Gardens of the world: Europe

Photo Credit: Tim Sackton on Flickr

As the weather heats up and green becomes more abundant, you might feel that itch, the itch to hit the road and experience many locations at their prime in the spring.

Europe in particular is one of the best areas to roam during the spring months. Lacking the crowds headed its way come summer, spring in Europe brings more of a peace and calm. And while you could spend all day cooped up in the continent’s museums, castles, palaces and interior spaces, Europe’s gardens just beg for exploration come springtime.

From the formal to the more wild, the gardens of Europe warrant their own vacation. Strap on your sandals and slather on the sunscreen and sniff out these appealing European gardens from England down to Portugal. 

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, England

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Photo Credit: Karen Roe on Flickr

Settled into Richmond, just 10 miles west of London, you will find easily one of Europe’s and the world’s top gardens. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew sprawl out on 300 acres of land. With over 30,000 types of plants, the gardens are a botany lover’s dream.

Spring brings plenty of magnolias, camellias and bluebells in full bloom. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew website lends updates on what is in bloom in the spring so that you can check prior to your visit and prepare. Some highlights on site include the Waterlily House, home to some of the largest water lilies in the world and the Victorian Palm House. For a bit quirkier look at the gardens, you can also explore the Royal Botanic Gardens’ Tree Top Walkway, a walkway most literally through the trees.

Giardino di Boboli, Florence, Italy

Boboli Gardens

Photo Credit: Andrey O! on Flickr

Located on the hill behind the Pitti Palace in Florence, you will unearth the Giardino di Boboli, otherwise the Boboli Gardens. Began in 1549 at the design of Niccoló Pericoli, the Boboli Gardens offer a look at one of the earliest Renaissance gardens.

A visit in the spring to the Boboli Gardens is perhaps the most idyllic time to experience the grounds, when the lawns glimmer in green and many flowers are blooming. A stroll through the Boboli lends plenty of statues and art history to comb through along with centuries old oak trees, fountains and rows and rows of cypress trees.

In the spring, you won’t want to pass up the site’s rose garden, particularly worthwhile for its bright pink roses and perfumed air. In addition to the rose garden at the Boboli, the gardens themselves provide fine views of Florence and the countryside touching toes with the city.

Where To Stay:

Keukenhof, Lisse, Netherlands


Photo Credit: Vijay Kiran on Flickr

Arguably the best garden in Europe to visit in the spring, Keukenhof will blow you away with the sheer number of blooms. You can count them not by the hundreds or thousands but rather by the millions. Dating back to the 15th century, the gardens were redesigned by 1857. By 1949, a group of growers planned to use the space as a permanent exhibition of spring-flowering bulbs.

Luckily for travelers in the spring, Keukenhof doesn’t disappoint. The garden boasts more than 7 million bulbs in bloom with a total of 800 varieties of tulips alone. A highlight from mid-March to mid May, Keukenhof claims the title as the largest flower garden in the world. You won’t just see tulips but also daffodils, hyacinths and much more. You can find the gardens right between Amsterdam and The Hague.

Chateau de Versailles Gardens, Versailles, France

Versailles Gardens

Photo Credit: Kimberly Vardeman on Flickr

Perhaps the most famous gardens in the world, the Palace of Versailles’ Gardens call for comfortable footwear and ample time to explore the impressive grounds. Spanning almost 2,000 acres, the gardens represent the ultimate example of French formal garden design.

King Louis XIV first commissioned the gardens at Versailles in 1662, tasking landscape architect Andre Le Nôtre with the job. Work on the grounds would take roughly 40 years. In the spring, visitors can appreciate blooms throughout the gardens’ geometrical flower beds. The Gardens at Versailles are also known for terraces, pools, lakes and over 40 fountains. In addition, you can expect to see 400 statues created by the most talented sculptors of the time.

The Versailles Gardens also might be the most accessible gardens for those touching down in Paris. The palace and gardens reside just 13 miles south of the city. Spring also ushers in the start of the Musical Fountains Show, celebrated each weekend generally beginning in April.

