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A Touch of Green: Metro Parks and Their Perks

girl-walking-through-a-park
Sandy Bornstein
Written by Sandy Bornstein

City parks provide a respite from the starkness of concrete and steel without having to travel far. Some were planned centuries ago while others are byproducts of modern life. A city’s heartbeat can be detected inside these green spaces. While spectacular flora and fauna is usually the main draw, history and culture can also be found within the park’s perimeter.

New York, Chicago, and London hype their award-winning parks. It’s obvious why Central Park, Millennium Park, and Hyde Park receive accolades for their impressive grounds that attract millions of visitors each year. But did you know that other cities around the world have bragging rights for wonderful parks?

San Francisco and San Diego, California

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San Francisco and San Diego capitalize on their attractive West Coast locations that house a wide assortment of venues. Golden Gate Park’s 1000+ acres is known for its Japanese Tea Garden, the California Academy of Sciences (aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum), the de Young Museum (American art), San Francisco Botanical Garden, and Conservatory of Flowers. Summer is the time for the annual Outside Lands festival while the beginning of October lures lovers of Bluegrass to the park.

Situated on more than 1,200 acres, San Diego’s Balboa Park is America’s largest urban cultural park. In addition to the San Diego Zoo, the park has 15 museums, several kid-friendly attractions that include a carousel and miniature railroad, splendid gardens, and an impressive performance schedule— musicals, dance productions, plays, and concerts. Museum junkies should check out the Explorer Pass for discounts on admission charges.

Vancouver, Canada

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Stanley Park in Vancouver is Canada’s first, largest and best-known city park. Even though it’s a tad smaller than its American cousins and doesn’t house a huge number of attractions, its coastal terrain will lure both young and old. The 14-mile-long Seawall and the 17-miles of forest trails will delight nature enthusiasts. Parents traveling with kids should head to the Children’s Farmyard, the Vancouver Aquarium, or the Stanley Park Train. A day at the beach or at the water park may also fit the bill.

Delhi and Bangalore, India

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Image via Sandy Bornstein

The Garden City of India, Bangalore, hosts the 240-acre Lalbagh Botanical Gardens. Its royal history dates back to the 18th century and currently has India’s largest collection of tropical plants. Make sure to visit the Glass House that is modeled after London’s Crystal Palace.

In Delhi, a 15th and 16th century burial ground was transformed into a public park. The 90-acre Lodi Gardens includes monuments and tombs from the Sayyid and Lodi dynasties. Bonsai enthusiasts should look for the National Bonsai Park.

Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong

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Image via Sandy Bornstein

It is common to see mature adults congregating in China’s city parks. Handfuls play cards and board games while others exercise in small groups or in freestanding outdoor apparatuses.

Locals and tourists travel to historical sites like the Summer Palace (outside Beijing) for long walks, boating, and picnics. The Summer Palace has an idyllic royal setting complete with a massive lake surrounded by lush landscaping. Beihai is more conveniently located. This former classical Chinese garden was originally part of the Forbidden City and is near the Drum and Bell Tower.

Both Shanghai and Hong Kong have noteworthy urban parks. A visit to Shanghai’s People’s Park can easily be combined with shopping on Nanjing Road and/or a tour of one of these key attractions— Shanghai Museum, Shanghai Grand Theatre, and the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall.

Hong Kong Park, Hong Kong Zoological and Botanic Gardens, and the tram to the top of Victoria’s Peak are adjacent to one another. A sampling of each can be accomplished in a day.

Nagasaki

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Occasionally, beautiful parks are created to commemorate a historical event. Nagasaki’s Peace Park and the Atomic Bomb Museum are perfect examples. The lovely gardens and the collection of statues set the appropriate tone for reflection before entering the museum.

Amsterdam

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European travelers who stop in Amsterdam will have no trouble finding green spaces. Most locals will recommend Vondelpark for its prime location and manageable walking paths that view English-styled rose gardens and ponds. Check the concert schedule website for the free summer concerts in the open-air theater.

Rome

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A stroll through Rome’s largest public park, Villa Borghese, can include stops at a few museums or the zoo. Photo buffs will rejoice with the abundance of opportunities. Shady trees and park benches dot a circular route that runs along the perimeter. The Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain are nearby.

Budapest

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Budapest’s largest city park, Városliget, has universal appeal and is child-friendly. Couples and families can check out Vajdahunyad Castle, the Heroes Square, the Széchenyi Baths, the Grand Circus, and the Budapest Zoo. Be aware that while Holnemvolt Park is being renovated, the zoo will remain open.

London

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Hyde Park isn’t the only green space gem in London. From its prime location, Hampstead Heath shows off some of the finest views of London. Walking paths meander through the rugged terrain. Within a matter of minutes, hikers have totally lost touch with city life. Adults can indulge in local beer by taking a pub-crawl from Parliament Fields Hill to Primrose Hill and visit the nearby village of Hampstead. Kids can fly kites, swim, hike, and walk through a small zoo with their parents when the weather permits.

Have you found the perfect retreat from urban bedlam? If so, please share it in the comments area below.

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About the author

Sandy Bornstein

Sandy Bornstein

Sandy Bornstein lived as an expat in India. Her award-winning memoir, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life, highlights what she learned as the only American teacher at an international Bangalore school. After living abroad, Sandy continues to explore the world and write about her travels. You can follow Sandy's adventures at www.sandrabornstein.com.

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