Green places to relax in the midst of bustling cities.
When you’re planning a day of sightseeing in a brand new city, make sure you don’t skip the parks. Urban green spaces aren’t just a place for locals to relax and play—they’re actually critical to the wellbeing of the general population, which includes tourists!
Studies show that urban parks can enhance the mental and physical wellbeing of citizens, and green spaces can provide relief from the urban heat island effect, which is when cities are hotter due to human activity. Around the world, many cities have designed their green spaces as botanical centerpieces and many of these unique spaces have even changed the course of daily life in their cities. From unique histories to feats of engineering and innovative design, these are some of the most unique city parks in the world.
Garden of Turia
WHERE: Valencia, Spain
After Valencia’s historic River Turia needed to be diverted in the 1950s to prevent flooding, the city was able to salvage the significant river by transforming the dry river bed into a five-mile-long park. A massive green space that runs through the center of the city, the Garden of Turia is divided into sections from the waterside walking paths of Cabecera to the futuristic finale of the City of Arts and Sciences, plus all the soccer fields, fountains, zen gardens, and bike paths in between. Mesmerizing for visitors and convenient for locals, Valencia’s green river brings everyone together.
WHERE: São Paulo, Brazil
With many buildings designed by Brazil’s most famous architect (Oscar Niemeyer), São Paulo’s largest park is not just a green space, but also serves as a cultural center with five museums and artworks from some of Brazil’s most famous street artists like Eduardo Kobra. Located in the Jardins, the park often hosts some of Sao Paulo’s largest events, like fashion shows and concerts. However, most of the time it is popular with joggers who prefer the tree-covered paths to the city’s concrete streets.
The High Line
WHERE: New York City
Once an elevated train track, the High Line is now one of the most visited parks in New York. The abandoned tracks were an eyesore and living on the verge of demolition until the idea came to transform it into a continuous 1.45-mile-long park. Subsequently, it quickly became one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. The park is well-maintained and always interesting thanks to new art installations and events. Even the most jaded New Yorker walking the High Line during peak tourist season can’t deny the irresistible ambiance of the park.
WHERE: Tokyo, Japan
In the center of Tokyo, the Hama-rikyu Gardens is a respite of grassy lawns, peony fields, and saltwater ponds that ebb with the tide of Tokyo Bay. Sitting on the historic site of the shogun’s former residence, this park is also unique because it was designed to encourage exploration. With man-made rolling hills, winding walkways, and a picturesque teahouse that you have to cross a bridge to get to, the Hama-rikyu Gardens provide the visitor the perfect dose of serenity within walking distance from the buttoned-up Chuo District and the chaotic Tsukiji Fish Market.
Sydney Park Wetlands
WHERE: Sydney, Australia
Off Sydney’s beaten path, the Sydney Park Wetlands is more than just a park in the suburbs. These artificial wetlands are a byproduct of Sydney’s award-winning water reuse system, which cleans 340 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water every year. Formerly a dumping site, the park now attracts native wildlife and locals who enjoy the bike paths, waterfalls, and stepping stones. The whole thing comes together to serve a dual-purpose: sustainable water reuse and a retreat to nature.
Red Ribbon Park
WHERE: Qinhuangdao, China
On the banks of the Tanghe River in the historic port town of Qinhuangdao, this park is outlined by a curved red bench that flows for 500 meters through the dense vegetation. This minimalist idea of adding one long flowing bench helped to revitalize this part of the river, which was once filled with trash. Not just a red bench, the red ribbon also integrates the natural flora into its design and lights up at night, inviting locals to go for a ribbon-lit stroll along the river.
Royal National City Park
WHERE: Stockholm, Sweden
With the first national urban park in the world, Stockholm challenges the idea of what a city park could be. A complete cooperation with nature, the Royal National City Park is like a full forest surrounding Stockholm filled with historic buildings, swimming spots, museums, and amusement parks. It connects three different towns and includes nearby islands, but most importantly it gives Stockholm residents easy access to the wilderness within the city limits, no matter where they are in they are. The park is so integrated into city life that it would actually be hard to visit Stockholm without accidentally stumbling inside.
Villa Doria Pamphili
WHERE: Rome, Italy
Surrounding the Pamphili Gallery, this public park occupies what were formerly the villa’s grounds and is now a favorite weekend spot for local Romans. What was once private property for hundreds of years, opened as a public park in the 1960s, allowing everyone to enjoy the hedge mazes and renaissance-era sculptures. With historic buildings and ancient ruins to discover, plus large sprawls of grass and jogging trails, the park is a calm oasis that still feels like Rome.
Gardens by the Bay
Known worldwide for its flowering and color-changing metal trees, Singapore’s Supertrees are just a few standouts among the incredible floral and botanical arrangements that can be found throughout the three gardens. However, this park, which was formerly swampland, isn’t just a spectacle—it’s also a working ecosystem. The artificial lakes are designed to collect rainwater that irrigates the gardens and electricity is created using solar panels. Additionally, steam power is created by burning horticultural waste from across the city. Everything goes back into maintaining the climate of the conservatories and powering the Supertrees’ nightly light show.
Squares of Savannah
WHERE: Savannah, Georgia
A series of 22 small parks, the Squares of Savannah, Georgia, are evenly distributed in the city and bring the city’s history alive through the eyes of its gathering places. Savannah was the first planned city in the country and the original squares, each evenly spaced out on the street grid, were central to the social and civil design of the city. Today, the squares serve as an exciting way to tour the city. Each one is dedicated to a historical figure and event and, if you visit them, you’ll likely stumble across landmarks like Forrest Gump’s bus stop and the City Market.