin/Bercy
What’s it good for? A quick stroll between museums, the summer and winter fairgrounds, to feel (un petit peu) like a royal.
Tell me more? Between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde, the alleyways of these gardens have been a chic promenade ever since they opened to the public in the 16th century. Landscape architect André Le Nôtre created this prototypical French park with terraces and a central vista running down the Grand Axe through circular and hexagonal ponds. The gardens are also dotted with beautiful statues – including copies of ancient works like Coysevox’s winged horses, and more modern ones like Dubuffet’s Le Bel Costumé.
Closest metro: Tuileries
What’s it good for? Outdoor summer concerts, drinks en terrasse at Moncoeur Belleville, quite possibly the best views in the city.
Tell me more? Up the slopes of the Hauts de Belleville, there are views over the city from Rue Piat and Rue des Envierges, but as far as panoramas go, you’ll be hard pushed to find a better skyscape than the one that unfurls before the Parc de Belleville. This modern but charming park was created in 1988 to bring a stretch of greenery to the park-deprived 20th, and from its slopes you can see as far as the Eiffel Tower in the west.
Closest metro: Belleville
Tell me more? Dotted with red pavilion-follies, this sprawling 35-hectare park was designed by Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi and is a postmodern work of genius. The follies serve as glorious giant climbing frames, as well as a first-aid post, bars and a children’s art centre. There are lawns used for a hugely successful open-air film festival in summer, plus 10 themed gardens bearing evocative names such as the Garden of Mirrors, of Mists, of Acrobatics and of Childhood Frights.
Closest metro: Porte de la Villette/Porte de Pantin
What’s it good for? Cute zoo animals, exotic smells, plants and trees of all stripes – including some that are hundreds of years old.
Tell me more? The city’s enchanting botanical garden contains more than 10,000 species and includes tropical greenhouses and rose, winter and Alpine gardens. Founded by Louis XIII’s doctor as the royal medicinal garden in 1626, it opened to the public in 1640. The formal garden is like something out of Alice in Wonderland. There’s also the Ménagerie (a small zoo) and a plaque on the old laboratory which declares that Henri Becquerel discovered radioactivity here in 1896.
Closest metro: Jussieu/Place Monge
Tell me more? Surrounded by grand hôtels particuliers and elegant Haussmannian apartments, Monceau is a favourite with well-dressed children and their nannies. It was laid out in the 18th century for the Duc de Chartres in the English style, with a lake, lawns and a variety of follies: an Egyptian pyramid, Corinthian colonnade, Venetian bridge and sarcophagi.
Closest metro: Monceau
What’s it good for? Romantic scenery, pretty fish, indoor greenery (and tropical warmth) if the weather’s miserable.
Tell me more? These romantic glasshouses were opened in 1895 to cultivate plants for Paris’s parks and public spaces. Today there are seasonal displays of orchids and begonias. Look out for the steamy tropical pavilion, home to palms, birds and Japanese ornamental carp.
Closest metro: Porte d’Auteuil
What’s it good for? Epic walks, summer jazz concerts, somewhere to cool off after a trip to the Marché aux Puces de Montreuil.
Tell me more? This is Paris’s biggest park, created like the Bois de Boulogne in the west, when the former royal hunting forest was landscaped by Adolphe Alphand for Baron Haussmann. There are boating lakes, a Buddhist temple, a racetrack, restaurants, a baseball field and a small farm. You’ll also find the Parc Floral – a cross between a botanical garden and an amusement park, where jazz concerts are held on weekends in summer.
Closest metro: Porte Dorée
What’s it good for? Beautiful themed gardens, a balloon ride with killer views, water features you can actually walk through (perfect in the heat).
Tell me more? This park is a fun, postmodern version of a French formal garden designed by Gilles Clément and Alain Prévost. It comprises glasshouses, computerised fountains, waterfalls and themed gardens featuring different hued plants and even sounds. Stepping stones and water jets make it a garden for pleasure as well as philosophy. The tethered Eutelsat balloon takes visitors up for panoramic views too.
Closest metro: Lourmel/Boucicaut
After more solid recommendations?
Je brunche, tu brunches, il/elle brunche… Only a few years ago, no such verb existed in French, but now you’d be hard-pressed to walk down a street in Paris without spotting a sign advertising an indulgent mid-morning formule – that, or hordes of Parisians queueing for their shakshuka and flat whites.