Cities are often defined by their urban parks - think Central Park in New York, Hyde Park in London, the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco - and Paris is no exception. But Paris has more than one major park to offer green to its residents, and while some are vastly famous, such as the Luxembourg Garden, many others are also of interest and merit a visit of their own. Paris has about 200 public parks of various sizes, most of them are called jardins (gardens.)
My favorite spots are all over the city, and spread out in different arrondissements, so looking at a map of Paris will help you as you read this. Having had three children, I am very familiar with the corner playground where kids are often taken at mid-day to avoid cabin fever inside the apartment. Mine had no TV in their lives, so the outings were even more important for them, a sort of watch-the-world-instead-of-the-small-box experience.
Paris' weather is not all that great. People don't realize but it rains in Paris more than in London, but perhaps still less than in Seattle. Nice temperature can be savored from June to September, heat waves have been coming some Augusts, and snow is not unheard of around February.
I am talking strictly about Paris here, as these generalities change with every region: the south is warmer, the west is wetter, and the east and north of the country are definitely colder. The Mediterranean coast is balmier than the Atlantic side, and the various chains of high mountains - the Alps, the Jura, and the Pyrénées, have the proper cold climate expected in locales where people go to ski.
My favorite chlorophyll jewels of Paris are spread all over the city, and in no particular order, they include:
• 5th arrondissement: Jardin des Plantes. That is one massive garden with so many different corners to explore; it's the favorite one of children of all ages, even of mine. The spectacular Grande Galerie de l'Evolution in the main lobby was created in 1626, and reopened in 1994 after several restorations; it tells in one simple line-up the fantastic evolution of animal species with real-life size reproductions of animals. This is where I discovered as a child the many exotic animals one can never possibly see in the wild.... in Paris. The giant greenhouses filled with exotic plants and flowers, butterflies and hummingbirds, the petting area where goats eat your hair, the horse carrousel, the boxes of fragrant roses, and even the gravel under the feet still reminisce for me the sounds of childhood. The many parts require a full day visit. Métro stop: Censier Daubenton.
• 8th arrondissement: Parc Monceau. A magnificent place, starting with nine incredible wrought-iron golden gates as you enter. A lot of statues can be found at every corner. An ancient sycamore tree still stands high above the park. A favorite destination for local mothers of this chic neighborhood where they can be spotted roaming the alleys in the very latest fashion of strollers and buggies - this is where you go if you want to know what is "in" as far as baby carriage. A lot of Russian nationals also like the park, as it sits next to the Alexandre-Nevsky orthodox cathedral. A rotunda, a temple, a windmill, a minaret, a pyramid, a castle, and a Chinese pagoda are part of the landscape and offer the best photo ops in town. A creek and a basin surrounded by Corinthian columns add to the classic temple style of the park. This was famous French writer Marcel Proust's favorite garden of Paris, and is probably the most romantic of all on my list. Métro stop: Monceau.
• 14th arrondissement: Parc Montsouris. Souris means mouse in French, and ironically, this is where I released a tiny white specimen that had been a pet/guest in our apartment until she started to eat the wallpaper and we decided it was time for her to go back to a more natural environment. This park is near a university campus and students were responsible years ago for transforming the vast areas of grass into lounging spaces and sunbathing spots, despite the firm signs advising that the grass was Défense de marcher sur l'herbe (forbidden to walk on) . Thanks to them, many other city public parks have adapted to the trend and let people sit on the grass. Dogs must still be on a leash. The garden has many variations of English-type flower boxes and remains extremely well-trimmed by the army of landscapers and gardeners. Roses are my favorite flowers in this parks, they are not the classic large roses seen in other places, but the tiny kind that look like wildflowers and sprouts everywhere, it's delightful. The Park also has a small lake and a cascade. A meteorology station is housed here, and a guignol theater. And maybe my little mouse is still there too - how long do mice live? Métro stop: Glacière.
• 19th arrondissement: Les Buttes-Chaumont. This is the garden I always return to; it has the most alluring corners of any parks in the city. The view of Paris is grand, as the park is built on a hill. The 60-acre expanse was opened in 1867, and was created by Jean-Charles Alphand, who was the architect of all the parks commandeered by Napoleon III. Roads, bridges and paths criss-cross the hilly garden and follow the small river. The most unusual feature is the Temple de la Sibylle, inspired by a famous Roman temple. Perched high on top of a cliff above the waters of a small artificial lake, a cave was built underneath it and serves as a cooling chamber when the weather gets hot in summertime. Kids always run barefoot from the cascade to the stream. Métro stop: Buttes-Chaumont.
Every garden has a little concession store with ice-cream, cotton candy and chocolate bars. Some have a café with more elaborate fare. A few have pony rides, ducks and ducklings crossing the alleys, turtles, various birds, and a lot of cats. All Paris public parks offer free WIFI and are accessible to dogs on a leash. There is never an entrance fee, but some activities charge a token amount, such as the rides and carrousels. Most will let you sit in the grass, but there is no picking the flowers!
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