In the middle of an urban jungle, sometimes you need to find a moment of peace and quiet. At these amazing city parks, visitors can explore winding pathways, picnic in open green meadows, or while away the afternoon next to a pond. But some parks are major attractions in their own right and offer more than just a place to take a break. From a Canadian wilderness retreat with wooded seaside pathways, to a colorful architectural mecca in one of Europe’s most vibrant cities, these destinations give new meaning to the words “urban oasis.” —Emily Wasserman
Royal Botanic Gardens
Picturesque vistas and colorful tropical fauna make Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens one of the world’s most stunning city parks. Spread over almost 100 acres, the gardens feature peaceful lakes and a diverse collection of 50,000 plants. Visitors can get an up-close look at camellias, cacti, roses, cycads and exotic plants from southern China. The gardens are also home to native black swans and bellbirds, and or scope out cockatoos and kookaburras on guided nature tours. During the warmer months, the gardens transform into a cultural venue with outdoor theater performances and exhibitions.
Villa Doria Pamphili
As the largest landscaped public park in the city, Villa Doria Pamphili delights visitors with its elaborate architecture and intricate gardens. Originally the estate of a noble family, the expansive grounds feature neatly manicured gardens with clipped hedges and fountains. Wide gravel pathways are perfect for jogging, and antique statues and vases hearken back to an earlier era. Don’t miss the Arch of the Four Winds, a commemorative monument at the entrance to the park’s sprawling grounds.
São Paulo, Brazil
Often compared to New York City’s Central Park, Ibirapuera Park is São Paulo’s center of activity and recreation. Initially built in 1954 to commemorate the city’s 400th anniversary, the park includes several buildings designed by renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer. Visitors can lounge on rolling lawns and take in the panoramic view of downtown. The park also features jogging and biking paths and bridges that overlook the water.
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St. Louis, Missouri
It’s easy to spend an entire day in Forest Park. Located on the outskirts of downtown St. Louis, the park boasts 1,300 verdant acres and five major cultural institutions, including an art museum, outdoor ice rink and city zoo. Visitors can picnic on green hills or take a paddleboat ride through sparkling blue ponds. For those who prefer a more active itinerary, a dual path provides ample opportunity for running and biking.
Footsteps from Paris’s bustling Latin Quarter is Luxembourg Gardens, one of the city’s most peaceful retreats. The park’s colorful flowerbeds and well-tended pathways are enough to attract visitors, but the sprawling landscape is also home to a number of attractions. In addition to French and English gardens, the park also boasts greenhouses with a breathtaking orchid collection and a blossoming orchard with apple and pear trees. If you have children in tow, consider catching a puppet show at the park’s renowned marionette theatre or visiting the popular merry-go-round and swings.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Few places compare to Vancouver’s Stanley Park: The 1,000-acre wilderness park is footsteps from downtown and attracts a regular crowd of locals and tourists. Visitors can walk, cycle or Rollerblade along a seawall, or enjoy outdoor theater and cultural performances during the warmer summer months. Don’t miss the park’s forest trails and lakes. Park-goers can relax next to Beaver Lake, a peaceful body of water almost completely covered by water lilies, or explore Lost Lagoon, a glittering 41-acre freshwater lake.
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New York City
New York’s Central Park is a celebrity in its own right, making cameos in films and television shows. Beyond the silver screen, the park offers visitors an escape from the city’s hustle and bustle. Guests can wander down meandering pathways, lounge in open meadows, or take an afternoon break near peaceful lakes. Stop by Strawberry Fields, a flowering English landscape that pays homage to John Lennon, or climb the majestic stone steps to Bethesda Fountain, an ornate, three-tiered structure that sits alongside the lake.
San Diego, California
Stepping into Balboa Park feels a little like entering the pages of a storybook. The park’s captivating architecture, sparkling fountains and sprawling courtyards enchant visitors and keep locals coming back for more. Explore Florida Canyon’s rustic desert landscape or walk eastward to see the park’s well-tended Rose Garden. The California Building, the park’s 200-foot tower, features a majestic blue-tiled dome and a 100-carillon bell that tolls the hour.
For the rest of the world’s most beautiful city parks, including the lush oasis in the heart of Tokyo that is Hibiya, visit Fodor’s.