In some ways Paris is like a wonderfully mysterious maze. Not one you want to escape from, mind you, but rather a maze you want to get lost in. This is one of the qualities that makes Paris such a great walking city; there are boundless surprises around countless corners, down secluded alleyways, or in covert courtyards. One pleasure I never tire of is discovering delightful gardens in Paris: some secreted away and others hidden in plain sight. During spring and summer these fragments of paradise in Paris make for perfect places to enjoy un pique-nique, have a quiet read, or to simply stop and smell the roses (or whatever’s blooming at the moment). Here are ten of (in my opinion) the best gardens in Paris.
Jardin Joseph Migneret
Walk too fast and you’re likely to miss the entrance (an actual street address at 10 Rue des Rosiers) that looks like it might take you to an apartment building at the back of a courtyard. You walk through a narrow passage, stop at a plaque bearing the names of neighborhood children arrested and deported during WWII, then through a narrow entryway. There, you are suddenly struck by the contemplative calm of Joseph Migneret Garden, whose namesake dedicated himself to saving Jewish children during the Occupation. The sound of traffic, tour groups, and families calling to each other is quickly replaced by the birdsong of chatty blackbirds, and the heady aromas of Jewish delicacies and baked goods gives way to the floral scent of wild lilac, Mexican orange blossom, white dogwood, fescue, fountain grass, and feather grass, which grow in abundance here.
This is a favorite spot for locals and travelers to take a coffee break or enjoy a quiet picnic lunch. I chatted with two Canadians sitting in one of the garden’s out-of-the-way corners on a wooden bench under the shade of the white dogwood tree, savoring their falafel from l’As du Fallafel down the street. They told me they’d followed the people ahead of them on the falafel line and were thrilled to discover the garden. A group of local office workers were picnicking on the grass, and couples were strolling, deep in conversation, through the chamber-like sections of the garden. Benches along one of the more exposed corners provide a perfect place to take in some midday sun.
10 Rue des Rosiers, 3eme
Jardin Anne Frank
From 22 rue Beaubourg you can enter l’impasse Berthaud, a cul-de-sac in the 3eme arrondissement dating back to the thirteenth century, and at number 14 you can access the Jardin Anne Frank. This contemplative square was once the garden of the stunning Hôtel de Saint-Aignan Château, which now houses the Museum of Jewish History and Art.
14 Impasse Berthaud, Paris 3eme
Musée des Archives Nationales Garden
A number of Paris museums, foundations, and government offices – housed in what were once private chateaux and mansions (Hôtels in French) – have maintained their private gardens, which are now mostly open to the public. When you walk through the gargantuan doorway off the street you enter the expansive, nearly block-long courtyard of the once-private chateau that now houses the Musée des Archives Nationales (national archives). Students, travelers, and locals sunning themselves fill the steps that cover the width of this impressive mansion. Surprisingly few people go through the small narrow iron gate off to the right, which opens onto a path that leads to the garden shared by the chateau, and the former groundkeeper’s home. On my most recent visit I only came across two other couples and a man on the phone, who had one of the benches facing the pond all to himself. I made a mental note that this would be a great place for a midday mediation in the metropolis. The archive’s current exhibition, if you wish to pop in, is titled Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette et la Révolution, and features furniture, uniforms, and documents from the court at Versailles, including the last letter written by Marie Antoinette before her execution.
Musée des Archives Nationales, 60 Rue des Francs Bourgeois, 75003
Hôtel de Sens Garden
For someone who loves biking around Paris as much as I do, the many parks and gardens offer ideal pit stops. When I’m on the right bank by Îles Saint Louis (home to Berthillon Ice Cream) and the Pont Marie (near Le Peloton Café), one of my favorite places to pause is the garden of l’Hôtel de Sens. Adjacent to one of the most well-preserved medieval castles in Paris (now home to the library of decorative art and design), this sunken garden sits right off the street, yet isn’t visible until you come right up on it. The crunch of walking on the gravel lining the garden triggers images and associations that, combined with the calm of the manicured hedges and the people lunching, napping, and sunning around the perimeter, automatically switch my mind into tranquille (calm) mode.
Hôtel de Sens, 7 Rue des Nonnains d’Hyères, 4eme
Square Palais Galliera
My wife and I were taking one of our six-plus kilometer walks through Paris, and were just ready to take a break, when she told me she had just the spot. We walked a few blocks to Avenue du Président Wilson and behind the palatial Palais Galliera (Paris’s museum of fashion), where she introduced me to a lovely manicured garden lined with benches, trees, and greenery. We had the entire grounds to ourselves (granted, this was before international travel geared back up), and could imagine what it must have been like for the Duke and Duchess of Galliera in the nineteenth century. When we were refreshed, we went out to the boulevard, and back into the 21st century.
