European Escapes: Top City Park Respites
Find Solace In Urban Parks
Take time out from your busy, city-packed, sightseeing itinerary to picnic and relax in the city’s
favorite park retreat. Not only is it a refreshing break for your mind and feet, but a great way to
feel the pulse of the city, not to mention a terrific escape from the typical tourist crowds!
Observe the locals at rest and at play. Savor the culture’s diverse festivals, art, and music.
The following is a hand picked list of selected parks that I found worthwhile during my European travels.
This is not a complete list by any means, so I welcome and encourage your suggestions by email.
St. Stephen’s Green – Dublin, Ireland
St. Stephen’s Green – Dublin, Ireland
Walk from Trinity College down the pedestrian-only Grafton Street (principle shopping thoroughfare),
which leads to the corner entrance of St. Stephen’s Green, a 27-acre park oasis. The Green remained
private until 1877 when Sir Arthur Guinness politically maneuvered to open the park to the public.
He further financed the development of the Green, including gardens and ponds dating from 1880.
As you stroll through the park’s colorful flowerbeds, trees and lake, you will encounter a variety
of monuments, including a fountain, “The Three Fates,” a gift from Germany following WWII, memorial
to Yates, Joyce, and other prominent Dubliners. Fine Georgian buildings surround the Green with
trademark doors of ornamental knobs and knockers, giving the city of Dublin a natural elegance.
Give your busy itinerary a break and join the locals at this popular lunchtime retreat. Enjoy the
recreation, people-watching, and concerts of Irish music at the Green’s old time bandstand during
July and August. St. Stephen’s Green plays host to various other festivals and events as well.
Browse the Irish festival site for your
favorite event with specific dates and times.
Retiro Park – Madrid, Spain
Retiro Park (large lake, El Estanque) – Madrid, Spain
Named for its relaxation effect, siesta in this breezy, 350-acre escape located in the very center
of Madrid behind the Prado Museum.
Originally the retreat for royalty, the park was opened to the public in 1868, providing a wonderful
place for picnicking or just watching the passing crowds. Enter through any of the four gateways located
in the Plaza de la Independencia, the Calle de Alcalá, the Calle de O’Donnell, and the Calle de Alfonso XII. Wander down the avenues lined with well-manicured gardens, lofty trees, and thick shrubs dotted with stone statues of royalty.
Just inside the park is the popular, large lake, El Estanque, where rowboats can be rented. Other
interesting elements include the rose garden, Rosaleda, and two buildings, known as Palacio de
Velázquez and Palacio de Cristal, where are exhibitions are often held. On weekends the park is
especially lively around the lake. Crowds gather to enjoy the local talent and entertainment of
puppet shows, jugglers, spontaneous concerts, and many other colorful open-air events.
Tiergarten – Berlin, Germany
Berlin’s largest park is an outdoor oasis, a prime site for summer picnics and barbecues. It
originally served as hunting grounds for the Prussian princes until it was transformed into a park
in the 18th century. The park spans two miles from the Bahnhof Zoo to Brandenburg Gate with the
Seigessäule (Victory Column) as its centerpiece. Built to honor the Prussian defeat of France in
1870, climb its 285 steps for a grand panorama view of Berlin. Because the grounds border the
Reichstag (former headquarters of German Parliament), many embassies were found here before the
war and today, are being restored and rebuilt in Tiergarten, providing renewed elegance to the
former Diplomatic quarter.
If you’re in Berlin during the month of July, you will want to experience one of the largest
festivals on earth. It is the annual Love Parade, which celebrates love of fellowman, nature, and earth through dance, song, and music. This animated parade begins in the afternoon lasting well into the night with the grand finale taking place in the very center of the Tiergarten, at the Seigessäule. Check for the specific dates in July. Whenever in Berlin, stop by the Tiergarten to rejuvenate your mind and relax with the locals.
