The Jardin des Plantes in Paris

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The Jardin des Plantes in the 5th district of Paris is perfect for wanderers, kids, picnickers, gardeners and just about anyone else who enjoys a good walk communing with nature.

The second largest park on the Left Bank of the Seine, the garden was founded by Louis XIII in 1626. It contains a maze, small zoo and a natural science museum.

Take the Metro to the Gare d’Austerlitz station. By entering the garden from this side, you will first see the Museum National d’Historie Naturelle at 2 rue Buffon. The museum contains exhibits of paleontology, paleobotany, mineralogy and entomology. Most interestingly — especially if you travel with children — its Grande Galerie describes the evolution of animals through models and other fun exhibits.

The works in Jardin des Plantes starded after Louis XIII gave permission to his doctor to grow a medicinal herb garden. It was opened to the public in 1640. Jardin des Plantes still contains the gardens of the École de Botanique (Botanical School). Visitors can also see plants from around the world. The Alpine Garden contains flora from the Alps and Himalayas, among other cold climates. Serres Tropicales (tropical greenhouses) display beautiful tropical vegetation, as well as cacti.

Be sure to walk all the way to the north end of the park, by the Seine. Cross the Quai Saint Bernard to the Musée de Sculpture en Plein Air (Sculpture Open Air Museum). This open-air museum and park lines the Seine and is filled with modern as well as contemporary sculptures.

Strolling around the park is the best way to view the variety of herbaceous and wild plants the garden grows. Walkways lined with ancient statues contribute to the peaceful vistas.

Be sure to wander the plant maze. The maze surrounds the Belvedere, the garden’s only remaining pre-revolutionary edifice. Also be on the lookout for the Cedar of Lebanon. It came from Britain’s Kew Gardens.

The oldest tree in Paris is also planted here: the acacia robinia was planted in 1636.

If it’s a nice day, plan your visit around lunch and bring a picnic.

Another must see, especially for kids, is the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes. The zoo is one of the world’s oldest. Located in the northern section of the park, it was founded in 1794. Interestingly enough, during the Prussian Siege of Paris in 1870, starving Parisians ate most of the animals. Don’t worry, they have since been replaced.

The Ménagerie also contains a micro zoo, showcasing microscopic animals.

The Jardin des Plantes is open everyday. Admission prices and opening times for the museum and zoo varies.
If you visit the garden on the weekend, be sure to make a stop at the nearby food market on rue Mouffetard. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday, but weekends are best. Pick up your lunch and return to the park for a nice picnic. Even if you miss the market, rue Mouffetard is an interesting medieval street. Follow the narrow, cobblestone-street down the hill to the Eglise St-Medard. This small 15th century church features a Renaissance-decorated choir, a Baroque organ from the mid-1600’s, and 17th and 18th century paintings.