As far back as 3000 years ago, humans have been creating gardens for both practical and sentimental reasons. The Romans cultivated a host of plants for medicinal use, and many cultures to follow have done so just for the beauty and tranquility that a garden can provide. Today, botanical gardens serve an even more important purpose, as a way of conserving and preserving species that would otherwise go extinct due to habitat loss. And for the avid traveler, visiting the amazingly diverse and different botanical gardens that the world has to offer can provide another layer of insight into the values and sensitivities of the cultures they meet. Here are some of our favorites!
New York Botanical Garden, New York
With National Historic Landmark status and over 50 different gardens, this is the largest botanical gardens in the United States, covering an astonishing 250 acres of land right in the Bronx. Easily accessible via public transport and with plenty of activities on for the whole family, this green urban oasis is definitely one of the more unusual ways to spend a day out in the Big Apple!
Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney
The beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney are not just the oldest such gardens in the country, they were also Australia’s first scientific institution! Located within easy walking distance of the St James and Circular Quay train stations and with free entrance to the public, they make a wonderful (and very affordable!) addition to a day out in Sydney. Some of the highlights include a rainforest walk, rose garden, and native rockery section featuring indigenous Australian species.
The Free State National Botanical Garden, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Like many of South Africa’s botanical gardens, these special places become a haven not just for plants, but for wildlife too! At The Free State National Botanical Garden, you have the opportunity to spot some of the area’s local fauna, including small antelope, mongoose and meerkats, and even rare mammals such as the enigmatic caracal, serval, brown hyena, cape fox and black-backed jackal and dozens of smaller animals like shrews, African hedgehogs and grass mice.
Part garden and part wildlife reserve, a paved path makes access for the elderly or physically handicapped easy, while the more adventurous can climb the steep ‘koppies’ that are so typical of this region of South Africa. A must-see attraction is an unusual petrified tree, which is through to be around 150 million year’s old! It’s definitely worth spending at least one day here, so make sure to book accommodation Bloemfontein for at least a few nights.
Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden, Rio de Janeiro
Lying in the shadow of the famous Christ the Redeemer statue, this stunning 140 hectare park has been given the proud distinction of being recognized as a UNESCO biosphere reserve. Fans of culture and history will be delighted by the range of archaeological and artistic monuments on display within the gardens, and of course, the enormous variety of tropical plants, trees, palms, monkeys and birds that call the gardens home too!
Gardens of the Palace of Versailles, France
Covering an amazing 1,976 acres, these gardens began their long evolution way back in 1661 under the reign of the infamous Louis XIV, and are veritably steeped in history and splendor! They took over 40 years to complete, and interestingly, they could never manage to create enough water pressure to have all the fountains running at once, which meant a team of gardeners had to turn them on and off as the king walked around! The garden includes 300 hectares of forest, as well as many classic French-style formal gardens that will delight horticulturalists from every corner of the globe.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, southwest London
You can’t mention botanical gardens without mentioning perhaps the most famous of them all, the breathtaking Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London. Founded in 1840, this Unesco World Heritage Site boasts an almost endless list of attractions – from the enormous Victorian Palm House, Kew Palace, the famous Waterlily House, the magnificent treetop walkway, the world’s largest collection of orchids, and various greenhouses devoted to plants from specific countries or regions, to the massive 17 meter tall Hive – an immersive and totally unique experience which is a real-time visual representation of the garden’s bee activity! If you're anywhere near London, then you definitely need to spend at least one day here.
Exploring a country’s botanical gardens gives you a unique perspective on the values of the people who look after them, so make sure you include a visit wherever the road takes you next!