Urban gardens are perfect places to get some fresh air on a time crunch, and luckily, Washington, DC has a lot of them. Between the groomed walkways of the National Mall to the quiet, wooded trails of the National Arboretum, this city has several beautiful green spaces to explore. We’ve compiled this list of the best gardens in DC (in our humble opinion) so you can find a great place for your next afternoon stroll.
Best Gardens in Washington, DC
US Botanical Garden
No list of gardens in DC would be complete without the ultimate Washington, DC garden: the US Botanic Garden. A walk through the Botanic Garden’s many conservatory rooms is like being transported to different parts of the world, with information about the various plants on display.
Centrally located near the US Capitol building, the Botanic Garden is a perfect spot to pair with a trip to the Smithsonian museums or during your lunch break. Featuring an indoor greenhouse with different plant ecosystems and climates, as well as outdoor gardens with more temperate plants, the US Botanical Garden is a fantastic place to surround yourself with beautiful plants.
Pro tip: This place can get insanely crowded on the weekends, so we’d recommend going during the week if you want to avoid crowds.
Opening Hours: Daily, 10 AM to 5 PM
The National Arboretum is another less-frequented gem of a park within DC’s city limits and is home to some of the nicest gardens in DC. The trails in this 446-acre urban park are beautiful and well-maintained, perfect for hikers of all levels or people who simply want to get outside for a stroll. Here, you can learn about the various trees and plants that grow natively in the DC area on one of the park’s many gardens and trails. There’s also a visitor center with more information and events throughout the year.
While the park is best known for the historic Capitol columns, there are several trails through different areas that are worth exploring on foot. To avoid the crowds, we’d recommend starting at the Capitol columns, then following the park’s trails into different areas and sections of the grounds. The Asian Collections are our favorite area, with beautiful sprawling trees and shady benches you can sit on to immerse yourself in nature or even try forest bathing.
Opening Hours: Daily, 8 AM to 5 PM
Part park, part walkway, and part garden, the Tidal Basin is one of the most iconic spots in DC. Situated between the National Mall and the Jefferson Memorial, this area is best known for being lined with cherry trees that bloom white and pink in the springtime. During other times of the year, you’ll find tourists and locals alike meandering along the waterfront here or exploring on some of the nearby paddleboat rentals. If you’re looking for a quick dose of fresh air in one of DC’s main drags, the Tidal Basin is an excellent choice.
Opening Hours: Daily, 24 hours
Smithsonian National Zoo
We recognize that this isn’t exactly a garden, but hear us out: the Smithsonian National Zoo is quite possibly the most family-friendly outdoor space in Washington, DC. With close to 400 animal species in various curated habitats spanning 163 acres of land in downtown, the Smithsonian National Zoo is a real gem of a place to spend time outdoors.
Kids love the different exhibits and learning opportunities here, and most of the pathways are accessible to strollers and wheelchairs. Because entry is free and it’s fairly centrally located, it’s an easy place to go for a couple of hours or spend the entire day.
Opening hours: Daily, 8 AM to 6 PM
Meridian Hill Park
A local favorite, Meridian Hill Park is a hilltop park near U Street with exceptional views of Washington, DC. Mixing art and nature, you can find folks boxing or playing volleyball here in the evenings next to various statues and columned walkways. While it’s not one of the “official” gardens in DC, its pretty architecture and groomed landscaping definitely give a garden-like vibe.
In addition to being a fun spot for a casual walk, there are also ample people watching opportunities here. Grab a blanket for a picnic, pick up a hula hoop or a yoga mat for some fun, or simply watch the world go by with your friendly DC neighbors.
Opening Hours: Daily, Sunrise to Sunset
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
If you’re looking for DC gardens that are a little more “off the beaten path,” head to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, which is a part of the National Parks Service. The main spectacle of this garden is the ponds, where unique aquatic plants and animals thrive. Here, you’ll often see dragonflies, butterflies, and different species of bees flitting around from flower to flower.
Summer is the season when this area thrives, with beautiful, giant water lily pads, as well as pink and white lotus and water lily blossoms. During the summer extended Saturday hours, you can visit at sunset to watch the night bloomers unfurl as the sun goes down.
In addition to the garden features, there are always guides around to answer questions and teach about the park’s flora and fauna. Because it’s a little farther out from the main drags of DC, there’s ample parking on site for visitors.
