Most of Paris is made up of apartment buildings, and apartments tend to be smaller in scale than U.S. homes. In fact, the average Paris apartment measures somewhere between 600 to 700 square feet, and it’s common for families to live in spaces this size.
Since Parisians dwell in such close quarters, their parks and gardens are of the utmost importance, making Paris one of the greenest cities in Europe, with dozens of squares, parks, and gardens.
The Tuileries and the Luxembourg Gardens are the most popular and well-known gardens in Paris, attracting thousands of tourists, but most visitors never see the diverse range of other parks and gardens frequented by locals.
Here are five hidden gem parks and gardens for you to explore during your next trip to Paris.
1. Palais Royal
Once the palace of the powerful Cardinal Richelieu, who served during the reign of King Louis XIII and XlV, the Palais Royal is an architectural and landscaping wonder. Constructed between 1633 and 1639 by architect Jacques Lemercier, the Palais Royal is a series of baroque-style limestone buildings with a garden square in the middle. After the death of Cardinal Richelieu in 1642, the Palais Royal was home to King Louis XIV, followed by the Orleans royal family. In the 1700s, the Palais Royal was transformed into a shopping arcade inspired by middle-Eastern souks. In its heyday, it contained shops, boutiques, theaters, museums, restaurants, and cafes and was the center of culture, social gathering, and fashion in Paris.
Even though the Palais Royal is directly across the street from the Louvre, the most visited museum in Paris, most visitors don’t know about the gardens because they are hidden behind the perimeter of the palace’s massive buildings.
The most dramatic feature of the gardens is the two rows of symmetrically planted plane trees, meticulously sculpted into a square shape to create an almost infinite-looking landscape. Not only is the effect visually arresting, the design is practical, as it provides much-needed shade in the summer. Benches are purposely placed under the trees. In between the rows of trees is a series of gated flower gardens, and in the height of the spring and summer, tulips, roses, daffodils, and hyacinths are among the flowers that bloom in full force. In the exact middle of the garden is a circular fountain where locals relax in classic Parisian garden chairs of sage-colored metal.
Covered arcades on both sides of the gardens have some of the chicest clothing and accessory boutiques in Paris. Didier Ludot, with its two storefronts, is the leading vintage couture boutique for designers such as Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, and Balenciaga. Stocking gently used accessories in impeccable condition, Gabriel Geppert has a wide selection of designer handbags, jewelry, and scarves including designer labels Chanel, Hermes, Chloe, and Celine. Other boutiques in the arcades include perfume maker Serge Lutens, shoe designer Pierre Hardy, fashion designer Rick Owens, and glove maker Maison Fabre.
Pro Tip: There are a few restaurants and cafes inside the gardens of the Palais Royal, and some have outdoor seating in the garden.
2. Place Des Vosges
The Place des Vosges is the centerpiece of the historic district of Paris, Le Marais. Erected between 1605 and 1612 under the reign of King Henry IV, it was the first public square of Paris. It was also the first time a series of uniform, attached homes were built in the city, resembling oversized townhouses. Their brick facades were a distinctive departure from the customary limestone. The royalty and aristocracy lived on the Place des Vosges during the late 1600s and 1700s, and in the late 1800s, Victor Hugo set up his home and writing desk on the square, and it’s where he wrote part of Les Miserables. It is now the Victor Hugo Museum, which offers complimentary admission.
The garden in the center of the square is named after King Louis XIII, who was married there. Similar to the Palais Royal, a row of plane trees are planted with the tops squared around the perimeter, creating alleyways of shade. Benches are equally spaced under the trees, and the park also includes a children’s playground and a sandbox. In the middle of the square is a sculpture of Louis XIII surrounded by horse chestnut trees, which flower in April in shades of pink and white.
On the street side of the square, there are covered walkways with brick archways lined with boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, and cafes. On the north side of the square, there are art and sculpture galleries with the latest contemporary artworks from French and international artists. Cafe Carette has a lovely outdoor terrace facing the park and has a delicious selection of French macarons and pastries, plus hot chocolate so thick and rich, it’s like drinking a cup of pure, melted chocolate. At Dammann Freres, the oldest tea brand in France, you can select from over 200 varieties of tea from around the globe. Have one of the best versions of steak tartare in Paris at Ma Bourgogne, a rustic bistro, along with other classic dishes such as escargots, salad Nicoise, and a charcuterie platter.