The Park and Palace of Monserrate, Sintra, Portugal

Monserrat Palace Grounds

Photo Credit: Maarten van Maanen on Flickr

Settled near Sintra, Portugal, the Park and Palace of Monserrate feels very much like walking into someone’s crazy dream. The whimsical palace boasts gothic, Indian and Moorish touches. The gardens span 30 hectares and contain one of the richest Portuguese botanical gardens.

Once you have roamed the eye popping, colorful rooms of the Monserrate Palace, you can explore the grounds and find plant species from all over the world. Much less formal than some of Europe’s other standout gardens, the space holds it all, from Mexican yuccas to Himalayan rhododendrons. All are planted according to geographical origin.

Where To Stay:

Schloss Sanssouci Gardens, Germany

Schloss Sanssouci Gardens

Photo Credit: Wolfgang Staudte on Flickr

Just 30 minutes by train from Berlin, Schloss Sanssouci stands in all its yellow glory. The palace acted as a quiet refuge in Potsdam for the Prussian king, Frederick the Great. Built between 1745 and 1747, the palace has even fallen on the good graces of UNESCO.

In addition to the palace, the grounds have become their own attraction. Covering 300 hectares, the Schloss Sanssouci Park boasts more than 230,000 plants alone. The gardens are perhaps best known for its majestic fountain at the center and the vineyard terraces. In fact, Frederick finally received his wish in recent years to be buried at the highest terrace at Schloss Sanssouci. After Frederick’s death, the French pleasure garden morphed with a 19th century landscape park, creating today a fine place to roam on a lazy afternoon. In addition to the rich plant life, you can also find over 1,000 sculptures throughout the gardens.

Rousham, Oxford, England

While most fine gardens in Europe will charge an admission and have a shiny gift shop, Rousham in Oxfordshire, England is no such garden. Proud to be privately owned and as a result, non-commercial, Rousham sits just 12 miles north of Oxford. Attached to a grand manor house from 1635, the gardens are largely the work of William Kent. Mostly unaltered since their beginnings, Rousham is particularly notable for its walled garden. In the spring, Rousham shines, but you can really visit any day of the year you like. The gardens are open every day of the year.

Where to Stay:

Villa D’Este Gardens, Tivoli, Italy

Villa D’Este Gardens

Photo Credit: M.Maselli on Flickr

Just outside of Rome in the town of Tivoli, Villa D’Este is easily the big cheese around these parts. The UNESCO World Heritage Site was commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este. While you can roam the villa, most head straight outside for the gardens.

Built in an Italian Renaissance style, the Villa D’Este Gardens feature manicured lawns, sculptures and perhaps most notably, fountains. Designed by Pirro Ligorio, the gardens fill with water including the Fountain of Neptune, the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and the Fontana dell’Organo, a fountain that plays a water assisted tune every two hours. Defined by great slopes, terraces and stairs, visiting the gardens does require a bit of a workout but the blooming roses and gargoyle-spewing fountains tend to make the aches all the more worth it.

Generalife, Granada Spain

Generalife, Granada Spain

Photo Credit: Julia Kostecka on Flickr

Framed by the impressive Moorish Alhambra palace and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, you will find Generalife, otherwise the estate and gardens of the famed UNESCO palace. Located in Granada, Spain, the Moorish gardens have become just as much of a reason to brave the crowds at the Alhambra as the palace itself. Generalife was built largely in the 13th century.

The grounds were tasked with providing relaxation and calm to the kings of the Nasrid dynasty. While you could visit the gardens for views of the Alhambra alone, the estate and its grounds are worth roaming from a design standpoint and to sniff out the countless roses and jasmines.

Monet’s Gardens, Giverny, France

Monet's Gardens

Photo Credit: jpitha on Flickr

Not only can you roam the gardens of former kings and queens in Europe, but also you can leap right into fine works of art. In the otherwise quiet village of Giverny, 50 miles outside of Paris, you will find Claude Monet’s Gardens. The famous artist lived in the home on site from 1883 until his death in 1926. Out of the grassy slope behind his home, Monet’s painted a different masterpiece, a garden.

Today throngs of tourists flock to see the dreamy water lily ponds, those very ponds that fueled some of Money’s finest paintings. In addition to the lily ponds, you can also expect to witness brilliant flowerbeds in the spring.

Your Turn…

Do you have a favorite garden to visit in Europe? Share your secret garden with us in the comments below.