Five Favorite City Parks

“So, are you more of a city person or a country person”, I asked my friend Pam, the other day when I was visiting her in London. We were just casually talking about life and living and where, if money were no object, we’d like to buy a home. We both agreed that we are city girls in the end, needing the diversity, stimulation and conveniences of living in a big city. Good thing since we are both already living in big cities (Pam in London and when I’m not on the road, I call Los Angeles home).
But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a little time a way from the busy-ness of city life.  A chance to be surrounded by green and quiet and solitude often found in a small country town or high up in a mountain village.  Thinking about this contrast, city life and country life, I realized how much I love a really great city park. A parcel of land that is a bit of an escape for an hour or two, if you can spare it.
For a great city park to rank on my list, it must have a few key ingredients:
  • at least 1 body of water (a lake, large  pond or stream)
  • a walking/jogging/biking path
  • a section with animals (a pond with ducks, horse stables, etc.)
  • a large, open, grassy area for just laying around, playing a game of touch football, or an impromptu capoeira roda
  • security – I want to know that I will feel safe at all times of the day
  • a section of the park where you can go and not see a single tall building or hear a honking car horn

So here are my 5 Favorite City Parks that I’ve come across in my travels (in no particular order).

1. Reagents Park – London, UK.   
While Hyde Park or Kensington Park may be more commonly known amongst tourists in London, Reagents is one of my favorites. When I lived in London back in 2001, this park was closest to my apartment and I used to love to jog there for a little exercise on the weekends or just take my book and find a quite section of grass near the Open Air Theater to read on a sunny day (London lucked out with a nice summer that year).
View of London’s Reagents Park (photo credit: aots.co.uk)
2. Tiergarten Park – Berlin, Germany. 
I just got back from visiting Berlin and I ended up biking through this park on a tour lead by Fat Tire Bike Tours.  With the entrance to the park being just on the other side of the Brandenburg Tor, you go from a bustling, tourist filled plaza to a shady, tree-covered, quiet path in a matter of minutes. The park was filled with weeping-willow trees, ponds, well paved walking paths and slightly more hidden dirt paths leading off into the trees.  On my next visit to Berlin, I will definitely schedule more time to visit this beautiful park at length.
Berlin’s Tiergarten Park (Photo Credit: www.amc-booking.com)
3. Central Park – New York City, USA. 
How can you not love Central Park, one of the most famous city parks in the world?  Although I grew up taking yearly trips to New York to visit my grandparents, I don’t remember ever spending any time in Central Park (probably because it was always in December and freezing cold). It wasn’t until I went there to visit some friends about 6 years ago, that I decided to take an hour or so to check out the park. Three hours later, I had barely even scratched the surface of what Central Park had to offer, but I was in love! Since then, each time I go back to New York I discover a new part of the park and find myself wanting to spend hours there. Whether I’m exercising, taking photographs or just sitting in the grass and playing cards with some friends, this is one of my favorite places to be in New York.

Stone bridge in New York’s Central Park

4. Stanley Park – Vancouver, Canada. 
When planning my first trip to Vancouver was last fall, multiple people recommended reserving some time to get lost in Stanley Park.  What great advice!  I had a simple map of the basic trails to get me started, but otherwise I just walked where my feet felt like going. For a while I walked along the sea wall catching a breeze and watching sailboats and seagulls, then I headed to the trails deeper in the park for complete solitude. I had a brief scare when I came upon an enormous raccoon in the middle of my path (uh oh, rabies?), but then quickly learned that park’s raccoon population was tame and only looking for a food handout. I only left the park, reluctantly, when the sun went down.
A shot of Stanley Park’s Lover’s Lane
5. Hampstead Heath – London, UK.  
London has so many great parks, so it is not surprising that it gets two mentions on this list.  I also loved Hampstead Heath, a park close to where my two good friends Rupa and Pam lived for a few years.  While it has all of the elements that many London parks do (running trails, ponds, beautiful views) I also liked the “wild” side to the park. As the name implies, the heath has a number of overgrown areas that are not perfectly manicured and manipulated by a set of gardeners. I always felt that nature played a bigger part in this park because of these slightly wilder plots of land where the grass grew a little taller and the flowers popped up at random. 
A peaceful seat among the trees in London’s Hampstead Heath (photo credit: explow.com)

Honorable Mention: North Park – Pittsburgh, USA.  
While this park cannot compare to the others in terms of status, size or facilities, this was the first park I remember growing up. I remember going there regularly with my mother for summer birthday parities, festivities and the 3-mile walk around its central lake which seemed like the longest distance in the world when I was a little girl. This park was my introduction to city parks and I still remember it well.

What do you think of the parks on this list? And if you have a favorite city park you think I should visit, please leave a comment below.  I’d love some more suggestions!

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