The World's 10 Best Cities for Parks

Cloud Gate (nicknamed "the Bean") is the Anish Kapoor sculpture in Chicago's Millennium Park. Frommers.com Community
By Charis Atlas Heelan

Just because you're trapped in a concrete jungle, it doesn't mean that you need to escape the city in order to relax. In fact, you can find some of the world's most inviting parks in big cities. On your next trip, carve out some time to soak in the serenity of these urban parks.

Photo Caption: Cloud Gate (nicknamed "the Bean") is the Anish Kapoor sculpture in Chicago's Millennium Park. Photo by julicious/Frommers.com Community
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Central Park in Summer Sam Piper
What: One of the world's most densely populated cities also has some of the most beautiful urban parks, which provide a much-needed respite from the concrete, noise, and traffic.

Where: The setting for so many films and TV series, Manhattan's Central Park is the city's best known patch of green. A tourist attraction in its own right, the park stretches some 60 city blocks and covers close to 850 acres. Within the park, you'll find a zoo, lakes, botanic gardens, ice-skating rinks, concert venues -- and priceless views of the surrounding skyscrapers. Also in Manhattan is the lovely wooded Tryon Park, and if you are lucky enough to know someone with a key, take a stroll through the gated and private Gramercy Park. Venture into another borough to uncover the beauty of Brooklyn's Prospect Park and Brooklyn Botanic Gardens or the stunning Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx.

Best Time to Visit: A park for all seasons -- fall for the hues of red, orange, and yellow foliage; winter for snow-covered trees and ice-skating; spring for tulip bulbs and pink and white blossoming trees; summer for picnicking on Sheep Meadow and concerts on the Great Lawn.

Photo Caption: Sheep Meadow in New York City's Central Park.
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Mosaic benches in the Parc Guell Quim Roser/Puig Photography
What: The historic medieval center of the Catalan city is rather devoid of greenery (except for a few plaças). It's best to venture out to the parks in the surrounding hills; most are within walking distance.

Where: Parc Güell is a visually stunning combination of park and innovative architectural and sculptural forms, courtesy of Barcelona native and design genius Antoní Gaudí. The largest of Barcelona's parks is Parc de la Ciutadella, which has two museums, a zoo, and summer music festivals. The smaller but decorative Parc Laberint (Labyrinth Park) is an 18th-century maze of hedges, pavilions, ornamental railings, and statues of mythological figures. And on Montjuïc near the Olympic stadium, you'll find Jardins Mossèn Costa i Llobera (home to hundreds of varieties of cacti) and the Jardins Mossèn Cinto Verdaguer (where 100,000 plants bloom throughout the year).

Best Time to Visit: Throughout the year, but in summer the parks host plenty of events, festivals, music, and other entertainment.

Photo Caption: Mosaic benches in the Parc Guell
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The classic green-and-white striped chairs in London's Hyde Park. RiOTPHOTGRAPHY.COM
What: Consisting of 5,000 acres in central London, the city's eight main parks are commonly known as the Royal Parks (www.royalparks.org.uk). In the parks, you'll find impeccably landscaped gardens, historic architecture, statues, fountains, lakes, and memorials.

Where: Hyde Park is the city's largest, with 350-plus acres along a lake, boat rentals, horseback riding, Speakers' Corner, and the Princess Diana Memorial. The 250-acre Kensington Gardens has majestic tree-lined promenades and views of Kensington Palace, while St. James's Park is ostensibly Buckingham Palace's "front yard."

Best Time to Visit: Autumn is particularly colorful, spring sees an explosion of color and fragrance, and summer brings music, events, festivals and long days for relaxing walks. Check calendars for royal processions and other regal events in the parks.

Photo Caption: The classic green-and-white striped chairs in London's Hyde Park. Photo by RiOTPHOTGRAPHY.COM/Flickr.com
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Luxembourg Gardens, Paris Marco Garcia
What: Some of the prettiest parks in Paris are tiny slithers of green in local neighborhoods, but there are also several outstanding examples of classical French garden design.

Where: Luxembourg Gardens is one of those quintessentially romantic Paris spots -- Luxembourg Palace against a backdrop of a lake, fountains, and rows of imposing trees. Jardin des Tuileries, in the 1st arrondissement, is in an equally postcard-perfect location along the Right Bank of the Seine River. Its neo-classical gardens were laid out in the 17th century with a broad central avenue and geometric design topiary. The city's largest park is Le Bois de Boulogne, an adaptation of London's Hyde Park. On a sunny day, this 2,200-acre reserve in the 16th arrondissement is full of cyclists, picnickers, strolling couples, rowers, and pétanque players.

Best Time to Visit: Paris in springtime is famous with good reason.

Photo Caption: Luxembourg Gardens, Paris
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The English Garden in Munich, Germany, dates back to the 18th-century. dr. helmut soul
What: Although much of Munich's beauty lies in its historic architecture, cobblestone streets, and Bavarian hospitality, you'll find a breath of fresh air in its laid-back city parks. Come spring and summer, the parks are filled with musicians, beer drinkers -- and even nude sunbathers.

