Australia’s oldest scientific institution, the Royal Botanic Gardens sprawl across 30 acres on the edge of Sydney Harbour. It was opened in 1816 and remains one of the most important botanical institutions in the world, home to an impressive collection of plants from Australia and around the globe.
A historic hand-hewn sandstone seawall wraps around Farm Cove all the way to the Sydney Opera House, with the gardens gradually sloping up from here. It’s divided into four main areas - the Lower Gardens, the Middle Gardens, the Palace Gardens and the Bennelong precinct - together with grassy lawns where you can have a picnic and numerous other smaller gardens.
Be sure to visit the Cadi Jam Ora - First Encounters garden that acknowledges the indigenous inhabitants of Sydney and their relationship with the land, with Aboriginal Heritage Tours held here each Friday morning. Then step inside the 1885 glasshouse where a diverse selection of orchids and begonias flower amidst tropical plants and explore the more than 200 species of ferns found in the walled fernery that was built by stone once worked by convict labor.
Plant species not to miss in the gardens include an ancient Wollemi Pine, the swollen-trunked Bottle Tree and the Lord Howe Island Fig. There’s also an Australian Rockery featuring some of the country’s most iconic plants, the fragrant Palace Rose Garden and an Oriental Garden with species planted from China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Taiwan and Bhutan.
In the middle of the four precincts you’ll find the Palm Grove Centre which boasts a cafe, visitors center and bookshop where you can purchase botanical-related literature. In addition to being one of Sydney’s top attractions, the Royal Botanic Gardens are also popular with locals who come to jog along the waterfront or walk to work in the CBD.