10 Av. Pierre Premier de Serbie in the 16eme arrondissement
Jardin de l’Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild
Behind the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild chateau, on the walled-off grounds taking up an entire city block, is a splendid manicured garden. We’re in the middle of the 8eme arrondissement, yet it’s very quiet. Typically, there are locals on their lunch break, some people in hushed conversation, a few people in jogging suits, a few well-dressed people on their phones, and some folks who seem to have just come from visiting the photography museum that is now housed in the splendid historic mansion. While you’re here, it would be real shame not go down the street at 189 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, to make a stop at the only Paris boutique of Chocolat Bonnat for some of the best bar chocolate in Paris.
12 Av. de Friedland, 8eme
Square Marcel Pagnol
Square Marcel Pagnol, named after the author (Jean de Florette, Manon des Sources, Le Château de ma mère, etc.), is situated across the street from the magnificent Saint Augustin church, whose tolling bell competes with the delightful birdsong. It’s a very kid-friendly spot thanks to the adorable playground and permanent ping-pong table. (I once accepted a game from a high schooler who made mincemeat of me.)
12 Rue de Laborde, 8eme
Square Georges Cain
The intimate neighborhood park Square Georges Cain seems to be a favorite meeting place for dog owners lucky enough to live in the Marais.
7 Rue Payenne 75003
For the first eight months after moving to Paris three years ago, I had the good fortune to live on Rue de Richelieu, just two blocks from the Palais-Royal in the 1er arrondissement. With a magnificent fountain at the center, this 30,677-square-foot oasis is framed by palatial apartments built atop columned arcades. One of my very favorite Paris restaurants is Villalys, which sits right on the garden’s edge under a canopy of trees, and at lunch time is full of folks from the Ministry of Culture (which is catty-corner to the eatery). Evenings and weekends, in addition to in-the-know Parisians, it’s a regular go-to spot for expat Anglophones, and is very family friendly (it’s easy to keep an eye on kids playing ball on the gravel near the tables). Just a few feet along the edge of the garden are the tables of Café Kitsune, a great place to meet with friends over coffee and their delicious rich brownies. The arcade that surrounds the garden is peppered with the most eclectic collection of shops and galleries you’re likely to find in close proximity. From hard-to-find antique military medals and vintage ‘60s patent-leather go-go boots, to Mondrian-inspired fine leather gloves and more.
8 Rue de Montpensier, 1er
This Parc, which Napoleon III had built as part of the reinvention of Paris, hasn’t changed much since it inspired Monet, Proust, and Sarah Bernhardt. I never cease to find pleasure in the fragrance of blooming flowers and trees mingled with the aroma of freshly baked waffles floating across the festive carousel onto the path I walk my bike across nearly every day. At lunchtime and on sunny days, the lawns are a tapestry of groups of people picnicking, sunbathing, and children playing. Ponies dutifully carry smiling children on short rides, and a steady stream of joggers circle the park’s outer lane.
Metro Line 2, Monceau station, Boulevard de Courcelles
Parc de Bagatelle
Bois du Boulogne, the two-thousand-acre forest that was a getaway for royalty before the Revolution, is full of finds for nature lovers. One of these is the Parc de Bagatelle, marked by swaths of green, a maze of paths, and a series of ponds and elaborately designed formal gardens (also known as French-style gardens). For me this is about as close to feeling like a day in the country as I’ve experienced in Paris. On a recent trip to see the blooming roses, the park’s many peacocks were particularly lively, strutting their stuff and enjoying the attention of visiting nature lovers. It’s easy to get lost here, but there are few places I’d rather be lost in. I bike there from my apartment, but I admit getting there isn’t that easy. I’d suggest taking the RER C to Porte Maillot, and either taking the 244 bus to the Parc de Bagatelle stop, or pick up a Vélib’ (city bike) near the RER stop and bike there.
42 Rte de Sèvres, Neuilly-sue-Seine
Philip Ruskin is an External Lecturer (ESSEC Bus. School), Consultant (food & travel marketing), writer, drummer and regular contributor to Frenchly. He loves to bike around his adopted hometown of Paris. Find him here, on Instagram. All photos by the author.