The Parks of Boulogne and Vincennes: Which to Visit?
While the Parisian winter might send locals and tourists in their droves into the safe dwellings of candlelit cafes and thermal regulated museums — the warmer months ignite a real sense of the great outdoors around the city.
In this sense, Paris really is a seasonal dependent city when it comes to attractions and activities. There are simply some things that are nice for winter, and others best left for the decent of summer.
Newcomers to Paris are often surprised upon arrival at the vast array of green spaces that the city holds. Major parks aside, between the cracks of each arrondissement there are smaller public garden spaces that bloom through the districts; providing a play area for the residents and visitors of the space.
The Parisian cemeteries are also something many write home about. In a space where death and dull concrete are the prominent themes, nature and life seems to reign supreme.
The largest cemetery in France, Père Lachaise, was opened in Paris in 1804 and was the worlds first ever garden cemetery. A free guided walking tour through this piece of land reveals exactly what is meant by this term. Here, flowers bloom and vines grow wild in every shade of green imaginable.
Also in and amongst the city are a series of impressive parks and gardens, most dating back to Medieval times.
The Jardin du Luxembourg and the Tuileris are the most well known and draw thousands of visitors a week – particularly when the sun is shining. These gardens, however, are central in Paris and sometimes it’s nice to get out of the chaos to somewhere slightly more peaceful.
Instead we retreat to either the far east or the far west ends of the city, to one of two vast garden scales that make up the historic infrastructure: the parks of Boulogne and Vincennes.
The Lungs of Paris
I love this nickname given to these two natural wonders: the lungs of Paris. One on the east and one on the west, both poetically and anatomically accurate.
On the west side of the city is the park of Boulogne. On the east, the park of Vincennes.
Make no mistake, these parks are far greater in size than may of the ones you’ll spot amongst the other Parisian arrondissements. Boulogne is estimated to be double the size of New York’s famous Central Park, ranging around 10 square kilometers in size.
Across town, the park of Vicennes comes in just slightly smaller than the Boulogne — but no less appealing.
In both parks you’ll find everything you’d come to expect from natural landscapes of this size; lush terrain, lakes and streams, botanical gardens and a plethora of wild life.
Similarly, both parks house an array of public attractions that draw visitors in the day to day. Exactly what you’ll find in each is dependent on whether you head east or west.
Both the Vicennes and Boulogne have a few options of cafes within the ground to feed you on your visit; however most people opt for the bring-along-picnic route as well. Dining on a grass patch somewhere in the gardens is much more fun!
Bois de Boulogne
16th arrondissement, Paris
Metro: Porte Maillot
Free access to all
Boat hire: €10 per hour
Bois de Vincennes
46 Route de la Pyramide
Metro: Porte Dorée
Free access to all
Boat hire: €13 per hour
Bois de Boulogne in Paris
During the 19th century Paris was under rule of Napoleon III. The leader became fed up with the remnants of the Medieval era that left much of the city in shabby condition (in his opinion). His solution was to entrust a series of vast city renovations over to a man knows as Baron Haussmann.
The developments that Haussmann put in place created much of the exquisite architecture we know and love Paris for today. The majority of the work too place in Paris central, stemming out into the adjacent arrondissements.
Part of the city renovations included Napoleon III’s ideas for additions of parks and plazas. Breaking away from the centre, Haussmann looked to the west and began construction of what we known today as the park of Boulogne.
It is believed that much of the park was inspired by what Haussmann observed during his travels through London’s Hyde Park.
Before this land was home to a park, it was the product of a tumultuous history of events in Parisian daily life. Streets littered with prostitution and more robberies than the city could keep track of took place in this area.
On a lighter note, this piece of land was also where the first ever manned hot air ballon trip launched from way back in 1783.
After Napoleon III, the park was closed to the public by Henri II and Henri III who issued orders for a wall to be put up to seal it off. It was only Louis XIV who eventually reopened the park of Boulogne to public entry.
Being the largest park in Paris, the Boulogne park comes with an array of attractions on its land. The two most notable being the duo of great lakes that flow through the Boulogne and are liked up eventually by the Grande Cascade waterfall.
Like most major lakes in Paris, you can enjoy boat rental on each one and pay by the hour. It’s a great way to entertain the kids and gets them into the outdoors, which is important while traveling.
If you head to the north of the park you’ll find another great area for the children; the Jardin d’Acclimatation. This is an amusement park with one of the longest-running histories in all of Paris.
It was opened back in 1860 and has undergone many necessary upgrades and renovations since. The park features multiple play areas, theme park style rides, horses and children’s workshops.
