10 Of The World's Best City Parks For Sightseeing
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Some world cities are famous for the scale and iconicity of their skylines, others for profile of their cultural heritage. Recently, however, I’ve become slightly enamoured by urban centres that offer much in way of natural beauty. I’m not strictly referring to the climate or surrounding landscape (though in some cases they go hand-in-hand), but more like the carefully sculpted beauty of some of the world’s finest public parks. Another thing I love about them is that in most cases it’s not all about providing citizens with a scenic green space.
The 10 city parks I’ve included in this list feature important institutions and facilities that keep locals and tourists alike entertained, from zoos to famous museums. Some even host fantastic guided tours! Why have I decided to focus on this particular topic today? Maybe I’m just excited for summertime, or maybe there’s a little environmentalist inside me who wants to promote more green tourism.
1) Phoenix Park (Dublin):
Established as a royal deer park by the Duke of Ormond in 1662, Phoenix Park in Dublin is a place that retains all of its original splendour and more. The 1752 acre site stands out in this list for what I’d regard as its semi-ethereal qualities. What do I mean by this?
Take a look at any picture of the park during a hazy early morning sunrise with placid herds of fallow deer grazing in the background. Contrast them with likewise images during sunset and you’ll see why Phoenix Park commands a very enchanting image.
Deers grazing in Phoenix Park Dublin.
The sheer size of the park makes it ideal for bike hiring and other recreational activities. It’s also the site of various iconic landmarks, namely, the Wellington Monument obelisk and the Papal Cross erected for Pope John Paul II’s 1979 visit. Visitors may also be interested in the park’s eastern portion, which is mostly reserved for Dublin Zoo.
You can reach Phoenix Park by hopping-off at stop 19 on the City Sightseeing Dublin Bus Tour.
Or why not also try the City Sightseeing Dublin & Airlink Combo?
2) South Bank Parklands (Brisbane):
I mentioned earlier about the public parks in this list sporting more than just scenic beauty, well South Bank in Brisbane takes this to a whole new level. At 17 hectares in size it’s considerably smaller than Phoenix Park, but factor in its proximity to Queensland’s top cultural institutions and a host of breathtaking amenities and you’ve got a public space that doubles as a summer wonderland.
Brisbane Southbank Street Beach © Brisbane Marketing.
South Bank is home to Streets Beach, a man-made whitesand beach skirting a crystal-clear blue lagoon. Bathe for any length of time and you might be forgiven for thinking you were lounging on the Seychelles. Remind yourself that you’re in the middle of a major city by looking up at the glistening CBD skyline along the opposite bank of the Brisbane River.
I’d also strongly recommend a stroll through the Grand Arbour, with its captivating Bougainvillea canopy. Discover the city’s cultural connection to Nepal by visiting the Nepal Peace Pagoda, and consider taking a ride on the Wheel of Brisbane.
3) Central Park (New York City):
Since it was first opened in 1857 New York City’s Central Park has been ‘the’ go-to location for residents looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city without actually leaving it. The stunning range of things to see and do means that you could easily spend a day or more discovering all of its timeless wonders. Play it smooth and simple by snapping a few pictures around Bethesda Fountain/Terrace, search for bronze plaque quotes by the Bard of Avon in Shakespeare’s Garden, or just gaze wistfully across the waters beneath Gapstow Bridge.
An Autumn day in central park with Gapstow Bridge and lake.
If you’d like to get hands-on then book a place on one of the park’s many fun walking tours. The one I’d recommend is On Location Tours: Central Park TV & Movie Sites. Ever wondered where they filmed certain scenes in the Taxi Driver, Ghostbusters, Vanilla Sky and more? All will be revealed during the 2 hour journey. Don’t forget to also check out Central Park Zoo.
4) Petřín (Prague):
I think it’s officially called Petrin Hill & Observation Tower, but this area on the western banks of the Vltava River is virtually all parkland. Take a stroll along the Legion Bridge (Most Legií) from Nové Město and ascend its snaking cobblestone pathways towards the summit.
As you travel up the hill you’ll pass under lush tree canopies, encounter beautiful traditional eateries, and have a constant vantage point across the low-lying Old Town. The pinnacle point of your journey should be Petrin Tower, a 378-meter cast iron structure with its own observation deck. It’s taller than the Eiffel Tower and (in my opinion) boasts all the romance.
Lookout tower on Petrin Hill in autumn in Prague.
The City Sightseeing Prague Bus Tour has various stops in and around Petrin Hill. Want to also visit the Strahov Monastery and Prague Castle? You can’t go wrong with the open-top tour.
