Almost Fearless

Enjoy the Outdoors – Even in a Big City

No matter where we live, it is our human instinct to want to be outdoors enjoying the natural environment. Children especially crave being outside to breathe in the fresh air; play freely; and enjoy the sounds, smells, and sights of nature. Spending time in nature provides so many amazing benefits to our health and well-being, such as reducing stress and improving our focus and attention.

How do we possibly explore the outdoors when we are living or traveling in a large city? When we think of big urban areas, we picture the crowds, noise, and concrete. But in so many cities around the world, there are hidden gems of green space where we can escape from the hustle and bustle and enjoy the gorgeous trees, flowers, waterways, and other natural treats. These parks connect the urban environment to natural space, providing a “shared backyard” amidst the streets and tall buildings. They are an oasis where we can experience awe, mindfulness, and relaxation without ever leaving the city.

We searched far and wide to find the top 10 most popular and highly rated big city parks around the world that you can enjoy with your children. Whether you are considering relocating your family or planning your next vacation, be sure to add these amazing parks to your must-see list.

Balboa Park, San Diego, California, United States

Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, this 1,200-acre park is filled with art, culture, science, and nature. It is home to more than 17 museums like the San Diego Museum of Art and Timken Museum, performing arts venues, gardens like the award-winning rose garden and Botanical Building, 65 miles of hiking and biking trails, and the famous San Diego Zoo. You can learn about a variety of cultures from the Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, Japanese Friendship Garden, and WorldBeat Center. Your children will enjoy the many playgrounds, picnic areas, and the carousel with hand-carved animals. You can even stay for a meal at one of the many tea pavilions, cafés, grills, and pubs.

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Central Park, New York City, New York, United States

Featured in numerous movies and television shows, this 750-acre park serves as New Yorkers’ backyard. It is packed with so many sites and activities that you will forget you are in one of the largest cities in the world. You can walk, run, or bike along the many meandering pathways; hop on a cart for a personalized tour; relax in the open meadows and on the Great Lawn; rent a boat to explore The Lake; and visit the flowers at Strawberry Fields. Your kids will love the Central Park Zoo, the numerous playgrounds, the carousel, ice skating on Wollman Rink during the winter, and Victorian Gardens Amusement Park in the summer.

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Forest Park, St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Originally built to host the 1904 Summer Olympics and World’s Fair, this 1,300-acre urban park is now a huge attraction on the outskirts of downtown St. Louis. It is known for its beautiful landscape including forests, ecosystems, nature reserves, lakes, and streams. The park contains many attractions that your family will love: Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis Science Center and Planetarium, Missouri History Museum, Saint Louis Zoo, The Jewel Box greenhouse, and the Muny outdoor theater. Or you can relax outside in the picnic areas, take in the beauty of a 75-foot waterfall known as the Cascades, get some exercise on the hiking/biking trails, and go ice skating in the winter time. Finally, Forest Park offers unique bird walks so you can see wild turkeys, great horned owls, and more of the 100 species in the park.
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Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California, United States

Built from more than 1,000 acres of sand dunes, Golden Gate Park is home to a diverse mix of woods, trails, and colorful gardens like the Japanese Tea Garden and Conservatory of Flowers. Enjoy the views from Hippie Hill, Strawberry Hill, or Ocean Beach. Take a Segway tour, paddleboat in Stow Lake, spend hours at the playgrounds and carousel in the Koret Children’s Quarter, or marvel at the antique windmills in the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden. Also, be sure to check out the De Young Museum showcasing art and artifacts and the California Academy of Sciences that houses the Steinhart Aquarium. Finally, the most extraordinary part of Golden Gate Park is that you can see real buffalo roam in the Bison Paddock.

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Hyde Park, London, England

As one of eight Royal Parks, Hyde Park provides 350 acres of serenity in the heart of London. You will love the amazing views of the Rose Garden, Serpentine River, meadow area, and fountains like the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. The park is chock full of nature, including a diverse variety of trees, shrub beds, songbirds, ducks, bats, black swans, and geese. Your kids will love running around on the playground, boating, horseback riding, and cycling along the many picturesque paths. You can also pack a picnic lunch or grab a bite to eat at a waterside café.

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Ibirapuera Park, São Paulo, Brazil

With 546 acres of green space, Ibirapuera Park is an escape in the middle of a very busy city. Visitors can spend hours in the many museums including Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Modern Art (MAM), Oca do Ibirapuera, the Japanese Pavilion, and Afro-Brazil Museum. There are also lovely outdoor experiences, such as the Japanese gardens, duck pond, lake, rolling lawns, bridges overlooking the water, and the beautiful gardens of Manequinho Lopes Vivarium. Check out the planetarium and concerts at the Ibirapuera Auditorium. Finally, there are areas for fitness including jogging and bicycle paths, 13 courts, and playgrounds.

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Luxembourg Garden, Paris, France

Near Paris’s busy Latin Quarter, this 61-acre park is one of the city’s most peaceful spots. It is known for its colorful flowers, lovely walkways, and over 100 statues and fountains. The park is split into French gardens and English gardens, and in the middle there is a geometric forest and large pond. The park also has an orchard with apple and pear trees, an apiary to learn about bee-keeping, and greenhouses filled with orchids and roses. Children love this park because they can watch a puppet show at the marionette theatre, ride the merry-go-round, play on the rides and slides, and enjoy the remote-control boats.

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Millennium Park, Chicago, Illinois, United States

Located in a 24.5-acre corner of Grant Park, this new park is considered a lively spot in the center of the city with large open grassy spaces, intriguing sculptures, and gorgeous views. The main attractions include Jay Pritzker Pavilion for outdoor events; outdoor art exhibits; and Cloud Gate, a 110-ton elliptical sculpture in the shape of a bean that reflects Chicago’s famous skyline. Be sure to also check out McDonald’s Cycle Center with its bicycle rentals, bike tours, and Segway tours. Finally, Lurie Garden is a must-see part of the park. This 3.5-acre perennial garden contains a dramatically lit hedge and footbridge over water.

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Park Güell, Barcelona, Spain

This notorious park in Barcelona is composed of the Austria Gardens and ornate architectural elements including rustic stone, ceramic tiles, medallions, and iron gates. It is located on top of a hill with spectacular views of the city. You can visit pavilions that resemble gingerbread houses, a mosaic salamander fountain, and the Gaudí House Museum that contains exhibits about the architect Antoni Gaudí. Spend some time walking around the many paths and viaducts suspended on stone columns.


Stanley Park, Vancouver, Canada

This 1,000-acre wilderness park located in a temperate rainforest is just steps from downtown and packed with endless activities for your family. You can walk, bike, or rollerblade along the seawall at Beaver Lake or take a horse-drawn guided tour around the park while gazing at scenic views of water, mountains, forest, and wildlife. From rose gardens to historical totem poles to beautiful beaches, the fun never stops. You can spend the whole day there eating lunch, frolicking on the playground, playing golf or lawn bowling, watching a live concert or theater performance, and visiting Canada’s largest aquarium.

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Sandi Schwartz

Sandi Schwartz is a freelance writer/blogger and mother of two. She has written extensively about parenting, wellness, and environmental issues. In addition to her blog Happy Science Mom, her work has appeared in many online and print publications including Parent.Co, Very Well, Modern Alternative Mama, and One Green Planet.