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Indoor botanical gardens
Photograph: Time Out

America's coolest indoor botanical gardens and green spaces

Embrace nature year-round at these lush indoor retreats in the U.S.

Clara Hogan
Written by
Clara Hogan

Winter can be lovely in its own way, but after enough time enduring the bitter cold, it’s natural to fantasize about a warm day in the tropics. So, if you're craving a break from winter's icy grip—dominated by grey skies, bare trees and frozen-over flowers—your nearest indoor green space is a perfect respite from the seasonal blues. 

Across America, stunning greenhouses (often called conservatories) are packed with lush and exotic plants, serving as attractions for visitors and community gathering places for locals. These serene and often over-the-top sanctuaries are in full bloom year-round, offering vibrant colors, lush foliage, and tropical flora to give you an instant mood lift.

A significant number of U.S. conservatories date back to the late 19th century and are Victorian-styled, situated within America's public parks—from the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh to the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco. Exhibits feature delicate orchids to towering cacti, and most attractions offer year-round events, classes, and seasonal flower shows. So whether you're looking to escape the winter chill, connect with nature or simply take some photos in front of an amazing backdrop, these lush indoor green spaces will leave you feeling refreshed and like you've been whisked away to a faraway tropical oasis.

America's best indoor green spaces

Phipps Conservatory | Pittsburgh, PA
Photograph: Courtesy Phipps Conservatory

1. Phipps Conservatory | Pittsburgh, PA

Opened in 1893, the Victorian-era Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh is enormous—you could spend a whole day exploring the glass-enclosed structure, with 14 distinct rooms featuring horticulture from around the globe. The entrance to the Palm Court offers a grand welcome, with its high glass peaks and lush plant life punctuated by glass installations by Dale Chihuly. Home to some of the oldest "flower shows" in the world, no trip here is the same as curators consistently swap out exhibits and organize events year-round. In the fall and winter, kids cheer on miniature trains winding through the plants during the "Garden Railroad" exhibit. In the spring, the Butterfly Forest draws visitors eager to watch the creatures break free of their chrysalises. A self-guided tour will take you about 90 minutes, but you’ll likely want to stop and linger as you take in rooms modeled after Japanese courtyards, perfectly manicured French gardens and tropical jungles. 

Conservatory of Flowers | San Francisco, CA
Photograph: Courtesy San Francisco Parks Alliance

2. Conservatory of Flowers | San Francisco, CA

Golden Gate Park in San Francisco offers several gardens, but the Conservatory of Flowers was the very first formed structure in the park when it opened in 1879. The building is the oldest public wood-and-glass conservatory in North America, spanning 12,500 square feet and featuring more than 2,000 species of plants and flowers (many of which are rare or endangered.) One of its most fun and unusual attractions is Scarlet, the corpse flower (also known as a Titan Arum). This plant, native to Indonesia, has the largest leaf of any plant species—they can tower as high as 15 feet—and gives off a famously pungent odor when it blooms, which only happens every three to five years. When it does, visitors come from all over to watch (and smell) it happen.

Conservatory at the U.S. Botanical Garden | Washington, D.C.
Photograph: Architect of the Capitol

3. Conservatory at the U.S. Botanical Garden | Washington, D.C.

Back in the late 18th century, George Washington (ever heard of him?) had a dream of a botanical garden in the nation's capitol and wrote a letter to Congress in support of it. It wasn’t until 1850 that the U.S. Botanical Garden opened, and in 1933, the Architect of the Capitol constructed the historic Lord & Burnham Conservatory. The greenhouse contains two courtyard gardens and 10 garden rooms under glass, totaling more than 28,000 square feet of growing space. Rooms include exhibits featuring towering tropical forests, a primeval garden (flowering plants from 150 million years ago), Hawaiian flora, world deserts, orchids and a children’s garden.