3. Bagatelle Gardens
A bet placed by Marie Antoinette resulted in a sumptuous chateau and romantic garden just on the outskirts of Paris. Located in the Bois de Boulogne, the Bagatelle Garden is one of the four official botanic gardens in Paris. Marie Antoinette bet her brother-in-law, the Count of Artois, that he couldn’t build a chateau in less than 90 days, but much to her chagrin, his architects completed the park’s chateau in 63 days, which caused her to lose the bet.
Today, Bagatelle Garden is a lovely, serene sanctuary, with bamboo-lined walking paths, grottos with water fountains, an English garden, an iris garden, a Chinese pagoda, and wood footbridges. Don’t be surprised if a wild peacock's feathers brush your leg.
The highlight of Bagatelle Garden is the rose garden, which grows over 10,000 rose bushes and 1,200 species. In June, the garden sponsors a competition for new varieties of roses.
Over the summer, there are two concert festivals, the Chopin Festival in June and July and a classical music festival, which spotlights young musical talent from all over Europe.
Pro Tip: Les Jardins de Bagatelle is an excellent gourmet restaurant in one of the pavilions in the park. It serves contemporary French cuisine, and in spring and summer, lunch and dinner are served outdoors.
4. Parc Monceau
One of the more elegant parks of Paris, Parc Monceau is located in the 17th arrondissement, an upscale, residential neighborhood mostly devoid of tourists.
Parc Monceau was originally commissioned by Philippe d'Orleans, a member of the royal family of France in 1778 as a 22-acre public park. In 1860, the park was redesigned by Baron Haussmann, who was ambitiously rebuilding Paris into a modern city.
In a surprising departure, the park uses a model of an informal English garden with winding pathways, rather than the symmetrical, French landscape design.
Painter Claude Monet was so enthralled by the greenery of Parc Monceau that he painted three paintings of the park in 1876 and another three in 1878.
Parc Monceau is popular with joggers and also features a carousel, a children’s playground, and a snack and beverage bar.
There are a number of visual treats in the park including a mini Egyptian-inspired pyramid, a bridge resembling the Rialto in Venice, imported plants and flowers, a pond flanked by Corinthian columns, a neoclassical rotunda pavilion, and a mini Dutch windmill. Statues of beloved French writers and artists such as Chopin, Guy de Maupassant, and Charles Gounod dot the pathways of the park.
A fun piece of trivia: Parc Monceau was the site of the first silk parachute jump in France from a hot air balloon in 1797. A cheering crowd was waiting below.
Pro Tip: You can make a full day of it by visiting two worthy museums alongside the park, the Nissim Camondo Museum, a gorgeous belle epoque mansion, and the Cernuschi Museum, which specializes in Asian art and sculpture.
5. Parc De La Villette
Spanning 137 acres, Parc de la Villette is the third-largest park in Paris. Designed by architect Bernard Tschumi, Parc de Villette was built in 1987 as an urban development project on the former site of 1880s slaughterhouses.
Ten cleverly themed gardens dominate a portion of the park and include a dragon garden with an 80-foot steel dragon and a slide for kids, a dune and winds garden with pedal-driven windmills, and a movement garden with moving apparatuses to play on.
Parc de Villette is also a significant site for a vast array of cultural institutions, including a complex of science and nature museums, concert halls, a cabaret, an IMAX theater, and dance performance venues.
City of Science and Industry is the largest science museum in Europe, incorporating an aquarium, a planetarium, a science and toy shop, a theater, a submarine, and a science library. A world-class symphony hall, Philharmonie de Paris, designed by superstar French architect Nouvel, launched in 2015 and schedules classical and world music performances, and Cite de la Musique houses a musical instrument and music museum along with the music conservatory of Paris and a concert hall.
Pro Tip: In August, Parc de la Villette sponsors an outdoor film festival, screening French, American, and international films.
Planning your perfect Parisian getaway? Do not miss these five superb pastry chefs and chocolatiers in Paris or the best bouillons: a revival of classic Paris dining.