Considered France's principle botanical garden, the Jardin des Plantes was established in the 17th century under the reign of Louis XIII. What began as an herb garden now includes different species from all over the world. Travelers even visited countries around the globe and brought back seeds to enhance the Paris collection. Among the specimens are an American sequoia and a laricio pine from Corsica. The garden also contains Paris's oldest tree, an acacia brought back from America in the early 1600s. In the 17th c. much focus was put into planting species with therapeutic properties and in the 18th c. it was a place of botanical/natural medicinal research. Also on the site are the Ménagerie zoo and the natural history museum. METRO: Place Monge or Gare d'Austerlitz
When it was created in 1860 it really was a zoological park. Today there are many other attractions - like the Exploradome, merry-go-rounds and puppet shows - especially for kids, but you can still see some of the tamer animals, such as deer, roaming freely around the grounds. Other animals that are still kept on the grounds are monkeys, bears, sheep and lions. Originally there were also members of some indigenous Indian tribes, such as the Hottentots and the Lapones who were kept on the grounds for the curiosity and amusement of the artistocrats and the affluent bourgeoisie who once visited the grounds in a bygone era. Needless to say, they are long gone. Today, along with the amusement park attractions, there are workshops held for children and adults centering around the jardin's botanical heritage and here you will learn about the secrets to making tea or perfume as a tribute to Empress Eugenie's "garden of experiences." To participate in the workshops, you must reserve in advance.
First built in 1780, the parc du Champ-de-Mars is a large green space that stretches from the Eiiffel Tower all the way down to the Ecole Militaire to the southeast. It is a favored place for leisurely strolls, rain or shine. It is also one of the best places in the city to stretch out a picnic blanket and dawdle the afternoon hours away over a shared baguette, some French cheese and other treats. The freely accessed public space frequently hosts national and international events such as fireworks for Bastille Day, White Yoga Day and even at the turn of the last century, was the site of the Universal Exposition. It also hosted the reception and a gigantic banquet for the marriage of the Duc d'Orléans in 1837.
Get a kick out of walking along an old viaduct and train line that is elevated to the level of the building rooftops you pass. Only pedestrians and bicycles are allowed on this ancient pathway that spans 4.7 km (just about 2 miles) lined with hazelnut and lime trees connecting the Bastlle with the Bois de Vincennes (Porte Dor�e). When the train line ran, its end station was where the Op�ra de la Bastille now stands today. This tree-lined, wide pathway has you walking across numerous foot bridges and past several spacious green spaces where you can stop and picnic or just relax with a book, or both. This is one of those gorgeous outdoor activities that not a lot of tourists think to do. It's a fun walk or bike ride in either direction, going to or from the Bastlle/ Bois de Vincennes.
The Bois de Vincennes, Paris's largest park, was originally fenced off as royal hunting grounds. Today, scattered among its trees and lawns are peaceful lakes, bird reserves, a farm and even a castle completed in 1370 under the reign of Charles V. In past years, the castle has served as city fortress, barracks and prison. The Parc Floral botanical garden is a delight throughout the year, thanks to its hundreds of species of rainbow-hued flowers, and a place of entertainment with its children's playground and outdoor classical and jazz concerts in summer that offer the perfect excuse to spend an afternoon outdoors picnicking with family and friends. METRO: Porte Dorée or Chateau de Vincennes
In the late 18th century, Parc Monceau was created on the Monceau plain for the Duke of Chartres. It was filled with water features, statues and architectural elements from many other cultures, including a recreated pagoda and Roman temple. Visitors can take time to admire a windmill, a pyramid or simply wander through medieval ruins. The park became public domain after the French Revolution. In recent years it has become the default jogging track for well-heeled Parisians who live in the surrounding uppercrust neighborhoods of the 8th, 16th and 17th arrondissements. In the mornings and evenings the perimeter path turns into a jogging track and workout zone. METRO: Monceau
This museum, set in the Hotel Biron, is a tribute to one of the world's finest sculptors. Thanks to Rodin's own donations, the facility offers a wealth of objects, including terra cotta, bronze and marble creations. Plaster and wax studies are available as well, along with his sketches, drawings, engravings, and his own collected art. Among the items on display are "The Kiss" and the sculpture that brought Rodin much fame, The Thinker. The museum is now re-opened after 3 years (2012 - 2015) of renovations on the main building, Hotel Biron, which is an early 18th c. building. The gardens are an idyllic draw unto themselves. They were also the setting for the scene where former First Lady of France, Carla Bruni, played her role for Woody Allen's film, Midnight in Paris. A café in the gardens offers refreshments.
This symbol of French victory was commissioned by Napoleon and completed in 1836. Adorned with sculpture and the names of military successes, the enormous arch features a small museum and rooftop viewing platform. At its base is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The arch was inaugurated by the French King Louis-Philippe in 1836, dedicated to the Revolutionary Army and the Army of the Empire. Jean-François Chalgrin, the architect, is said to have been inspired by the Roman Arch of Titus. The arch sits at the center of place Charles de Gaulle (formerly place d'Etoile), a square that branches off into twelve avenues. It also offers great views southeast down the Champs-Elysées to the Louvre and northwest towards La Défense. Pedestrian access is most safely gained via the pedestrian tunnel from the north side of the Champs-Elysées. METRO: Charles de Gaulle-Etoile
Anyone can use the Velib' service which is a fleet of thousands of public bicycles positioned at 1,800 strategic points all around the city, as prolific as Métro stops. The first half-hour is free so if you get from point A to point B and re-dock your bike, there's no charge for use. Required is a credit card with that little magnet strop on it so that when you swipe it at the automated rental kiosk (directions in English, too) it can deduct a deposit, returned when you return the bicycle. In the wee hours of Paris the traffic is much lighter than during the day and Parisians swear by their Velib' system - they say it's the best thing since, well, sliced bread.
Summer of 2014 was the first season people really got to enjoy this daring urban planning escapade undertaken by the city of Paris. What once was a freeway where speeding cars raced along the river embankment, is now a completely pedestrian zone. Moreover, to encourage its citizenry's and visiting guests'usage of the area dozens of fun and entertaining distractions have been installed along the embankment from the Eiffel Tower all the way to the Assemblée Nationale. There are water fountains that freely spout potable flat and sparkling water; there are lounge chairs on barges with generous greenery surrounding them; there are art installations; underneath a bridge is a disco mirror with dance music blaring; there is a big chalk wall where you can write whatever you feel. And more. Go and discover it all for yourself. If you have kids to bring along, all the better.