Worldwide icon-chevron-right South Pacific icon-chevron-right Australia icon-chevron-right Sydney icon-chevron-right The best public gardens you can visit in and around Sydney
Person walking through park at Paddington Reservoir Gardens
Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan

The best public gardens you can visit in and around Sydney

These beautifully landscaped escapes, in and near to the city, deliver some serious flower power

By Maxim Boon and Alannah Maher
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You might not think that there's much of a difference between a park and a garden, but in truth, they’re different spaces.

Parks are all about outdoor activities and versatility – they can become whatever we need them to be, from a cricket pitch to a picnic patch. Gardens, on the other hand, offer carefully curated journies into nature. Through an artful mix of creative landscaping and fabulous flora, they have the power to transport us, be that into another culture, climate, or even a different state of mind. We’ve picked out seven of Sydney’s most beautiful gardens where we recommend you stop and smell the roses.

RECOMMENDED: Seven national parks less than 100km from Central Sydney.

The best public gardens in Sydney

Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney
Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney
Photograph: Destination NSW

Royal Botanic Gardens

Things to do Sydney

The MVP (as far as gardens go) is of course the city’s premier greenspace and easily one of the finest botanic gardens in the world. Thought to be one of the oldest public gardens in the Southern Hemisphere, Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens date back to 1810 when Governor Lachlan Macquarie and his wife had a vision for an "English parkland setting with a grand house". Over the years, this 30-hectare site has withstood fires, cattle grazing, invasions of flying foxes, a windmill, an aviary, and even a zoo. Today, save for the occasional shriek of a sulfur-crested cockatoo, it's an oasis of calm in the urban jungle, where you can stand amongst beautiful greenery as you look out over the harbour with the bridge and Opera House magnificently in view.

Graden at Paddington Reservoir Gardens
Graden at Paddington Reservoir Gardens
Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan

Paddington Reservoir Gardens

Things to do Paddington

First built nearly 150 years ago, This sunken Romanesque garden has in previous incarnations served as an early 19th-century water reservoir, a garage, a petrol station, and a secret underground hub for budding graffiti artists. This otherworldly oasis below street level has undergone a $10 million restoration and is now a cultural precinct hosting markets, art and film festivals – however, it can be best enjoyed as a shady green retreat on a quiet day. The Paddington Reservoir Gardens is a 1023-square-metre site filled with trees, plants and lush green lawns with a hanging garden canopy around the perimeter and a lake of contemplation at its centre. The dark, gated eastern chamber has been left empty, but for the wall art that began to accumulate during its abandoned days.

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Auburn Botanic Gardens Sydney
Auburn Botanic Gardens Sydney
Photograph: Destination NSW

Auburn Botanic Gardens

Things to do Auburn

It’s far from common knowledge that there are 9.2 hectares of beautiful landscaping hiding in the eastern suburb of Auburn, but this is one secret garden well worth discovering. The site is broken down into themed areas that include a Japanese garden, complete with a pond, waterfall and ornamental bridges. There’s also a reflecting pool, a scented garden, a sunken rose garden, a billabong, a native rainforest and even a playground that has full wheelchair accessible equipment, including a liberty swing. There’s also a fauna reserve and aviary where you can commune with peacocks, Cape Barron geese and red-necked wallabies. Each year the Gardens also hosts two major flora festivals, the Cherry Blossom Festival in August and the Autumn Colours festival in late May. 

Blue Mountains Botanic Garden
Blue Mountains Botanic Garden
Photograph: Destination NSW

Blue Mountains Botanic Garden

Things to do Sydney

On the slopes of Mount Tomah, less than 100km from Sydney's CBD, you’ll find 28 hectares of glorious gardens that not only boast a diverse range of native and imported plant life, but also a view of the surrounding mountains that really cements why this part of NSW has UNESCO World Heritage status. Averaging altitudes about 1km above sea level, the gardens here can support cool climate species that would otherwise struggle in the NSW summer highs. There are over 5000 species of plant displayed by geographic origin, so you can take a whistlestop tour of flora from around the world as you navigate through the many winding pathways that descend the mountainside. 

