10 Most Beautiful Conservatories Around the Globe

Indoor conservatory with tall trees
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Step inside a greenhouse and you can find tropical plants thriving in places with six-month-long winters and desert florae growing sturdily in cities where it rains every day. More-utilitarian greenhouses give farmers and gardeners a head start on growing season. That may be their most important job, but it is the ornate public conservatories, built from the Victorian era onward, that capture the imagination.

Indoor gardens from the 19th century are still popular today, and new greenhouses are being built, some with modern architecture and others that faithfully recreate the look and feel of their 1800s predecessors. As long as people still think there is something magical about stepping out of their everyday surroundings and into an exotic natural world, greenhouses will be in vogue.

Here are 10 of the most attractive public conservatories in the world.

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Kew Gardens, London

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Situated in the London borough of Richmond upon Thames, the Kew Gardens boast more than 30,000 different plant types and three main conservatories. Two are from the Victorian era. The Palm House, built in the 1840s, focuses on tropical foliage. The younger Temperate House (built between 1859 and 1898) is the largest remaining Victorian-era glasshouse in the world in terms of area.

A third, more-modern glasshouse, the Princess of Wales Conservatory, was opened by (and named for) Princess Diana in the 1980s. It features 10 computer-controlled micro-climates, each with its own species of plants. Kew also has a waterlily greenhouse, one of the oldest glasshouses on the property, and a recently built alpine house where plants from higher elevations grow in tightly controlled conditions.

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Muttart Conservatory, Edmonton

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Edmonton’s Muttart Conservatory, located near the Canadian city’s core, is an iconic part of the city’s skyline with four pyramid-shaped glasshouses. Each of the buildings has its own theme. The Temperate Pyramid has plants from the Great Lakes region, but also from other temperate areas such as non-tropical Australia and alpine Asia. The Arid Pyramid has plants from deserts on five different continents, while the Tropical Pyramid features rainforest plants and grasses, tropical evergreens and a waterfall.

The fourth pyramid hosts seasonal exhibitions that change every few months. The glasshouses, opened in 1976, are operated by the city of Edmonton. They are a popular attraction for city residents, and are known for hosting weddings and special events (as well as offering an escape from the northern latitude weather). The entire property was renovated a decade ago to the tune of more than $6 million.

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Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

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In most of the world, conservatories are built to grow tropical plants in colder climates. In hot-and-humid Southeast Asia, tropical foliage doesn't need that protection. Instead, the two conservatories in Singapore’s futuristic Gardens by the Bay are cooled, not heated. The Cloud Forest and Flower Dome are oversized glasshouses with architecture that is often likened to seashells sticking out of the sand.

The three-acre Flower Dome features seven gardens that are mostly populated with flowers from semi-arid regions such as the Mediterranean. The misty Cloud Forest, meanwhile, mimics conditions in tropical mountains over 3,300 feet in elevation. This conservatory is smaller in area, but has different levels, each with its own set of plant species and theme. It also boasts the world’s tallest indoor waterfall.

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Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, New York Botanical Garden

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The Victorian-style Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the largest one of its era in the country, is in the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. The greenhouse was built in 1902 after Botanical Garden founders Nathaniel and Elizabeth Britton were inspired by a visit to England’s Kew Gardens. It was actually slated for demolition in the 1970s, but was saved by its current namesake, Enid Haupt, a philanthropist who contributed million of dollars for renovations and to establish a foundation for future funding.

The conservatory hosts seasonal events such as an orchid show and holiday exhibits. These happenings, along with permanent gardens, are housed in 11 pavilions arranged around a central dome-like structure called the Palm House. Aside from its themed shows, Haupt is known for its palm collection, tropical gardens, cacti exhibits, aquatic habitats and carnivorous plants.

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Bicentennial Conservatory, Adelaide

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The Bicentennial Conservatory is one of three greenhouses inside the Adelaide Botanical Garden in Australia. The Palm House is a Victorian-era glasshouse imported from Germany in the 19th century, while the Amazon Waterlily Pavilion was built in 2007 to house its namesake plants in modern, energy-efficient surroundings. The Bicentennial Conservatory is the headliner of the garden thanks to its size and unique curved shape. At its highest point, it is 27 meters (88.5 feet) tall. The distinctive building has earned praise for its architectural design. As its name suggests, it was built in 1988 to celebrate Australia’s 200th year.

The conservatory houses plants from regions around Oceania, some of which are endangered in their natural habitats. The garden’s administrators made major changes in 2012 when they decided to turn off the climate controls in order to reduce the budget and the conservatory's carbon footprint. Although controversial, the decision also meant that the conservatory could drop admission charges. Visitors can now enter for free.

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Schönbrunn Palm House, Vienna

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Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace used to be a summer residence for rulers of the Holy Roman Empire. The palace and gardens have been a major tourist destination since the 1950s. The Palmenhaus (Palm House) is one of four greenhouses on the property. Built between 1880 and 1882, the building has three separate zones, a “cold” house, a temperate zone and a tropical pavilion or hothouse. Its steel frame structure contains 45,000 windows, the largest glasshouse in Europe.

The Palm House has 4,500 different plant species, making it also one of the larger classical botanic gardens in the world. Some of the highlights (aside from the architecture itself) include a 350-year-old olive tree that was a gift from Spain, a collection of rare palms and a Coco de Mer tree that has flowers that only bloom once every few decades.

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Copenhagen Botanical Gardens

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The Copenhagen Botanical Garden is home to one of the world’s largest collections of greenhouses — 27 in all. The headliner is a 32,000-square-foot conservatory centered around a Palm House. The vaulted ceiling covers a variety of trees, including some that are a century old and one palm that was planted in 1824. A stairway leads to an elevated viewing platform near the top of the 14-meter (46-foot) Palm House.

The gardens, which are part of the University of Copenhagen, include glasshouses with cacti, orchids and other plant species. There is even an artificially cooled building that houses plant life from the Arctic.

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Eden Project, Cornwall

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The Eden Project is very different from classic glasshouses and even from other modern conservatories. Located in Cornwall, England, it consists of domed structures that contain two different biomes. Visitors sometimes compare the exterior appearance of these buildings to bubble wrap because of the raised hexagonal thermoplastic windows that cover the domes. Sculptures, including a giant bee and an “Eve” sculpture made out of local clay with a mirror-ball-like face, give the property an offbeat feel.

Despite its whimsical appearance, Eden is well designed. The Rainforest Biome features a canopy walk and habitats from tropical locations around the world. Agricultural plants like coffee, bananas, pineapple, rice, bamboo and rubber live here, while tropical birds fly overhead. The Mediterranean Biome has gardens and vineyards from its namesake region as well as plants from Australia, California and South Africa. Eden gets much of its water for irrigation by collecting rainfall.

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Conservatory of Flowers, San Francisco

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Most classical greenhouses have metal frames. Part of the beauty of the Conservatory of Flowers comes from its durable wood skeleton. In fact, it is considered one of the oldest remaining greenhouses of this type in the country (and it is the oldest wood-based municipal greenhouse in the United States). Though it was damaged by fires, storms and a boiler explosion during its history, the 1870s structure was able to withstand earthquakes, including the Great Quake in 1906. A major restoration project was completed in 2003.

Today the conservatory, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has a variety of rare plants, with both lowland and highland tropical exhibits and aquatic gardens. The venue also hosts seasonal events and temporary garden exhibits.