The Most Beautiful Botanical Gardens in the World

Memorable gardens thrive on nearly every continent, in cities, deserts, and even in the Arctic Circle. Here’s a global tour, with stops at 13 of the most striking.

Large white greenhouse at Kew Gardens botanical gardens in England surrounded by smaller greenhouses and trees, taken from the treetop walk

The Temperate House at Kew Gardens is home to roughly 3,000 individual plants that thrive at in a climate of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Courtesy of Charlie Seaman/Unsplash

Whether you’re in the Northern Hemisphere or Southern, East or West, there’s always something to see at the best botanical gardens in the world. This guide covers six of the seven continents (sorry, Antarctica), including six gardens in the United States.

What are botanical gardens exactly? Merriam-Webster defines them as gardens “often with greenhouses for the culture, study, and exhibition of special plants.” The international Botanic Gardens and Plant Conservation goes a few steps further, emphasizing the purpose of scientific research and the conservation of rare and threatened plants, plus compliance with international policies and sustainability and ethical initiatives.

While the flora and fauna change from region to region—and season to season—each of these gardens offers an astonishing variety of natural and man-made wonders. These are sanctuaries of tranquility that simultaneously excite nature lovers and inspire would-be green thumbs. You don’t have to be an aspiring botanist or horticulturist to enjoy a visit; these gardens boast magnificent architecture, greenhouses, fountains, wildlife, walking tours, libraries, classes, and special events, including light shows and concerts. They’re also family friendly, less expensive than amusement parks, and good for your health—depending on how ambitious you are with your walking.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

  • Location: Richmond, London, England
  • Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.–3 p.m. (last entry 2 p.m.)
  • Tickets: $13–$30 (adults), $5–$10 (children 4–15), free for children under 4

Kew Gardens (as the gardens are better known) may be the most famous botanical park in the world and not just because it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s considered the world’s largest collection of living plants with more than 50,000 of them across 300 acres of dedicated land, including many species you’d never expect to find in England. For that, you have the climate-controlled Princess of Wales Conservatory to thank. The glasshouse (the largest Victorian one in the world) is carved into zones: One is dedicated to carnivorous plants like Venus flytraps; another to succulents and cacti; and a third is humid and tropical enough to grow Victoria amazonica, the world’s largest water lilies.

The property, founded in 1759, also has a rock garden with a tiered waterfall and an arboretum with 14,000 trees, including giant redwoods and black locusts dating to the 18th century. For the ultimate immersion, head to the edge of the garden, where a 37-acre storybook forest meets the River Thames and an elevated trail snakes through a watercolorist’s palette of wildflowers.

Closeup of lady slipper orchid (L); a quiet spot with small plants at Singapore Botanic Gardens (R)

Singapore Botanic Gardens: the first tropical botanic gardens recognized by UNESCO

Photos by Danny Ye/Shutterstock

Singapore Botanic Gardens

The Singapore Botanic Gardens is the only tropical botanic garden on the UNESCO World Heritage list and the first UNESCO World Heritage site in Singapore. The 203-acre green space, founded in 1859, welcomes millions of visitors a year, drawn to the lakeside gazebos, groves of wild fruit trees, the bonsai garden, three lakes, a small tropical rain forest, and a perfumed grouping of frangipani. There is also a healing garden with 400 types of medicinal plants.

Of special appeal is the 7.4-acre National Orchid Garden—the largest of its kind, with more than 1,000 wild species and 2,000 hybrids, organized into color zones.

You may see exotic animals as well; birds, frogs, lizards, bats, monkeys, pigs, turtles, otters, and other animals live here year-round. Note: Do not confuse this with Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay, a popular, man-made, and air-conditioned environment.

The small Pavilion of Infinite Pleasantness, with curved wood roof, and a footbridge over Dream Lake at the Chinese Garden of Montreal Botanical Garden

The Pavilion of Infinite Pleasantness and the footbridge over Dream Lake are part of the Chinese Garden at the Montreal Botanical Garden.

