A tour of Paris’ green spaces
Paris is hardly a destination to choose if you’re looking to explore the great outdoors, but if you’d like to take advantage of these last few weeks of sunshine before the fall, there are still some corners of the City of Lights that will welcome you with open arms.
Paris is a city, like any other, but it’s also a relatively green city: Paris is quite literally covered in green spaces, from tiny squares hardly big enough to jog around to the immense Bois de Boulogne, with its 2,000 acres in the west of the city. Some of Paris’ parks are more famous; others are hidden in remote corners of the city, so pack up your basket with baguette, Camembert and pâté, because we’re going on a Parisian park adventure.
Best historical park
Paris has a long and rich history, dating back to 3000 BC. In 52 AD, the Romans invaded the city of Paris, overtaking it from the Parisii Gauls. They created their settlement along the south bank of the Seine, building their city, Lutetia, near the current site of the Sorbonne University.
In 1860, rue Monge, in the 5th arrondissement, was reopened after several centuries of neglect. In 1869, at the end of the completion of the street work, the Lutèce Arenas were discovered and, after several political battles greatly motivated by Victor Hugo, renovation work was started to open them to the public. Hugo said, “It is impossible that Paris, the city of the future, give up living proof that it was the city of the past.”
Today, the Arènes de Lutèce still stand and serve as a park and meeting place for people living and working in the 5th and 13th arrondissements. Go around 5 pm, and you’ll see local high school kids standing around and playing pickup games of soccer. After lunch, around 2 pm, it’s the older gentlemen who take advantage of the sandy terrain for games of pétanque. You can grab a seat in the tiered seating area and watch the modern versions of gladiatorial games that once took place here.
Best views of Paris
Paris is a relatively flat city, so the best views are generally taken in from atop buildings, like the infamous Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe or the gargantuan Montparnasse tower. But Paris does have a few hills in its outer arrondissements, notably the famous Montmartre, in the 18th.
But while Montmartre and its basilica are generally overrun with tourists, you can find a completely different kind of park in Buttes-Chaumont, in the 19th arrondissement. Take a seat by the lake that sits at the center of the park for your picnic. Unfortunately, Paris has a policy against drinking alcohol in public, so you can’t have wine with your picnic unless you’re willing to risk being told off by a Parisian policeman (which is what the Parisians often do). You can, however, steal a seat at Le Pavillon du Lac restaurant, where you can eat lunch on a tablecloth instead of on your knees, with the same wonderful views.
After lunch, take a walk up to the top of the hill on the Belvedere Island in the center of the lake. At the very top of the hill sits the Sibylle Temple, a beautiful construction that offers a rare and unusual view of Paris.
Best walking paths
Many parks in Paris have beautiful walking paths, especially those constructed around the time of Versailles. Versailles itself was designed by André le Nôtre, the royal gardener who would later design the Tuileries gardens outside the Louvre.
Stray a bit further afield, however, to the 14th arrondissement, where the Parc Montsouris offers not only the order of French gardens, but also the disorder of nature. Montsouris was built in the 19th century as part of Napoleon III and the Baron von Haussman’s plan to rejuvenate Paris, the same project that led to the renovation of Notre Dame and the addition of Paris’ wide avenues, lorded over by looming monuments like the Opéra Garnier and the Saint-Michel fountain.
Montsouris was built centuries after Versailles; the order of the royal garden had fallen out of fashion and the English-style garden was en vogue, which is evident once you take a walk through Montsouris. You’re sure to run into local university students living at nearby Cité Universitaire, as you discover the lake and its wildlife, as well as the 150 species of trees and plants throughout the park. Green spaces abound, but there are also conveniently spaced park benches throughout, if the grass is too wet for a picnic.
Métro: Porte d’Orléans (or tram stop Montsouris, RER B stop Cité Universitaire)
Above all, don’t be afraid to explore in Paris. While there are many sites to visit on the beaten trail, many more can be found if you just explore the outer arrondissements a bit more closely. You never know what surprises you could stumble upon!