In the botanical garden section of the Boulogne you’ll find many a paved pathway leading to more secrets of the park to be uncovered. There is one that will take you directly into the Jardin Shakespeare.
As the name suggests, in the summer season in Paris there are regular Shakespeare themed theatre productions put on in this particular garden. The showcases are the works of a local theatre company and are such a treat to observe!
Not many people know that the Boulogne park is also the home of the famous Louis Vuitton Foundation. If you enjoy interesting architecture, pay the foundation a visit and have a snack in the cafe.
Nearby Attractions to Boulogne Park
The 16th arrondissement of Paris is great because it is out of the central city chaos, while still retaining much of the appeal in terms of attractions that the centre holds.
If you’ve visiting the park of Boulogne, the best way to experience the nearby perks of the 16th would be on foot .
Just a short walk from the north-most exits of the park are two of my favorite Parisian museums; The Paris Museum of Modern Art and the Monet Museum.
If you only have time for one then the Monet Museum is not to be missed. A space that houses over three hundred original works by the man himself — incredible.
Bois de Vincennes in Paris
Across town we go over to the park of Vincennes in eastern Paris.
Bois de Vincennes was originally curated back in the 12th century as a hunting ground for the Parisian royals. Like the park of Boulogne, the Vincennes park that we know today is also thanks to the handiwork of Napoleon III and his favorite designer Monsieur Haussmann.
Years were spent cutting through the wild Medieval forest that made up the land in order to carve pathways and wide boulevards.
Fast forward a few hundred years and the park of Vincennes is still a prominent landmark in the Parisian landscape. Between the years of 1968 and 1974 it was even the official finish line for the Tour de France. Rumor has it this park will also be a key player in the 2024 Olympic infrastructure.
The park of Vincennes is the home of one of the four official Botanical Gardens of Paris. Many argue that this one is undoubtably the loveliest — I find it hard to disagree.
There are more flowers than you can imagine, as well as an eclectic array of bonsai threes and cacti. Each year, in the summer, these botanical gardens form the venue of the Paris Jazz Festival. The festival runs for six weeks through June and July so if you can… you must!
When roaming the botanical gardens you’ll pass by the horticultural school of Paris
The Asian themed garden is my favorite area in all of Vincennes park. Something about it is so calming and so peaceful, you can lose yourself here for hours. The entrance to this garden begins as the very obvious Oriental style gate that boarders one of the boulevards.
Entertaining children in this park is also relatively simple. The grounds hold one of the nicer zoos in all of France: the Parc Zoologique de Paris. The establishment does its best to abolish cages, so many of the animals roam free.
Near the zoo is also where you’ll find a lot of options for lunch and snacks. Sit down dining is available as well as kiosks where picnic style meals can be purchased to enjoy elsewhere on the grounds.
When roaming around Vincennes try keep in mind that this is the unofficial cyclists park of Paris and the riders are usually out in abundance. Don’t get in their way and they won’t get in yours! The biking trails in this park are extensive, so you can understand the appeal in the sharing of the space.
The park of Vincennes is boarded on one side by Paris’ 12 arrondissement. This district is known for being more of a locals area rather than one directed at tourist attraction.
Nevertheless, there are a few worthwhile reasons for coming to the 12th that don’t involve a visit to the park. One of the best things I’ve experienced in this district was my visit to the Immigration Museum.
You’ll find it just outside the walls of the park over on Avenue Daumesnil. A museum dedicated to immigration might sound boring, I’m please to report it was the exact opposite.
This space seeks to bridge the gaps of fear and misunderstand that comes with immigration and the movement of foreign people into and around Paris. It’s a beautiful collection of work and storytelling and you’ll leave with a much greater understanding and appreciation for everyone with whom you share the city.
The 12th is also where you’ll find the AccorHotels Arena that holds some of the biggest music concerts in Paris. The arena is famous both because of the artists it pulls and the fact that walls are made entirely of grass.
Best Time To Go
So when exactly should you head over to either of these park spaces? The truth is anytime.
Both the park of Boulogne and park of Vincennes have enough of a variation between outdoor attractions and indoor attractions for them to be worthy of a visit no matter what the season.
Naturally, the spring and summertime in Paris would be most ideal if you want to bask in the wonder of the plant life and flowers that will be in bloom. But a colder day shouldn’t stop you from engaging in one of the cultural centers available in both spaces.
Both of the park grounds are open to the public 24/7 — so a night stroll through the gardens is always permitted. The private owned attractions within the parks will have their own opening and closing times — be sure to research these beforehand if there is something specific you want to see!