Avoid Crowds by visiting le Jardin des Plantes!
Paris has many beautiful parks, but of all Parisian parks, the Jardin des Plantes is my favourite. It is one of Paris’ quietest and most beautiful gardens, situated in the heart of the city. It is the perfect place to enjoy a stroll or to relax on one of the many benches placed throughout the park.
The Jardin des Plantes lies on the left bank of the Seine, in the fifth district (arrondissement), and can be reached by foot from Notre Dame. The garden spans over 69 acres of prime Parisian real estate. On the grounds of the garden you can also find a zoo and the museum of natural history (Museum national d’Histoire naturelle) as well as the famous Grande Galerie de L’evolution.
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Like most of Paris, the garden has a rich history which goes back to the early seventeenth century. The gardens were founded in 1626 by the court physician of King Louis XIII as a medicinal garden. The garden’s herbs were used as medication, but the garden also had an educational purpose as it provided plenty of teaching materials for medical students. In 1640 the gardens were opened to the general public and in the 18th century, the Jardin des Plantes was extended into the park that it is today. The zoo and the museum of natural history were added in 1793.
About the park
The garden is designed as a classical French garden and bears similarities to the French royal gardens. Shaped by centuries of traditional landscaping, these French gardens all feature similar characteristics with lots of green plants and highly maintained, straight, symmetric designs. This park’s design originates from the mind of famous garden architect Andre Le Notre (1614 -1700) who also designed the parks around the world famous palace of Versailles.
How to get there
The philosophy behind this landscaping in French gardens is that nature could be controlled by men. Resulting in unnaturally symmetric and highly maintained gardens. Although the French monarchy has been long gone, the park still oozes its royal atmosphere and is also a Walhalla for those who love charming gardens and beautiful plants. The garden is designed in several squares with a long strip of green in the middle. The different areas are separated by symmetrically placed lime (Tilia) trees. On the east side of the park, located beautifully on a hill, is a labyrinth which is fun for both young and old. In the labyrinth you can find several old trees, including a cedar tree from Lebanon that dates back to 1734.
Next to the Labyrinth is an Alpine rock park that hosts plants from Corsica, Morocco, the Alps and the Himalaya. In the southern part of the park you can find a lovely rose garden which blooms from May to July. Another part of the grounds is home to a large selection of Fleur-di-Lis (Irises) that bloom in May and yet another garden is full of peonies that are at their most beautiful at the beginning of summer. Each individual section has its own identity and offers an escape from all the chaos that a large European city brings.
The park also offers three nicely restored greenhouses. Unlike most greenhouses, that usually provide a warmer environment for exotic plants, the Jardin des Plantes has a greenhouse that actually aims to achieve the the opposite. In the art deco greenhouse you can find a winter garden. The two other greenhouses are full of exotic plants and cactusesmore and can be considered more traditional. However they have managed to spark the art scene back in the days as these greenhouses were inspiration for the world-famous painter Rousseau’s jungle scenes.
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Henk's insider tips
Although the garden is open all year round, the alpine rock garden closes in winter (November 1 to March 1). Access to the garden is free but a fee needs to be paid in order to access the greenhouses. A ticket is also needed for the museum of natural history.
You can also find two restaurants and some small shops in and around the gardens where you can buy something to eat or drink. I prefer buying a cup of mint tea at the biggest mosque of Paris, just outside the park. This mosque is located right next to the park and also has a beautiful garden which was inspired by the Alhambra of Grenada in Spain. Despite the fact that this garden is free of charge as well, hardly any tourists come here, which makes it very quiet.
If you are already in the area, I also recommend avisit to the Institut du Monde Arabe. Situated on the banks of the river Seine, this is one of the most impressive buildings designed by architect Jean Nouvel. On the 9th floor of the building there are a rooftop bar and restaurant from which you have stunning views over Paris, the Seine and the Notre Dame. Access is completely free and on every occasion where I visited it, there were no crowds to avoid.
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