10 Secret Gardens in the Middle of Major Cities

View to Sydney Harbour Bridge and the harbour from Wendy's Secret Garden, a waterfront garden filled with lush green plants, palm trees, and large shade trees
Wendy’s Secret Garden is a tranquil spot filled with lush plants and trees to take in Sydney Harbour and Sydney Harbour Bridge.

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Gardens are natural spaces that provide a sense of calm in an otherwise hectic environment. While many cities have large, well-known parks and gardens, it’s especially wonderful to discover a hidden gem, a secret garden in a busy city.

Some of the most interesting urban gardens are found in unexpected places: on top of a public building, in the middle of a commercial district, or in the terminal of one of the world’s busiest airports. The best thing about these not-so-well-known green spaces is that you may have them all to yourself.

Here are 10 secret gardens worth exploring in the middle of major cities.

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Butterfly Garden at Changi Airport (Singapore)

a curved glass window, lush greenery ,and ferns of the Butterfly Garden of Singapore Changi Airport

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Singapore's Changi Airport has earned high marks from travelers for its amenities, design, and pleasant atmosphere. But unlike most modern hubs, Changi's airport offers options beyond food and retail. The airport has a variety of attractions, including multiple gardens. One of the most interesting of these spaces is a butterfly garden with more than 1,000 winged residents representing 40 different species.

The colorful insects are located in Terminal 3, and the garden is limited to airport passengers. Though it's inside the airport, the garden has an open-air design with nets instead of solid walls. This means garden visitors are exposed to the outside airport noise in the background. Other natural spaces in Changi's airport include a koi pond in Terminal 3, orchid and sunflower gardens in Terminal 2, and water lily and cactus gardens in Terminal 1.

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Garden of the Prince of Anglona (Spain)

natural archway over a brick path surrounded by tall trees and low, green hedges in the Garden of the Prince of Angola

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The Garden of the Prince of Anglona, translated from the Spanish "Jardín del Príncipe de Anglona," is located near the Plaza de la Paja in the center of Madrid. This historic garden was restored at the beginning of the 20th century, but it retains its neoclassical style with brick pathways, manicured shrubs, and classic benches. 

Barriers and hedges mean the garden is difficult to notice from outside, even though it's right next to the busy Calle de Segovia. The space is relatively small, so this is a destination for sitting on a bench and relaxing, not for a lengthy stroll. The hedges, fountain, and aromatic fruit trees provide a buffer from the noise of downtown Madrid.

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St. Dunstan in the East Church Garden (London)

the ruins of St Dunstan-in-the-East Church covered in green plants and vines and a green lawn

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Located on the grounds of a historic church that was severely damaged during World War II, St. Dunstan in the East Church Garden is a historic property in London. Only the steeple and some exterior walls remain of the building that was constructed around the year 1,100 C.E. In 1950, the city designated the remaining structure as a Grade I Historic Building, which prevents the property from being destroyed. In 1967, the city turned the grounds into a public garden. 

The remaining walls surround lawns, trees, a fountain, and climbing ivy. St. Dunstan is located on a quiet street, but it's only a short walk from major attractions like the Tower of London. This peaceful, ivy-covered park draws a crowd on sunny days when office workers from the nearby buildings come to eat lunch. At most other times, however, it's a quiet place to get away.

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University of Warsaw Library Gardens (Warsaw)

View of a garden at the University of Warsaw library on a sunny day, with a greenhouse, green plants, a brick path, and a green lawn; the city of Warsaw in the distance

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This public garden surrounds the library at the University of Warsaw, though most of it sits on the building's roof. This surprisingly large green space stretches for nearly 2.5 acres, making it one of Europe’s largest roof gardens. The garden has a fish pond, pathways, sculptures, fountains, and streams with footbridges. The design features two levels: a smaller upper section and a larger lower section that holds a majority of the garden’s water features and art installations.

First opened in 2002, this is not a classical walled secret garden. Most visitors are students taking a break from studying in the library below and locals who come to relax, picnic, or enjoy one of the events that are regularly hosted in the garden. One other reason to visit this elevated natural attraction is that it's high enough that you can enjoy views of River Vistula and Warsaw.

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The Cloisters (New York City)

A path through a colorful garden of red, yellow, and green low plants with tall, full green trees in the distance and a blue sky streaked with white clouds

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Located within Fort Tryon Park with views of the Hudson River, The Cloisters is located in Upper Manhattan. Founded by John D. Rockefeller, this four-acre museum features art, architecture, and gardens inspired by the medieval era. The gardens, which are surrounded by architecture with period elements, pay tribute to the Middle Ages. Horticulturalists tend plants that grew in the 13th and 14th centuries using techniques from that era.