5) Park Güell (Barcelona):
Next to Central Park, easily one of the biggest icons on this list. Alongside the Sagrada Família Park Güell is considered a definitive masterpiece by Spanish-Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. Every year thousands of visitors, local and foreign alike, wander through its columnated entrance building and enter into a world of stunning natural beauty, trencadís wonders and one-of-a-kind architectural marvels.
Park Guell Barcelona.
Many of the monuments in Park Güell harken to various inspirations throughout Europe. Doric influences are evident in the Greek Theatre/Plaça de la Natura, expertly combined with Gaudí’s own unique style. The Austria Garden, true to its name, is a beautiful plant nursery which took shape following a donation of trees from Austria in 1977. And of course there’s famous features unlike anything else in the world, such as ‘El Drac’, a huge mosaic lizard sprawled between the steps near the main entrance.
6) Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden (Cape Town):
Nestled at the base of Table Mountain a short drive south of Cape Town is one of South Africa’s most biodiverse public parklands. While the lush Kirstenbosch gardens themselves occupy some 36 hectares the entire nature reserve stretches out around 528 hectares. This includes breathtaking mountain peaks to the north, epics views facing Claremont and the Constantia Heights, and flora of every colour imaginable.
It should come as no surprise that Kirstenbosch has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, not just for its scenery, but for its role in conserving South Africa’s native plant and animal life.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in Cape Town South Africa.
You can reach the Kirstenbosch NBG from central Cape Town by catching a ride on the City Sightseeing Cape Town Bus Tour.
7) Kings Park (Perth):
To me the City of Perth seems like it started out as a giant public park before the founders realised they’d need to put up a few buildings. Regardless of how Perth actually developed the end result was one of the world’s greenest and most liveable cities. At the heart of it all is Kings Park, a 400 hectare site stretching south-west of the CBD with unbeatable views across Swan River. Two thirds of its total area is classified as protected Bushland, the native fauna of which can be seen along a lengthy nature trail.
King's Park Perth.
On the park’s eastern end is the Western Australian Botanic Garden, home to 3,000 species of flora and the Pioneer Women’s Memorial. Other landmarks to check out while you’re in Kings Park are the State War Memorial, the DNA Tower, and the Synergy Parkland recreation area.
If you’re planning a sightseeing trip to Perth soon then a great tour that includes Kings Park is the Perth Explorer Bus Tour.
8) Parque De El Retiro (Madrid):
As a space which once belonged to the Spanish Monarchy the vast scale of Buen Retiro’s natural and architectural beauty was a given. Located in the heart of Madrid it’s a place that contains some of the Spanish capital’s most significant cultural monuments. See the Monument to King Alfonso XII, discover remnants from the 1887 World Expo in the Crystal Palace, and stroll down the Avenida de México. However you decide to explore the 350 acre grounds you’re guaranteed to run into all kinds of sculpted wonders. It’s almost like a giant open-air art gallery.
Monument to King Alfonso XII in Buen Retiro Park, Madrid, Spain.
Reach Buen Retiro Public Park by hopping off at stop 2 on the Madrid City Bus Tour (Blue Route).
9) Tallinn Botanic Garden (Tallinn):
As a city officially voted one of the greenest in Europe including the Tallinn Botanic Gardens was a must. It lies a few kilometres north-east of Tallinn city centre in the leafy Pirita district, and can be reached by hopping off at stop 5 on the Tallinn City Bus Tour (Green Route). When you arrive be sure to head out on one (or both) of the site’s nature trails. The longer of the two covers 3.9 kilometres and features 15 unique landscapes, while the shorter one (2.5 km) lets people explore the peatlands bordering the main gardens.
Tallinn Botanical Garden Aerial View, Estonia.
For an added sightseeing treat take a walk across to the neighbouring Tallinn TV Tower, a 312-meter structure with a panoramic observation deck.
10) Sintra-Cascais Natural Park (Portugal):
I decided to save my favourite for last, Sintra! You’ll notice that it’s different from the others in that it’s not an ‘urban park’, more a nature reserve attached to a quaint little town just outside Lisbon. The thing that holds it all together is the City Sightseeing Sintra Tour, a hop-on hop-off service unlike any I’ve encountered. Jump on one of their mini open-top coaches and get ready to discover a collection of landmarks that look like they belong in a fantasy epic.
Pena National Palace Sintra.
The Sintra-Cascais Natural Park is home to wonders such as the Castle of the Moors, Pena National Palace, the Qunita da Regaieira, and that staple of online wanderlust inspiration, the Iniciatic Well. Its top nature stop, I’d argue, is Cabo da Roca. This cliff side vantage point represents not only the westernmost point in Portugal, but on the entire European continent. To learn more about the things to can see on the City Sightseeing Sintra tour check out the link provided above.