At first sight, central Paris can seem like a city crammed with buildings. Look closer, though, and you’ll discover the manicured lawns and clipped trees of large gardens like the Luxembourg and Tuileries. And tucked away are smaller stretches of greenery with seasonal plantings of flowers and meandering gravel pathways. Here are our favorite top 5 lesser known gardens in Paris.
1. Jardin des Plantes
The Jardin des Plantes is the largest of our Paris gardens – in fact, it’s the city’s main botanical gardens. But it’s so charming and comparatively tucked away, it really is a must-see.
The gardens are right by Gare d’Austerlitz on the Left Bank, running back from the Seine. Tree-lined promenades run in ordered ranks down the centre, but much more interesting are the flower beds of picturesquely planted perennials and annuals, the iris water gardens, rambling Alpine rock garden, greenhouses, roses and tropical plants. Depending on the season, you might also spot massed plantings of peonies, tulips, lilies, poppies, violas and primroses.
If you’re a garden lover you’ll find plenty of diversions in the garden beds alone. If not, the garden is also home to a Geology Museum, Children’s Gallery, Palaeontology Museum, the Grand Gallery of Evolution, the Museum of Man and a tiny but very historic children’s zoo.
2. Promenade Plantée
Almost 5km (3 miles) of former railway line has been transformed into a floral walkway, running through the 12th arrondissement from the Bastille to the Bois de Vincennes – perfect for walking off a Bastille food tour.
Near the Bastille, the elevated garden runs above the archway boutiques and workshops of the Viaduc des Arts, and is accessed along the way by footbridges, steps and tunnels. The views are unique, and the areas of Paris you’ll pass through are off the beaten track, granting you secret glimpses of houses and backstreets.
The walkway is planted with a variety of trees, including maples and limes, along with seasonal beauties like roses, lavender and wisteria.
3. Rodin Museum
It’s hard to believe that the walled gardens surrounding the Rodin Museum were once considered something of a secret. Now the secret is well and truly out, and visitors come to the museum as much to admire Rodin’s incomparable marble statues as to take an inner-city wander through the garden’s tranquil avenues of trees.
Several of Rodin’s statues are tucked away behind trees and within the garden’s landscaped stretches of lawns, gravel pathways, rose beds and pond. Seek out the bronze copies of the Kiss, the Thinker, Balzac and of course the Burghers of Calais.
The garden’s lilies, irises, peonies, hostas and oak-leafed hydrangeas are especially lovely. You’ll also find a marquee-style cafe in the garden, serving a sumptuous range of cakes, salads and sandwiches.
A Palais Royal tour takes you through arcades and courtyards, opposite the Louvre, where you’ll discover a long stretch of manicured lawn edged by avenues of neatly clipped trees, backed by the historic colonnades of the Palais Royal.
Parisians come to this secluded formal garden to read newspapers in the sun on chairs surrounding ornamental ponds, fountains and quirky sculptures. Just metres away, under the arcades, is the historic Le Grand Véfour restaurant. Also under the colonnade is the spot where the Revolutionary crowds were exhorted by Camille Desmoulins to take arms in July 1789, just days before the fall of the Bastille.
The gardens are entered via the Cour d’Honneur, with its modern black and white striped columns that look like boiled sweets. After you’ve relaxed in the sunshine around the central pond, take a wander under the arcades past chic boutiques, antiques stores and perfumiers, and soak up the long history of the Palais Royal, created by Cardinal Richelieu back in the 1630s. Look up and imagine legendary French writer Colette looking down onto the garden – in the 1930s she lived in one of the highly sought-after apartments above the arcades.
5. Square du Vert Galant
This tiny, incredibly central, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it patch of landscaped garden is tucked away on the Ile de la Cité’s western tip as you cross the River Seine via the Pont Neuf bridge.
Squeezed onto the island’s tip is a teeny plectrum-shaped patch of grass, a ring of shady trees overlooking the water, some park benches and the occasional flower bed. Steps lead down to the garden from behind the statue of Henri IV sitting astride his horse. The park is named for Henri, the ‘green galant’ who was known for his dashing ways, and true to its name it’s popular with amorous couples today.