Photo by Perry Mastrovito

Montreal Botanical Garden (Jardin Botanique de Montréal)

The stats alone are impressive: 10 greenhouses spread over 185 acres with 22,000 species of flora—and the whole garden was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2008. On top of all that, the Montreal Botanical Garden, created in 1936, also shows creativity in its approach. There’s a toxic plant garden and a garden of innovations that showcases new cultivars from the ornamental horticulture industry.

Depending on the season, visitors can explore an arboretum with 800 species of trees and shrubs, a Japanese garden with bonsai trees, a Chinese garden, and spaces dedicated to perennials, shade plants, ferns, succulents, roses, floating plants, medicinal plants, and, of course, flowers (especially irises, peonies, and lilies). What’s more, it maintains more than 400 species on the list of rare or threatened plants drawn up by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). And it launched the First Nations Garden in 2001, which “presents the close bonds First Nations and the Inuit have always had with the plant world.”

If you’re interested in visiting the insectarium with more than 250,000 specimens (one of the largest insect museums in North America), you need a separate ticket, which includes access to other museums, including the Biosphere and Biodome.

About a dozen giant Amazonian lily pads at the Jardim Botânico

Among the tropical plants on display at the Jardim Botânico are these giant Amazonian lily pads.

Photo by Valeria Pautasso/Shutterstock

Jardim Botânico

  • Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday–Sunday 8 a.m.–5 p.m.
  • Tickets: $15 (cash only)

Rio’s 350-acre Jardim Botânico was founded in 1808 by D. João VI of Portugal, prince regent (eventually king) of the United Kingdom of Brazil and Portugal. It has a reputation as one of the finest tropical gardens on Earth, bordered by the world’s largest urban forest, Tijuca National Park. Of its 7,000-plus species of tropical plants, the vast majority are native to Brazil. It also has 2,000 species of orchids. And while you may see the garden’s Avenue of Royal Palms surface repeatedly on Instagram, its rare bromeliads and traditional Japanese garden—including cherry trees and bonsai—are not to be missed.

Note to birders: Bring your binoculars because hundreds of species nest in this garden.

Trumpet-shaped violet flowers (L) and white and pink spotted orchids (R) at the Arctic-Alpine Botanical Garden

The Arctic-Alpine Botanical Garden showcases plants from some of the world’s most northern regions.

Courtesy of the Arctic-Alpine Botanical Garden

Arctic-Alpine Botanical Garden

The Arctic-Alpine Botanical Garden, the world’s northernmost botanical garden, showcases traditional perennials and herbs from the tippy-top of Norway, plus a surprising array of plants from other continents. Part of the University of Tromsø, the garden has 25 collections in total; it specializes in Arctic and Antarctic plants (a rarity), as well as species native to the Himalayas, South America, and Africa. The garden is open year-round and free to visit, but most flowering takes place between May and October. In winter, BYO skis to experience the AABG’s evergreen shrubs and snow-capped rockscapes.

The Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway, 40 feet above ground, leads into dense greenery at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, with rocky mountain in background

Get a different perspective on the plants at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden on the Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway, 40 feet above ground.

Photo by Subodh Agnihotri/Shutterstock

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

  • Location: Kirstenbosch, Cape Town, South Africa
  • Hours: 8 a.m.–7 p.m. during summer (September–March), 8 a.m.–6 p.m. during winter (April–August).
  • Tickets: $12 (adults), $2 (children 6–17)

It’s hard to beat a backdrop that includes Table Mountain National Park. Set in the eastern slopes of South Africa’s most iconic landmark, the world-renowned Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden lives up to the hype. There are 1,305 acres with more than 7,000 species of plants, most of which are native to the Cape and southern Africa.

Located eight miles from the heart of Cape Town, and founded in 1913, the garden is blessed with postcard-worthy groupings of protea and cycads, hiking and mountain biking trails, expansive lawns for picnicking, and a 427-foot treetop walkway (informally known as “the Boomslang”) that arcs gently above the arboretum’s canopy.

Trees and flowering ground cover at Royal Botanical Gardens Sydney

The Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, has 15 themed areas, dedicated to tropical plants, succulents, and more.

