Best glasshouses to visit in the UK

Sample tropical floral delights from around the globe with a day out to one of the UK's best glasshouses, greenhouses and biomes.

Greenhouse at Down House in Kent, the home of Charles Darwin and where he worked on his book On the Origin of Species.

All across the UK, country gardens and estates, great parks and public spaces, and grand stately homes present us with spectacular displays of flowers, shrubs and trees. There are an almost endless number to choose from, each with its own particular lure.

Advertisement

One such attraction is the glasshouse, greenhouse or, in more modern times, biomes. These fragile and historic structures have been an obsession for British gardeners, scientists, plant collectors and horticulturalist for centuries, housing exotic specimens that wouldn’t survive our cool winters and unpredictable summers if not for the protective glass.

There are hundreds throughout the UK. Some private of course, but others are open to the public, occasionally free of charge, presenting a host of exciting options for garden visits no matter what time of year.

We’ve picked a few of our favourites, from the awesome biomes of the Eden Project in Cornwall to Dawrin’s family home in Kent, where his humble greenhouse still stands.

Top 7 glasshouses to visit in the UK

1. Logan Conservatory, Logan Botanic Garden, Dumfries and Galloway

Logan Conservatory, Logan Botanic Garden, Scotland
Logan Conservatory, Logan Botanic Garden, Scotland/Credit: Geograph

Built less than 10 years ago, the Victorian-styled Logan Conservatory was the first public glasshouse in the UK to be heated by green energy sources. Its solar panels and air-source heat pumps maintain a temperature of 18°C – perfect for the South African plants within. £7.50 per adult. rbge.org.uk/visit/logan-botanic-garden

2. Wisley Glasshouse, RHS Garden Wisley , Surrey

Glasshouse at RHS Garden, Wisley, Surrey
Glasshouse at RHS Garden, Wisley, Surrey/Credit: Alamy

There are three climatic zones to explore in Wisley’s 12-metre-high glasshouse: tropical, moist temperate and dry temperate. The steamy tropical area is filled with bananas, bromeliads and climbers. In the moist temperate zone you’ll find giant ferns and epiphytes, while in the dry zone, desert cacti thrive. £15.70 per adult. rhs.org.uk/gardens/wisley

3. Rainforest Biome, The Eden Project, Cornwall

Eden Project, Cornwall
Eden Project, Cornwall/Credit: Alamy

The stunning Rainforest Biome at the Eden Project is so big that it takes most visitors one-and-a-half hours to navigate its raised walkways and under-canopy paths. The planting replicates four of the world’s rainforest environments: tropical islands, South East Asia, West Africa and tropical South America. Be prepared to share your experience with the resident roul-roul partridges and Sulawesi white-eye birds. £32.50 per adult. edenproject.com

4. Great Glasshouse, National Botanic Garden of Wales, Carmarthenshire

National Botanic Garden of Wales
National Botanic Garden of Wales/Credit: Getty

Designed by Norman Foster and Partners, the Great Glasshouse here is the largest single-span glasshouse in the world. This great dome is also home to the largest collection of Mediterranean plants in the northern hemisphere. The landscape, designed by Kathryn Gustafson, combines rocky terraces, sandstone cliffs and gravelled scree slopes. £12.50 per adult. botanicgarden.wales

5. The Winter Garden, Sheffield 

Winter Garden, Sheffield
Winter Garden, Sheffield/Credit: Getty

At 70 metres long and 22 metres high, this oasis in the heart of Sheffield is Europe’s largest urban glasshouse. Built from sustainable larch, it’s home to more than 2,500 plants from all corners of the world. The Winter Garden is a public space, free to access, and even has independent shops and a café within its glass walls. theoutdoorcity.co.uk/sheffield-city-life/attractions/sheffield-winter-garden

6. Palm House Conservatory, Belfast Botanic Gardens, Belfast

Palm House Conservatory, Belfast Botanic Gardens, Belfast
Palm House Conservatory, Belfast Botanic Gardens, Belfast/Credit: Getty

The foundation stone for Belfast Botanic Gardens’ iconic Palm House Conservatory was laid in 1839. Built by master engineer Richard Turner of Dublin, it’s one of the earliest examples of a curvilinear cast-iron glasshouse in the world. Two wings – cool and tropical – house an international cast of plants. Entry is free. visitbelfast.com/partners/botanic-gardens

7. Darwin’s Greenhouse, Down House, Kent

Greenhouse at Down House in Kent, the home of Charles Darwin and where he worked on his book On the Origin of Species.
Greenhouse at Down House in Kent, the home of Charles Darwin and where he worked on his book On the Origin of Species/Credit: Alamy
Advertisement

Darwin was the first person to scientifically prove that insectivorous plants digest insects to gain nutrients, rather than pulling nutrition up through their roots from the ground. His Kent home, and in particular his greenhouse, is testament to this, housing a superb collection of sundews, on which most of Darwin’s work was based. There’s also a selection of climbing plants to see. £17 per adult. english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/home-of-charles-darwin-down-house