Tivoli – Copenhagen, Denmark Tivoli (dancing to big band music) – Copenhagen, Denmark
Tivoli is more than the average park. It combines beautiful gardens and waterfalls, exhilarating
amusement rides with architecturally diverse buildings and romantic atmosphere. Step back in time
to the world of Tivoli with lantern-lined footpaths, façades and fountains lit by 115,000 colored
lights. Founded in 1843, Tivoli was named after an Italian village near Rome where Emperor Hadrian
had a summer villa with luxurious gardens and a waterfall.
Tivoli (dancing to big band music) – Copenhagen, Denmark
Enjoy this Danish wonderland, the rides, numerous ice-cream cones, games for every taste, and
dancing to big band music under the stars. Check Tivoli’s web site for current admission prices and
times. Upon arrival, make sure you pick up a map and events schedule to plan your entertainment for
the evening. Take advantage of the various free shows, including concerts, puppets, mime, ballet,
opera, and parades. If you are there on Wednesday or Saturday, stay for Tivoli’s unique fireworks
display, which are made by hand and launched from the roof of the Concert Hall. Don’t worry about
food. You can picnic by the lake or choose from more than 30 cafes, restaurants, sausage stands,
and eateries throughout the park in almost any price range. Don’t miss this refreshing ‘old world’
experience in the heart of Copenhagen.
Vigeland’s Sculpture Park – Oslo, Norway
Oslo is more than home to the ancient remains of Viking ships and the Viking spirit. It is home to
Norway’s greatest sculpture artist, Gustav Vigeland. Leave room in your busy itinerary to visit
Vigeland Sculpture Park, one of the artistic highlights of Norway containing 192 sculptures with more than 600 figures, all full size people pillars. Vigeland also designed the 75-acre park layout and beautiful grounds.
Vigeland’s Sculpture Park (the grand Monolith) – Oslo, Norway
Enter this one-of-a-kind, thought-provoking park. Continue across the statue-lined bridge to the main
fountain encircled by sculptures of human being-filled trees, representing man’s relationship to nature.
Further along is the park’s centerpiece, the grand Monolith, at 46 feet high carved from a single
block of stone with 121 figures. Various interpretations of the Monolith have been suggested. For
example, the lower figures are burdened with basic struggles for existence while the higher ones
are free to pursue more spiritual avenues and ideas. Whatever the case may be, Vigeland leaves it
up to you to interpret as you like. There is so much more you will want to see. Don’t miss Vigeland
Sculpture Park and the unique opportunity to experience masterful art outdoors while at the same
time capture the city’s Norwegian flair. The park is always open and free and easily accessible
by subway, bus, or tram to Frogner Plass.
Luxembourg Garden – Paris, France
You can’t visit the most romantic city in the world without stopping by the most romantic park,
Luxembourg Garden (Jardin du Luxembourg). This French-style garden was built by Salomon de Brosse
for Marie de Medicis, laid out around the central fountain. This Parisian favorite is a haven for
everyone, especially students, chess masters, boules, bridge, and tennis players.
Take a well-deserved break from the Louvre and rest your feet in the beautiful, green oasis on Paris’s Left Bank. Enjoy the formal gardens dotted with many statues, fountains, and magnificent flowerbeds, as well as a blossoming apple and pear orchard in the southwest corner.
This is a wonderful diversion for children as well with its playground, puppet theater, and ponds
with boat rentals. Keep your ears open for the popular summer band concerts, particularly on Sunday
afternoons. Did you prepare a picnic? If not, stop by the garden’s café with its splendid shaded
terrace. Luxembourg Garden, a combination of garden, park, and recreation, offers a great
opportunity to watch Parisian life up close and personal. The park is open until dusk and is
easily accessible by the metro.
Whatever your travel plans are, give your tired, traveled soul a much needed respite by spending time at
one of Europe’s many outstanding urban parks. You will not only feel rejuvenated, but you will
experience a true sense of culture, which is not offered at any museum.