Photo by James Horan

Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney

Australia’s oldest scientific institution—and one of the earliest botanic gardens in the Southern Hemisphere—the 74-acre Royal Botanic Garden is a dazzling mix of horticultural beauty and ecological conservation. Founded in 1816 and located on Sydney Harbour, a five-minute walk from the city center, it houses a collection of more than 27,000 plants from around the world, organized into 15 themed gardens. They include an air succulent garden, a tropical garden, an Australian rain forest garden, and one of the largest green walls you’ll ever see.

Unique to this institution is the Cadi Jam Ora–First Encounters Garden, which explores the relationship between plants and people; it’s located on the site where the Cadigal (an Aboriginal cultural group) and European settlers first met in January 1788. An online map offers an overview of the Victorian-era buildings, statuary, fountains, and monuments that dot the landscape.

Two wings of large glass greenhouse at NYBG next to lily pond reflecting blue sky

The NYBG was inspired by another garden on this list: Kew Gardens in England.

Photo by June Marie Sobrito/Shutterstock

New York Botanical Garden

  • Location: Bronx, New York
  • Hours: Tuesday–Sunday and Monday federal holidays 10 a.m.–6 p.m
  • Tickets: $35 (adults 13+), $31 (seniors 65+), $31 (students with ID), $20 (children 2–12)

The Bronx’s best-known National Historic Landmark was established in 1891 by botanists Nathaniel Lord Britton and his wife, Elizabeth. Inspired by a visit to Kew Gardens in England (see above), the couple founded their own botanical paradise on the north side of Bronx Park, close to an old-growth forest (the Thain Family Forest) and the babbling Bronx River. With 250 acres of land, this picturesque green space—known as the New York Botanical Garden—is the largest city-based botanical garden in the United States. Its 50 specialty gardens feature more than a million plants and 12,000 species, including lilacs and magnolias.

Highlights of any visit include a stroll through the circa-1890 Victorian-style glasshouse Haupt Conservatory, the impressive northeastern North American native plant garden, and what is widely considered one of the world’s most sustainable rose gardens. For plant nerds, there is also the Mertz Library, the largest botanical research library in the USA and the first library whose collection focused exclusively on botany.

Tiled courtyard with small fountain, hedges, and trees under glass roof at botanical garden in St. Louis

America’s oldest operating botanical garden is in St. Louis, Missouri.

Photo by Shutterstock

Missouri Botanical Garden

Established in 1859 by merchant Henry Shaw, this National Historic Landmark is America’s oldest botanical garden still in continuous operation. Its 79-acre spread is best known for the Climatron, a geodesic-dome greenhouse with a rain forest–like climate, dense tropical foliage, and a river aquarium teeming with fish. More than 2,800 plants grow inside, including cacao and coffee.

The institution has earned international acclaim for its comprehensive botanical reference library and herbarium with more than 6.5 million mounted specimens (the second-largest in the USA). Other notable draws include the 14-acre Japanese strolling garden, one of the oldest in the nation, and an 8,000-square-foot glass butterfly conservatory housing more than 60 species of winged beauties and 100 species of exotic flowering plants.

Pnik and yellow flowers among cactus and agave at Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix

The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix specializes in arid-landscape plants, but that doesn’t mean the displays lack color.

Courtesy of Desert Botanical Garden

Desert Botanical Garden

  • Location: Phoenix, Arizona
  • Hours: October–April daily 8 a.m.–8 p.m.
  • Tickets: $30 (adults), $17 (kids 3–17)

Snuggled into the dusty red rocks of the Papago Buttes Park, the 140-acre Desert Botanical Garden has more than 50,000 arid plants and 4,482 species in its unique collection. Of those, 379 species are rare and endangered.

Founded in 1939, the garden has gotten creative with its programming, offering desert landscaping classes for homeowners and five themed hiking trails that are especially nice for families. It’s not just a trove of succulents and cacti, either. There’s also a desert wildflower garden dedicated to brightly colored blooms and the pollinators they attract, like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

You can get a sense of history here, too. Travel along the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop to learn how the region’s Tohono O’odham and Western Apache people used native plants.

