‘This is where locals flock and flop on a summer’s day’
It’s a curious paradox: escaping the city during a European city break. But resting blistered feet in the leafy coolness of a local park after a hectic morning of museum hopping is a quintessential part of the experience. Funny how we make pilgrimages to cultural icons such as the Trevi Fountain and the Louvre – but then remember with equal fondness a gelato nursed under a chestnut tree afterwards.
This doesn’t make us park-lovers philistines. They are potent seats of culture in their own right, after all. The Tuileries in Paris was the back yard of both Marie Antoinette and Napoleon. Madrid’s rose-perfumed Retiro once belonged to Spanish monarchy. Parks are also noble pre-
It certainly covers a lot of ground. Where else would baroque manicured box trees open a view to a massive concrete air defence tower from the Second World War? Where else could you admire fine porcelain just after coming out of a fragrant lime grove? Vienna’s oldest baroque garden, just 15 minutes’ walk from the centre, is a natural habitat for historians, nature lovers, music aficionados, and cineastes.
Tour the historic porcelain manufactory on the grounds, followed by coffee at the adjacent café; listen to the Vienna Boys Choir performing at their concert hall, but do book in advance; in the summer, join the locals at the open-air cinema. Children will also love the park’s five playgrounds.
In keeping with Augarten’s historic neighbourhood feel, the nearby Grätzlhotel Karmelitermarkt is housed in a series of erstwhile shops has a nicely contemporary feel. (rooms from £86; 0043 1 2083904; telegraph. co.uk/tt-grazlhotel).
Türkenschanzpark on the outskirts of the city, where the Ottoman army entrenched itself some 330 years ago, is a neighbourhood jewel. Most enticing are the hilly surroundings, magical ponds, viewing tower “Paulinenwarte”, a monument to an allied Ukrainian Cossack, and the park’s quaint café.
Originally the gardens of a royal palace, the Retiro is now Madrid’s main playground and is particularly popular with locals on Sunday mornings. Take a rowing boat out on the lake, which is dominated by a statue of Alfonso XII. The monument has just opened to the public, so you can go up to the top for panoramic views (free but reservation required; reservaspatrimonio.es). Don’t miss the Rosaleda rose garden, with more than 4,000 bushes in flower until early July, or the Versailles-inspired parterre.
Look out for the Àngel Caído fountain, which depicts Lucifer’s descent to Hell and is one of the few statues celebrating the devil. Rest your feet at Florida Retiro, a revamped pavilion with tapas bar, deli market, roof terrace and restaurant.
The fashionable Only You Atocha, five minutes’ walk from the Retiro, has a running club and provides maps of routes around the park (rooms from £91; 0034 914 09 78 76; telegraph.co.uk/tt-atocha)
El Capricho was created in the late 18th century as the country estate of the Duke and Duchess of Osuna – back then Goya and other luminaries were regular visitors. Wandering around the romantic gardens (next to a residential area close to the airport), you come upon follies, a lake and a maze, as well as a bunker from the Civil War.
Nicknamed “Amsterdam’s Green Lung”, the Vondelpark is indeed lung-shaped, and offers huge variety – from the children’s playgrounds and tennis club, to joggers’ highways and a Thirties café that resembles a grounded flying saucer. Laid out in the mid-19th century in the highly fashionable English style, the 120-acre park also has green nooks aplenty, an elegant rose garden, a lake with a no-humans wild patch, and even a meadow with a neglected sculpture by Picasso. This is where Amsterdam flocks and flops on hot summer days.
An open-air theatre stages concerts and other shows day and night through the summer; the Blauwe Theehuis has a terrace where you can sit back over lunch, drinks or cocktails, and the Groot Melkhuis café has a children’s playground attached.
Just five minutes from the Vondelpark, The Neighbour’s Magnolia is a simple, cheerfully run family hotel, with a dog you can “borrow” to take for walks (rooms
Located in the west of the city, the beautifully maintained Jardim da Estrela – overlooked by the Basilica da Estrela, one of the capital’s most ornate churches – has been a favourite hideaway for city residents since the 1870s. Boasting a wrought-iron bandstand, a duck pond and a popular children’s play area, it has something for everyone.
Although the largest, most central and arguably most obvious park to choose, Berlin’s Tiergarten has it all, from historical monuments and cultural institutions to art installations and beer gardens. Once a forest and hunting reserve for the Kaiser, it was transformed into a landscaped park by famed architect Peter Joseph Lenné in the 1800s. Stroll the park’s network of winding pathways to discover the many highlights dotted throughout.
The oystershaped Haus der Kulturen der Welt offers a consistently high-quality array of exhibitions, conferences and events. Café Am Neuen See has frothy beers, a proper restaurant and a pretty lake with rowboats for hire; climb the Siegessäule (Victory Column) for stellar views.
Das Stue is a five-star design hotel located right on the edge of the park. Some suites overlook the Tiergarten’s zoo (to which the bar enjoys a private entrance). There is also a Michelinstarred restaurant, a spa and pool (rooms from £181; 0049 30 3117220; telegraph.co.uk/tt-dasstue)
Nestled against the Spree in the former East, Treptow Park is known for both table-tennis-playing hipsters and family barbecues. Sunbathe on the banks of the river, admire the outsize Soviet Memorial or rent a kayak from the nearby Insel der Jügend.