Where to see wildlife around Paris?
Whether you are traveling to Paris for vacation or business, or living here, we all need to escape from the city frenzy sometimes.
Paris is a relatively small Capital City in Europe. The city itself “only” covers 105 square kilometers. As a comparison, London covers 1572 square kilometers. As a result, with more than 2 million people living intra-muros and millions of tourists a year, the city is definitely one of the densest in the world, even before New York City. It’s only natural that one would want to get away for a few hours.
If you decide to head to greener areas, you may want to see some wildlife. However, for those of you who would wish this, the urban sprawl may be a bit confusing and figuring out where to go is not always easy.
Here are a few leads to follow to see wildlife.
The Woods of Paris
On Paris soil, parks are relatively rare and scattered. They are usually small and most of them are very controlled and not wild at all. Despite squirrels and pigeons, you won’t see many animals there.
If you want to see more wildlife, a first option is to head to the two main parks located on Paris grounds: the Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes (understand : Boulogne and Vincennes Woods). These two massive green areas located on the extreme West and East (respectively) of the French Capital cover a cumulated area representing about 18% of the city’s total area. Created under Napoleon III during Haussmann’s great transformations, in a time when English gardens were fashionable, both parks are composed of large areas of simulated wilderness.
Although seeing large animals is pretty rare, smaller animals such as rabbits, birds, rodents, reptiles, and insects are quite numerous and not-so shy. Many species of plants and trees are also visible across these woods.
A word of caution, though: the two Paris woods are known to be some of the main places for prostitution, mostly after dusk. I don’t recommend venturing there after sunset if you want to avoid uncomfortable encounters or even aggressive reactions.
Zoos in and around Paris
I’ll give you that, by definition, a zoo is not really a good example when it comes to wild life! However, Paris has several of these places which are good to see wild animals you would never see in the French countryside.
I’ll be honest, since I don’t condone animals being encaged in too small spaces, I will NOT recommend you go to the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes (Botanical Garden Zoo, on the Left Bank). Although quite interesting as far as the animals present are concerned, and despite this institution being strongly committed to studying and preserving wildlife, the old cages of this several-centuries old zoo are a shame.
For far better animal conditions, you may visit Paris Zoological Park at Bois de Vincennes. This brand new zoo, completely rethought to offer good animal conditions, recreates five different ecosystems in which animals can freely move and circulate. As a result, you should understand that you may not see many animals, depending on the moment of the day and the weather conditions. At 20€ the entrance fee for adults, this can be disappointing. However, the walk is pleasant, so it is a good alternative to see wild animals without having to drive miles outside of Paris.
Near Paris, the Thoiry Safari Park is a great park offering an amazing experience to discover exotic species in a fun way. Whether you go on a “safari” using your own car, or walk across lions or tigers fields using an impressive glass tunnel or a zip line, there will be an activity for you to enjoy at Thoiry. The access to the park is not easy and you probably will need to rent a car for the day.
If you are a cat / feline lover, then you should definitely go to the Parc des Félins in Lumigny, about 60km to the East. Hundreds of felines from all over the world are visible there, from the smaller ones you may have at home to tigers, panthers and lions. Despite having a dedicated bus stop, access using public transportation is complicated and a car is recommended. The park is pretty large so don’t expect to do much more the same day. By the way, should you plan to spend a few days in Disneyland, the Parc des Félins is only 25km away!
At last, if you are ready to drive several hours and spend more than one day away to see animals, the massive and great zoo of Beauval in the Loire Valley, or the Amneville zoo near Metz are other good alternatives.
Regional Natural Parks
If you are ready to venture out of Paris, four natural parks, managed by the Ile-de-France region, offer very large green spaces just a few miles away.
In the North-West, the Vexin Français Regional Park covers an area seven times the size of Paris. Four major ecosystems coexist in this park: humid (marshlands and riversides), forest, limestone hills, and alluvial terraces. The Vexin area is a great week-end getaway, and a good stop to do if you plan to continue your trip towards Normandy.
If you plan on spending a few days in the Versailles area, make sure to head South of Versailles into the Haute Vallée de Chevreuse Regional Park. Mostly composed of plains or small plateaus, the land is partly covered by the Rambouillet Forest and is a great getaway for having a natural break. Forest wildlife is quite common. One major advantage of this park is the prevalence of cultural sites to visit, since many historic sites, and in particular castles, are located on its grounds.
In the South-East, the Gâtinais Français Regional Park is a large park mostly covered by forest. The sand and sandstone underground sometimes emerges from the soil creating mystical unusual landscapes.
