When Parisians want to experience the great outdoors without going too far from home, they head to the Bois de Boulogne. Once a royal hunting ground, the Bois is not a park in the traditional sense—more like a vast tamed forest where romantic lakes and wooded paths are complemented by formal gardens and family-friendly amusements. On nice days, it’s filled with cyclists, rowers, rollerbladers, joggers, pétanque players, picnickers, and hordes of preschoolers. Art lovers will also be lured here with the opening of a new Frank Gehry–designed exhibition space and cultural center dedicated to contemporary art near the Jardin d'Acclimatation: The Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation’s 65,000-square-foot sculptural glass-and-steel building is expected to be unveiled in late 2014.
The Parc de Bagatelle is a floral garden with irises, roses, tulips, water lilies, and roaming peacocks that is at its most colorful between April and June. Pré Catelan contains
one of Paris's largest trees: a copper beech more than 200-years old. The romantic Le Pré Catelan restaurant, where le tout Paris used to dine on the elegant terrace during the Belle Époque, still draws diners and wedding parties—especially on weekends. The Jardin Shakespeare inside the Pré Catelan has a sampling of the flowers, herbs, and trees mentioned in Shakespeare's plays, and becomes an open-air theater for the Bard's works in spring. The Jardin d'Acclimatation, on the northern edge of the Bois, is an amusement park that attracts seemingly every local preschooler on summer Sunday afternoons. Highlights include age-appropriate rollercoasters, a small zoo, and climbing apparatus. A miniature railway shuttle runs from Porte Maillot on Wednesdays and weekends beginning at 1:30 (tickets cost €2.90, round-trip). Boats or bikes can be rented for a few euros at Lac Inférieur. You can row or take a quick "ferry" to the island restaurant Chalet des Iles. Two popular horse-racing tracks are also in the park: the Hippodrome de Longchamp and the Hippodrome d'Auteuil. Fans of the French Open can visit its home base, Stade Roland-Garros (tours in English are available by appointment, Wednesday and Friday through Sunday at 11 and 3 for €10.50); true devotees can check out the stadium's onsite Tenniseum, too (€8).
The main entrance to the Bois is off Avenue Foch near the Porte Dauphine métro stop on the 2 Line; it is best for accessing Pré Catelan and Jardin Shakespeare, both located off the Route de la Grande-Cascade by the lake.
For the Jardin d'Acclimatation, off Boulevard Des Sablons, take the 1 Line to Les Sablons or Porte Maillot, where you can walk or ride the petit train to the amusement park.
The Parc de Bagatelle, off Route de Sèvres-à-Neuilly, can be accessed from either Porte Dauphine or Porte Maillot, though it's a bit of a hike.
You'll want to leave the park by dusk, as the Bois—seedy and potentially dangerous after dark—turns into a distinctly “adult” playground.
Porte Dauphine for main entrance; Porte Maillot or Les Sablons for northern end; Porte d'Auteuil for southern end, Paris, 75016, France
/01–53–64–53–80-Parc de Bagatelle; /01–40–67–90–85-Jardin d'Acclimatation