Big cities make for great vacations. The culture and palpable energy is a large part of why so many people gravitate toward the world's great cities and put up with, even embrace, the hustle and bustle. Sometimes, though, even the most committed city traveler feels the need to check out of the constant stream of activity in, say, London or New York, and that is when they head to the quiet calm of a city park.
Hampstead Heath, London
From the heights of Parliament Hill in North London's Hampstead Heath you can gaze out across the London skyline and all the chaos that lies beneath while relaxing at a safe distance in your own urban oasis.
Although it is located just a few miles from the bustle of Piccadilly Circus, walking through Hampstead Heath feels like a stroll through the English countryside. "The Heath," as it is known, is undoubtedly the wildest of London's many city parks and its 790 acres of rolling woodlands and meadows are populated with muntjac deer, rabbits, squirrels, foxes and more than 150 different species of birds – along with quite a few chilled out Londoners.
Follow the locals' leads by packing a picnic and setting up a blanket under the shade of a tree, then take a dip in one of the many Victorian bathing ponds (men's, women's or mixed) or in the Parliament Hill Lido open air unheated swimming pool – then finish with a pint from a nearby pub.
Fort Tryon Park, New York
Perhaps because it appears so far north on the Manhattan map, there never seems to be very many people taking advantage of this 67-acre, breathtakingly beautiful park.
Take the A train uptown to 190th Street station and when you exit and turn the corner, you'll be greeted by the gorgeous Heather Garden. Besides heather, the garden is home to more than 200 varieties of perennials, from snowdrops and crocuses to tulips, azaleas, rhododendrons, irises, and oriental poppies. From there you have a great view across the river and the George Washington Bridge. You may notice that the strip of New Jersey land on the other side of the river is completely unspoiled, for which you can thank John D. Rockefeller, who purchased the land precisely so that the view from his park would forever remain pristine.
The park features a varied terrain; lots of twists and turns, hidden nooks and steep climbs. You will find numerous grassy lawns to set out a picnic on, as well as lots of free activities such as yoga classes and live music. The park's Cloisters Museum, built in the style of a medieval abbey, is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and houses around 5000 pieces of medieval European art.
Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park, Tokyo
The concrete jungle of Tokyo has a surprising abundance of green space, including the pristine Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, a popular spot for hanami (cherry blossom) viewing in the springtime. Nevertheless, for the truly serene experience it is hard to beat the far lesser known Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park in the Minato ward.
Favored by joggers, nannies pushing strollers, photographers and anyone who just wants to relax with a book on a bench, this elegant park features lots of densely wooded areas, hilly terrain, waterfalls and a stream that flows down from the peak, under a bridge and ends in a large fishing pond.
Unlike some of Tokyo's parks, entrance to Arisugawa-no-miya is free, and the park is open 24 hours a day. It is just a minute's walk from Hiro-o metro station and about 15 minutes from the mayhem that is the expat-heavy nightlife district of Roppongi.
Chapultepec Park, Mexico City
A city as massive as La Ciudad de México needs a massive park and Chapultepec, which at around 1,700 acres is one of the biggest urban parks in the Western Hemisphere, delivers. Thanks to its size the park is big enough to feel uncrowded despite the fact that some areas are very heavily visited – especially on Sundays when the park's museums are free and families come out to grill.
Chapultepec is split into three sections. The first section is the busiest and where you will find the National Museum of Anthropology and the Chapultepec Zoo, and the second, less developed, section features jogging trails and an amusement park. If you are looking for a place to relax, head to the lesser visited third section with its large green spaces and relative quiet.
Santiphap Park, Bangkok
In a city filled with crowds, traffic, noise and oppressive heat, Bangkok's Santiphap Park offers a welcoming expanse of greenery in the heart of the capital. Although it is not Bangkok's biggest park, it can claim to be one of the most serene – its name, after all, means 'peace.'
The park features a fountain and, by the pond, a Picasso-inspired sculpture of a dove carrying an olive branch. The sign at the entrance is written in the style of the handwriting of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, a renowned Buddhist monk, philosopher and pacifist. The fresh, clean air provided by the park's many trees makes it a popular spot for joggers and people practicing tai-chi and in the evening you will often hear jazz musicians play.