Paris is not simply a city of buildings and monuments; it is also a city of public gardens. It features some incredibly beautiful green spaces, many of which appear to be hidden right under the nose of the bustling crowds. Spring is coming and what better way to experience Paris than to picnic in some of its quieter scenic spaces? Here is a selection of some of my favourite jardins for those little moments of peace and reconnecting with nature, hidden right in the heart of the city.
1. Arènes de Lutèce, 5eme
The public garden at the Arènes de Lutèce is one of my favourite spots in the whole city. It is set in the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre from the 1st century, and has stunningly beautiful shaded areas lined by flowers and twisted, dramatic trees. The remains of the arena itself form natural perfect picnic spots, and it is generally quiet here, save the odd tourist and student. Situated unassumingly in the middle of two busy high streets, it is difficult to imagine such a little-known treasure is hidden here. The arena was saved during a campaign spear-headed by Victor Hugo, who sadly did not live to see the peaceful garden rather fittingly installed around it in the late 19th century. Weaving around a really beautiful neighbourhood street a mere stones throw away from the more popular and often crowded Jardin des Plantes, this garden is a must see; you can always find a quiet corner to spread out your picnic blanket, chill with friends, or just relax in peace with a book!
2. Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, 19eme
Okay so this isn’t so much a secret or hidden garden, and is actually a park! It’s quite popular with Parisian folk, but less so with tourists. Nevertheless, the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is on this list because it has some amazing features that can’t be missed! It’s also a fairly decent size, so there’s plenty of space for picnics and sunshine sports like Frisbee and kickabouts with a football. Opened during the reign of Napoleon III in 1867, it has a waterfall and grottos with beautiful bridges, a lake and little central island; atop of the island and overlooking the park sits a miniature version of Italy’s Temple of Vesta! It really is a lovely place to relax, includes little cafes during the warmer months where you can sit and take in the decadence of the park, and even has its own tapas restaurant and dance hall. The flora in Buttes-Chaumont is also pretty incredible, with around 50 different species of exotic and indigenous plants and trees planted there, many of which have been residents since the park first opened its gates to the public. Accessible via various metro stops, the park hosts the Silhouette Short Film Festival each year in September, and is otherwise a slice of heaven in the city landscape.
3. Hidden Garden at Marché des Enfants Rouges, 3eme
A 400 year old market in the 3eme, Marché des Enfants Rouges, itself is pretty conspicuously hidden away behind big old iron gates on rue de Bretagne, and is pretty spectacular and well-known in its own right. A little-known fact, however, is that there is a little park and neighbourhood garden just hidden behind it which is accessible via the little alley rue des Oiseaux. The little park is delightfully unexpected and perfectly situated for buying some fresh bread, olives and cheeses, etc. at the market and then having an impromptu picnic or lunch break. But shhh! This one is a truly secret garden indeed.
4. Hotel de Sully Gardens, 4eme
Slip through the courtyard of the otherwise inaccessible to the public Hotel de Sully, and you will find yourself inside a beautiful and little-known public garden! The lovely square in the grounds of the large government office building is surrounded by delightful architecture, with little benches tucked into the ornate alcoves. More of a lunch and book place than open an picnic area, the quiet square is just across the street from the more open and popular Place des Voges, where there are little hedges and open spaces of grass and you can spread out with a blanket, baguette, cheese and good company, if you feel so inclined. For those truly peaceful moments though, I choose the Sully garden every time.
5. Square du Vert-Galant, 1er
Accessible from Pont Neuf behind the equestrian statue of Henri IV on Île de la Cité, the Square du Vert-Galant is a small but gorgeous little public garden, surrounded on both sides by the Seine. Formed artificially by the merging of two tiny islands in 1607 during the reign of Henri IV, the garden sits at the original level of the connecting islands, which were raised throughout the years for defensive and anti-flooding purposes. Giving spectacular views of key buildings and sites on the right and left banks, the garden is often fairly quiet, and is an ideal place to sit with a packed lunch or snack due to its many benches. The central lawn area is home to some really beautiful trees and plants, making the garden a striking addition to the surrounding bustle of the city. Historically, Grand Master of the Knight’s Templar Jacques Molay was burned at the stake here in the 12th century, and the garden features a commemorative plaque to his memory, and culturally, various films such as Big Fish (2003) and The Lovers on the Bridge (1991) have been filmed here! Even so, the Square du Vert-Galant is a really peaceful place, a sense heightened by the gentle lap of the water from the river. I like to come here to unwind and reconnect with nature after escaping the bustle of people around the Latin Quarter and Île de la Cité’s tourist spots; a little slice of solitude in the middle of the Seine.
6. UNESCO’s Japanese Garden of Peace, 7eme
Created by a sculptor in 1958, the Garden of Peace at UNESCO in the 7eme is a delightful and unique addition to this list, being that it is centred on a Japanese theme. Close to the Eiffel Tower at Place de Fontenoy, take a stroll through the Champ de Mars on the journey to or from the UNESCO building complex. Featuring 18 distinct parts to the garden, which each incorporate various themes and aspects of Japanese culture from spatial, philosophical, structural, ceremonial and even sculptures and a meditation space, I would advise taking plenty of time to take it all in. Walking through the garden and absorbing its visuals is a really special adventure, and whilst you can’t eat a picnic here, the garden provides what I can only describe as a re-centring of the mind and spirit. Usually only frequented by pre-booked groups, I would recommend booking a visit to this World Heritage Site ahead of time (note that it is only open for tours on Tuesdays and Fridays between 10am-3pm). The effort to come here is well worth it; the gardens transport you to a whole other world, figuratively speaking, and are a truly breath-taking sight to behold. Book through their website here.
7. Square Rene-Le Gall, 13eme
This quiet, leafy green space is perfect for picnics, and has some really nice features such as an obelisk and an outdoor gym, so there are occasionally outdoor activities like yoga and Thai chi going on here. It also has gazebos and a children’s play area, so is a good place to visit if you have little ones in tow, and a beautiful rose garden that fills the air with a lovely fragrance in the warmer months. The fairly large park is named after a member of the French Resistance who was executed by the Nazis in 1942, but actually started life as a sizable vegetable garden in the 17th century. Developed in a neo-classical design and carefully maintained, the garden is accessible via a very unusual and ornately decorated staircase, which is close to an old chestnut tree that was planted in the late 19th century. This little park is one of a kind, and different to any other in Paris with its quaint and orderly but extremely relaxing feel.
8. The Hanging Gardens of Montmartre, 18eme
Another mostly-missed and incredibly unexpected little green place, the Hanging Gardens of Montmartre are almost directly behind the Sacre-Coeur and its perpetual throng of tourists. Its real name is Parc de la Tourlure, and during the spring and summer months, this garden is a truly stunning place to visit. High on the hill and away from the busy streets nearby, the gardens are sometimes used by locals with children, but are almost always near-deserted, which is a shame considering its striking beauty and unusual flora. The winding path through the garden takes you through various colourful plants and trees, has plenty of benches for relaxing on, and provides amazing views of Montmartre and the Sacre-Coeur.
Hopefully these lesser-known gardens and parks of Paris will provide you with a bit of tranquillity amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life! I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
The secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles.
*Featured image depicts a winding path through the little park at the Arènes de Lutèce. All images and words belong to site convenor and cannot be reused without prior permission.*