The space is run by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and has artwork and artifacts, such as paintings, stained glass, and illuminated manuscripts. This lesser-known New York City attraction is about nine miles north of midtown Manhattan, so crowds are often light. The enclosed nature of the gardens also adds to the peaceful atmosphere. There is a charge for admission, which includes entry to the museum.

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Fay Park (San Francisco)

A white railing flanked by two white gazebos surrounded by flowering plants and large, green shade trees at Fay Park

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Fay Park, a modest park in the Russian Hill area of San Francisco, has three levels that are connected by walkways and stairs. Designed by well-known landscape architect Thomas Church in 1957, the former owner willed the gardens to the city in the late 1990s. The city completed renovations and opened the gardens to the public in 2006. 

The park’s gazebos are a popular location for wedding photos and events, but the garden isn't well known to tourists. Fay is laid out like a formal garden with ornamental plants and installations. The adjacent house, which was inspired by Victorian-era architecture, dates back to 1912. The home is not open to the public, but the exterior is one of the elements that gives the park the feel of a backyard garden.

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Wendy's Secret Garden (Sydney)

natural walking path leading into Wendy's Secret Garden with a rustic handrail made of branches surrounded by tall, lush vegetation with burgundy, green, and red plants on both sides of the path

Teresa Parker / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The garden, created by Sydney resident Wendy Whiteley, is not as secret as it once was, but its foliage, views of Sydney and its harbor, and the story of its creator make it a worthwhile place to visit. Whiteley started the garden in an abandoned train yard in 1992 after her ex-husband, who she was still close to, passed away. She built it up over the years and added paths up the hillside. The land on which the garden is located is owned by the state. In 2015, the North Sydney Council was granted a 30-year lease with a 30-year option to allow the garden to continue to operate. 

Whiteley's late ex-husband was a highly acclaimed artist, and other Sydney artists have contributed to the ongoing development of the garden with sculptures and other installations. The garden and property received NSW State Heritage protection and was added to the National Trust Register in 2018.

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Addison's Walk (Oxford)

a tree-lined path covered with leaves with green-, yellow-, and red-leaved trees along both sides of the path

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Addison's Walk, a mile-long green space surrounded by the River Cherwell, is well-known to people in Oxford, England. British author C.S. Lewis was so impressed by the trail around a meadow on the Magdalen College campus that he wrote a poem, “What the Bird Said Early in the Year,” about it. The walk was named after writer and Magdalen fellow Joseph Addison, who also liked to stroll through the area in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Much of the walk is shaded by trees. Animals, including birds, deer, otters, and badgers, live in the surrounding natural habitat. This might not be a hidden garden to people who live, work, and study in the area, but despite being close to Oxford’s famed High Street, it requires passing under an arch, through a cloister, and over a bridge to get to the walk.

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Dunbar's Close (Edinburgh)

Paths through Dunbar's Close Garden, an orderly garden with small, green ground cover lining plant beds filled with larger green plants and tall shaped bushes with a wood trellis and a small church in the distance

Sir Gawain / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Dunbar’s Close is a formal garden in Edinburgh, Scotland. Designed to resemble 17th-century gardens, Dunbar’s is a classical knot-style garden of neatly trimmed hedges within square planting areas. The walled garden retains its layout with gravel paths, ornamental flowers, shade-giving trees, and gravel and paving-stone walkways. The space was given to the city by a private trust. It was renovated in the 1970s and has been a public space ever since.

To reach this .75-acre oasis in the heart of the city, you have to pass through an entryway between shops on Edinburgh's famous Royal Mile. The Royal Mile has 80 closes, which are narrow lanes off the main thoroughfare, so choosing the right one might not be as easy as you’d expect.  Some locals come here, and it is a stop for tourists on walking tours, but it's often uncrowded because of the obscure entrance point.

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La Petite Ceinture (Paris)

An abandoned portion of the train track next to a walking a path, and tall green trees that makes up Petite Ceinture in Pari,

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This ingenious green space in Paris evolved from a former railway line. La Petite Ceinture, or The Little Belt in French, is a 20-mile-long rail track circling the city that is no longer fully utilized for its original purpose. Sections of the unused portions of this greenbelt—in the 14th through 20th arrondissements—are accessible to everyone. Trees, vines, wildflowers, and other plants have obscured many of the manmade structures that dominated these corridors. Some areas are also covered with street art.

Part of the allure of this secret garden is that the tracks are still visible, and the property is owned by the SNCF Réseau National Rail Network. Portions of the line are closed for safety reasons, and some long tunnels are blocked off, so the entire line is not accessible to the public.