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Jardim Botânico, Rio de Janeiro
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The 12 best botanical gardens in the world

Feel the full force of nature at the world’s most magical, educational and Instagrammable botanical gardens

Written by
Hayley Joyes
Sarah Medina

One of the universal truth of the pandemic might be that we all came out of it with a lot more plants than when we went in. If, like us, you treat your tiny apartment like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, you might want to consider a little garden inspiration when booking your post-vaccine vacation this summer. Behold, the best botanical gardens in the world. At these drop-dead gorgeous botanical gardens around the world, you can fill your mind with facts as well as filling your camera roll. Step aside, macramé plant hangers; it’s time to discover cherry blossoms in Brooklyn and cacti in Colombia with our list of the world’s best botanical gardens.

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Best botanical gardens

Singapore Botanical Gardens | Singapore
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1. Singapore Botanical Gardens | Singapore

More than 160 years old, tropical Singapore Botanical Gardens has it all: a section of the city’s primary rainforest, an orchid garden, a ginger garden and an exhibition on ethnobotany (looking at how plants are rooted in traditional culture and medicine), plus some wise old trees. It even has a pair of swans from Amsterdam, a national flower called Vanda Miss Joaquim and its own mist garden. Don't miss the National Orchid Garden with more than 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids on display, plus a series of special tools and gadgets to ensure the right humidity. Steamy stuff.

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Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden | Cape Town, South Africa
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2. Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden | Cape Town, South Africa

Kissing the east side of Table Mountain (and used as a starting point for its hardcore climbers), Kirstenbosch is one of the world’s most biodiverse gardens and a leader in conservation science. The sprawling site contains incredible forms of flora and near-endangered plants that have been cultivated since the early 1900s. Explore at ground level or from up above along ‘The Boomslang,’ a treetop walkway.  Don't leave without visiting the beautiful sculpture garden which includes a bust of Nelson Mandela and breathtaking Mambo sculptures, carved from opal stone. 

Montreal Botanical Garden | Montreal, Canada
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3. Montreal Botanical Garden | Montreal, Canada

Montreal Botanical Garden is based in the city’s spacious Maisonneuve Park, forming a large part of the Space For Life museum district. The garden itself contains ten greenhouses and 30 thematic gardens, and is a hub for plant lovers and experts to come together and get green-fingered. It’s also been home to giant, trippy plant sculptures shaped like animals, as part of the ‘Mosaiculture’ exhibition of Montreal festival. Eat your heart out, Edward Scissorhands. 

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Jardim Botânico | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
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4. Jardim Botânico | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Just under the giant Jesus (Cristo Redentor) at the foot of the Corcovado mountain you'll find this UNESCO heritage site. The Jardim Botânico offers a fully immersive rainforest experience in the heart of the city with monkeys, palm trees and over 140 species of exotic birds. While there are conservatories and curated areas, only 40 percent of the plants here are cultivated, with the rest of the space populated by natural vegetation and organic forest from the mountain. Don't miss the garden house collections, which include hungry carnivorous plants, bromeliads and rare orchids. 

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Kew Gardens | London, England
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5. Kew Gardens | London, England

Nowhere does botanical better than Kew Gardens, which boasts the largest and most diverse botanical collections in the world. Opened in 1759, the London garden, once the playground of royalty, spans 130 hectares of luscious landscape, providing the ideal peaceful retreat from the fast pace of the capital city. Explore the garden’s Great Broad Walk Borders, Temperate House and Kew Palace, the smallest of all the British royal palaces. Then, head up to the Treetop Walkway and take in expansive views from 59 feet off the ground.

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Being positioned down an unassuming street in the north of the city makes this garden’s iconic hues of blue, yellow and turquoise all the more vibrant. This was originally the personal garden of French painter Jacques Majorelle, who purchased it in the 1920s and made designing the garden his life’s work. Sixty years later, fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent and his partner took it on. The decor meshes French cubism with traditional Moroccan architecture and features a selection of rare cacti and more than 15 species of birds from North Africa. Plus, you can see a très chic exhibition of YSL’s personal collection of regional fabrics and textiles from North Africa, plus traditional Berber art.

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The father of impressionism’s garden inspired his iconic series of water lily paintings. The pond, along with a gorgeous flower garden, has been immortalised by the not-for-profit foundation, which now looks after the grounds. Never mind the art buffs; thanks to every in-vogue plant, from peonies to cherry blossoms and carpets of forget-me-nots, this garden is an Instagramer's dream. Although not technically a botanical garden, there is a stunning Japanese-inspired water garden – shaped by Monet – that needs to be seen. He is said to have redirected a local stream – much to the locals’ dismay – and planted wisteria to create the ever-gorgeous hazy setting. You'll also have the opportunity to poke around Monet’s two-storey house, restored to its former glory. 

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Adelaide Botanic Garden | Adelaide, Australia
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8. Adelaide Botanic Garden | Adelaide, Australia

It’s easy to call the Adelaide Botanic Garden an oasis in the middle of the city, but that’s really what it is – an oasis which spans over 123 beautifully landscaped acres. The jewel at the center is the Palm House, an exquisitely restored Victorian glasshouse which was imported from Bremen, Germany in 1875. Step inside and you’ll be greeted by a collection of Madagascan plants, many of which are endangered in their native habitat. But don't forget to also ogle the UFO-looking, 1989-built conservatory which is the largest single-span glasshouse in the southern hemisphere. 

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Arctic-Alpine Botanical Garden | Tromsø, Norway
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9. Arctic-Alpine Botanical Garden | Tromsø, Norway

The namesake display at the Arctic-Alpine Botanical Garden makes for one of the most unusual gardens in the world, capturing nature as it triumphs in adverse conditions. Discover bright flowers growing from craggy rocks or hardy breeds from the deserts of Chile thriving in flower season – from May until first snow in October. As climate change affects the Arctic’s ecology, there’s no telling how long plants like these will be in bloom in the wild. Time your visit for June when you may chance upon ‘Rhododendron Valley’ serving up a surprising riot of colour.

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Brooklyn Botanic Garden | Brooklyn, New York
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10. Brooklyn Botanic Garden | Brooklyn, New York

Those searching for a little peace and quiet from the hustle and bustle of New York City would do well to spend a few hours at this verdant oasis. Brooklyn Botanic Garden features thousands of types of flora, laid out over 52 acres. Each spring, crowds descend on the space for the Sakura Matsuri Festival, during which more than 70 trees bloom along the Cherry Esplanade. But equally impressive are serene spots like the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, the first Japanese-inspired garden built in the U.S., and the Shakespeare Garden, brimming with plants (such as primrose and crocuses) mentioned in the Bard’s works. 

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While this understated garden has more than 4,500 flowers and 139 species of birds, the most impressive part is The Orchideorama. It’s a hexagonal steel arch that looks like a giant beehive and helps to collect water to redistribute to the orchid gardens below. Be sure to visit the butterfly house too, or the cute café in the middle of the gardens, made from an old railway carriage. The annual Feria de las Flores flower festival in Medellín in August, where the botanical gardens put on a bloomin’ impressive exhibition of flowery crafts.

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Desert Botanical Garden | Phoenix, Arizona
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12. Desert Botanical Garden | Phoenix, Arizona

Not only does the 140-acre Desert Botanical Garden have a spectacular vista and the world's biggest outdoor desert plant collection, but it's also the sunny home of an extraordinary amount of living creatures – you've just got to know how to spot them. (Hint: you have to go when the sun goes down.) Sign up for a self-paced group tour where attendees are armed with flashlights to see and hear what dwells in the desert after dark. During the day, choose from themed trails such as cacti, succulents and wildflowers. 

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