One of the best-known green spaces in this part of Paris is the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (19th). Opened in 1867, it was laid out under Napoleon III. All the charming 19th-century features of this 25-hectare expanse of greenery are intact to this day: a lake, waterfalls, grottoes, a panoramic viewpoint, a supension rope bridge, etc. The park was built from scratch on a former quarry. Because of its hillside location and steep gradient, it is popular with sporty people, who come here to do their daily run along its undulating paths.
There are many contemporary parks and gardens in the eastern section of Greater Paris. Created in 1988, the Parc de Belleville (20th) is perched on a hillside. It offers a spectacular view over Paris and all of the city’s major monuments from a height of more than 30 metres. It has been labelled an ‘ecological green space’. Interestingly, the park also features a 250 m² vineyard, with some 140 vines producing 2-3 kg of grapes each.
Another popular green space in eastern Paris is the Parc de Bercy (12th). Created in 1993, this 14-hectare park is one of the biggest in the French capital. Although it is fairly recent, some of its vestiges can still be seen. It was built on a site where many wine warehouses were once located, and you can spot a cobblestone path with handrails and a few remaining cellars. The park is split up into three parts: the ‘prairie’, with large expanses of lawn, a romantic garden, and a kitchen garden designed around nine themes: springtime, summer, autumn, winter, water, earth, etc. The Parc de Bercy too has 400-odd vines.
The Parc de la Butte du Chapeau rouge (19th) was built on some former gypsum quarries, and extends over nearly 46 hectares. Not many walkers know about this park, which has charming terraces, a huge 1930s-style fountain and a viewpoint from which you can survey all of eastern Paris.
Whether you wish to learn more about various plant species, or to simply enjoy a walk in a verdant setting, you’ll find that eastern Paris has two of the capital’s four botanical gardens: the famous Parc Floral de Paris (12th) and the Jardin de l’école d’Horticulture du Breuil (12th), the city’s school of horticulture – the other two being the Parc de Bagatelle (16th) and the Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil (16th) in western Paris. The Parc Floral de Paris will awaken all your senses with its extraordinary collection of 3,000 plant species. The Jardin de l’école d’Horticulture du Breuil is a 23-hectare garden with themed displays (a rose garden, perennials, shrubs and bushes, greenhouses, etc.) as well as an arboteum. All of these are open to the public.
A walk in the woods
Another lovely place for a peaceful break is the Bois de Vincennes (12th), the ‘green lung’ of eastern Paris. This remnant of an ancient forest – a royal hunting ground in the 12th century – was remodelled into a park under Napoleon III. With a total area of 995 hectares, it is the largest park in Paris today. Boasting 543 hectares of woodland, 80 hectares of gardens, four lakes and a river 7.8 km in length, it is a great place for a walk, a picnic or for playing sport. You can even go canoeing on the Lac Daumesnil.
Unusual green spaces
Some green spaces are located in the most unexpected places. Formerly known as the Promenade plantée, the Coulée verte René-Dumont (12th) extends along an old railway track dating back to 1859, running 10 metres above street level. Enjoy a pleasant, traffic-free stroll from Bastille all the way to the Bois de Vincennes along this 4.5-km walking path (the longest green space in Paris). Partly elevated and partly underground, the picturesque trail comprises viaducts, footbridges, tunnels and footpaths. Eastern Paris is also home to the Vincennes Hippodrome de Paris, a racecourse in the Bois de Vincennes, where you can relax amid restful greenery.
The Jardin naturel in the 20th arrondissement mixes woodland and meadowhabitats, and is planted with species that once grew spontaneously all over the city. It showcases a holistic approach to gardening, leaving plants to their own devices. Insects, toads and birds flourish in these surroundings: good news for walkers in search of nature, wildlife and biodiversity.
The Petite Ceinture is also to be found in the 12th arrondissement. This nature trail runs along a disused railway track looping around Paris. Urban explorers take note!
To get your nature fix as well as some exercise, head to the Parc du Tremblay in Champigny-sur-Marne, near the banks of the Marne river. This 75-hectare expanse is a great place to relax or play sport, with many sporting facilities available for all to use, free of charge.
Created in 2008, the Parc départemental de la Haute-Ile in Neuilly-sur-Marne, which skirts the final bend of the Marne river, is a good place to learn about the flora and fauna of a wetland habitat. You will come across many different aquatic plants, insects, amphibians and birds along its walking trails. It is also an archaeological site of some significance, as excavations have revealed signs that it was inhabited in prehistoric times.
In some Paris districts, leafy tree-lined streets and flower-filled gardens evoke the feel of a picturesque small town. While you’re in eastern Paris, do take the opportunity to wander through the charming streets of Parisian ‘villages’ such as Campagne à Paris up on the slopes towards Porte de Bagnolet. A short distance from the Buttes Chaumont, the Mouzaïa district tucked away in the heart of the 19th arrondissement is also the perfect setting for a wander off the beaten track, through narrow pedestrian-only lanes lined with flower-bedecked houses. You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into the countryside!
Along the water
The banks of the Marne river, which runs along the outer edges of Paris and through the Val-de-Marne, have been a spot for family fun and leisure ever since the 19th century. There are 25 islands on the river, 3 of which are classed as nature reserves: Ile de l’Abreuvoir, Ile des Gords and Ile Pissevinaigre. One section of the river, known as Le Bras du Chapitre, loops around the Iles de Brise-Pain and the Ile Sainte-Catherine in the nearby town of Créteil. These are picturesque settings in which to enjoy a cycle ride with the family along the towpaths, observe the local flora and fauna, sip a glass of white wine, do a jig at a riverside guinguette (open-air restaurants with a dance floor), admire beautiful art deco houses, get an introduction to water sports or go on a boat ride.
The banks of the Seine are the perfect place for walking or cycling. An eye-catching cable-stayed suspension bridge, the Pont du Port à l’Anglais, spans the river at one point.
While you’re exploring this stretch of the river, stop off at the Guinguette Auvergnate to enjoy a sweeping view over the Seine. People also take water-skiing lessons here, unlike though that may seem in a place so near to Paris.