University of Bristol Botanic Garden: Bristol’s best keep secret

Bristol Botanic Garden

Psst – I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Tucked away in the leafy suburb of Stoke Bishop, near The Downs, is one of Bristol’s best hidden gems. The University of Bristol Botanic Garden is an idyllic oasis of calm and the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a couple of hours.

Opening hours and tickets

Bristol Botanic Garden is open daily between 10am to 4:30pm (except for December and January, when the gardens close every weekend). The cafe is open between 11am to 4pm and is the perfect spot to take a break and smell the roses, so to speak!

I’d recommend allowing at least 1-2 hours for your visit, as this is the sort of place you’ll want to potter around and not feel too rushed.

Ticket prices:

Adults – £6.60 (includes optional 60p Gift Aid donation for UK taxpayers)
Children under 18 – Free
Members (Friends of the Garden) – Free
University of Bristol students and staff – Free

Bristol Botanic Gardens house

About Bristol Botanic Gardens

The University of Bristol Botanic Garden was established in 1882 and moved to different locations around the city before settling at Stoke Bishop, near to the University campus and student halls of residence, in 2005. Today, the site is bursting with colourful blooms, perfectly sculpted flowerbeds and rare tropical plant collections.

Events and workshops:

Between 31st August – 1st September, the Botanic Garden will celebrate its 10th annual Bee and Pollination Festival (and yes, it is every bit as lovely as it sounds!) This year’s programme includes live beekeeping demonstrations, honey cake tasting and plenty of expert talks and exhibitions. Admission is £8.80 and tickets can be bought from the Welcome Lodge at the entrance.

There are plenty of events and workshops throughout the rest of the year to keep visitors entertained, from guided herb walks to twilight photography courses. The Curator also leads monthly guided tours that you can book on to. Check out the full schedule of what’s on here.

Bristol Botanic Garden bees

What to see and do at the Bristol Botanic Garden

As you enter, you’ll arrive at the Welcome Lodge, where you can buy your tickets and pick up a map to help you plan your visit. From here, head for the path that circles around the reflective pool, admiring the beautiful Victorian mansion as you go (more on that later!)

Here you’ll find the rare native plant collection, including some of the South West’s most threatened species. Be sure to look out for some busy bees at work in their little wooden houses!

Bristol Botanic Garden

Bristol Botanic Garden

 Bristol Botanic Garden bees

Next, you’ll enter through a traditional “moon-gate” into the peaceful Chinese Herb Garden, where you’ll find the largest collection of traditional Chinese medicinal herbs in the UK. In the summer, you can also spot sacred lotus and beautiful tiger lilies.

Bristol Botanic Garden

Bristol Botanic Garden Chinese garden

Bristol Botanic Garden Chinese garden

Bristol Botanic Garden

On leaving the Chinese Herb Garden, you’ll enter the Evolution Collection, which tells the story of plant evolution through a rare collection of prehistoric plants. The wild palm trees and exotic vegetation give the impression that you’ve been transported to some kind of tropical island (or Jurassic Park, judging by the dinosaurs peeping out at you from the trees…)

Keep your eye out for the spotted woodpecker feeding station – we didn’t spot any woodpeckers during our visit but you might just hear one tapping away, if you’re lucky.

University of Bristol Botanic Garden-19

Bristol Botanic Garden dinosaur

Next up, is the Mediterranean collection, where you’ll find bursts of colourful blooms from around the world. This is one of the prettiest and most fragrant parts of the garden, with vibrant flowers everywhere you look.

From here, you’ll also be able to spot the traditional thatched African rondavel – new to the Garden in May 2019. Inside the rondavel, you’ll find information about its construction and the South African flora surrounding you.

Bristol Botanic Gardens

Make your way towards the circular Western Herb Garden, where you can learn all about which plants are used to treat different parts of the body. This whole area is buzzing with bees, making it one of the liveliest sections of the Garden!

Bristol Botanic Garden Western Herb Garden

Bristol Botanic Gardens bee

You’ll get a much better look at The Holmes from here – the grand Victorian manor house, which provides the dramatic backdrop to the Botanic Garden. Today, it serves as accommodation for some very lucky university students. But this building has a rich history – back in 1943, it was used as a military base for the US army when planning the D-Day landings.

Although the main building is closed to the public, the traditional Devers Rooms and front terrace serves as a cafe with gorgeous pond-side views and a wide selection of food and drinks, provided by none other than the wonderful Chandos Deli.

Bristol Botanic Garden

Bristol Botanic Garden University Holmes

Bristol Botanic Garden Holmes

Make your final stop the Glasshouses, which are divided into four climatic zones and are bursting with tropical plants, towering cacti and succulents. Look out for the colourful orchids and heart-shaped Giant Amazon Water Lilies – one of the highlights of the whole collection.

Bristol Botanic Gardens cacti

Bristol Botanic Gardens

Bristol Botanic Garden

Bristol Botanic Gardens lillies

Whether you’re visiting Bristol for the first time or are a local, born and bred, the University of Bristol Botanic Gardens are an absolute must-visit in the city and the perfect place to lose yourself for a couple of hours.

Looking for other things to do in Bristol and the South West? Check out my guides to visiting Brunel’s SS Great Britain, the National Trust’s Tyntesfield and Somerset Lavender Farm.

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