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Australian Botanic Gardens Sydney
Australian Botanic Gardens Sydney
Photograph: Destination NSW

The Australian Botanic Gardens

Things to do Sydney

The lesser known but equally beautiful sibling of Sydney’s central Royal Botanic Gardens, this expansive garden located in a hilly area of the southwestern suburb of Mount Annan boasts 416 hectares of plants, birds, mammals and reptiles which you can explore via over 30km of walking and cycling tracks. The focus here is on Australian native plants, and you’ll find plenty of examples of the country’s strange and wonderful flora in the four and a half hectare Connection Garden – which serves as a ‘roofless museum’ illustrating the way people and the natural world interconnect.

A leafy path at Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Garden
A leafy path at Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Garden
Photograph: Supplied, Ku-ring-gai Council

Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Garden

Things to do St Ives

In a city that’s far from shy about showing off its natural beauty, it’s a surprise that one of its prettiest corners may well be one of its best-kept secrets. Adjacent to Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park in Sydney’s North, there’s a whopping 123 hectares of wildflower gardens surrounded by Sydney sandstone bushland. Every plant found here is native, although not necessarily local – these colourful blooms have been sourced from across Australia, including 18 threatened species of flora.

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Wendy Whitley's Secret Garden
Wendy Whitley's Secret Garden
Photograph: Robert Polmear

Wendy's Secret Garden

Things to do Lavender Bay

The secret may be well and truly out about this hidden garden, but it really is a heart-warming story and a space worth sharing. When Wendy Whiteley lost her husband, Australian artist Brett Whiteley in 1992, she funnelled her love and grief into transforming a disused, derelict train yard space. This landscaped garden is carved up with winding paths, cobblestoned stairs and quiet benches. Alongside the natural beauty of curling ferns, flowering lilies and towering shady figs, you’ll also find bronze busts, engraved stone tablets, wooden carvings and other sculptures dotted around the garden. These artworks serve as a point of inspiration for Whiteley and the community alike, with many being donated by local artists. The garden also reveals majestic views of the sparkling harbour foreshore, framing the Harbour Bridge and the fringes of North Sydney and the CBD. Tucked away in the shadow of office towers, it is both public land and private paean to love, loss and renewal.

Outside of restaurant in garden at Gardens by Lotus
Outside of restaurant in garden at Gardens by Lotus
Photograph: Katje Ford

Chinese Garden of Friendship

Things to do Sydney

Waterfalls, weeping willows, lily pads and blossoms make this one-hectare garden, in the heart of the Darling Harbour precinct, a charming and calming place to spend an hour or two. Officially opened in 1988, the Chinese Garden of Friendship was a gift from Sydney's sister city Guangzhou to cement the bond between the two metropolises. Featuring calligraphy, carvings and sculptures of dragons and other mythological creatures, the garden transports visitors from Sydney's big smoke into a world of tradition and calm – a refreshing change from the exhaust fumes and traffic just metres away. The garden is dotted with hidden treasures, including an ancient cyad (fossilised plant) and a red silk cotton tree – the floral symbol of Guangdong. A highlight is the Lake of Brightness, which is full of chubby carp. 

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Plants on rooftop with building in background at Yerrabingin Hou
Plants on rooftop with building in background at Yerrabingin Hou
Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan

Yerrabingin Rooftop Garden

Attractions Parks and gardens Eveleigh

Note: The Yerrabingin Rooftop Garden is currently only open for online tours.

In April of 2019, Christian Hampson and Clarence Slockee took over the rooftop of a brand-new building in Eveleigh to transform it into a place quite unlike anything else in Sydney. Across half a square kilometre, you'll find planting boxes full of finger limes, warrigal greens, saltbush, rivermint, native raspberries and sea figs.  This is Sydney’s first native plant rooftop farm, which started out with 2,000 plants and over 30 species. Yerrabingin means ‘we walk together’ in Muktung, from Hampson’s grandparents’ language. This more than just a poignant saying – it's the garden's guiding principle. “It’s about the time when the first people and the first spirits walked the earth and they were taught about how to look after the land," Hampson says. "It’s about knowledge transferring, and about collaborating.” The roof garden is accessible by private tour and pre-booking is essential.

Feeling green-thumbed?

Plants and pots at the St Peters plant nursery Garden Life.
Plants and pots at the St Peters plant nursery Garden Life.
Photograph: Supplied

The best plant nurseries in Sydney

Shopping

Thinking of starting or adding to your collection of house plants? These plant shops and nurseries have everything you need from on-trend indoor foliage to low-maintenance greenery.

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