Many of Europe’s finest cities are proud of their public open spaces – green lungs where residents and visitors can go to appreciate nature, play sports and games or just relax and contemplate. We’ll take a look here at a few of the best examples of beautiful parks right in the heart of major European cities.
The glorious Retiro Park in Madrid is as beautiful as any you’ll find in any European city. Littered with marble monuments, landscaped lawns, the occasional elegant building and abundant greenery, the Retiro is peaceful on weekdays but comes to life at weekends. Laid out in the 17th century by Felipe IV as the preserve of kings and queens, the park was opened to the public in 1868. The focal point for much of El Retiro’s life is the artificial lake (estanque) where rowing boats can be hired. Hidden among the trees south of the lake is the magnificent metal and glass Palacio de Cristal. It was built in 1887 as a winter garden for exotic flowers and is now used for temporary exhibitions.
“Tiergarten” is a district in the heart of Berlin as well as Berlin’s largest and most popular inner-city park. It is a great favourite with locals and visitors wanting to stroll, take a breath of fresh air, a picnic, cycle, jog or just kick a ball around. A large playground or Spielplatz is located on the southeastern corner near Potsdamer Platz. Some winters it is even possible to skate on the small lakes inside the park if weather conditions allow. Like many inner city parks, the Tiergarten had been used for royal sport since the 16th century when it was first enclosed. The first avenues were arranged in the late 17th century. The Strasse des 17. Juni was its main west east axis leading to the Brandenburg Gate. Popular retreats within the park are the Café am Neuen See, an outdoor restaurant and Biergarten. Other favourite areas are a peaceful spot called Rousseau Island and the English Gardens and coffee shop.
No visit to London would be complete without spending some time in at least one of the capital’s many parks. St. James Park is the oldest of the eight Royal Parks. The park includes The Mall and Horse Guards Parade and is at the heart of ceremonial London, providing the setting for spectacular pageants including the annual Trooping the Colour. Once a marshy watermeadow, in 1532 Henry VIII acquired the site as yet another deer park and built the Palace of St James’s. The park changed over the years and particularly in the Hanoverian period, when it was redesigned by John Nash in a romantic style. The lake in the park is a particular attraction for visitors who can enjoy watching the waterfowl and also the pelicans, which were first introduced as long ago as 1664 as a gift from the Russian Ambassador. The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk is also a popular attraction. This seven-mile-long walk is charted by 90 plaques set in the ground and takes you within sight of famous buildings and locations associated with the Princess during her life.