Where: Bare bottoms aside, the 18th-century English Garden (Englischer Garten) is a breathtaking sight. It was the first public garden on the European continent and is still considered the largest city-owned park in Europe. Sit on the lawns, stop for tea on the plaza near the Chinese pagoda, feed the ducks on the lake, or enjoy a pint at one of the beer gardens. The nearby Botanischer Garten (Botanic Garden) features 54 acres and 15,000 varieties of flora. Further away from the city center, the historic Hirschgarten is now known more for its massive beer garden than for its greenery, but deer still roam there.

Best Time to Visit: Parks are open throughout the year but are best enjoyed during the spring and summer months.

Photo Caption: The English Garden in Munich, Germany, dates back to the 18th-century. Photo by dr. helmut soul/Flickr.com
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Standing under Chicago's "Bean" sculpture in Millennium Park. Michael Kappel
What: Chicago's 570 parks are spread over some 7,600 acres -- that's more than 8% of the entire city. Parks aren't always green here -- sometimes these public spaces are combinations of natural landscapes, sculpture gardens, and beachfronts.

Where: Fronting Lake Michigan, Grant Park is one of the city's finest green spaces. The 300-acre park, which includes Buckingham Fountain, hosts a number of high-profile festivals and events (including U.S. President Barack Obama's ground-breaking presidential acceptance speech). Adjoining Grant Park is the relatively new Millennium Park, which offers a Frank Gehry-designed outdoor music pavilion, the iconic Cloud Gate sculpture, and an ice-skating rink. Lincoln Park is another Chicago institution, with a lakefront theatre, a zoo, a bird sanctuary, and a lagoon with paddleboats.

Best Time to Visit: In summer, cool off and get wet under the fountains at Millennium Park and enjoy a slew of events and festivals in Chicago's parks. In winter, bring your sled or skates to Lincoln Park to enjoy the best outdoor experiences.

Photo Caption: Standing under Chicago's "Bean" sculpture in Millennium Park. Photo by Michael Kappel/Flickr.com
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Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, in San Francisco, CA. Ken Cedeno
What: Locals flock to this city's outdoor spaces in droves, whether for exercise, political rallies, or the pure joy that is San Francisco's outdoor life.

Where: Golden Gate Park covers more than 1,000 acres and has a Japanese Tea Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers, world-class museums, botanic gardens, and more. Leisure activities range from archery to golf, and everything in between. The Presidio -- made up of 1,000 acres of wildflower meadows, gardens, and forest groves -- offers incomparable views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

When: Throughout the year.

Photo Caption: Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, in San Francisco, CA.
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Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens. CHARLES VAN DEN BROEK
What: Melbourne has the distinction of being recognized as the city with the most park coverage in a central business district. Within the past decade, it has also built a major new park in the city center. In the central city area, eight parks cover more than 300 acres, where you'll find locals walking, jogging, biking -- and eating lunch away from the desk.

Where: Visit the Royal Botanic Gardens for its 12,000-plus species of plants, trees and flowers, the romantic Treasury Gardens, the greenhouses of the Fitzroy Gardens, Birrarung Mar along the Yarra River, and Flagstaff Gardens. Spy black swans, and breathe in the scent of eucalyptus trees.

Best Time to Visit: Spring for the sight of dozens of brides in long flowing white dresses; summer for picnics and movies in the park.

Photo Caption: Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens. Photo by CHARLES VAN DEN BROEK/Flickr.com
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Kiyosumi Gardens in Tokyo. Starfires
What: The parks of Tokyo are often private ancient gardens that have been turned into public spaces with ornamental landscapes, tranquil water features, and sensational vistas.

Where: Separated from the main gardens of the Imperial Palace by a moat, Hibiya Park is Tokyo's premier "Western-style" park, with fountains, ponds, winding paths, flowerbeds, sculptures, and an open air-concert hall. For a more traditional garden, visit Hama-rikyu Gardens in the Shiodome area with its magnificent Edo-period tidal pond design; Kiyosumi Gardens, a typical Japanese feudal-lord garden with a pond, clock tower, artificial hills and rocks (Kiyosumi-shirakawa Station); and Mukojima-Hyakkaen Gardens, an early 19th-century design with a small temple, a shrine, and a playground (Higashi-mukojima Station).

Best Time to Visit: Spring for cherry blossom trees; fall for the changing autumn leaves.

Photo Caption: Kiyosumi Gardens in Tokyo. Photo by Starfires/Flickr.com
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The old Centennial Hall -- now the Please Touch Children's Museum Dave Buchhofer
What: The City of Brotherly Love's Fairmount Park is actually made up of 63 individual parks, stretching predominantly along the Schuylkill River over 9,200 acres (or about 10% of Philadelphia). The parks are home to more than 200 historic buildings, America's oldest zoo, six golf courses, cycling trails, performance venues, and an array of landscaped gardens and wooded areas.

Where: Highlights include Wissahickon Valley Park with 50 miles of rugged terrain for mountain bikers and hikers, plus trout fishing in Wissahickon creek; Pennypack Park along the Delaware River; the Azalea Garden; Boathouse Row; Batram's Garden; the Japanese House and Garden; Franklin D. Roosevelt Park ("The Lakes"); and East and West Parks.

Best Time to Visit: Get the most out of Philly's parks and outdoor spaces during the spring, summer, and early fall.

Photo Caption: The old Memorial Hall -- now the Please Touch Children's Museum -- in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park. Photo by Dave Buchhofer/Flickr.com.
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