Aside from a handful of world-famous greenspaces, most city parks are not on the tourist radar. Even so, many urban travelers end up stopping by a park during their trip. These natural spaces are the perfect antidote to that burned-out, overwhelmed feeling that comes from a day of sidewalk-trekking, line-waiting and sightseeing. Because of the peaceful vibe of many of these parks, they end up becoming a memorable part of many city vacations.
From Luxembourg Garden in Paris to Bangkok's Lumphini Park, here are nine big-city parks worth adding to your itinerary.
Central Park, New York
New York City's <a href="http://www.centralparknyc.org/" target="_hplink">Central Park</a> is the most famous urban greenspace in the United States, and perhaps even the world. It's sheer popularity might make it a turnoff for tourists in search of some peace and quiet: 35 million people visit it each year. However, with more than 800 acres, there are plenty of sections where visitors won't be elbow-to-elbow with other tourists. A walkable woodland area called the Ramble is a haven for bird-watchers, the other areas of the park provide a range of activities, from hiking, biking, skating (both on pavement and on ice in the winter), and paddleboat riding. Central Park is a cultural attraction as well as a place to enjoy the greenery. Concerts and performances are held regularly during the summertime, and art installations include dozens of sculptures and even a 2-acre area dedicated to John Lennon.
Parc Guell, Barcelona
This <a href="http://www.barcelonaturisme.com/Gracia-and-Park-Guell/_3Ngb8YjSpL1WFZzr8h4hs47PfdahHHJ02ckqW9hLNP4" target="_hplink">Barcelona attraction</a> is easily one of the world's most unusual urban parks. It features buildings designed by famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, whose work can be seen throughout the city. The whimsical structures (which were originally designed as part of a housing development that was ultimately unsuccessful) give Guell a slight theme park feel. The buildings cover only part of the park, with gardens and more natural areas covering the rest. The mix of cultural and natural elements makes Guell a good option for sightseers who want to take in some interesting design and nature while stepping out of the city landscape.
Bukit Timah Nature Preserve, Singapore
<a href="http://www.nparks.gov.sg/cms/index.php?option=com_visitorsguide&task=naturereserves&id=46&Itemid=75/" target="_hplink">Bukit Timah Nature Preserve</a> is a relatively small park that stretches for 400 acres on its namesake hill in the city-state of Singapore. The well-kept trails and infrastructure and the tropical plants and animals make this an interesting destination for those seeking a unique urban park experience. Nature lovers will find unusual insects such as praying mantises alongside creatures like freshwater crabs, flying squirrels and pangolins. Rattan, fig and other tropical trees that once covered vast parts of Singapore still grow on the slopes of Bukit Timah. The park's trails lead through the forests and up to the summit of the hill, which is the highest point in Singapore. Singapore is a largely urban place, though arguably one of the more pleasant cityscapes in the world, and Bukit Timah gives visitors a chance to easily connect with the country's hidden natural side.
Phoenix Park, Dublin
At 1,750 acres, <a href="http://www.phoenixpark.ie/" target="_hplink">Dublin's Phoenix Park</a> is one of Europe's largest urban greenspaces. The park in Ireland's capital city has an array of monuments, both historic and religious, and an old fort. Phoenix boasts expansive lawns and woodlands, which cover about one-third of the park's landscape. Deer were introduced into Phoenix Park several centuries ago, and several hundred of the original herd's descendants still run free in the park. In addition to the outstanding natural attractions, this space hosts concerts, running races and even a cricket club. The Dublin Zoo is also on the premises.
Stanley Park, Vancouver
<a href="http://vancouver.ca/parks/parks/stanley/" target="_hplink">Stanley Park</a> is a 1,000-acre greenspace next to downtown Vancouver. Nearly 8 million people use the park every year. A five-mile seawall trail that circles Stanley is a popular choice for hikers and bikers (who are given separate lanes for the entire length of the trail), though the park has an astonishing 120 miles of trails that crisscross the mostly forested interior. Some of the trees inside the park's forested landscapes are centuries old. The park's interior trails are a great way to sample the natural side of British Columbia while staying close to the city. Stanley is also home to an aquarium, golf course, sports facilities and a small train.
Monsanto Forest Park, Lisbon
This park covers more than 2,400 acres in the capital city of Lisbon. Many people come for the skyline views of Portugal's charmingly aged city, but <a href="http://www.visitportugal.com/NR/exeres/D6AB4708-ACD7-4436-A4DC-28429D571FAC,frameless.htm" target="_hplink">Monsanto Forest Park</a> is also a playground for nature lovers. Trees cover much of the park, and efforts have been made to manage both plant and animal species. Monsanto is also the site of an education-oriented center called the <a href="http://www.lisbon-tourism.com/en/lisbon-attractions/parks-and-gardens-in-lisbon/monsanto-ecological-park.html" target="_hplink">Ecological Park of Lisbon</a>, which includes an interpretative center and auditorium for presentations.
Griffith Park, Los Angeles
This massive park in L.A.'s Santa Monica Mountains covers more than 4,000 acres, making it one of the largest city-run parks in California. For anyone who wished that urban parks had more rugged, natural landscapes, <a href="http://www.laparks.org/dos/parks/griffithpk/" target="_hplink">Griffith</a> is a great destination. The park's trails lead into the Santa Monica Mountains, offering visitors hiking experiences that are seldom available to city-dwellers and visiting tourists. A local chapter of the Sierra Club leads guided hikes along these "backcountry" trails. Griffith also has a wide range of on-site attractions, including concert venues, the Griffith Observatory, golf courses and the Los Angeles Zoo.
Luxembourg Gardens, Paris
Paris has some of the world's most impressive gardens, but <a href="http://www.pps.org/great_public_spaces/one?public_place_id=39" target="_hplink">Luxembourg Gardens</a> is the city's standout. Known for its well-manicured lawns, intricate flower beds, statues and fountains, Luxembourg draws plenty of Parisians, who claim that it has a quiet atmosphere and is the perfect place to take a break from the hubbub of city life. The park features small cafes and a gazebo where music is performed. This is not a place for a hike in wild surroundings, but the gardens do provide the requisite natural beauty and peaceful atmosphere for a brief escape.
Lumphini Park, Bangkok
Bangkok is a city of traffic gridlock and unending urban landscapes. Its temples, museums, shopping and unique culture draw a steady flow of tourists. This city can be overwhelming, however, so <a href="http://184.108.40.206/office/ppdd/publicpark/english/mainpark/E_Lumpini.html" target="_hplink">Lumphini Park</a> (sometimes called Lumpini Park) is a welcome addition to anyone's itinerary. This 145-acre greenspace offers uninterrupted views of the skyline. Visitors can enjoy lounging on the lawns near the lake (and perhaps feeding the frenzied fish that call the water home) and wandering the nearly two miles of paths that circle the park, as well as playgrounds, exercise equipment and cultural attractions. For some, a ban on smoking and pets make a visit to Lumphini an even more pleasant experience. The park is centrally located near one of Bangkok's main shopping districts, so it's possible to duck in for a few breaths of fresh air.
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Travel with Bennett-Watt and discover Central Park in New York City, a site visited by over 25 million visitors every year.