C’est le Printemps! And I’m not talking about shopping at the Grand Magazine named Printemps, I am talking about Spring in Paris! All the flowers have come out to play. Parisians are coming out of hibernation and shedding their winter coats (adorning beautiful floral patterns of this season’s haute couture designers of course) and hitting the many beautiful parks and gardens across Paris.
With the city awash with such colour, you might ask yourself “Which parks are truly the best to spend a lazy afternoon in Paris?" Well we’re going to take you through a couple of the more popular parks, and then a few of our favourite local delights and a couple hidden secrets so that you can make the most out of your time in Paris. Grab a book by Baudelaire, a bottle of French Rosé, your camera and head down into the sun. But don’t forget to pack an umbrella, you’re never sure when this Spring shower might gate crash your aperitif.
Jardin du Luxembourg
Strolling through the Jardin du Luxembourg is a favourite pastime of mine. Joggers flutter past students reading in the gardens and children can be heard playing with boats by the pool in front of the ornate Palais du Luxembourg. The 23 hectare park contains lawns, tree-lined promenades, and some beautiful flowerbeds. The clip clopping of hooves can be heard at the west of the Jardin where one can lose time watching the old folks enjoying a leisurely game of pétanque. Just be careful not to sit on the grass, you’ll get a stern whistle and warning from the park’s guards.
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
A popular park with locals, the 25 hectare Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is a hilly, rocky park in the 19th arrondissement, complete with grottos, a suspended bridge and waterfalls. Its unique topography was a result of the park being constructed on the site of an old quarry which gives to the impressive rocky island in the centre of the park surrounded by an artificial lake. Sitting some 50m above the lake is the roman style Temple de la Sibylle. Don’t forget your camera, because the temple provides photogenic views over the city, especially Montmartre and the Sacre Cœur. Many of the exotic and indigenous trees were planted when the park was established in 1867.
Cimetière du Père Lachaise
Not your typical park, the Cimetière du Père Lachaise is a beautiful mix between an English park and a shrine. You can visit the final resting place of Édith Piaf, Molière, Chopin, Oscar Wilde or Jim Morrison, amongst thousands of others in the most visited cemetery in the world. Along the east side you will find the Mur des Fédérés (Wall of the Federalists), where after an all night battle, the last of the Communard insurgents from the Paris Commune of 1871 fell. Nearby the wall are many monuments to most modern wars which are nestled within the cherry blossoms and bright flowers to create a very bittersweet contrast to the garden.
Parc de Sceaux
We have snuck in one park outside Paris, but the Parc de Sceaux is well deserved of a mention. Located in the suburb Sceaux, some 10kms south of Paris, it has long been a popular park for Parisians, but it is not widely known by tourists. The park with its traditional french design, complete with canals, waterfalls and fountains can rival those of Versailles, Fontainebleau or Chantilly. If you’re lucky enough to be in town in April, you are in for a treat. The park explodes into pink with the most beautiful display of cherry blossoms in the entire Paris region. Grab a bottle of wine and some cheese and make a true picnic under the falling petals with the hatter.
Bois de Vincennes
The Lungs of Paris refer to the two bois (woodlands) that flank Paris; Bois de Boulogne to the west and the Bois de Vincennes to the east. At an impressive 995 hectares, the Bois de Vincennes is about three times the size of Central Park in New York. Originally a royal hunting ground, the woodlands are impressively large, with an English garden, numerous lakes and a number of smaller gardens within, such as the Parc floral de Paris (Paris floral park) and the eerie Jardin tropical de Paris, that was originally the Colonial Experimental Garden. Whichever way you enter the woodlands, they are sure to impress.
Place des Vosges
Though not technically a park, the Place des Vosges makes our list as it’s a wonderful green space in the heart of the Marais. It is the oldest planned square in Paris, planted with a bosquet of mature lindens set in grass and gravel, surrounded by clipped lindens. During spring and summer one is allowed to sit on the grass, a rarity in gardens in Paris, so Parisians and tourists alike flock to the square and the lounge in the sun. It was from the corner of the square that Victor Hugo penned the opera La Esmeralda, adapted from his own novel Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame).
Jardin des Tuileries
Situated in the very heart of the city the Jardin des Tuileries is the oldest public garden in Paris today. Originally built in 1564 as a private garden for the royal family and the Tuileries Palace, it is a prototypical French garden with terraces and a column running through the centre of the garden along the Grand Axe, over circular and hexagonal ponds. There are always plenty of chairs scattered around the ponds and gardens, making it the perfect place to relax in the heart of the city.
Parc de Belleville
Parc de Belleville is truly a locals' park. Hidden away on the slopes of the 20th Arrondissement this park is a great place to escape the crowds at the end of a long day and wait for the most spectacular sunset Paris has to offer. From the top of the park you can see the whole of the city, it's a view not to be missed.
Jardin du Palais Royal
The beauty of Paris truly shines at the Jardin du Palais Royal. Beautiful flower beds explode in Spring and compliment the sculpted trees and fountains. There are plenty of benches and chairs scattered around the place where you can drink in the atmosphere. Often you can catch the Parisians in a game of pétanque. It is amazing to think you can be somewhere so tranquil and quiet only a stone’s throw from the world’s busiest museum, the Louvre.
Jardin des Plantes
Lucky last on our list is the Jardin des Plantes, the most important botanical gardens in France. Originally conceived as a medical herb garden for the Royal family, it quickly became the vast botanical garden it is today. The gardens still house a botanical school that trains botanists who oversee the garden's biodiversity. There are also alpine gardens and two hot houses for exotic plants. One can find the best roses in France at the Rose garden, created in 1990; it has hundreds of roses and rose trees.
With so many options for blossoming flowers across the city, there’s no reason not to grab your camera and enjoy the sun in Spring. Escape the hustle and bustle of Paris life and head into the gardens for a picture perfect view of Paris straight out of a Monet painting. If you’re interested in nature and flowers, why not join a photography tour with Aperture Tours and request a trip to some of these photogenic parks and gardens.
Author : Alexander J.E. Bradley
Alexander is the founder of Aperture Tours (formally Paris Photography Tours) and heads up the tours in Paris. A professional photographer for over a decade Alexander enjoys shooting the surreal by mixing dreamlike qualities into his conceptual images.