While there are many positives to residing in an urban area, everyone has days when they want to escape concrete and skyscrapers for a breath of fresh air and a bit more open space. To help you find the best and most accessible urban green spaces, the members and editors of travel website VirtualTourist.com compiled a list of the "Top Five City Parks."

1. The High Line: New York City

A popular trend in adaptive urban reuse is converting former structures into new projects and green spaces, and perhaps no example of this trend has been more positively embraced by its location as New York City's High Line. A former freight line that ran along the west side, the High Line removed dangerous freight trains from Manhattan streets and rolled them directly into factories and warehouses in the present-day Meatpacking District and Chelsea neighborhoods of 1930s New York. After more than 25 years of dis-use, the High Line has been transformed into a public space currently spanning 19 city blocks. The third section of the High Line is presently under construction and is expected to open to the public in 2014.


In addition to being a walking space and public park, selected food vendors have opened up along the High Line between Little West 12th and West 18th streets, including Terroir, a popular New York City wine bar, and Blue Bottle Coffee. Another great aspect of the project is the variety of greenery and architectural landscaping -- rail tracks have been reinstalled with plantings along the Sundeck and portions through Chelsea move from grasslands to thicket to a Wildflower field.

New York’s High Line: An aerial view from West 30th Street, looking South toward the Statue of Liberty and theWorld Trade Center site.
New York's High Line: An aerial view from West 30th Street, looking South toward the Statue of Liberty and theWorld Trade Center site. (Courtesy: Iwan Baan/MCT)

2. Forest Park: Portland, Oregon

Few cities in America are known for their greenery and commitment to sustainability like Portland. Among their collection of public parks, Forest Park is the largest, forested natural area within city limits in the United States encompassing over 5,100 wooded acres. Running along the western side of the Willamette River and adjacent to Route 30, the park offers guided hikes, mountain biking, equestrian trails, and a vista point. A highlight of the park is the 30-mile Wildwood Trail, which is a large section of the region's 40-Mile Loop system that links Forest Park to pedestrian and trail routes throughout Portland, running past landmark Pittock Mansion. If you are a garden fan, make sure to also check out Portland's Washington Park, home to the International Rose Test Garden and the Portland Japanese Garden.

3. Deukmejian Wilderness Park: Glendale, Calif.

While Los Angeles' Griffith Park is frequently in the spotlight, Deukmejian Wilderness Park in nearby Glendale is only a few more minutes up the highway and much more rustic. A rugged 709-acre site in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, the park is relatively undisturbed except for a 12-acre developed "Park Center" on the southern part of the property. Deukmejian is also unique in that it has become known as a symbol of natural rebirth and communal conservation within Southern California. After nearly 700 acres of the park burned in 2009's Station Fire, hundreds of community volunteers worked to replant and rebuild the park, from repairing the park's hiking trails to even removing invasive species after the fire. With elevations ranging from 2,159 feet (658 m) at the park's entry to 4,775 feet (1455 m) at the northeast corner of the site, it's an exceptional spot for hiking and views of Los Angeles.

4. Chinese Gardens: Singapore

Located on the western side of Singapore, the Chinese Garden was modeled on the northern Chinese imperial style with pagodas built to coincide with the plantings and scenery. The garden was designed by renowned Taiwanese architect Yuen-Chen Yu and is surrounded by Jurong Lake and adjacent to the Japanese Garden. A must-see of the Chinese Garden is the Suzhou-style Bonsai Garden built using 1,000 bonsai trees imported from China. You can also learn the ancient art of tending to a bonsai at the Bonsai Training Centre. Many travelers note that the gardens are very easily accessible via the MRT from Singapore's central city area, with the garden's entrance within view of the station.

A view from the Crescenta View Trail.
A view from the Crescenta View Trail. (Courtesy: Glendale Community Services & Parks Department/MCT)

5. Tijuca National Park: Rio de Janeiro

Considered to be the world's largest urban forest, Brazil's Parque Nacional da Tijuca in Rio de Janeiro is intertwined with the city's hills, providing an amazing native habitat but also breaking up the city's favelas.

Originally conceived to protect the city's water supply, the hills were replanted and the forest recreated as the city boomed in the late 1800s. Multiple VirtualTourist members noted the unique ability of visiting a rainforest setting only a few miles from the city, with exceptional hiking and roaming wildlife to watch while visiting.

Whether you want to visit a replanted and repurposed railway or hike a park revitalized by its local community, these five city parks provide greenery and activities for travelers of all ages.