Opening Hours: Daily, 8 AM to 4 PM; (Summer Extended Hours) Saturdays, 8 AM to 8 PM
Located right next to the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, the Constitution Gardens surround a small lake with views of the Washington Monument, perfect for a mid-day stroll or a conversation with a friend. Well-maintained paths curve around the water, through shady, wooded areas that turn vibrant colors in the fall. If you want a bit of a longer walk, visit the nearby Reflecting Pool, WWII Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial.
Opening Hours: Daily, 24 hours
Dotted around the National Mall are the Smithsonian Gardens, a set of 13 public garden spaces owned and managed by the Smithsonian Institution. Ranging from formal gardens to smaller displays, the Smithsonian Gardens are easy to enjoy when you’re around the National Mall. Some of the more impressive Smithsonian Gardens include the Enid A. Haupt Garden (near the Smithsonian Castle), the Museum of Natural History’s Pollinator Garden, and the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden. You can view a map of all of the Smithsonian Gardens here.
National Sculpture Garden
One of our favorite gardens in DC to explore is the National Sculpture Garden. Situated next to its parent museum, the National Gallery of Art, this garden is home to a large fountain and several art installations from around the world. As opposed to the rest of the National Mall, which is quite busy and bustling, the Sculpture Garden feels quiet and contemplative.
Here’s one of the things that makes this place an absolute gem (in our opinion): Jazz in the Garden. Every Friday from May to July, the museum hosts local jazz artists you can watch from the garden. People from all over the DC area come with picnic blankets, snacks, and friends to enjoy music and sunshine on Friday evenings.
Opening Hours: Daily, 10 AM to 5 PM
Hillwood Estate Museum & Gardens
For outdoor enthusiasts who also love history, culture, and architecture, the Hillwood State combines all of these into one experience. The estate belonged to a prominent businesswoman, Marjorie Merriweather Post, and consists of an indoor museum featuring her home and many of her art, furniture, and more.
But we’re talking about the outdoors here, right?
Don’t worry, we’re getting there. The Hillwood Estate’s gardens are elegant and beautiful, and include a Japanese garden, various smaller gardens, and even a greenhouse with tropical plants and orchids. The entire grounds feel massive, despite being in Washington, DC, and for the garden aficionados out there, this is one you shouldn’t miss.
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 AM to 5 PM; Closed Mondays
Cost: Adults – $15 per person (discounted tickets for children, students, and seniors)
National Cathedral Bishop’s Garden
Located on the grounds of the National Cathedral is the Bishop’s Garden, a beautiful, walled garden that’s groomed and maintained by the church’s All Hallows Guild. Originally, this garden was meant to serve as a private garden for the bishop and the church staff, but was opened to the public over time. Today, it’s home to a beautifully curated set of plants and flowers, and provides a quiet respite from the city. It’s a lovely place for a stroll, and if you want to extend your walk, you can wander around Cathedral Heights and grab a bite to eat at one of the adorable local restaurants nearby.
Opening Hours: Daily, Dawn to Dusk
In nearby Montgomery County, MD, Brookside Gardens occupies 50 acres of manicured space. Here, visitors can adventure through various gardens and cultivation areas. With distinct spaces like the Azalea Garden, Children’s Garden, and Rose Garden, there’s something for every nature lover to enjoy. In addition, Brookside Gardens often hosts events and concerts at the garden for the community to come together, enjoy the scenery, and soak in the benefits of relaxing in nature.
Opening Hours: Daily, 9 AM to 5 PM
Mount Vernon Gardens
You may know Mount Vernon as the home of George Washington, but what you might not know about this historic site is that it’s got some of the most lavish gardens in the DMV region. There are four main gardens on the grounds: the Upper Garden & Greenhouse, the Lower Garden, the Botanical Garden, and the Fruit Garden. Each is home to a distinct set of plants, vegetables, and fruit trees that served its own purpose when the home was occupied by Washington.
Opening Hours: Daily, 9 AM to 4 PM (extended summer hours are 9 AM to 5 PM).
Cost: Adults – $28; Children – $15
DC’s Community Gardens
If you’d rather tend to your own garden but don’t have the space (hello DC apartment life!), a community garden could be a perfect space for you. Community gardens offer small plots in shared parks or communal spaces where you can grow flowers, vegetables, herbs, and more. We love gardening because it’s an easy, fun, and low-key way to spend time outside, and we’d strongly encourage you to join a community garden to grow your own plants and meet other gardening enthusiasts in your area.
Click here to read our list of community gardens in DC that you can join today!