Winning tip: Frogner Park, Oslo
In a notoriously expensive city, this free park a 40 minute walk from the centre of Oslo is both a luscious green expanse and an open-air art exhibition. Designed by 20th-century sculptor Gustav Vigeland, it is home to over 200 statues of people running, dancing, arguing, hugging, and more besides, laid out in a moving Wheel of Life. Open all year round, it’s busy in summer with locals bringing picnics and barbecues, and, as befits a park filled with sculptures depicting families in all different shapes and forms, it’s a great spot to visit with children thanks to Vigeland’s specially designed playground.
Yoyogi Park, Tokyo
Rockabilly fans in Yoyogi Park. Photograph: Alamy
This park showcases the many sides of Japanese culture. There are cycling trails, gardens and ponds, and the opportunity for outdoor activities such as skating and jogging. The park’s trees burst into flower during cherry blossom season, and thousands of people head there to enjoy hanami picnics. What sets the park apart is the opportunity to witness numerous cosplayers, fashionistas, street artists and rockabilly dancers who gather on Sundays in full 1950s attire to perform to Elvis tracks near the Harajuku entrance.
Jingshan Park, Beijing
Just across the road from the northern gate of the Forbidden City is Jingshan Park. It costs about 30p to enter, but the view from the pavilion atop the artificial hill is magnificent. It offers the best views of the Forbidden City and the nearby Beihai pagoda and park, and if you visit in winter you should also see ice skaters on the Shichahai lakes. As with most Chinese parks, you are also likely to find locals singing, dancing or practising Tai Chi.
Lumpini and Benjakitti parks, Bangkok
Bangkok is not known for its green spaces: Lumpini park, with its lake and monitor lizards being the main city-centre draw for joggers, walkers and tourists. What few people seem to know about is the elevated walkway from Lumpini, through quiet communities, along a canal and over the expressway to Benjakitti park, which has a large lake in landscaped gardens, with a running and cycling path. The elevated walkway is accessible to bicycles too, and offers the chance to see into some typical Thai urban backstreets, while doubling your park experience. It’s particularly useful for those who want a quiet way to walk from Lumpini to the Asoke area, or runners looking for more than just endless loops of Lumpini. The walkway is in the far north-east corner of Lumpini park.
Deer Park, Delhi, India
Hauz Khas village fort by the Deer Park, Delhi. Photograph: Alamy
At the Deer Park in south Delhi, visitors can walk amid ancient tombs from the Mughal era and watch for monkeys, deer and peacocks. In the evening, stop at nearby rooftop bar the Haus Khas Social, and enjoy sunset over the park.
Al Bidda Park, Doha, Qatar
As construction continues apace for the 2022 World Cup, Qataris are creating new parks and revamping old ones. Al-Bidda, Arumailah and Wadi-Al-Sail parks are replete with flowering shrubs, wild grasses and leafy trees interspersed with canopied walkways, shaded play areas and fountains. Al-Bidda was reopened in February. Walking, running and cycling tracks wind round free-to-use tennis, volleyball and basketball courts, and open-air gyms. After doing its almost 200 hectares, you’ll fancy a rest, and there are loads of benches dotted around. You’ll also work up an appetite. Cafes have yet to open, but there are barbecuing stations throughout. Clean and free toilet facilities are an added boon. There are no fences and it appears to be open 24 hours. We left at 10.30pm and families were still arriving.
Rizal Park, Manila, Philippines
A vast green oasis filled with history in the middle of Manila, Rizal Park contains a full-size diorama of the execution by firing squad of a national martyr. Erected on the exact spot where the Spanish shot independence activist and ophthalmologist José Rizal in 1896, it can be reached following the brass footsteps that begin at Fort Santiago’s old prison and which trace Rizal’s last walk. The park contains other markers for the executed, alongside an avenue of busts honouring many national heroes, a giant statue of Lapu-Lapu, a 16th-century warrior who fought the Spanish, a planetarium, two national museums, a Japanese garden, a Chinese garden, musical fountains and a lake containing a large 3D relief map of the Philippines and its many islands. The park provides a haven for locals and tourists, attracting a rich diversity of people and Asian cultures.
Turia Gardens, Valencia
Running right through the heart of Valencia, the Turia Gardens once contained the Turia river. In 1969, to prevent flooding, the river was diverted and the old river bed was converted into a park sunken into the city. It runs for 9km and contains orange trees, sports facilities and playgrounds (including a large-scale Gulliver for children to clamber over). Hire a bike (BR Bikes, €9 a day, brbikes.es) and cycle from Bioparc Valencia – a zoo park – at the north-western end of the park to the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences near the coast.
Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Paris
This 25-hectare park in the untouristy north-eastern 19th arrondissement is full of surprises. Opened in 1867, its origins lie in the stone quarries that supplied the material for all those Haussmann avenues. It offers great views over Paris and includes a 30-metre waterfall, a suspension bridge, a lake, a grotto and a temple. The sloped lawns are great for a picnic watching the sun go down with a bottle of wine. For kids there are Les Guignols (the French version of Punch & Judy), pony rides and fair rides – all from another era. For adults there’s the trendy bar Rosa Bonheur in a 1900 guinguette to the north of the park. On the southern fringe there’s a restaurant, Le Pavilion du Lac , in another restored 19th-century building, which has a huge terrace.
Park de la Grange, Geneva
A glorious park with large grassy hills overlooking the lake as well as the most wonderful rose garden, Park de la Grange also has a brilliant and massive playground for kids of all ages. In terms of culture it not only has a theatre but also the Ella Fitzgerald stage, where concerts take place during the summer offering everything from Portuguese Fado music to Dr Feelgood.
Botanical gardens, Chișinău, Moldova
If you enjoy visiting places off the beaten track, the Botanic Gardens of the Academy of Sciences in Moldova’s capital city are very rewarding. The park is a massive 76 hectares of green space sandwiched between the grey, concrete apartment blocks of the city. Established by the Russian Academy of Science, it is a ghost of Moldova’s Soviet past. The Moldovan government has let out sections of the park to private companies in an attempt to revitalise it, and there are now playgrounds, cafes and rental bikes within it. Entrance is 10 leu (45p) or 35 leu for a tour (£1.50).
Hamilton Gardens, New Zealand
This sprawling park on the banks of the Waikato river in the east of Hamilton is the jewel in the crown of this small city. Highlights include the 20 or so themed gardens including Japanese, mid-century modern, Tudor and a traditional Māori garden. Kids love it as much as adults (the mid-century modern garden’s shallow pool is full of paddling toddlers on a hot summer’s day) and there are also a couple of playgrounds. You can also download activity sheets to keep the little ones entertained at hamiltongardens.co.nz. Good clean loos, a cafe and plenty of shady picnic spots too.
Barefoot Park, Medellín, Colombia
Photograph: Fernando Bengoechea/Getty Images
Slip off your shoes and massage your feet on the shale path before benefitting from de-ionising toxins on the lawn beyond, where visitors are invited to hug a tree. Barefoot Park in central Medellín (Parque Pies Descalzos) was designed in the 1990s to reduce stress – and it succeeds. Visitors can lose themselves in the scent of eucalyptus leaves and wander through a log maze, before soaking their feet in one of the pools.
Trinity-Bellwoods, Toronto, Canada
Photograph: Melissa Renwick/Toronto Star via Getty Images
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to city parks in Toronto, and while High Park on the outskirts is probably the most popular, it’s the downtown Trinity-Bellwoods that is my favourite. All basic requirements are met – picnic benches, tennis courts, a splash pad for when it’s hot and an ice rink for when it isn’t. Its downtown location means there are plenty of places nearby to grab some food and drink (Dundas St West’s Tampered Press is great). However, it’s the visitors and events that make this park so special, from the farmers’ market and the drum-circle where drummers of all skills and disciplines meet on a Sunday to bang out a beat, to the park’s annual “bed-in” inspired by John and Yoko. Also, keep your eyes peeled for the park’s most famous resident – an albino squirrel.
Lincoln Park, Chicago
Photograph: Getty Images
Lincoln Park, behind South Lagoon on the Lake Michigan shoreline, brims with facilities. The most notable is the zoo (free entry all year) which has various sections, including a farm, and a nature trail boardwalk with spectacular views across the city. There’s a huge conservatory showcasing plants from all types of world climates, a butterfly house and a spectacular lily pool. Not only are all attractions free, but there are regular guided tours from Friday to Sunday. In addition, there are seven safe, sandy beaches, including the iconic Oak Street beach, which is framed by skyscrapers and lapped by the lake.
Zilker Metropolitan Park, Austin, Texas
This wonderful space is enough reason on its own to visit Austin. The 142-hectare park is just across the Colorado river from the city centre. We happily spent a day walking along the Lady Bird hike and bike trail while enviously watching people kayak in the cool waters below. The large Barton Springs Pool, fed by natural springs, is the perfect place for a swim or just to relax in the sun. Our children loved the Zilker miniature train. Next time, we’ll find time to squeeze in a musical at the Hillside Theatre.