By Kate van den Boogert
August 20, 2014
Sean De Burca/Corbis

Unlike its neighbor London, Paris is hardly synonymous with plentiful parks and leafy squares. But its urban grey monochrome only makes an oasis of green in its heart more precious. Napoleon III was responsible for many of the city’s major parks and gardens in Paris; in the mid-19th century, he embarked on a massive urban planning program with his prefect of the Seine, Baron Haussmann, not only to restructure the roads but also to install green spaces in the center of the city. Inspired by the urban center of London and its Hyde Park, he created from scratch or developed a number of the city’s most impressive parks and gardens, all but the Parc de la Villette, listed below. To experience Paris as locals do, take some time to wander its green spaces, with their fountains, shady allées of trees, majestic monuments, and quiet corners for contemplating the universe.

Jardin des Tuileries

The former Royal garden attached to the adjacent Louvre, and running west along the Seine to Place de la Concorde, was established by Catherine de Medicis in the mid 16th century. Today, this gorgeous French formal garden still has plenty to keep you amused, counting a pond and fountain, statues, cafés, a fun fair (depending on the season), playgrounds and trampolines for the kids, and also wonderful museums—L’Orangerie and the Jeu de Paume.

Jardin du Luxembourg

Created in 1612 around the palace built by Marie de Medici, this graceful garden on the Left Bank is a delightful spot to relax and wander among its many statues, trees, shrubs, flower beds, and the beautiful Medici Fountain, dating from 1630. The garden is also known for the colorful toy boats for hire that Parisian children have been sailing around the pond for generations.

Buttes Chaumont

This beautiful park built in the Romantic tradition features moody grottos, waterfalls, waterways and an artificial lake, and even a temple inspired by the Roman Temple of Vesta in Italy that’s perched a top of a cliff built to resemble the dramatic cliffs of Etretat. There are many magnificent trees, some of which date from when the park was created, including Lebanon cedars planted in 1880.

Bois de Vincennes

This immense park, located on the Eastern border of the city, is three times bigger than New York’s Central Park, and has tons to do. Whether visiting the château, a former royal residence, or the zoo, flower garden, racecourse, bike track, city farm, or boat rides on the lake, you’ll be happy you made the trip.

Parc de la Villette

A more modern park, the Parc de la Villette was designed by French architect Bernard Tschumi and built in the mid-1980s. A cultural hub, many institutions including the Cité de la Musique are located on site, and the new Philharmonie de Paris, a symphonic concert hall designed by Jean Nouvel, will open here in 2015. It’s a great spot for picnics, too.