Lots of cities have botanical gardens. Few cities have botanical gardens worth prioritizing over every other attraction. These nine horticultural institutions do flora better than anyone, with beautifully landscaped gardens and thoughtfully curated greenhouses that alone make their host cities worth visiting. Whether you like the idea of an urban green space within walking distance of a Starbucks or want to learn about plant life in a wilder, more scenic setting, you can’t beat these botanical gardens, from Brazil’s capital to the heart of Brooklyn to the Gulf of Thailand.
1. Singapore Botanic Garden, Singapore
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Singapore’s first ever UNESCO heritage site, this tropical oasis in the middle of the city is a center for tourism, conservation, research, and education. The collection is extensive: There are 60,000 plants in the orchid display alone, which happens to be one of the biggest draws to the site. Elsewhere, the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden is a winner for families, the Fragrant Garden tickles the olfactory system, and the Bonsai Garden is a universal hit. Entrance to the botanic garden is free from 5:00 AM to midnight daily.
2. Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Cape Town, South Africa
Backed by mighty Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch is as much about the setting as it is the 7,000-species indigenous-plant collection. The botanical garden blankets 528 acres below the mountain’s eastern slope, which visitors can hike up following the Skeleton Gorge trail. A highlight of the Kirstenbosch experience is the Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway, a snaking, 427-foot steel and timber bridge that lets visitors walk among, and overhead, the Arboretum’s trees. Also worth seeing is the Cycad Amphitheater, where 29 species of palm-like southern African cycads and life-size, anatomically correct dinosaur sculptures await. Eight or so miles outside Cape Town’s city center, Kirstenbosch is well worth the $5 entrance fee, particularly given the complimentary guided tours offered inside. Kids under six get in free.
3. Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rare orchids, around 600 species, and bromeliads are the reason many visit Rio’s famous botanical garden, but the site spans 345 acres and houses thousands of plant species, so be sure to get a good look around. When you arrive, walk down the Avenue of Royal Palms, past rows of towering trees descended from a single palm planted in the early 19th century. Keep an eye out for toucans, white-necked hawks, and other birds as you explore, then wind down in the Japanese Garden before you go. Tickets are $2 per adult, free for kids up to age seven.
4. Brooklyn Botanic Garden, New York, New York
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden opened its doors in 1911 as a horticultural refuge amidst the borough’s rapidly growing cityscape. Today, it covers 52 acres of specialty gardens and conservatories. The lilac, magnolia, rose, orchid, and peony collections are popular with visitors, but the garden is most magical during cherry blossom season, when pink sakura blooms explode all over its grassy lawns. Admission to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is $15 for adults, $8 for students and seniors, and free for kids under 12.
5. Nong Nooch Tropical Garden, Thailand
Less than an hour outside the built-up beach resort of Pattaya, this serene plant sanctuary is a marvel of European-style gardens ornamented with Thai architectural elements. Start with the French, Italian, and Stonehenge Gardens, then check out the bonsais, bromeliads, and topiary. Hit the site’s signature Cycad Valley to see ancient plants, and if you want more, check out the Cycad Conservation Center. There’s a lot to discover at Nong Nooch and a few fun surprises in store, like the chance to walk among life-size recreations of the fearsome T-Rex, triceratops, and other dinosaurs. The entry fee is 500 Thai baht, or around $15.
6. Montreal Botanical Garden, Canada
Montreal’s botanical garden, le Jardin botanique de Montréal to locals, houses a collection of 22,000 plant species across 10 greenhouses, 30 gardens, and 185 acres. Thanks to botanist Brother Marie-Victorin’s vision and landscape architect Henry Tuescher’s hard work, the site was founded in 1931 and scored a National Historic Site designation in 2007. The gardens are sorted by theme, ranging from Chinese, Japanese, and First Nations Cultural Gardens to Medicinal Plants and Peace Gardens. Greenhouses are dedicated to orchids, tropical food plants, ferns, cacti and succulents, bonsai trees, and more. Tickets cost $20.50 for adults.
7. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom
You know a botanic garden’s good when it gets UNESCO’s stamp of approval, which Kew Gardens did in 2013 when it became a World Heritage site. Gear up for a full day here as there are more than 50,000 living plants to track down. Not to be missed are the indoor rainforest at the Palm House, Treetop Walkway, and acre-plus Rock Garden. Visitors can picnic in the gardens or stop for lunch at one of the site’s cafes or restaurants. Only a 30-minute drive from central London, Kew’s botanical gardens are the perfect day trip for a sunny afternoon and can be reached via the Underground.
8. Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, Australia
Set against the Sydney Harbor, the Royal Botanic Garden cultivates thousands of species over its 74 acres, just a stone’s throw from Sydney’s central business district. It was founded in 1816 and today hosts an impressive mix of native and international species. Highlights include the fragrant Herb Garden, the verdant Fernery, the Succulent Garden, and the Calyx, a circular space in the middle of the garden housing a massive wall of greenery and flowers, as well as places to shop and eat. The Calyx also hosts regular events, workshops, and exhibitions. If you can, take the Aboriginal Heritage Tour to learn how various plants were once used, sample traditional bush food, and more.
9. Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, Kandy, Sri Lanka
At 147 acres, the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens are the largest of their kind in Sri Lanka. Trees steal the show here, from 130-foot-tall bamboo to rows of royal palms to a massive Javan fig tree with a web of thick branches twisting overhead. As flowers go, Peradeniya is famous for its orchid collection, but there are currently 4,000-plus species under cultivation here. Don’t miss the Spice Garden with its cinnamon, pepper, cardamom, and nutmeg plants, including nutmeg trees dating back to the 1840s. Entry is about $9 for adults, $4 for children under 12.
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