Next to the famous Sydney Opera House, you can find the amazing Royal Botanic Gardens, a green oasis home to an outstanding collection of plants from Australia and overseas. Nestled on the water’s edge, offers a pleasant promenade with great views on the harbour and a place to relax far from the hustle and bustle of the city which is only a stone’s throw away.
It’s a beautiful place to take a walk surrounded by the perfumes and colours of plants and flowers, running, discovering some rare species or simply sitting down on the grass enjoying a picnic with a view on the water. You can also make a wish while walking around the “Wishing Tree”!
Opened in 1816, the garden is also the oldest scientific institution in Australia and one of the most important historic botanical institutions in the world. Beautiful in every season, the garden is one of the most visited attractions in Sydney.
What to see at the Royal Botanic Garden
The Royal Botanic Garden stretch over 30 hectares and is composed of many sections, which means it is very difficult to visit it all in one hit, but in this guide, I will try to highlight the most important things that are worth visiting.
Where should I start?
The best point to start your visit is from Mrs. Macquarie Road, where you can find the Macquarie Culvert and Wall: the culvert is the oldest bridge in the country, while the wall was built in 1816 to separate the garden from the Governor’s Domain (which today is called The Domain).
In just a few steps you can reach the Tropical Garden: enjoying being surrounded by colours and fragrances of tropical flowers. Next to it, you can walk along the Spring Walk, something you can’t miss especially if you travel during the spring seasons when cherry trees, wisterias, and tulips are blooming.
Trees you need to look for!
In every season, be sure not to miss the Wollemi Pine, that was discovered in 1998 in a remote gorge in Wollemi National Park by Phillip Noble. Actually, it would be more correct to talk about rediscovery: before that, the only traces left of this ancient were some fossils dated from millions of years ago. Basically discovering the Wollemi Pine was like finding a family of dinosaurs alive: isn’t that exciting? If you are travelling in December, you can recognize the small Wollemi Pine from the Christmas decoration!
Another pine that deserves a visit is the Norfolk Island Pine, alias the “Wishing Tree“: in earlier times people believed that certain trees contained good spirits and this is one of them. You have to walk around the tree three times forward then three times backward while making a wish.
Another particular tree that I’m sure is going to draw your attention is the Queensland Bottle Tree that you can recognise from the bottle-shaped trunk. The trunks of this common species have been a valuable water source for Aboriginal people.
Other gardens you should not miss
I found very interesting the Cadi Jam Ora – First Encounters Garden where you can learn about plants that were used by Aboriginal people and their relationship with this land. Here you can also learn about the plants and seed brought by the First Fleet to create the first farm right in this area.
The Palm Grove is where you can marvel at some of the giants of the plant world and here you can also see one of the oldest trees of the garden: Weeping Lilly Pilly.
If you’re looking for an intimate and cool garden, just visit the Fernery where you can walk among many fern species, orchids, and begonias. In the Herb Garden you can immerse yourself in an aromatic world, while the Palace Rose Garden is perfect for romantic souls.
The Oriental Garden is the right place if you are in love with Asia: wisteria, bamboo, and iris are some of the plants you can find here.
There are only just a few of the many things you can see in the Royal Botanic Garden, just to give you an idea of what you can find.
Before leaving the Garden, I suggest you walk along the promenade next to the water going towards the Opera House: here you will have amazing views of the harbor, including the Opera House and the Sydney Bridge.
Historic Places and Buildings
The Royal Botanic Garden is not just about plants and flowers as this place is full of historic places, monuments, and ancient buildings that will delight history fans. One of the main landmarks is Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, a chair that was carved out of a sandstone rock ledge in 1810 where Elizabeth Macquarie, Governor Macquarie’s wife used to sit during her strolls around the garden to enjoy the sights of Sydney Harbour.
On a small hill of the garden, you can notice the Wurrungwuri sculpture which consists of two parts: the first monument is made of sandstone blocks arranged in a waveform; the second is a monolith constructed of quartz pebbles and is decorated with a pattern from a rare Aboriginal shield.
Just before reaching the Opera House, you can follow a trail to the Government House, built in 1843. The building is the vice-regal residence of the Governor of New South Wales, and is accessible with a free guided tour.
Café and food stands dot the garden offering the perfect spot to treat yourself with a snack or a coffee. Before exiting, stop by at the Garden Shop to buy souvenirs, books, flowers and other gift idea or inspirations for your home garden.
Tours and events
- The Aboriginal Heritage Tours run every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, departing 10am from the Garden Shop. Is necessary to book online.
- A free guided walking tour departs 10.30am daily from the Garden Shop.
- In the heart of the garden, among small lakes, lawns, trails and fountains you can also see contemporary architecture as The Calyx, opened in 2016 as one of Sydney’s newest and unique premium event venues. In every season there are flower displays, food, shopping and an exciting range of events and workshops.
- Free Wifi is available throughout the Royal Botanic Garden. You can also download the free app for self-guided audio walking tours, information on the latest events, maps of the garden, etc.
- If you don’t feel like walking, you can relax and enjoy the scenic wonders of the Royal Botanic Garden on the Choo Choo Express. You can hop on and off at any of the four stops scattered throughout the Garden.
How to get there: nearest station is Martin Place but also St James and Circular Quay.