The Two "Lungs" of Paris

In the eastern outskirt of Paris there is a huge stretch of park called Bois de Vicennes. There is another large park called Bois de Boulogne, and together they are known as the lungs of Paris. Both parks and their woodlands are open all year round and filled with kilometers of tracks for hikers, cyclists and horse riders alike.

If you’ve had enough of the typical Paris attractions and really want to put some distance between yourself and the city, then these parklands are the perfect place to go.

Bois de Vicennes

Bois de Vicennes

Named after the nearby town of Vicennes, the pretty park of lush greenery and rippling waterways is an oasis in the residential area on the outskirts of Paris' center, just outside the Boulevard Périphèrique, the main road which circles the city's central area.

At nearly 10 square kilometers or 3.8 square miles, Bois de Vicennes is larger than New York's Central Park and London's Hyde Park put together.

The history of the park dates back to the early 13th century when Philippe Auguste decided that he wanted his hunting grounds near the Vicennes Palace surrounded by 12km wall.

It wasn't however until Louis XV had 6 doors put into the immense wall, that the French public were able to access the previously private area and the immense woodland which had been planted for over a century from 1485.

At the end of the 18th century, the château in Bois de Vicennes was used briefly as a prison, then at the beginning of the next century, the grounds were converted into a military training area and it was under the orders of Napoleon III in 1860 that the grounds along with the woods became a park, symmetrical to that of the Bois de Boulogne. The military took over again during World War II as German troops occupied the building.

The park even has its own real legitimate royal château on the northern edge. South of the château is the Parc Floral de Paris which has kids play areas, a butterfly garden, a zoo, a nature library and even a Buddhist temple.

Explorers or sport enthusiasts, may rent a bicycle in the park in order to take in the tranquility of the pine woods, river banks, floral gardens and lush greenery from the cycle paths. All that is needed is your passport or photographic identification.

Bois de Vicennes can be reached by the metro, getting off at Porte Dorée, Porte de Charenton or Chateau de Vicennes. Various bus lines can take you there too.

Bois de Boulogne

Bois de Boulogne

A little smaller than Vicennes, the Bois de Boulogne on the other side of the city offers its own array of attractions.

The park we see today was designed by Baron Haussmann and is believed to have be inspired by London's Hyde Park, although with a thoroughly French interpretation.

Once a playground for the rich and powerful in Paris, Bois de Boulogne has also seen prostitution, highway robberies, murders and other shady dealings in its long history. It also marks the spot where the first manned hot air balloon ride took place back in November of 1783.

Originally the woods were called the Forest of Rouvray which surrounded the old city of Lutèce -Paris in the Gallo-Roman era-, having been named after the Querus Robur oak trees there. It was Philippe IV who changed the name back in the 14th century.

Henri II and Henri III closed the park by erecting a wall and it was Louis XIV who opened the park to the public. He also saw the last of the original oaks felled and designated many of the other trees to become ships in the royal navy.

Nowadays, as well as the enclosed Parc de Bagatelle which is famed for its beautiful gardens, there is the 20-hectre kids amusement park Jardin d’Acclimatation.

Rowing boats can be hired at Lac Inférier, one of the two outstanding lakes in the park. You can also admire the Château de Bagatelle, the only château still standing in the park

And all can be reached easily by Paris' transportation system.