Just a few days before we moved out of Pennsylvania three years ago, we stopped by Longwood Gardens and had a really nice time. So nice that we decided to go back this past Spring. Once named best botanical garden in the United States by USA Today, this garden gives you plenty of reasons to plan out a day here for yourself or the entire family. There is so much to see, from the insane number of plants and flowers to the gorgeous architecture like the conservatory and the fountains. If you’re looking to get out into nature, but remain in a controlled environment, visiting Longwood Gardens will be the perfect day trip.
A Little Background
It’s nice to know a little bit about the origins of this amazing place before you’re visiting Longwood Gardens. Once inhabited by the native Lenni Lenape tribe, and then local Quakers, Longwood Gardens as we know it wasn’t truly started until the land was bought by an entrepreneur names Pierre Du Pont. Some of the most popular areas in the gardens like the Flower Garden Walk and the Open Air Theatre, were created by him in the early 1900’s. Then in the 1920’s he opened up the conservatory using the latest technology of the time period to heat, water and power the complex. The expansions that came from his initial creations and contributions have turned into what is now the over-1,077-acre-large Longwood Gardens.
The staff at Longwood Gardens is extremely knowledgeable and willing to teach you more about the history of the gardens or information on any of the plants if you’re interested!
Read more about the history here .
Planning Your Visit
With over 1,000 acres to tour, this is definitely a place you can stay at all day. They open at 9 am, so if you can’t get there around then I’d suggest going at a time that gives you at least 6 hours to explore. We felt like we got to see everything in that time, while walking at a leisurely pace and also stopping for lunch.
The admissions price is a little steep at $23 for an adult, so you might as well get your money’s worth and make a day of it. The gardens are huge, and if you explore it in its entirety, you’ll need at least those 6 hours, probably more if you have kids.
When you’re planning your trip, there are a few things you should think about. A large majority of the gardens are outdoors so make sure the weather will be good for a day of outdoor walking. Both rain and extreme heat can make it a miserable day that has to be cut short. Also, If there is a plant you’re dying to see but are unsure if it’s in season, you can check the What’s in Bloom section on the Longwood Gardens’ website to be sure it’ll be there on your trip.
Though going any day of the week will be great, you’ll have a more quiet experience by not going on the weekend. I went on a Tuesday and was pleased that it wasn’t overcrowded. Or maybe I just got lucky. Who knows.
The gardens also hold a variety of nightly events. Their Illuminated Fountain Performance, which takes place on select nights, is a 30-minute light and fountain performance, accompanied by music. They have firework and fountain shows as well, and live music in the beer garden too. These are not daily events and often require a separate ticket than the standard garden ticket, so if you want to have a jam packed garden day, make sure to plan ahead by checking the schedule and purchasing the necessary tickets.
Visiting the Gardens
When you walk in, they give you a free map that folds up into a pocket-sized guide. Take the map. Use the map. With it being such a large garden, It’s easy to miss areas if you don’t refer to the map every once in a while. I’ll confess to having missed whole sections the first time I was visiting Longwood Gardens, so don’t be like me.
They have two primary eating options at the gardens: 1906 and the Café. 1906 is a classy joint/sit down restaurant, so if you’re going on a date and want to be fancy go there. They usually require a reservation so come prepared by calling ahead. The other option is the Cafe, which is where I ate both times I visited. They have more affordable options, casual seating, and a variety of foods to pick from. Soup, salad, sandwiches, kid food, desserts, all on the menu here.
Don’t Miss Out
It’s easy to get stuck in places like the Main Fountain Garden or the Main Conservatory. That’s where the most people are, taking pictures of every flower and gawking at things that should be gawked at. But one underrated part of the gardens is the Meadow Garden. Though I’m sure a lot of people go, it didn’t feel as obvious of an attraction as the rest of the gardens.
When we first came here 3 years ago, we got to the meadow garden section of Longwood and continued on the path to the left that takes you back to the more popular areas of the gardens. Big mistake. Huge! Our more recent trip was better because we took that detour to the right. There really is so much to be impressed with when you’re there, and exploring the meadows feels like a a peaceful hidden oasis.
When you follow the path into the field, there are a few miles of different trails to walk. Walking through this area felt like a scene right out of Pride and Prejudice. When we went in the late spring, we only saw a handful of other people out there during our hike. While much of the Longwood Gardens feels intentional and man-made, it was nice to escape that setting for a while and enter this peaceful meadow. No need to pack gear or anything for this hike, though bringing a water bottle is probably a good idea. The path is doable for all ages and as long as you don’t have heels on, you’ll make it through.
The biggest loop, the Outer Meadow trail, is a 1.7 mile roundtrip hike with varied mild terrain, that takes you through the historic grounds and past the Webb Farmhouse. They also have smaller routes like the East Meadow Hike (1 mile) and the meadow valley walk (3/4 mile). We did them all and would gladly do it again!
There is no way to have a bad time when you’re visiting Longwood Gardens. Get off your feet every once in a while and take it all in. There are benches and lawns all around for you to people-watch and relax. Whether you stay for a short while or the entire day, it’ll be a day to remember. On your way out, be sure to stop at the gift shop where you can buy cool artsy souvenirs or a plant to start your own garden at home!
If your planning to spend more than one day in the area, try checking out some things in Philadelphia, like their bookstores or the Eastern State Penitentiary!