Europe’s Greatest Public Parks

in Sightseeing


Many people think the best way to see the great cities of Europe is through their museums, their fairytale castles, and their historical monuments. Personally though, I think a lot can be understood about a cities character by seeking out their public parks. I think you can tell a lot about a culture from how they spend their leisure time.

After a day of battling the urban jungle, it is refreshing to visit the parks. Europeans love their green space. In addition to being free, these public spaces offer an insight into the tastes, styles and history of a community.

Here are ten great public parks worth seeking out.

Parque de Retiro – Madrid, Spain

The Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace) in Madrid's beautiful Parque del Retiro

The Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace) in Madrid's beautiful Parque del Retiro

Located in the heart of downtown Madrid, Retiro is a beautifully landscaped recreation spot for the city’s workers. Scattered through the greenery are gems like the elegant rose garden, the fragile Palacio de Cristal and the only known statue of Satan in Europe. The centerpiece is the imperial Monument to Alfonso XII, which overlooks a lake of rented paddleboats.

Photo: Danny VB

Hampstead Heath – London, UK

A Viaduct pond in Hampstead Heath

A Viaduct pond in Hampstead Heath

The Heath, as the locals call it, is more than just a park; it’s a piece of wilderness just outside of central London. Unlike the rich manicured parks downtown, Hampstead Heath is a sprawling, ramshackle spread of field and forests. Locals come here to let their dogs run free, take in the fresh air and enjoy spectacular views of downtown from Parliament Hill.

Photo: CAWG

Villa Borghese – Rome, Italy

Villa Borghese

The Temple of Aesculapius in Rome's Villa Borghese gardens

Originally the well manicured English gardens of a palace of the same name; the Villa Borghese is now a pretty public park (the palace is now an art gallery). Strolling the gardens is like walking through an 18th century landscape painting, with ponds, fountains and neoclassical temples.

Photo: rickymor

StadtPark – Vienna, Austria

A quiet day at Stadtpark, Vienna

A peaceful day at Stadtpark, Vienna

StadtPark is home to the most photographed monument in Vienna, the golden Johann Strauss Monument. Parts of the park are thick with vegetation while other spots are carefully landscaped with nods to the art-nouveau style. Other attractions are the Renaissance style Kursalon building and the Mierei milk-drinking hall.

Photo: jmenard48

City Park – Budapest, Hungary

Winter in Budapest's stunning City Park

Winter in Budapest's stunning City Park

In addition to having the first metro system in continental Europe, Budapest has the distinction of creating the first public park in the world. Long a center of recreation for the city, the park is full of interesting sites including Heroes Square (a UNESCO World Heritage site), the stunning art nouveau zoo, and the Széchenyi thermal bathhouse.

Photo: sweetal

Kalemegdan – Belgrade, Serbia

Kalemegdan Park, Serbia

Kalemegdan Park, Serbia

City Park may be the oldest public park, but Kalemegdan has what must be one of the oldest attractions. The park surrounds Kalemegdan fortress, which has existed in one incarnation or another for over 1000 years. The castle, which was captured a staggering 45 times, is now over run with locals who make out in the grass, play chess in the shade or jog through the old ruins.

Photo: donlandes

Jardin du Luxembourg – Paris, France

Jardin du Luxembourg is a great park to visit in the Springtime

Jardin du Luxembourg is a great park to visit in the Springtime

The carefully planned Jardin de Luxembourg features wide gravel paths and well-manicured expanses of grass, dotted with over a hundred statues, monuments and fountains. Most beautiful is the baroque Medici Fountain, designed in 1630. There is a playground for children, as well as frequent puppet shows and a lake where they can rent toy boats.

Photo: zorroz

Hyde Park – London, England

A view of Serpentine Lake in London's Hyde Park

A view of Serpentine Lake in London's Hyde Park

London is home to many beautiful green spaces but Hyde Park is a favorite. The man-made Serpentine Lake, which winds its way through the park, is home to an abundance of swan and other birds. Hyde Park is a popular spot for protestors (particularly at Speaker’s Corner) and open-air rock concerts.

Photo: joebelle

Vondelpark – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Vondelpark

Lovers embrace in Amsterdam's popular Vondelpark

Amsterdam actually has 30 parks, but Vondelpark is the largest and most popular. It is a sprawling green space full of dog walkers, joggers and sunbathers. Recently Vondelpark made headlines when the government considered de-criminalizing public sex within its boundaries, making it a sanctuary for nature and people lovers alike!

Photo: siebe

Englischer Garten – Munich, Germany

Locals and tourists enjoy Munich's Englischer Garten

Locals and tourists enjoy Munich's Englischer Garten

At 3.6 square KM, Englischer Garten is one of the largest public parks in the world. Not unexpectedly, the huge park contains a large variety of attractions. There is a Japanese teahouse, a Greek temple and an enormous Chinese pagoda. There is an open-air theater, a flock of sheep and a manmade lake. The Schönfeldwiese meadow is a popular spot for nude sunbathers.

Photo: Harald HAEUSLER

While similar in intent, all of these parks have a different character and design that reflects the personality of their city. So next time you are in a new place be sure to check out it’s park, you may see a side of the city you never knew was there!

This guest post was written by Stephanie Yoder.  Stephanie runs Twenty-Something Travel, a travel blog dedicated to assisting new or young travelers with the skills, resources and opportunities available to them for travel abroad. When not traveling the world she lives in Washington DC.

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{ 8 comments }

Chris - The Aussie Nomad

I hope to find time to relax and write in some of those parks. Take in the beauty and just watch the world pass by.

Karen

I lived in Rome for three years and would spend a lot of time in Villa Borghese. I was busy studying at that time so it was a perfect place to sit, relax and escape from the world.

Liz

I’m not much of a city person but it’s good to be reminded that even in the midst of hustle and busy life one can always find beauty and relaxation. Exquisite photos.

Pauline

A park is the perfect place for a picnic lunch in the middle of a day of touring.

Nepal travel

park is best place to take sun bath. i like to swim and take sun bath. nice picture collection

Stephen

Great list! I’ll never forget Sunday afternoons in Madrid’s Parque de Retiro when I lived there.

Marnie

I love to visit parks when I travel. You can learn a lot about a country or city by their public parks.

Michael

All places I nneeeed to go to. I love visiting parks and it’s so true that it’s a great way to see what everyone does on their free time.

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