Next time you’re traveling to a busy, crowded city with many famous attractions, take some time to visit a local park.
Often there are hidden stories and quiet corners where you can relax before another onslaught on museums, galleries and historical sites. Here we round up some of the most beautiful city parks in the world.
BIG APPLE, BIG PARK
A morning or early evening stroll around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir (above) is very rewarding
Perhaps the most well-known urban park in the world, Central Park in New York stretches across 843 acres of Manhattan.
Visitors to the city flock to the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, the Empire State Building and the Museum of Modern Art; all wonderful in their own way. But a morning or early evening stroll around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir to the Bethesda Fountain – perhaps stopping to see the memorial section honoring John Lennon in Strawberry Fields – is very rewarding.
The Seawall Trail in Vancouver’s Stanley Park (above) is a great hiking route
There are approximately half a million trees spread across 1,001 acres of Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia. This is a wild place with only a few early 20th-century buildings, as well as an aquarium and a narrow-gauge railway that travels a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) track.
Enjoy the galleries, cocktail bars and restaurants in the city’s bustling Gastown area. Then take a 5.5 mile stroll along Stanley Park’s stunning Coastal Wall Walk, which overlooks Burrard Inlet and English Bay.
Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden occupies 74 hectares adjacent to the Opera House, with serpentine paths winding between flower beds and trees
The Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney has a wonderfully central location – 74 hectares right next to the Opera House, the fantastic seafood restaurants and bars of Circular Quay, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
After a day of sightseeing, a leisurely stroll along the serpentine paths between flower beds and eucalyptus, jacaranda and palm trees is the perfect way to unwind as the sun sets. Rock gardens, cacti and herb gardens add to the oasis-like atmosphere.
Pictured above are the famous cherry blossoms in Tokyo’s Ueno Park, which is visited by around 10 million people each year
Ueno Park is Tokyo’s busiest park, with around ten million visitors a year, many of whom enjoy the famous spring cherry blossoms when a beer and sake festival is held.
So it can get very busy, especially with visitors who also want to see the giant pandas at its zoo, the five-story Grand Pagoda, the treasure-filled Tokyo National Museum, and the National Museum of Western Art—all on-site. Even so, down by the shore of its lotus lakes, it’s usually peaceful.
GREEN IN BERLIN
The Berlin Tiergarten above is a 494-acre former royal hunting ground where visitors can stroll through shady forests dotted with lakes, streams, and hidden glades
Tourists usually make their way to the remaining sections of the Berlin Wall (which are now covered in vibrant street art), Museum Island, the Reichstag, the Berlin TV Tower, and the Brandenburg Gate — or hang out in the bohemian bars and cafes of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg away.
Don’t miss a stroll in the Tiergarten, however, 494 hectares that were once a royal hunting ground before being converted into public gardens by Frederick II in the 1740s. Stroll through shady forests with lakes, streams and hidden glades.
Explore the 38-hectare National Garden in Athens (above) and discover winding paths, oleander trees and fragments of Roman mosaics
Of course, visit the Acropolis, see the Temple of Zeus and enjoy the lively restaurants of the Plaka district. Afterwards, you can relax in the 38-hectare National Garden in Athens, right next to the Greek Parliament. Winding paths lead you past flowering oleander trees, date palms and fragments of Roman mosaics.
This park has a sad history: King Alexander was bitten by a pet monkey here, died of sepsis in 1920 and the resulting political upheaval resulted in a quarter of a million deaths (Winston Churchill estimate).
The Ming Tombs scenic area (entrance pictured above) north of downtown Beijing features a tree-lined avenue with giant animal statues
Smog is so bad in Beijing that it can be difficult to see a few hundred meters ahead. But there are fascinating sights for tourists, including the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and Chairman Mao’s Memorial Hall.
However, take your time to enjoy the fresher air of the Ming Tombs scenic area north of the city center. Its avenue of trees with huge (slightly comical) statues of camels, elephants and lions pays homage to the Ming Emperors (1368-1644).
Above is the Jardin Turia in Valencia, which features six miles of greenery with walking paths, bike paths and orange groves
The Jardin del Turia in Valencia is located on the dry bed of the Turia River.
When this river flooded in 1957, causing many deaths and property damage, city officials diverted it to the west of the city. However, instead of allowing developers to build homes and offices, a park was demarcated on the freshly dried riverbed.
The result is six delightful, winding kilometers of greenery with walking paths, cycle paths, lawns, flower gardens and orange groves.
Table Mountain National Park above rises over 1,000 meters above Cape Town and covers 85 square miles
Overlooking Cape Town, Table Mountain National Park is huge: 85 square miles stretching to the Cape of Good Hope, the most south-western point in Africa.
Ride the rotating cable car to the top and you are at 1,084 meters in front of Robben Island, where freedom fighter Nelson Mandela was held captive for 18 of his 27 years. Above, Cape Town spreads out like a Persian carpet of terracotta and green, leading to the slate-blue sea.
Most Maldives tourists fly to posh resorts on seaplanes, and that’s it. But if you have time, you should visit Male, the densely populated administrative capital island.
Sometimes resorts offer day tours by speedboat to visit the mosques, interesting museums and bustling markets.
On such a trip, it’s worth stopping at Hiyfaseyha Maidhaan Park on the south-west corner, with its artificial beach.
Here, in the capital, Maldivians often relax on “Jolies”, public chairs made of piping and cords. Highly recommended.
Tom Chesshyre is the author of Park Life: Around The World In 50 Parks published by Summersdale (£16.99).