The 10 best cities for parks in the world

Charis Atlas Heelan takes us on a tour of the world's best parks. Be warned, the list leaves out two entire continents. Throw your opinion into the mix.
Written by Sonya James on

As the earth's population explodes at a barely comprehensible rate, cities are only going to get denser. This means more cars, more traffic, more noise, more neighbors above and below you, and more pollution of all kinds. In fact, as of 2008 for the first time in world history more people live in cities than in rural areas.

This is stressing a lot of people out. One quick fix? Go to the park. Parks are relaxing. Parks are like majestic clearings in the forest, only they are surrounded by amenities that help us survive now that we have almost no practical survival skills.

Thanks to Charis Atlas Heelan at Frommer's here is a list of the world's ten best cities for parks:

1. New York, New York

The setting for so many films and TV series, Manhattan's Central Park is the city's best known patch of green. A tourist attraction in its own right, the park stretches some 60 city blocks and covers close to 850 acres. Within the park, you'll find a zoo, lakes, botanic gardens, ice-skating rinks, concert venues -- and priceless views of the surrounding skyscrapers. Also in Manhattan is the lovely wooded Tryon Park, and if you are lucky enough to know someone with a key, take a stroll through the gated and private Gramercy Park. Venture into another borough to uncover the beauty of Brooklyn's Prospect Park and Brooklyn Botanic Gardens or the stunning Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx.

Best Time to Visit: A park for all seasons -- fall for the hues of red, orange, and yellow foliage; winter for snow-covered trees and ice-skating; spring for tulip bulbs and pink and white blossoming trees; summer for picnicking on Sheep Meadow and concerts on the Great Lawn.

2. Barcelona, Spain

Parc Güell is a visually stunning combination of park and innovative architectural and sculptural forms, courtesy of Barcelona native and design genius Antoní Gaudí. The largest of Barcelona's parks is Parc de la Ciutadella, which has two museums, a zoo, and summer music festivals. The smaller but decorative Parc Laberint (Labyrinth Park) is an 18th-century maze of hedges, pavilions, ornamental railings, and statues of mythological figures. And on Montjuïc near the Olympic stadium, you'll find Jardins Mossèn Costa i Llobera (home to hundreds of varieties of cacti) and the Jardins Mossèn Cinto Verdaguer (where 100,000 plants bloom throughout the year).

Best Time to Visit: Throughout the year, but in summer the parks host plenty of events, festivals, music, and other entertainment.

3. London, England

Hyde Park is the city's largest, with 350-plus acres along a lake, boat rentals, horseback riding, Speakers' Corner, and the Princess Diana Memorial. The 250-acre Kensington Gardens has majestic tree-lined promenades and views of Kensington Palace, while St. James's Park is ostensibly Buckingham Palace's "front yard."

Best Time to Visit: Autumn is particularly colorful, spring sees an explosion of color and fragrance, and summer brings music, events, festivals and long days for relaxing walks. Check calendars for royal processions and other regal events in the parks.

4. Paris, France

Luxembourg Gardens is one of those quintessentially romantic Paris spots -- Luxembourg Palace against a backdrop of a lake, fountains, and rows of imposing trees. Jardin des Tuileries, in the 1st arrondissement, is in an equally postcard-perfect location along the Right Bank of the Seine River. Its neo-classical gardens were laid out in the 17th century with a broad central avenue and geometric design topiary. The city's largest park is Le Bois de Boulogne, an adaptation of London's Hyde Park. On a sunny day, this 2,200-acre reserve in the 16th arrondissement is full of cyclists, picnickers, strolling couples, rowers, and pétanque players.

Best Time to Visit: Paris in springtime is famous with good reason.

5. Munich, Germany

Bare bottoms aside, the 18th-century English Garden (Englischer Garten) is a breathtaking sight. It was the first public garden on the European continent and is still considered the largest city-owned park in Europe. Sit on the lawns, stop for tea on the plaza near the Chinese pagoda, feed the ducks on the lake, or enjoy a pint at one of the beer gardens. The nearby Botanischer Garten (Botanic Garden) features 54 acres and 15,000 varieties of flora. Further away from the city center, the historic Hirschgarten is now known more for its massive beer garden than for its greenery, but deer still roam there.

Best Time to Visit: Parks are open throughout the year but are best enjoyed during the spring and summer months.

6. Chicago, Illinois

Fronting Lake Michigan, Grant Park is one of the city's finest green spaces. The 300-acre park, which includes Buckingham Fountain, hosts a number of high-profile festivals and events (including U.S. President Barack Obama's ground-breaking presidential acceptance speech). Adjoining Grant Park is the relatively new Millennium Park, which offers a Frank Gehry-designed outdoor music pavilion, the iconic Cloud Gate sculpture, and an ice-skating rink. Lincoln Park is another Chicago institution, with a lakefront theatre, a zoo, a bird sanctuary, and a lagoon with paddleboats.

Best Time to Visit: In summer, cool off and get wet under the fountains at Millennium Park and enjoy a slew of events and festivals in Chicago's parks. In winter, bring your sled or skates to Lincoln Park to enjoy the best outdoor experiences.

7. San Francisco, California

Golden Gate Park covers more than 1,000 acres and has a Japanese Tea Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers, world-class museums, botanic gardens, and more. Leisure activities range from archery to golf, and everything in between. The Presidio -- made up of 1,000 acres of wildflower meadows, gardens, and forest groves -- offers incomparable views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

When: Throughout the year.

8. Melbourne, Australia

Visit the Royal Botanic Gardens for its 12,000-plus species of plants, trees and flowers, the romantic Treasury Gardens, the greenhouses of the Fitzroy Gardens, Birrarung Mar along the Yarra River, and Flagstaff Gardens. Spy black swans, and breathe in the scent of eucalyptus trees.

Best Time to Visit: Spring for the sight of dozens of brides in long flowing white dresses; summer for picnics and movies in the park.

9. Tokyo, Japan

Separated from the main gardens of the Imperial Palace by a moat, Hibiya Park is Tokyo's premier "Western-style" park, with fountains, ponds, winding paths, flowerbeds, sculptures, and an open air-concert hall. For a more traditional garden, visit Hama-rikyu Gardens in the Shiodome area with its magnificent Edo-period tidal pond design; Kiyosumi Gardens, a typical Japanese feudal-lord garden with a pond, clock tower, artificial hills and rocks (Kiyosumi-shirakawa Station); and Mukojima-Hyakkaen Gardens, an early 19th-century design with a small temple, a shrine, and a playground (Higashi-mukojima Station).

Best Time to Visit: Spring for cherry blossom trees; fall for the changing autumn leaves.

10. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Highlights include Wissahickon Valley Park with 50 miles of rugged terrain for mountain bikers and hikers, plus trout fishing in Wissahickon creek; Pennypack Park along the Delaware River; the Azalea Garden; Boathouse Row; Batram's Garden; the Japanese House and Garden; Franklin D. Roosevelt Park ("The Lakes"); and East and West Parks.

Best Time to Visit: Get the most out of Philly's parks and outdoor spaces during the spring, summer, and early fall.

[Images via Frommer's]

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com


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