From Singapore to Beijing, these city parks provide a peaceful oasis among the chaos. Whether you opt for a day at Bondi Beach or a stroll among chestnut groves at Luxembourg Gardens, these are our favorite urban green spaces.Less
Like New York City's subway system, the vast and majestic Central Park, a rectangle of open space in the middle of Manhattan, is a great class leveler – exactly as it was envisioned. Created in the 1860s and ’70s by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux on the marshy northern fringe of the city, the immense park was designed as a leisure space for all New Yorkers regardless of color, class or creed. It’s also an oasis from the insanity.
At 23 hectares, St James's is the second-smallest of the eight royal parks after Green Park. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in grooming, as it is the most manicured green space in London. It has brilliant views of the London Eye, Westminster, St James's Palace, Carlton House Terrace and Horse Guards Parade; the picture-perfect sight of Buckingham Palace from the Blue Bridge spanning the central lake is the best you’ll find.
This inner-city oasis of formal terraces, chestnut groves and lush lawns has a special place in Parisians' hearts. Napoléon dedicated the 23 gracefully laid-out hectares of the Luxembourg Gardens to the children of Paris, and many residents spent their childhood prodding 1920s wooden sailboats with long sticks on the octagonal Grand Bassin pond, watching puppets perform at the Théâtre du Luxembourg and riding the carrousel or ponies.
Barcelona's Unesco-listed Park Güell is where Antoni Gaudí turned his hand and imagination to landscape gardening. It’s a surreal, enchanting place where the great Modernista's passion for natural forms really took flight and the artificial almost seems more natural than the natural. The park, located in Barcelona, is extremely popular, and access to the central area is limited to 400 people every half-hour – book ahead online. The rest of the park is free and can be visited without booking.
This 6-acre garden in Washington, DC is studded with whimsical sculptures such as Roy Lichtenstein’s House I (1998), a giant Claes Oldenburg typewriter eraser (1999) and Roxy Paine's Graft (2008–09), a stainless-steel tree. They are scattered around a fountain – a great place to dip your feet in summer. From mid-November to mid-March the fountain is transformed into an ice rink, and the garden stays open a bit later. The garden's Pavilion Cafe is a popular spot to grab a bite or coffee.
Singapore’s steamy Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is a 163-hectare tract of primary rainforest clinging to Singapore’s highest peak, Bukit Timah (163m). The reserve supposedly holds more tree species than the entire North American continent and its unbroken forest canopy shelters what remains of Singapore’s native wildlife, including long-tailed macaques, pythons and dozens of bird species. The visitor centre showcases the area's flora and fauna, including two Sumatran tigers.
Berlin’s oldest public park has provided relief from urbanity since 1840, but has been hilly only since the late 1940s, when wartime debris was piled up to create two 'mountains' – the taller one, Mont Klamott, rises 78m high. Diversions include expansive lawns for lazing, tennis courts, a half-pipe for skaters, a couple of handily placed beer gardens and an outdoor cinema.
Officially called the Parco Savello but known to every Roman as the Giardino degli Aranci (Orange Garden), this walled park in Rome is a romantic haven. Head down the central avenue, passing towering umbrella pines and lawns planted with blooming orange trees, to bask in heavenly sunset views of St Peter’s dome and the city's rooftops.
The inside of the old Imperial City looks much as it would have in the 18th century when it served as Emperor Qianlong's private gardens. The Tibetan-style White Dagoba soars majestically over the lake (Beihai means ‘northern sea'), around which are temples, pavilions, imperial stelae and other grand designs. A Beijing public park since 1925, Beihai now offers a window onto pastimes like dìshū (地书), where locals demonstrate their calligraphy skills using giant brushes and water.
Definitively Sydney, Bondi is one of the world’s great beaches. It’s the closest ocean beach to the city centre (8km away), has consistently good (though crowded) waves, and is great for a rough-and-tumble swim (the average water temperature is a considerate 21°C). If the sea’s angry, try the child-friendly saltwater sea baths at either end of the beach, both of which received an upgrade in 2019. Free beach-friendly wheelchairs (adult or child) can be booked through the Bondi Pavilion.