In the North, at last, the Chantilly area is a large green space known as Oise-Pays de France Regional Park, mostly covered by forest, and allowing visitors to see about three-quarters of all species living in the Paris and Ile-de-France area.
In all these parks, you may expect to see a lot of wild animals, mostly forest mammals such as deers, stags, boars, or rodents. Numerous birds and insects also live in these ecosystems. Amphibians and reptiles are rarer but can be seen.
Castle Parks and Domains
Historically, the Paris greater area, and more generally the lands spanning 200km North of the Loire River, have long been territories where castles would be built in the core of very large domains.
During the times of monarchy, lords and kings liked to go hunting, for hours and days, in their very vast properties. Castles and Mansions where often embellished with nice gardens and immense forests.
Many of these forests have been reclaimed by urban expansion but, in some areas, they survived.
If you go to the Loire Valley, you may even visit the large Chambord Royal Domain, which is still the largest enclosed forest in Europe, covering an area roughly ten times the size of Paris!
In the Ile-de-France area, these former domain forests, known as Forêts Domaniales in French, are still quite numerous.
They offer a good alternative to Natural Parks. Due to their nature, there is often a castle or historic landmark to visit nearby, which allows you to complete your getaway even more.
Since they are historically lands of hunting, they are usually quite rich in wildlife.
Among them are the most famous Parks and Forests of Versailles and Fontainebleau. These two large domains, as the names suggest, are the domain forests of the two main royal Palaces of Versailles and Fontainebleau.
To access the Park of Versailles, you won’t need a ticket to the Castle, although a ticket will be required to enter the French Garden, the Palace or its outbuildings such as the Trianons or the Queen’s Hamlet. The Park begins beyond all this, along the Grand Canal and continues to the North. Once the hunting grounds of the Sun King, the Park of Versailles is an amazing getaway to observe wildlife for a day. If you want to also see the town and/or the Palace of Versailles, don’t forget that we, at Discoverwalks, propose a wide range of guided tours in Versailles. One of them allows you to discover Versailles by bike, an ideal way to be in direct contact with the beautiful Le Nôtre Gardens.
The Forest and Park of Fontainebleau are located next to the infamous castle, as well. Since it is right next to the Gâtinais Français Regional Park, the grounds are quite similar, with surreal natural sites created by the surfacing sand and sandstone that compose the underground.
If Versailles and Fontainebleau are too far for you, smaller Castle Parks are interesting for green getaways as well. Although, observing wildlife there might be a bit harder due to a lesser density of animal life.
In the West, the Parks and Forests of Saint-Cloud and Saint-Germain-en-Laye are good examples of such parks. By the way, if you are experienced hikers, you may trail from Paris to the Haute Vallée de Chevreuse Park via the Forest of Saint-Cloud and the Park of Versailles. However, you should expect the walk to take a whole day one-way, and the hike is quite long and hilly.
In the South, the Park of Sceaux is also a very pleasant place to see especially in Spring when sakura cherry trees are blooming. It is part of the “Coulée Verte du Sud” a series of green spaces forming a nature corridor in the South of the Capital. This green path is also organized to favor animal migrations.
In the East, don’t miss the park of the Champs-Sur-Marne castle.
Unusual Accommodation and a Word of Caution
As you can see, there are plenty of options in and around the City of Lights to escape for a day or two and observe wildlife.
I also recommend you check unusual accommodation options, like the ones offered on the website hebergement-insolite.com. You may find there accommodation solutions quite different from classic hotels and regular AirBNBs. For instance, you may sleep in transparent plastic spheres in the middle of the French countryside, or in tree luxury houses in the French forests. These are great opportunities to spend a night in the middle of the wildlife, and be able to observe animals without disturbing them.
Don’t forget that whenever you intend on observing wild animals you should always bear in mind that you are the one invading their space. You should always use caution whenever you approach a wild animal. Also, avoid feeding them, or making sudden gesture to avoid scaring or stressing wild animals. In Ile-de-France, most animals are not dangerous per se. Wolves and bears do not live in this area of France, and only a few insects or reptiles can present a minor risk to your health. This doesn’t mean that animals can’t hurt you, and it doesn’t give you any right to disrespect them or their environment.
Don’t forget to pick up all your trash when you leave and do not litter in any way. Parisians are lucky to be surrounded by such wonderful green spaces. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that these places are preserved and well maintained.
At last, if you decide to spend some time in the outer forests, I recommend you look up the area to figure out what the other points of interests in the vicinity are. Indeed, France has rich cultural sites all over its territory, including in the smaller towns and in the countryside. It is a shame to limit yourself to just Paris, so don’t be afraid to explore, and enjoy your green getaway!