Main Fountain Garden with colored lights arcing over large fountain at night at Longwood Gardens Philadelphia

Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens is acclaimed for its greenery collection, but it also hosts performances, seasonal events, and fun displays.

Courtesy of Harold A Davis/Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens

  • Location: Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
  • Hours: Wednesday–Monday 10 a.m.–5 p.m. (March 30–May 8 until 6 p.m.)
  • Tickets: $30 (adults 19+), $27 (seniors 62+ and students with ID), $23 (military/veteran), $16 (kids 6–18)

Longwood has a rich history, starting with the native Lenni Lenape tribe, which fished, hunted, and planted on the 1,077-acre estate for thousands of years. In 1906, wealthy entrepreneur Pierre S. du Pont bought the land and started to build his own gardens, one by one, drawing heavily on recent visits to renowned gardens in Europe.

He was especially impressed with fountains at the time; he had seen the majestic water pumps at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. So Longwood, naturally, has plenty of them—hundreds. Over decades, Longwood has added a conservatory, a plant nursery, an experimental greenhouse, a desert house, 13 outdoor water lily pools, a meadow garden, tree houses, tropical plants, a plant-breeding program, and a visitor center with a shop, auditorium, and 1,000-car parking lot.

In the fall of 2024, the garden will be unveiling what it is calling “a sweeping reimagination of 17 acres of the Conservatory and grounds.”

A Japanese traditional house next to a pond with trees in the background

The Chicago Botanic Garden’s Shoin House is a recreation of an Edo-period feudal lord’s garden retreat.

Courtesy of Rama Laksono/Unsplash

Chicago Botanic Garden

  • Location: Chicago, Illinois
  • Hours: 10 a.m.–3 p.m.
  • Tickets: $10–$15 (adults 13+), $10–$12 (children 3–12), children under 3 are free; the garden offers occasional free days, check its calendar

Depending on the season (and which exhibits are on view), visitors at the Chicago Botanic Garden can enter a habitat filled with live butterflies, admire 26 replicas of roadside attractions in the Model Railroad exhibit, or take in the 385 acres of nature and beauty while seated on a free tram tour.

What kinds of gardens will you find? There’s a rose garden, a fruit and vegetable garden, a world-class bonsai collection, and more than 200 dwarf trees, including evergreens, maples, and magnolias. The kaleidoscope of color is spread across nine islands and six miles of lakeshore. To explore what’s in bloom when you visit, download the interactive plant-locating app and take one of the offered walking tours.

Distant view of small buildings and trees beside large pond at Huntington Botanical Gardens

The Huntington, with several gardens among its 130 acres, is one of many bucolic spots to visit in Southern California.

Photo by James Casil / Shutterstock

The Huntington Botanical Gardens

  • Location: San Marino, California
  • Hours: Wednesday–Monday 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
  • Tickets: $25–$29 (adults), $21–$24 (seniors 65 and students 12–18 or full-time with ID), $13 (children 4–11), children under 4 free

Located 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles, the Huntington is a fantastic, massive campus that sits on 130 acres, boasting more than 83,000 living plants. It’s impossible to see everything in one day. Some of the themed gardens are so spectacular that you could visit just for that collection. The desert garden, for example, is one of the largest outdoor collections of cacti and succulents in the world and includes more than 5,000 species of desert plants. Among the striking specimens, seek out the boojum trees (Fouquieria columnaris).

The grounds also have gardens dedicated to different types of plants (roses, herbs, palm trees) as well as nations (Australia, China, Japan), plus lily ponds and a mausoleum. You want a cool selfie in nature? You could shoot a month’s worth of content here in a day.

This article was originally published in 2019 and most recently updated on January 3, 2024 with current information.

James Oliver Cury writes about food, drink, and travel. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Travel + Leisure, The Points Guy, and Food & Wine. In 2023, he launched a creative agency, JimDot Studios.
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