This little guide to our pick of the world’s best parks and gardens has been coming for some time. These days I find myself spending a significant amount of time dreaming of spreading a picnic blanket out on some grass between a shady tree and sprawling out with little more than a good book, a bowl of fresh strawberries, and a bottle of sparkling wine.
In Siem Reap, we’ve just been staying at the beautiful Maison Polanka, a boutique hotel consisting of two traditional Khmer timber houses surrounded by their own private parkland. Sprawling lush lawns are dotted with towering trees. Butterflies flutter about. Squirrels bounce between branches. And honeyeaters feast on the fragrant flowers. It’s my idea of heaven.
Parks and gardens should be on your to do lists when you visit cities. They’re fantastic places to stretch your legs after a long haul flight, and the fresh air they generate will help you sleep. They’re great for picnics, or just DIY lunches if you’re travelling on a budget. They also provide a real insight into how locals live their lives.
Here are our pick of the parks and gardens we’ve loved on our travels…
Buenos Aires has some of the world’s most beautiful parks and gardens and the best time to experience them is on a sunny Sunday when the city’s sprawling verdant spaces fill with Porteños, as Buenos Aires’ locals are called. They’ll be sunbathing, rollerblading, cycling, skateboarding, jogging, juggling, power walking, playing roller hockey, playing guitar, doing pilates, riding silly bikes, rowing silly boats, doing yoga, and even belly-dancing in the parks. While parks are dotted all over the city, Palermo has a handful of parks that are clustered together, the highlight of which is our favourite, Bosques de Palermo or ‘Palermo Woods’, sprawling green space of lakes, rose gardens, and shady lawns, with wide walking/cycle paths running through it.
The moment the sun comes out Parisians hit their parks, embracing the balmy weather. They amble, walk their dogs, sink back on the public seats scattered around the fountains and ponds, reading their books and newspapers, and spread out picnic blankets. Orchestras, mime artists and jazz bands perform in the sunshine, soaking up the French enthusiasm for life. Paris boasts an abundance of parks but my favourite is the elegant Palais Royal. Take a look here at these Snapshots in Paris on a Spring Afternoon and you’ll see what I mean.
Sydney is blessed with some of the world’s most beautiful parks and gardens, with some of the world’s most breathtaking views. In the city centre, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, those views are of sparkling Sydney harbour, and the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Along the city’s coastline, many of Sydney’s best beaches are backed by verdant parks with jaw-dropping views of the sea and ocean swimming pools. My self-guided stroll takes in the best parks in the city, including leafy Hyde Park and the Chinese Garden of Friendship at Darling Harbour. Richard Graham’s fabulous My Sydney Detour also takes you to secret parks you wouldn’t find without a local.
When you think of New York parks, you probably think of Central Park, but we prefer the East Village’s idiosyncratic community gardens. Tucked between tenement buildings, some gardens are local secrets, hidden behind high walls dripping with vines, while others are the life of their block, always buzzing with activity and people taking advantage of these little pieces of paradise in the concrete jungle. Aside from gardening, there are always activities going on – yoga, storytelling, poetry nights, film screenings, and jazz concerts – and the occasional tourist, who can’t believe their luck, taking photos or just enjoying a breather and the chance to rest their weary feet. For more information see our posts on New York’s Secret Gardens – Urban Oases in the East Village and 10 Tips to Enjoying the East Village Community Gardens.
Bangkok’s beautiful parks and gardens make great escapes from Thailand’s chaotic, gridlocked capital. We developed a soft spot for the city’s green spaces from when we lived in the city a couple of years ago and would take regular walks around Benjakiti Park, seeing the same locals out every day, power walking, jogging and cycling the circuit around the manmade lake. Lumphini Park, Bangkok’s answer to Sydney’s Centennial Park, London’s Hyde Park or New York’s Central Park is another of our favourites for people-watching – locals practice tai chi, work-out at the gym, participate in mass aerobics classes, and pedal swan bites here. See all our favourites here in this post Bangkok Parks and Gardens – a Breath of Fresh Air in the Big City.
Getting there & getting around
There are plenty of established flight operators that fly to Buenos Aires, Paris, Sydney, New York, and Bangkok. Public transport will get you between city parks in all cities, from the metros in Buenos Aires, Paris and New York, to trains and buses in Sydney, and the BTS and MRT in Bangkok. Buy a transport card with multiple rides rather than single tickets to zip between each of the parks. Pack a picnic lunch or pick up street food on the way.