In summer the charming parks of the French capital draw Parisians and tourists for romantic strolls, boating and biking adventures and wine-and-cheese-fuelled picnics. Chilled-out and mostly traffic-free, these popular parks are boosted by a string of enticing diversions, such as chic eateries, elegant architecture and cutting-edge galleries.
Paris' most centrally-located park nestles between the Left Bank districts of Saint-Germain-des-Pres and the Latin Quarter, and backs on to Palais du Luxembourg, a majestic property built as a royal residence in the early 1600s. Its beautifully manicured gardens are sprinkled with fountains, sculptures and green metal chairs (which you're free to sit on, flick through your book and watch the world go by). Indulge your inner flaneur by stretching your legs and observing the park's goings-on from the gravel paths (a flaneur, wrote the 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire, was "a gentleman stroller of city streets", though nowadays you're just as likely to see female flaneurs soaking up the people-watching potential). The park has plenty to keep the kids occupied, too, with a puppet theatre, pony rides and a pond for sailing model boats.
This hilly park, in the city's north-east, was commissioned by Emperor Napoleon III as part of the epic remodelling of Paris in the mid 19th century. Tucked behind Buttes-Chaumont Metro station, it occupies what had been the site of a medieval gallows, a sewage dump and a quarry. These days it's all rather idyllic, whether you're idling on the park's grassy slopes listening to birdsong, ambling past its cedar, beech and pine trees or staring up at the Temple de la Sibylle, a miniature Roman temple perched on a cliff above an artificial lake near a bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel. If you're peckish, or fancy a revitalising glass of rose, head to the park's Rosa Bonheur, a trendy modern twist on a guinguette (a traditional suburban Paris watering hole, eatery and dance hall).
Buttes-Chaumont would probably be more crowded if it wasn't for Parc de Villette, which is less than a kilometre north in the same (19th) arrondissement and, at 55 hectares, twice as big. It's divided by Canal de l'Ourcq - a waterway on which you can enjoy leisurely cruises - and boasts lush lawns and folly-strewn gardens made for lounging. If you're after some respite from the heat - or shelter from those occasional summer downpours - there are heaps of indoor diversions, including the Cite des Sciences et de l'Industrie, which is billed as Europe's largest science museum. Another park highlight is the Philharmonie de Paris, a new spaceship-like venue that earns rave reviews for its classical concerts and outstanding acoustics.
Sprawling on Paris' eastern edge, Bois de Vincennes is a touch bigger than its counterpart in the city's west, but shares many of the same flavours. Like Bois de Boulogne, it was a one-time hunting ground for the kings of France and now revels in its egalitarian, cosmopolitan atmosphere. There's a lovely blend of botanical gardens, wooded trails and fun activities, with friends and families congregating for bike rides, picnics and rowing trips on Lake Daumesnil. As well as being home to a Buddhist pagoda, a zoo and Chateau de Vincennes (Paris' only fortified castle), Bois de Vincennes hosts many events, not least Paris Jazz Festival, whose open-air concerts are staged here from mid June to late July.
Paris' newest park unfurls along 7km of converted expressways on both sides of the River Seine. The newest section opened on the Right Bank in April (2017) and courses 4.5km between the Neuf and Sully bridges, skirting past Ile de la Cite (an island in the river home to Notre-Dame Cathedral). With motorised traffic now banned, you can casually stroll, jog, cycle or skateboard along the promenade, pulling over to relax on the grassy, tree-shaded patches by the water or for refreshments at the terrace and barge cafes, bars and street food vendors. Alongside children's play areas and climbing frames, there are petanque courts, where Parisians of all ages compete in this quintessentially French ball game.
Looking like a fusion between a giant glass handbag and a sailing vessel, Fondation Louis Vuitton is another contender for Paris' most arresting piece of modern architecture. Renowned for its revolving exhibitions, this cultural centre sits at the northern tip of Bois de Boulogne, a favourite retreat for leisure-seekers living in Paris' west. Scattered with landscaped gardens and boating lakes, swanky restaurants and sporting arenas (including tennis mecca, Stade Roland Garros), it's more than double the size of New York's Central Park, so best explore its forest-fringed roads and paths on a bicycle. Make use of the self-service Velib scheme that lets you pick up and drop off hire bikes from 1800 docking stations across the city.
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