Visiting the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Scotland

A Victorian glasshouse in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

The Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh in Scotland is the second oldest of its kind in Britain. It’s a must to see if you’re in the Scottish capital.

Covering an area of over 70 acres, the garden has many different sections, including an arboretum, a Woodland Garden, a Rock Garden, the Chinese Hillside, and several greenhouses.

The beautiful grounds offer a tranquil oasis where you can get out of the hustle and bustle of the city. Its wide range of events and exhibitions make it an enjoyable place to visit for all ages.

Read on for information about visiting the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh.

And if you like botanic gardens, read my post on the things to do in Kew Gardens in London.

Part of one of the gardens at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, with a small cottage at the back
Part of one of the gardens in the Edinburgh botanic garden

The history of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

The Royal Botanic Gardens (also often referred to as ‘the Botanics’) was founded in 1670 by Dr. Robert Sibbald and Dr. Andrew Balfour, two of Scotland’s most eminent botanists. It was created as a physic garden to grow medicinal plants.

The garden was initially in Holyrood Park, and based on the private plant collection of the 2nd Lord Elibank, Sir Patrick Murray. Having changed location several times, the garden moved to its current location in Inverleith, away from its Leith Walk site, in 1820.

With over 13,000 different species of plants, the gardens have one of the richest collections in the world and have become an essential resource for scientific research and education and the study of plants.

In addition to its scientific work, the Botanics is now one of Scotland’s most visited attractions. In 2021, there were almost 650,000 visitors to the garden.

Where to find Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden

The gardens are in Inverleith, in the north of Edinburgh, close to the city centre. Their location gives the visitor the chance to get some fantastic views back over the capital, including a beautiful view of Edinburgh Castle sitting on a hill.

The best way to get to the Botanics is by public transport or on foot. If you decide to take the bus, Lothian Buses numbers 8, 23, and 27 all stop near the gardens’ entrance (East Gate) and are short rides from Edinburgh city centre.

If you’d prefer to walk, it’s around a 30-minute walk from Princes Street (Edinburgh’s main shopping street).

The West Gate entrance is on Arboretum Place and the East Gate is on Inverleith Row.

What you can find at the botanic garden in Edinburgh

There are lots of areas to explore in the gardens.

To truly appreciate your surroundings, you should move through them at a relatively leisurely pace. This will allow you to see everything you want and take time to look at all the wonderful plants and trees.

If you can devote at least two hours to your visit, you will be able to fully explore this charming place.

The arboretum

There are many different areas within the botanical garden. What you see when you visit will depend on the time you have available, as well as the time of year and how this affects when different species bloom.

The garden’s website summarises the type of plants you can expect to see in different seasons.

When you visit, you can walk around the arboretum. Some of the oldest trees in the United Kingdom are here, some of which were brought to the garden’s current site from one of its previous locations.

In total, there are over 3,500 trees here.

Part of the arboretum in the Edinburgh botanical gardens
Part of the arboretum in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

The gardens

The Rock Garden has a collection of alpine plants that is one of the largest in Europe: over 5,000 which come from Europe and other places in the world, such as North America, China, and Chile. There are some beautiful flowers here, including crocuses, snowdrops, and daffodils.

In addition, there is an Alpine House which has been specifically designed to protect species that are usually found in snowy conditions in different climate zones.

The Alpine House in the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden
The Alpine House

There is also a Woodland Garden consisting of two areas.

The Upper Woodland Garden has birch, rowan, and magnolia trees. Some magnificent giant redwoods are here, which tower over the garden to a height of almost 25 metres.

The second part – the Lower Woodland Garden – is where shrubs and flowering plants can be found.

You can also see an extensive collection of rhododendrons in the gardens; this is one area of research in which the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens is heavily involved. According to the website, about half of all the known species of rhododendrons are grown here.

Blooming flowers in the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh

There is also the Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden, an 8 metre beech hedge consisting of almost 160 trees, a Biodiversity Garden, and a Demonstration Garden, “a vibrant and dynamic space dedicated to engaging people in hands-on food growing”.

The botanic garden's giant hedge
The botanic garden’s giant hedge!
One of the gardens in the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh
One of the gardens

The Chinese Hillside

The Chinese Hillside is a more recent addition to the gardens, having been opened in the late 1990s. You will find more than 1,600 Chinese plants on the hillside.

When you visit, you can wander along paths, past a stream and lake, and see Chinese pagoda and pavilions. It’s a really tranquil part of the garden and probably one of the highlights. If you’re visiting for the first time, don’t skip this lovely section.

A Chinese pavilion in the garden
A Chinese pavilion in the garden

The glasshouses

The glasshouses at the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens are a major attraction and are among the oldest in the world. There are six in total which are home to over 45,000 plants from all over the world and which thrive in different climate zones. There are also some rare and exotic species in the glasshouses.

A Victorian glasshouse at the Royal Botanic Gardens
A Victorian glasshouse at the Royal Botanic Gardens

One of the most popular ones is the Victorian Tropical Palm House. This was built in 1834 and contains the garden’s oldest palm tree. It was moved here two years after the botanic gardens moved to its Inverleith site.

There is also a Plants and People House with a giant water lily pond, a Ferns and Fossils House, and a Rainforest Riches House.

The Victorian Temperate Palm House is Britain’s tallest palm house and stands at almost 22 metres high. It maintains a temperature of 10 degrees centigrade and above to protect plants that lower temperatures could damage.

Unfortunately, as of summer 2022, it is not possible to go into the glasshouses. They are currently being restored as part of a project to protect the plant species they house. A new glasshouse will also be built.

However, even if they are still closed when you visit, it’s worth wandering over to look at these glasshouses. They are beautiful structures and a lovely addition to the gardens.

Events and exhibitions at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh

The Royal Botanic Garden hosts a diverse range of events and exhibitions throughout the year. These includes art exhibitions, daily walks around the gardens, and children’s activities such as building dens, puppet making, and booking onto a bug safari.

Some exhibitions take place in Inverleith House, which you will find in the garden not far from the West Gate entrance. Built in the 18th-century, Inverleith House now serves as the home of the Royal Botanic Garden’s director. It previously housed the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and is now used for exhibitions. 

It’s worth also wandering to the house to see the lovely statue (‘Girl’ by Reg Butler”) in the pond at the side.

he statue in the pond by Inverleith House
The statue in the pond by Inverleith House

Opening times for the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

The gardens are open every day to visitors, except for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

However, although the gardens always open at 10 am, closing times vary by season. Between March and September, the gardens stay open until 6 pm, reducing to 5 pm in October and February. Between November and January, the closing time is 4 pm.

Other information for your visit to the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens

The Botanic Gardens feature several places where you can stop for a bite to eat or a drink. There is also a shop in the visitors’ centre if you want to browse for some souvenirs.

The gardens have wheelchairs and mobility scooters, accessible toilets and can provide hearing loops and magnifying glass.

Other ideas for things to do in Edinburgh and the UK

I hope you enjoy your visit to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh as much as I did.

If you are interested in other things to do in Edinburgh, see my post on my 3 days in the city and the top things to see.

I have also written about a great whisky tasting experience I had while on my short break here.

You might also be interested in other day trips and short breaks in the UK that I have written about:

I also have a range of ideas for short breaks in Europe on my website.

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