Not just places to relax or job, these green spaces, from Tokyo to Brazil offer art, bison, monitor lizards and German beer - the perfect way to 'escape' the city without actually leaving it.
The Conservatory of Flowers (Dreamstime)
It's hard to believe now, but back in the 1870s, the 1,000 acres of manicured parkland that forms San Francisco’s beloved Golden Gate Park was an area of foreboding sand dunes known as the 'Outside Lands.' Under the watchful eye of field engineer John Hammond Hall, the 19th Century's best professional gardeners transformed it into the spectacular urban green space it is today.
The park receives over 13 million visitors each year, admiring attractions like the De Young Museum and the beautifully manicured Japanese Tea Garden. Others picnic on meadows, check out the herd of American bison or paddleboat on Stow Lake.
Make sure you stop by Hippie Hill, between the Conservatory of Flowers and Haight Street, a popular meeting spot during the 'Summer of Love.'
Hanami party in Ueno Park (Dreamstime)
With more than a thousand cherry trees lining the main pathway, Ueno Park is the place to head to in spring. Locals converge on the park, holding impromptu under Hanami (cherry blossom-viewing parties) under the delicate pink sakura. It is impossible to walk through it without being cajoled into knocking back a tumbler or two of sake.
The park grounds were originally part of the Kaneiji temple, and many of the pagodas and shrines remain. The park also houses Ueno Zoo and its resident pandas, as well as the Tokyo National Museum and the National Science Museum.
Sao Paulo skyline from Ibirapuera Park (Dreamstime)
How many parks have a lending library? Ibirapuera Park in Sao Paulo does, down near the duck pond at the Bosque da Leitura. There are deckchairs too, so you can kick back in the sun as you read your book.
It shouldn't be surprising. Ibirapuera Park was designed by internationally acclaimed Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer, in 1954. Niemeyer designed many of the signature buildings, including the 'flying saucer' planetarium and striking Ibirapuera Auditorium.
The park also houses a contemporary art museum, another focusing on Afro-Brazilian art and the mandatory Japanese pavilion. There are plenty of sports courts too, with running tracks and trails and boat lakes for the physically inclined.
Surfing in Munich (Dreamstime)
In the 1790s, Munich's city fathers set aside more than 900 acres of prime real estate to create the Englischer Garten (English Garden), the largest park of its kind at the time. It has become a favourite haunt for locals, especially when the sun is out. If it's over 18 degrees Celsius, you'll see a lot of exposed Bavarian flesh.
You can rent a bike to explore trails or paddleboats to navigate the central lake. It is also the only place in Munich where you can surf. A pumping mechanism creates waves on a stream that runs through the park, and you can watch the surfers, boards under their arms, waiting for their turn.
This being Munich, there's a beer garden too. It's next to the Chinese Tower, where the beer garden has room for 7,000 drinkers.
Stanley Park seawall (Dreamstime)
Almost entirely surrounded by water, this 405-hectare park in central Vancouver is widely regarded as one of the best urban parks in the world, also containing an aquarium and arrangements of colourful totem poles.
Originally home to local indigenous tribes, it was turned into a park in 1886. Apart from the odd human-made structure, the park remains heavily forested, a wild place of over 500,000 cedar, fir and hemlock trees.
One major construction was the seawall, begun in 191, built to prevent erosion along the park's foreshore. It has since become one of the park's most famous features, popular with joggers, walkers and cyclists. The views of the city from any point are spectacular, but it is just as easy to turn into the forest and forget the city is even there.
Central Park in autumn (Dreamstime)
Central Park in New York is arguably the most famous urban park in the world, and regarded by locals as their 'shared backyard.' At 750 acres, it's a sizeable backyard, and one that boasts a zoo, a dairy, a loch, a castle, an ice rink, a sheep meadow, a number of lakes and reservoirs, and two restaurants.
The park has been 'restored' three times, the last major works focussing on rehabilitating the lakes and reservoirs in 2003.
Central Park has had its ups and downs, falling into disrepair in the early 1900s and again in the 1960s, but remains both a symbol and urban lung for the city. It is also one of New York's most popular attractions, with over 40 million visitors each year.
Exercising in Lumphini Park (Dreamstime)
A rare green space in the heart of Bangkok's business district, Lumphini Park is 142 acres of tranquillity in one of the most chaotic cities in the world. Locals start the day here doing tai chi or jogging along the tree-lined pathways. At lunch time, vendors appear hawking pad thai and other delicious treats, turning the park into an impromptu street food fair.
The park was created on royal grounds in the 1920s by King Rama VI and was named after the birthplace of Buddha in Nepal. It is a great place for birdwatching and lizard spotting too. Keep an eye out for the park's resident monitor lizards. At over one metre in length, they're hard to miss.
Deckchairs in Hyde Park (Dreamstime)
Hyde Park is the largest of four royal parks that form a chain of green space from Marble Arch to Buckingham Palace. The famous park covers 350 acres and features the Serpentine, a 40-acre artificial lake built in 1730 that has its own swimming club and art gallery.
The Great Exhibition of 1861 was held in the park and it continues to host events to this day, including huge summer time concerts and an annual Winter Wonderland. Sights of interest include Speakers' Corner, where rabble-rousers have expressed their views for decades, the ornate Italian Gardens and the Princess Diana memorial fountain. It is also a popular place for Londoners to jog and cycle and to sunbath on the odd occasion the sun peeps out.
View from Parc Güell (Dreamstime)
Barcelona’s Parc Güell is an urban park unlike any other. Instead of vast green spaces, visitors are invited to walk into a 3D art work and experience the city through the eyes of world-renowned Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudì.
There are peaceful vistas, too, but it is the vibrant and colourful architecture that catches the eye.
An Art Nouveau gingerbread gatehouse stands at the entrance and a serpentine bench snakes along the main square. A giant salamander, covered in mosaics, guards a fountain. It's a trippy, challenging and entertaining take on urban relaxation, and one that you will never forget.
Main image: Duck boats in Lumphini Park, Bangkok (Dreamstime)