Pretend You're On Holiday In London's Tropical Gardens
As it’s hard to travel at the moment, we decided to day trip around London’s best tropical gardens. These ones are mostly indoors, so you can be safe from the general inclemency of British weather and instead potter around palm hothouses, brutalist, leaf filled concrete towers and waterlily filled conservatories. Lots of these London gardens are also free, but you’ll need to book in advance to make sure you get a ticket (doing anything on a whim is hard these days).
Here are our favourite tropical gardens in London
1. Waterlily House | Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Waterlily House at Kew is really very beautiful. We missed it the first few times we came, because whilst directly opposite, it’s in a comparatively smaller building to the Palm House. The conservatory has a wide circular pond with a little walkway that goes around it, and the pond is blooming with flowers, wide waterlilies, purple bell shaped flowers that twist around the ironwork railings, hanging gourds that change colour in autumn. The star of the show are the Santa Cruz waterlilies growing up to two metres in diameter, with upturned edges that make them look like a carnivorous pitcher plant.
Kew Gardens is £17.50 for a ticket at the moment, but they’re also doing 241 if you travel by train.
2. Sky Garden | 20 Fenchurch Street
London’s Sky Garden gives you a whole new perspective on the city, and as someone who’s lived in London for over 10 years (so basically a native), I was pretty blown away by this place when I first visited and it makes for a great trip. Try and visit it on a day when it’s not raining, and you’ll be lucky enough to see the whole way out across the city, from southwards towards the Shard and the river from the terrace, to way out to north London at the back. Sky Garden has a restaurant, a bar and used to do sunrise yoga in pre-pandemic times, but still makes for a spectacular place to travel to for a few hours. The garden itself is full of palm trees and built up on a set of terraces, giving you views within views and making you feel like you’re in some futuristic space pod in the sky. We thought the overall building, commonly known as the Walkie Talkie was kinda ugly when it first popped up on London’s skyline (the Gherkin and the Shard are our favourites), but there’s a few fun things we heard about it that made us like it a whole lot more:
- The reason it’s curved is because of an old law protecting views of St Paul’s Cathedral. We’re not actually sure if this one is true, but there are supposed to be 8 protected ‘view corridors’ of St Paul’s from different points in the city, protecting the old London skyline.
- When first constructed, the curvature of the building concentrated the sun’s rays and did mad things like melting cars and setting stuff on fire. We heard some journalist fried an egg in it, but whether or not that happened, the whole thing made office life much more exciting for a while.
Sky Garden is open and free from 10 am, but you’ll need to book.
3. The Barbican Conservatory
This beauty contains over 1500 species of plants and trees, all contained within a lofty greenhouse that forms part of the Barbican, an imposing (but rather stunning) brutalist housing complex in central London. The conservatory takes a wild two hours to water and its head gardener gets up at 4:30am every day (so you have no excuse for not keeping your houseplants alive). The Barbican itself was built on a site almost completely bombed out during the Blitz, enabled the architects to build a radical structure that includes an arts space, housing, lake & a cinema. Brutalist architecture like the Barbican focuses on the qualities of a material- in this case concrete, working to use the material in a way that celebrates it. Brutalism also views design as serving its inhabitants, building in features that seek to change the way that people use space, with lifts a little smaller to encourage residents to chat, sloped railings better for leaning out into the view, and walkways wide enough for people to comfortably pass. The result in the conservatory is a space that feels like you’re in some strange and beautiful future where nature has taken over, blending leaves, concrete and glass.
Visiting is free, but you’ll need to book ahead on their website.
4. Crossrail Place Roof Garden
Now, we don’t have much need to travel to Canary Wharf generally, because it’s about as un-naturey as you can get in London, but we checked out the Crossrail Roof Garden for the blog and we liked it. Crossrail itself is a fairly controversial project that will hopefully improve transport but has also massively overspent so perhaps the garden is a PR exercise for bankers. Obviously, people who work in finance need a nice place to have packed lunch, and the Crossrail garden is full of little benches that sit under a range of really beautiful trees. It’s not completely covered, so if you’re visiting in winter, you might need to bring a hat. The garden sits on the Meridian Line, and is laid out with half the plants coming from the east of the world and half from the west, which makes it a beautiful place to explore the world while we’re not able to travel.
The Crossrail Roof Garden is free, and open until 9pm.
5. Palm House | Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Visiting the Palm House is like walking into a little rainforest, so for anyone from hot places who can’t travel home, this one is for you. When we went, they’d just misted all the plants and the hot, damp leafy smell reminded us of Australia in summertime. The Palm House sits inside a giant victorian conservatory that Kew describes as a living laboratory, cultivating both plants that are endangered and some that are extinct in the wild. Surprisingly, we also identified some species that hang out in our living room courtesy of Columbia Road Flower Market, so it was nice to visit a place that’s a little more like their natural habitat. It’s masks on for all the indoor attractions at Kew and the beautiful iron walkways that give you an aerial view are closed at the moment, but the Palm House is about as escapist as they come without being able to travel.
Kew Gardens is £17.50, but they’re also doing 241 if you travel by train.