When I first moved to Glasgow and had to get accustomed to the rainy and dark winter days, I found my happy place on my way from University home to my student accommodation – the glasshouses at the Botanical Gardens in Glasgow’s West End. When I recently spent a weekend in Edinburgh with Safestay, it was raining on my final morning and I was tired from the masses of tourists pushing me through the busy lanes of Old Town. I was therefore quick to decide where to spend my time: the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
In a small and touristy city like Edinburgh visitors tend to end up all doing more or less the same things – check out the castle, stroll down the Royal Mile, hit up the free museums and climb Calton Hill or Arthur Seat or both. Don’t get me wrong, these are all great things to do in Edinburgh, but every single time I visit, the crowded Old Town gets too much for me at some point and I need to escape.
Enter, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh dates back to 1670, when two doctors planted their first plot in Holyrood Park, near Holyrood Abbey. As the doctors travelled far and wide and the collection of plants expanded, the garden moved first to the city centre and finally to Inverleith in 1820. But even then it wouldn’t stop growing (pun intended) and so the plants of the Royal Botanic Garden now populate four Gardens across Scotland, each of them specialising in a different kind of flora.
The Garden in Edinburgh measures over 70 acres and houses a huge glasshouse range. On a sunny day you can explore the many different features around the garden that show plants from all regions of the world and climate zones, but on a rainy day the glasshouses are a perfect getaway to spend a day surrounded by greens and not freeze in the hills.
When I visited, it was a rainy day, so I didn’t spend much time on the Garden and headed straight for the glasshouses. The Glasshouse Experience starts in the Tropical Palm House and slowly but surely you make your way through the various climate zones and habitats of the earth. Most plants in the glasshouses come from warm and tropical parts of the world, and so the temperature remains pleasant throughout the experience.
Many of the flowers stood in full bloom and I spent hours studying and photographing them. One of the best parts is the tiny bamboo forest and the cacti garden. My favourite part, however, must be the Lowland Tropics zone – the one where humidity rises to 80% and the plants become even greener. Other beautiful features are the pond with giant water lilies and the pool brimming with carp.
Quick facts: Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh lies in Inverleith, a mere half-hour walk north of the city centre. You can also reach it by bus, but really the stroll through New Town and Stockbridge is worth the effort. For the shortest walk from the park gate to the glass houses, enter the Botanic Garden through the East Gate on Inverleith Row.
The gardens are free to enter, but for the Glasshouse Experience, you need to purchase a ticket either at the ticket booth at the garden’s gate or in the first glasshouse (£5.50/Concession £4.50).
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a great hidden gem, beloved among locals, but often overlooked by guidebooks. Don’t let the secrecy fool you though, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is one of my absolute must-sees in Edinburgh, especially on a rainy day – and believe me, no trip to Scotland is complete without at least one rainy day!
For more info on guided tours of the garden or just to see what’s on, visit the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh website!
All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.