High 5: City Parks

July 5, 2013

Seeking respite from the heat, noise and bustle of a busy city? Here are my five favourite urban green retreats:

Regent’s Park, London
A secret garden that remarkably few Londoners know about. Beautiful formal flower beds, an open-air theatre in the summer and all just a stone’s throw from the capital’s West End…Regent’s Park has much to offer the discerning city dweller. A Royal Park spanning 395 acres, there’s a bird walk for the twitchers among us, and this is one of the best green spaces in London for sport, boasting its largest outdoor sports facility. The secret garden is my favourite spot – enter through a wisteria-clad tunnel, and relative peace and quiet reigns in the heart of the metropolis.

Retiro Park, Madrid
There’s something very special about Retiro Park that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s not the smattering of fancy fountains (bizarrely, there’s even one devoted to the Devil – perhaps the only water feature in the world of its kind). Nor is it the ‘Crystal Palace’, an impressive-looking glasshouse that is now used to host temporary exhibitions. Pippa Middleton is also a fan – she was snapped here with her then-beau on the boating lake. I was there on a sweltering summer’s day, in this well-used and much-loved city space, packed with Madrileños, all taking time out from the toll of city life.

Central Park, New York
New York just wouldn’t be the same without its iconic Central Park. Created by landscape designer, Frederick Law Olmsted, it has to be one of the most famous parks in the world. There are all manner of ways to explore the green lungs of the Big Apple – by horse and carriage, by bike, on a movie and TV or art and architecture tour, or by pedicab. Away from the crowds, try the Loch and the Ravine area – where waterfalls and rustic bridges have been designed to evoke the upstate Adirondacks and Catskills mountain ranges.

Slottsskogen Park, Gothenburg
How can anyone resist a city centre park that is home to baby moose, tawny owls and wild deer? This is the place for walking on a crisp autumn morning – there are some excellent forest trails and the space manages to double up as a zoo, with animals that include seals, penguins and horses. The park is also home to Sweden’s best music festival, Way Out West, and there’s even a children’s petting zoo, and pony rides in the summer. This is a recreational green space that has something for everyone.

Namba Parks, Osaka
Relatively new (it opened in 2003), Namba Parks occupies eight levels of a 30-storey office tower and mall. More of a rooftop garden than a park, this urban oasis is an incredibly clever use of precious space and connects to the street, making it easy for passers-by to stroll into its avenues of trees, clusters of rocks, cliffs, lawns and even waterfalls. Although the shops are never far away, this is an unusual haven from the concrete jungle of a densely-populated city.

Sarah Belcher