Garfield Park Conservatory | Chicago, IL
Photograph: Courtesy Garfield Park Conservatory

4. Garfield Park Conservatory | Chicago, IL

Chicago isn’t exactly lush most of the year. Still, luckily, the Windy City has an indoor green oasis for residents and visitors alike to get "a taste of the tropics under glass," featuring thousands of plant species across eight indoor display gardens—and tropical temperatures to match. The Garfield Park Conservatory hosts programs throughout the year, from yoga in the garden to courses for budding botanists to cultural performances and hands-on classes. It’s completely free to enter, but advanced registration is required.

Climatron at the Missouri Botanical Garden | St. Louis, MO
Photograph: Courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden

5. Climatron at the Missouri Botanical Garden | St. Louis, MO

Open to the public in 1960, the Climatron at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis stands apart from the more common Victorian-style conservatories with its bold, modern design. As the first geodesic dome to be used as a conservatory, it became the world’s first air-conditioned greenhouse. The design won the 1961 Reynolds Award for architectural excellence in a structure using aluminum—because the 70-foot high structure has no interior support, the more than 2,800 types of plants inside enjoy more light and space. In addition to the flora, visitors can see waterfalls, a viewing bridge and a river aquarium with exotic fish. 

Franklin Park Conservatory | Columbus, OH
Photograph: Courtesy Franklin Park Conservatory

6. Franklin Park Conservatory | Columbus, OH

Built during the City Beautiful movement—where many American cities underwent beautification efforts—Columbus, Ohio debuted the Franklin Park Conservatory in 1895, including the John F. Wolfe Palm House, a Victorian-style glass greenhouse. The conservatory has served as a major attraction in Columbus ever since. Programming is offered year-round—including Blooms & Butterflies, which debuted in 1994 as the first seasonal butterfly showcase in the nation. Other activities range from holiday shows to art classes and culinary events.

Volunteer Park Conservatory | Seattle, WA
Photograph: Courtesy Volunteer Park Conservatory

7. Volunteer Park Conservatory | Seattle, WA

Dating back to 1921, the Volunteer Park Conservatory is situated in Volunteer Park, comprised of 50 acres of land in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Seattle. The park features several attractions, including lily pods, an amphitheater, the Seattle Asian Art Museum and a historic water tower. But the crown jewel is the Conservatory. Made up of five houses with distinct offerings, here you can visit the jungle, the desert, a cactus garden, and much more all while strolling winding walkways and taking in streaming waterfalls.

Enid A. Haupt Conservatory | Bronx, NY
Photograph: Courtesy New York Botanical Garden

8. Enid A. Haupt Conservatory | Bronx, NY

Located inside the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory has served as a cultural attraction in New York City since it was constructed by Lord & Burnham Company in 1902. The structure recently underwent a $18 million restoration project and has re-opened in all its glory, featuring a newly designed and replanted palm collection. Other rooms showcase tropical plants, cacti, aquatic flora and more. The most famous event to take place here is the Orchid Show, which has run for over 20 years. This year, in true New York style, it will be a fashion-inspired celebration with a catwalk running through thousands of orchids. 

Marjorie McNeely Conservatory | Saint Paul, MN
Photograph: Courtesy Como Zoo

9. Marjorie McNeely Conservatory | Saint Paul, MN

Located in Como Park, around 275 weddings occur yearly at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory—and for good reason. The Victorian-style building, which opened in 1915, is a breathtaking setting with more than 260 varieties of plants from six different continents set within both the central domed palm house and its two attached wings. Exhibits include a sunken garden, which hosts seasonal flower displays, an area focused on medicinal plants, and a fern room. 

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum | Boston, MA
Photograph: Courtesy Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

10. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum | Boston, MA

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is likely most famous for the theft that occurred there in 1990, when 12 works of art  worth hundreds of millions of dollars were stolen (and have yet to be recovered.) But it's also well-known for its lovely glass-ceiling Courtyard Garden. The indoor oasis anchors the museum, featuring lush landscaping that rotates every few months, providing a perfect place to take a break from browsing artwork within the museum. Each season gives a reason to visit, from chrysanthemums in November to festive-colored plants in December to exotic orchids come spring. 

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