It’s hard to resist a garden in full bloom, especially one sampling every color of the rainbow. While one can easily find a slew of scenic gardens and public parks in just about any city, there are a few European destinations boasting quite impressive flowerbeds this season. From larger-than-life palace grounds and artist-inspiring, free-growing shrubs to an island dedicated to wildlife, here are eight gardens definitely worth an afternoon stroll.
Mirabell Palace Gardens: Salzburg, Austria
Austria is almost synonymous with picturesque mountains and evergreen hills but don’t underestimate their flower-packed gardens. The Mirabell Palace in Salzburg underwent a complete redesign in 1689 and was renovated again in 1730. In addition to endless color, this particular palace showcases a series of statues representing Roman gods including Minerva, Venus, Juno, Jupiter, Hercules and Apollo.
Adding to its unique flair is The Dwarf Garden, a series of deformed marble statues dating back to the time of Archbishop Franz Anton Harrach. Sound of Music tour participants can revel in the fun fact that Mirabel Gardens appear in the background of the famous “Do-Re-Mi” number. The gardens are open year round although times vary depending on the day.
Alhambra and Generalife Gardens: Granada, Spain
If you plan on visiting Spain anytime soon, sticking solely to Madrid and Barcelona would be a misguided choice. While these cities are ideal for surf, sun, and shopping, Granada houses one of Europe’s most beautiful gardens. The UNESCO World Heritage Site was built during the 9th century and the garden dates back to the 13th century. Originally constructed to serve as a summer palace for Muslim emirs, the Generalife Gardens consists of fountains, pools, flowers and trees.
If the sweet-smelling roses don’t impress you, perhaps the stunning view of the Nasrid Palace and the distant mountains will. The word Generalife literally translates to “Architect’s Garden” so be prepared for some awe-inspiring design details. Tours of the Generalife Gardens go daily from 8:30am – 6pm with extended hours between March and October.
Monet’s Garden: Giverny, France
Anyone who’s seen a Monet piece can appreciate his deep aesthetic for color. Unlike the more tamed flowerbeds found in Europe’s most decadent palaces, Monet’s Garden in Giverny is much like the artist’s work – wild, lush and romantic. After all, his famous Water Lily Pond depicts these tranquil scenes of nature that Monet called home.
Adding to the garden’s complexity is its division into two contrasting parts: the Clos Normand flower garden and a water garden designed with Japanese elements. Giverny, a day trip from Paris, is in a small province that takes you back in time, allowing visitors to walk in Monet’s shoes for a day. Stop by the garden April-November between the hours of 9:30am – 6pm.
Mainau Island: Lake Constance, Germany
Far from your typical garden, Mainau Island in Germany is a colorful blur of flower gardens, a butterfly sanctuary and a palace dating back to 1853. Located near the town of Konstanz and close to the Switzerland border, Mainau Island offers the perfect view of Lake Constance. The spring season kicks off in May with the annual Orchid Show and the Sahlia Show taking place at the end of August.
Tulips take center stage in February and March, with roses beginning to blossom in late May. Make sure to stop by the Italian Rose Garden to view 500 types of roses all laid out in a geometric design complete with detailed sculptures and fountains. Mainau is accessible via boat, bus or car and there is a pedestrian bridge that leads from the parking area to the island.
Royal Botanical Gardens: Kew, London, England
A scenic ride on the Tube brings you to Kew Gardens, an impressive 300 acres of flower power. Created in 1759 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2003, Kew continues to be a top tourist attraction in London. The garden features over 38,000 species of flora and fauna so plan on spending at least a few solid hours here.
Highlights include the Queens Garden and the Aquatic Garden. Get ready for a blast of humidity as you enter the Aroid House, which features various tropical plants. Kew Gardens is open daily beginning at 9:30am – 6:30pm on weekdays and until 7:30pm on weekends.
Keukenhof Gardens: Lisse, Netherlands
It’s hard to exclude the Netherlands in a topic about gardens, as the country is typically associated with green grass and fields of never-ending color. Also known as “The Garden of Europe”, Keukenhof Gardens in nearby Lisse hosts the world’s largest flower garden with roughly seven million seeds planted each year.
Just a bus ride away from Amsterdam, Lisse is a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of big city life. The garden is open between March and May, with mid-April being the best time to visit and see the tulips. Castle Keukenhof is open year-round for visitors so even if you miss out on flower season, you can still stop by for various festivals and classical music performances taking place on the estate grounds.
Read more about Keukenhof Gardens in the spring
Kromeriz Castle Gardens: Kromeriz, Czech Republic
History buffs will hit the jackpot in Kromeriz Castle Gardens in the Czech Republic, which was previously used as a bishops and archbishops of Olomouc residence in the 17th century after the Thirty Years’ War. Originally founded in 1497, the Gothic style building with Renaissance-inspired detail was later destroyed by a Swedish army and redesigned with Baroque style architecture.
The Flower Garden hosts an array of colorful flowers, antique statues and rare species of trees and is complemented by the Chateau Garden. Awarded the prestigious title of an official UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, it serves as an accurate example of a Baroque style garden. Its original name is “Lisbosad” and it represents the turn between Italian Renaissance and French Baroque design. Stop by year round from 7am – 7 pm in the summer months and until 4 pm during the winter.
Garden of Ninfa: Cisterna di Latina, Italy
Last but certainly not least is a garden sporting a vast variety of fauna including the very rare and beautiful brown trout. Bird watchers will also find Ninfa in Italy a desirable place to visit as they try to identify all 152 species flying above their heads. The garden has an interesting history, surely adding to its appeal. It includes the remains of Ninfa, an ancient city during Roman time.
Time permitting, it’s suggested to stop by the walled garden of the fortress. It requires an additional fee but is well worth the cost. The garden of Ninfa is generally open to the public for guided tours during limited hours from April-October in an effort to protect its delicate environment. Rome is about forty miles away and most tourists use a combination of trains and taxis to get to the grounds without a hitch.
- Megan McDonough