The World’s Most Spectacular Parks
Tired of perfectly planted flower beds and immaculately trimmed grass? The news that New York City will soon be unveiling the world’s first underground park is a refreshing break from the norm, and to celebrate, we found 10 parks which are defying convention in weird and wonderful ways.
Tamara Hinson is a Surrey-based freelance travel journalist who writes for newspapers such as the Telegraph and Guardian, along with in-flight publications and travel websites. She’s especially interested in getting off the beaten track and some of the more unusual destinations she’s visited include North Korea and Benin.
Banner Image Credit: iStock.com/Luciano Mortula
The Low Line, New York City, US
Image Credit: The Low Line
Who says parks have to be open-air affairs? The Low Line will be the world’s first underground park when it opens in Manhattan in 2021. The park, which was given the green light by City Hall earlier this summer, will transform a former trolley terminal into New York City’s most exciting green space. Solar arrays will be used to light up the subterranean playground, and the world’s top landscape artists will seek out the plants most likely to thrive in the tough conditions. Curious New Yorkers who can’t wait until 2021 can check out the Low Line Lab on Essex Street, which is being used as a testing ground for 3,000 plants being kept alive with a combination of natural sunlight and artificial supplements.
Papago Park, Arizona, US
Image Credit: visitphoenix.com
If manicured lawns and “keep off the grass” signs bore you to tears, Arizona’s beautiful Papago Park is for you. This municipal park has more in common with a lunar landscape, with desert plants (including the mighty saguaro cactus), sandstone buttes and sheer cliffs of sun-blasted red stone. No self-respecting selfie fan should miss the hole-in-the-rock, a gaping cavern accessed via a steep path. There are 21,000 plants at the park’s Botanical Gardens, and the Crosscut Canal path, built by pioneers in 1888, doubles as a bike trail for visitors exploring the park on two wheels.
Park Güell, Barcelona, Spain
Image Credit: Spanish Tourist Board
Equally weird and wonderful is Barcelona’s Park Güell. The park’s landscape gardener was Gaudí, who was hired by Count Eusebi Güell in 1900. The Count had purchased a barren hillside on what was then the outskirts of Barcelona, and was keen to transform his purchase into an exclusive residential area for Barcelona’s elite. The project was abandoned in 1914, by which time Gaudí had constructed several buildings, a plaza and a network of trails. In 1922 the city purchased the estate for use as a public park. Highlights include the Doric Temple, with its 88 stone columns (originally intended as a marketplace) and Pavelló de Consergeria, a former porter’s home with twisting, spiral turrets and a chequerboard design.
The High Line, New York City, US
Image Credit: High Line
The High Line is a 1.5-mile-long linear park built on an elevated section of a former railroad. This Manhattan park, which stretches from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street, is one of the city’s greenest spots, with over 200 species of plants, including birch trees, meadow flowers and sumac. It’s one of the Big Apple’s most versatile spaces; in summer the park’s sunloungers are filled with latte-sipping locals, and there are always art installations to admire. On warmer evenings, head to the sections between West 13th and 14th streets – volunteers from the Amateur Astronomers Association will be on hand to explain the mysteries of the night sky, and you’ll be able to peer through their high-powered telescopes.
Namba Parks, Osaka, Japan
Image Credit: Jnto
Part shopping complex, part public park, this urban idyll in downtown Osaka sits atop one of the city’s largest shopping centres. The uppermost levels are where you’ll find the prettiest sections of the waterfall and flower-filled landscaped gardens, but the enormous, sloping park meanders across eight levels before connecting to street level, giving passers-by easy access to the rambling wooded areas, rockeries and manicured lawns. There are regular live performances at the park’s amphitheatre and a designated space for personal vegetable gardens, too.
Ibirapuera Park, São Paulo, Brazil
Image Credit: Brazil Tourist Board
Roberto Burle Marx was the genius behind this urban park, which can be found in the Brazilian city of São Paulo. Known for his ability to combine his passion for Brazilian botany with cubist and surrealist inspirations, Marx created a curvaceous plant-filled paradise free from sharp angles and jagged lines. All visits to Ibirapuera take place to a soundtrack of bird song – there are over 120 bird species within the park – and there are numerous museums and galleries to explore, including the UFO-like planetarium and the equally stunning, glass-walled São Paulo Museum of Modern Art.
Villa Doria Pamphili, Rome, Italy
Image Credit: John Venice
This has been Rome’s largest public park since 1965, when it was laid out for Prince Camilo Pamphili, nephew of Pope Innocent X. Designed as the gardens for his family home, the prince’s former summer residence, Casino del Belrespiro, stands at its heart, surrounded by manicured gardens and fragrant citrus trees. It’s a beautiful spot all year round but it’s busiest in the summer, when Rome’s residents flock to the park to seek shade beneath the famous Italian umbrella pines.
Francisco Alvarado Park, Zarcero, Costa Rica
Image Credit: Costa Rica Tourist Board
This surreal, topiary-filled park came into its own after the 1600s, when it was taken over by gardener and artist Evangelisto Blanco. Blanco started to trim the park’s trees and plants into weird and wonderful shapes: monsters, tunnels and abstract forms. Today, the park’s gardeners continue to ensure his vision survives the test of time, and highlights include the endless green archways made from foliage, the leafy dinosaurs and the intricate faces carved into bushes.
Garden of Bomarzo, Lazio, Italy
Image Credit: www.stefanorometours.com
Expecting gurning monsters and moss-covered gargoyles at this Italian park, which is also known as “Bosco dei Mostri” (Garden of Monsters). Designed by architect Pirro Ligorio (the man who completed the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Rome after the death of Michelangelo), legend states that the park was commissioned by Prince Pier Francesco Orsini in the sixteenth century, as a way of expressing his grief at the sudden death of his wife. But although the inhabitants appear disturbing at first – there are winged horses, three-headed dogs and gaping forest trolls – it’s one of Italy’s most beautiful parks, with thick forests of oak, beech and chestnut which offer shade in the summer before turning bright gold in the autumn.
Griffith Park, LA, US
Image Credit: Los Angeles Tourist Board
Wander through this park and it’s easy to forget that you’re in one of America’s largest cities. Start your exploration at the Griffith Observatory, where you can look out over the LA Basin, towards the ocean. The park attracts every type of person: hikers come to explore the geological wonders of the Bronson Caves, families head to Fern Dell and the picnic tables at Crystal Springs and tourists come to check out Walt’s Barn, a transplanted shed where Disney himself once played with model trains.