The good King Dagobert would hunt bear and wild boar through the forest that is now the 2000-acre Bois de Boulogne on the western edge of Paris. That was over 1000 years ago. Today the air is filled with laughter instead of hunting arrows, but the woods are still alive with adventure and excitement, thanks to Napoleon III who returned from exile in London full of ideas for English gardens in Paris. He commissioned his city planner, the Baron Haussmann, to create more green space near Paris’ rapidly expanding west end, insisting on a stream with lakes like his cherished Hyde Park.
He insisted on the water elements to provide a bit of fresh air. Today they serve as an idyllic spot for a peaceful afternoon watching swans glide by, rowing boats, or dining at the remote, romantic Chalet des Iles, an island accessible only by boat.
The Bois offers a range of dining options, from fast food at one of the numerous snack stands, to the two palaces of haute cuisine: the Michelin-starred La Grande Cascade and the Relais & Chateau Le Pré-Catelan. For people with more moderate tastes but also an appreciation for good food, there are additional options available at many of the attractions, as well as the quaintly rustic l’Auberge du Bonheur.
Young visitors (including the Obama girls when they were young) drag their parents to the Jardin d’Acclimatation amusement park with its mini roller coaster, workshops, fun-house mirrors, camel rides, puppet theater, playground and petting zoo. Visits are not free, and prices vary by activity.
Just outside the park gates Paris Cycles rents child- and adult-size bikes for an hour, or the entire day, letting visitors enjoy a particularly popular Sunday activity: exploring the park when its roads are closed to traffic and the streets are overtaken by cyclists, runners, skateboarders and rollerbladers.
There are hidden spots where devoted pétanque players join for some very serious play, and open fields that welcome pick-up soccer games.
More passive sports fans can visit the iconic clay courts at the French Open’s Roland Garros Stadium. Visitors can go behind the scenes to learn more about the sport and its history in France at the surprisingly intriguing Tennis Museum. Horse fans can take in steeple-chase competitions at the Auteuil Racecourse, or some serious thoroughbred racing at the world-renowned Longchamp Racecourse that hosts the prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. And professional soccer and rugby matches are held at the adjacent Parc des Princes Stadium.
There are stunning botanical gardens to visit in the 19th century Auteuil Greenhouses at the southern end of the park. Visitors must pay an entrance fee to discover the remarkable rose gardens that feature temporary displays around the neo-classical Château de Bagatelle.
Louis Vuitton commissioned the international architect Frank Gehry to design the breathtaking home for their avant-garde arts foundation inside the park, consisting of an art museum and cultural center, visited by over a million people annually.
In addition to the regularly scheduled, annual sporting events and a few 5-10k races, there are a number of concerts and music festivals at the Bois. Solidays, held on the Longchamp track, is an annual music festival taking place in June. We Love Green, in the Bagatelle gardens and also in June, focuses on the environment with performances by various DJs and international stars.
A note on safety: in the evenings, the Bois attracts prostitutes. Visitors are most comfortable if they leave the grounds before nightfall, taking a taxi home from restaurants. Children should avoid playing in the bushes.
- Le Chalet des Iles – lac inférieur du Bois de Boulogne, Porte de la Muette, 75016 Paris. Tel: +33 (0)1 42 88 04 69
- La Grande Cascade – Bois de Boulogne, Allée de Longchamp, 75016 Paris. Tel: +33 (0)1 45 27 33 51
- Relais & Chateau le Pré-Catelan – Bois de Boulogne, Route de Suresnes, 75016 Paris. Tel: +33 (0)1 44 14 41 14
- Auberge du Bonheur – Allée de Longchamp, 75016 Paris. Tel: +33 (0)1 42 24 10 17
- Jardin d’Acclimatation – Bois de Boulogne, 75016 Paris. Tel: +33 (0)1 40 67 90 85
- Paris Cycles – rond-point du Jardin d’Acclimatation, 75116 Paris. Tel: +33 (0)1 53 92 82 82
- Rolland Garros Stadium – Avenue de la Porte d’Auteuil, 75016 Paris. Tel: +33 (0)1 47 43 48 00
- Musée de la Federation Francaise de Tennis – 2 Avenue Gordon Bennet, 75016 Paris. Tel: +33 (0)1 47 43 48 48
- Longchamp Racecourse – 2 Routes des Tribunes, 75016 Paris. Tel: +33 (0)1 44 30 75 00
- Le Parc des Princes – 24 rue Commandant Guilbaud, 75016 Paris. Tel: +33 (0)1 47 43 71 71
- Sylvia Sabes’ guide to the chic 16ème arrondissement on the HiP Paris Blog