When exploring a city for the first time, there’s no greater joy than stumbling across something that truly surprises you — be it an architectural marvel, cultural hotspot or pocket of serene natural beauty.
The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney is one such highlight, a vast public park providing peace, quiet and beauty in the middle of the proverbial urban jungle. First opened in 1816, the garden is Australia’s oldest scientific institution, and one of the most significant botanical attractions in the world, making it a must-see during a sightseeing tour of Sydney.
Travel to Australia as part of a luxury escorted tour with Scenic, and you’ll be given the opportunity to explore the city’s Royal Botanic Gardens at your leisure. To give you a taste of what awaits in this majestic public nature reserve, here we explore the history and highlights of the Royal Botanic Gardens.
History & Heritage Around Every Corner
First opened in 1816, Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden is one of the oldest public parks in the Southern Hemisphere, welcoming visitors for two centuries. The garden enjoys an extraordinary position on the Sydney Harbour waterfront, mere steps from some of the city’s esteemed landmarks, including the Sydney Opera House, The Rocks and the Sydney Central Business District.
Curving beautifully around the harbour’s Farm Cove, the Botanic Garden occupies 30 hectares and is bordered by the Cahill Expressway and the prestigious Art Gallery Road. Governor Macquarie first founded the park in 1816, after the land had previously been used for farming.
At the appointment of Charles Fraser, Australia’s first official Colonial Botanist, the site became known for its collection of plants and wildlife, and played a major role in the acclimatisation of rare and exotic flora and fauna from other countries, including Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.
In the years that followed, many renowned botanists and horticulturalists oversaw its maintenance and upkeep. Perhaps the most successful of these was Charles Moore, who tackled the park’s problem of poor, infertile soil and lack of fresh water. Moore also commissioned the construction of the garden’s Palm Grove area at the centre of the park, which contains a café, garden shop and the main Botanic Gardens Restaurant — all of which are still open to this day.
By 1862, the park housed Sydney’s first zoo, which contained a number of indigenous and exotic animals. The zoo was short lived however, and was transferred to the nearby Moore Park in 1883, paving a way for a range of new features, including the Garden Palace, Herbarium building, Tropical Centre glasshouse and the Robert Brown Building.
Today, the Royal Botanic Garden is vast and diverse, with a number of distinct zones for the public to explore and enjoy. The garden forms a natural ‘amphitheatre’, with each unique area sloping gently downwards towards the waters of Farm Cove. These individual areas are the Lower Gardens, Middle Gardens, Palace Gardens, Bennelong Precinct and Palm Grove Centre, and each offers something new and unique to visitors.
With a vast array of natural wonders to explore and discover, deciding what to see first in this incredible reserve is a challenge. To help, here are some of the Botanic Garden’s must-see highlights, sorted into the major precincts.
Begin your tour of the Sydney Botanic in the Lower Gardens, arguably the most beautiful section of the park. Located close to the water’s edge, and with dramatic views of the harbour front, the Lower Gardens feature the Main Ponds, Victoria Lodge, Henry Lawson Gates, the Maiden Pavilion, the HSBC Oriental Garden and the Yurong.
Travel inland away from the water, and you’ll come to the Middle Gardens, one of the oldest sections of the Sydney Botanic. The Middle Gardens form the central hub of the park, and it’s here where you’ll find Palm House with its restaurant and amenities. The precinct is also home to some of the park’s oldest attractions, including the Herbarium & Plant Sciences Building, the Lion Gate Lodge, Begonia Garden and the Macquarie Wall and Spring Walk.
Overshadowed by the towering skyscrapers of the Sydney CBD, the Palace Gardens lie in the upmost portion of the park — offering commanding views across the harbour. This area houses some of the park’s newest, but no less charming, attractions, including the Tropical Centre, the Rainforest Walk, the Morshead Fountain and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. The precinct is also home to the Rose Garden & Pavilion, easily one of the romantic areas of the garden.
Easily one of the most palatial and distinguished of the Botanic’s individual areas, the Bennelong Precinct is home to a number of historic buildings, including Government House, The Garden Palace, Parade Ground, the Queen Elizabeth II Gate, Bennelong Lawn and the Australian Native Rockery. The area closely neighbours the Sydney Opera House, so is easily accessible during a longer walking tour of the city.
Experience the Royal Botanic Gardens with Scenic
As part of our escorted tour itineraries in Australia, we give you the opportunity to explore the Royal Botanic Gardens of Sydney as part of a free sightseeing tour, or if you’d prefer, on your own. A visit to the City Botanic Gardens is included in our selection of Sydney Freechoice excursions, and is classed as a relaxed activity, meaning you’re free to go at your own pace during a visit to this extraordinary garden.
As part of this Freechoice option, you’ll explore the different precincts of the park and learn more about its history, heritage and influence on world science. The tour is followed by lunch at the delightful Gardens Club Cottage, where you can sample regional cuisine amid truly charming surroundings.
If you can picture yourself wandering the pleasant walkways of the Sydney Royal Botanic, why not treat yourself to a luxury escorted tour in Australia with Scenic? Most of our Australian tour itineraries give you the option to visit this majestic park, as well as a range of equally as extraordinary travel experiences. To find out more, visit our escorted tours page.