Together with the Domain, the Royal Botanic Gardens form one large green oasis in the heart of Sydney along Farm Cove, between the Central Business District and the harbor.
The thirty hectare (75 acres) large Botanic Gardens is surrounded by the Domain, which acts as a buffer between the landscaped gardens and the city.
This is a very visitor-friendly park, it even has signs stating ‘please walk on the grass’. It makes the Botanic Garden a great place for picnics, but it also allows you to walk close to the many magnificent trees and plants. The gardens feature numerous plant species from Australia and abroad, displayed across a number of thematic gardens like the Palm Grove, Oriental Garden and Herb Garden.
Some of the plants are very rare, like the recently discovered Wollemi Pine – the ‘Dinosaur tree’ – and the cycads. There are also many birds and bats in the park. And there’s more than just nature: you’ll also come across some architectural attractions, including the Government House and a copy of the Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, sculpted by Walter McGill and erected here in 1870.
The Botanic Gardens are enclosed by fences and is only accessible during daytime. The Domain however, can be accessed at any time.
The Royal Botanic Gardens were founded in 1816 by Governor Macquarie as part of the governor’s domain. The appointment of the first Botanist, Charles Fraser, in 1817, marked the establishment of Australia’s oldest scientific institution. The gardens were expanded in 1830 with the construction of a sea wall, and in 1831 they were opened to the public.
Over the years, different sections of the gardens developed. One of the first was the Palm Grove, established in 1851. It is one of the world’s finest collections of palm trees, with more than 140 different species, including the cabbage tree palm, a Sydney native. Many of the gardens’ numerous fruit bats (aka flying foxes) choose a spot high up one of these palm trees.
Near the Palm Grove is the First Farm, the site of the colony’s very first cultivated farmland. In 1862 Sydney’s first zoo opened in the Botanic Gardens, but it relocated to Moore Park in 1883.
Garden Exhibition Palace
Stagnation and more gardens
The Tropical Centre, which opened in 1990, consists of two glasshouses, one shaped as a pyramid and the other one as an arc. The glasshouse in the shape of an arc is devoted to exotic plants from tropical areas around the world. The pyramidically shaped glasshouse holds Australian tropical plants.
At the eastern edge of the gardens is the National Herbarium, an important research institution which holds about a million different dried plants, including some specimens from 1770 collected by Joseph Banks, Captain Cook’s botanist.
The Botanic Gardens also feature a large pond where the many ducks and other birds are fed by tourists ignoring the request to not feed them. Some of the birds found in the park are the Sacred Ibis, the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, the White-faced Heron and the Rainbow Lorikeet.
Also on the grounds of the Royal Botanic Gardens is the Government House, the former residence of the Governor of New South Wales. The Government House grounds are open to the public. There are also architectural tours of the house, a mock castle built in 1845. Entry to the botanic gardens is free, except for the Tropical Centre.