If Earth Day finds you deep within the concrete jungle, don't despair: you can still pay tribute to nature and commune with the trees in lush city parks and green spaces tucked into some of the world's most dense and developed cities. Here are six standouts where you can completely unplug from the urban grid.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Prospect Park - Brooklyn, New York
While Manhattan's Central Park is arguably the crown jewel of New York City parks, its cousin Prospect Park in the borough of Brooklyn shouldn't be overlooked. Both parks were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, and Prospect Park embodies their trademark natural aesthetic with its centerpiece: the open grassland of the 90-acre Long Meadow. It tends to be less crowded than Central Park yet still full of activities from the band shell and ball fields to the zoo and Audubon Center. Next door, the seasonally blooming Brooklyn Botanic Garden provides a sweet-smelling complement to its verdant neighbor. Highlights include the delicate Japanese Hill and Pond Garden, the romantic Shakespeare Garden (featuring plants mentioned in the Bard's writings), and the spectacular Cherry Esplande, where the cherry trees should be blooming just in time for Earth Day.
Da'An Forest Park - Taipei, Taiwan
The sprawling Da'An Forest Park in the heart of the city is known as the "lungs of Taipei" for its wealth of greenery. Nature lovers will thrill to the grasslands, flowers, and trees, especially the serene bamboo forest. The park is a favorite of joggers for its many lovely trails, while basketball courts, picnic facilities, and playgrounds make this a good family destination too. And since the teachings of Buddhism emphasize care for the planet, Earth Day is a perfect occasion to scope out the park's Buddha statue.
Griffith Park - Los Angeles
Whether by bike, on foot, or by horse, Griffith Park is perhaps the only place in Los Angeles where you can leave your car completely behind. Tucked into the foothills, it's the largest municipal park with urban wilderness area in the United States-there's so much green space that you might forget you're smack dab in the middle of a smoggy megalopolis (were it not for the sweeping views of the city from the abundant foothill trails). You can also marvel at the wonders of planet Earth at the Griffith Observatory with its high-tech planetarium, encounter "wildlife" at the Los Angeles Zoo, take advantage of the many sports facilities, or enjoy an alfresco concert beneath the towering pine trees at the Greek Theater.
Jardin du Luxembourg - Paris
Originally designed in the 1600s by the homesick Queen Marie of Medici, who pined for the Florentine gardens of her youth, the graceful, elegant Jardin du Luxembourg offers a refined retreat from the hurly burly of Paris's streets. Attractions include an octagonal pond where well-dressed Parisian children sail tiny wooden boats, the elaborately carved Medici Fountain, and the child-friendly Théâtre des Marionettes (which offers puppet shows daily). Because this is a formal garden, it's not the kind of place where you can cut loose and sprawl on the grass, but there are plenty of charming chairs and benches lining the gravel walkways to perch on as you take in the scenery.
Regent's Park - London, UK
Originally a royal park and the site of Henry VIII's hunting grounds, today Regent's Park is a pastoral plot that all can enjoy. Though bustling Hyde Park remains the most well-known park in London, this expansive, peaceful green space to the northwest of the city center offers an ideal way to get out of town without getting out of town. Stop and smell the roses: Queen Mary's Gardens inside the park feature more than 30,000 of the fragrant blooms, 400 varieties among them. If you're feeling sporty, come for a run; if you'd prefer more leisurely pursuits, take a spin in a boat on the main lake or spread out on the grassy lawn with a picnic.
Ritan Park - Beijing, China
From its construction in the 16th century to the end of imperial reign in the 20th, Ritan (which translates as the Temple of the Sun) was the place where Ming and Qing Dynasty emperors came for reflection, meditation, and carrying out ceremonial rituals and sacrifices to the gods. The elegant scarlet temples and the broad marble sacrificial altar still remain, as do ancient pine and cypress trees and a landscaped chain of rockeries and ponds. Despite the rapid growth of the surrounding Business District and the addition of a mod family-friendly leisure center, Ritan Park remains one of the most peaceful in the city, a spot where locals come to practice tai chi or try their hand at fishing in the ponds.
- Jennifer Garcia-Alonso and Rachel B. Levin, www.thepurplepassport.com