NYC has two main botanical gardens, one in the Bronx (New York Botanical Garden), and one in Brooklyn. I’ve visited both, and while both were beautiful in their own ways, I definitely have a preference.
If you only have time to visit one, this guide will go over the main differences between the two gardens and help you make a decision.
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Overview of NYBG and BBG
New York Botanical Garden is based in the Bronx near Fordham University and the Bronx Zoo. The closest train stop is Botanical Garden on the Metro North. The Garden is open from 10am-6pm Tuesday through Sunday (and federal holidays on Monday).
Brooklyn Botanic Garden is next to Prospect Park, the Prospect Park Zoo, and the Brooklyn Museum. The closest train stop is Franklin Avenue/Botanic Garden, and lines 2-5 and S stop here. The Garden is also open from 10am-6pm Tuesday through Sunday, though it stays open late until 8:30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the summer.
Both gardens have stunning collections of flowers and other plants, including roses, native plants, cherry blossoms, edible plants, magnolias, lilacs, and more.
Reasons to Visit New York Botanical Garden
Tickets to NYBG are more expensive, but I personally think it’s well worth the money. Here are the main reasons I prefer NYBG over BBG.
1. The conservatory is more impressive.
The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory at NYBG has a stunning glass dome that houses palm trees. It’s the first thing you see when you walk in, setting an awe-inspiring atmosphere for the rest of your visit.
The different biomes in the conservatory are connected, so you walk through each one and circle back to the palm dome from the other side. There’s a two-story rainforest biome, a peaceful fountain lined with hanging plants, a cactus-filled desert biome, and more.
The conservatory at BBG was not nearly as cool. Don’t get me wrong: it was still interesting, and had several different biomes as well. But, the ceilings aren’t as tall, and the environment isn’t as well-lit. It feels kind of old and musty compared to the NYBG conservatory. The biomes are also in separate rooms all connected at the center, so it isn’t as immersive of an experience.
2. You can bring in outside food.
At New York Botanical Garden, you can bring in outside food and drink to enjoy at their picnic pavilions, or as you walk through the park. You can’t bring food and drink into the conservatory or other buildings.
At Brooklyn Botanic Garden, they don’t allow outside food and drink at all unless it’s a special picnic day. My friend was told to finish her coffee at the ticket counter, and had to do so before going in.
3. New York Botanical Garden is bigger than BBG.
NYBG is spread out over 250 acres, while BBG is only 52 acres. A good portion of this acreage (one-fifth) is actually the Thain Family Forest in the middle of the park, whose old-growth trees date back to pre-colonial times.
There are walking trails through the forest to get from one side of the park to another, and there’s also a small waterfall. To be honest, it’s not the most interesting forest, but it can be a nice, shaded walk.
4. There’s a free tram tour.
If you buy the All Garden Pass, which gives you access to the grounds and conservatory, you also get access to the Garden Tram Tour. It’s basically a hop-on, hop-off shuttle that takes you around the garden. This can be a big help since it’s so large, and walking around can get tiring.
The tram not only provides transportation, but also gives you some background on the garden and points out the highlights as you drive by.
5. There are more special exhibitions.
NYBG frequently has special exhibitions, including the orchid show, holiday train show with miniature trains, NYBG Glow (holiday lights), and other special collaborations with artists. They’ve even had Chihuly exhibitions in the past (in case you don’t know, Dale Chihuly is a renowned glass-blowing artist).
While BBG also has special exhibitions, such as their own holiday light displays called Lightscape, their events seem to be less frequent overall and not as well-known.
Reasons to Visit Brooklyn Botanic Garden
While I prefer NYBG, I still really enjoyed visiting BBG and am especially glad I visited during cherry blossom season. Here are the reasons you may want to visit BBG over NYBG.
1. Tickets are cheaper.
Admission to BBG costs $18 for adults, $12 for seniors and students with ID, and is free for kids under 12. Each day, a certain number of tickets are free to those who can’t afford them. In the winter, weekdays are pay what you wish.
NYBG is much pricier at $35 for the All-Garden Pass for adults, $31 for seniors and students with ID, and $15 for kids 2-12 years old. Those under age 2 get in free.
If you’re a NYC resident and only want access to the garden grounds of NYBG, tickets are $15 for adults, $7 for seniors and students, and $4 for kids 2-12 years old. This gives you access to the outdoor grounds only, and you won’t be able to go into the conservatory or special exhibitions, or take the tram.
On Wednesdays, grounds admission is free to everyone from 10-11am and to NYC residents all day. (This lines up with the Bronx Zoo’s free days as well, so you could visit both in one day for free; just make sure to reserve tickets for the zoo).
I highly recommend getting the All-Garden Pass if you visit NYBG because the conservatory is really a big highlight; it almost doesn’t feel worth it go to the garden just to see the grounds, even it the ticket is cheaper.
If you plan to drive to the garden, NYBG charges $22 per car for parking, while BBG charges $10-24, depending on how long you stay there (I’d say 3 hours is plenty of time, and that’s $14).
As you can see, it’s basically half the cost to visit BBG at full price. So, if you’re not looking to spend more than $20, then the BBG is the better choice.
2. The cherry blossom esplanade is breathtaking.
While both gardens have a cherry blossom section, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden has an entire cherry blossom esplanade. You’ll walk down a pathway with a canopy of pink blossoms and then see an entire grassy lawn lined with these beautiful blooms.
I’ve seen the famous cherry blossoms in Washington, DC and I actually liked the BBG esplanade better since the blossoms were pinker (these are Kanzan cherry trees) and it wasn’t as crowded (it was still bustling, but not as bad).
There are plenty of photo ops, though you may have to wait your turn to get a shot in front of the prettiest trees.
The cherry blossoms bloom in April and were peaking in mid-April when I visited, so you definitely want to time your visit right to see these.
3. You can’t miss the bonsai museum.
BBG has a world-class bonsai collection with many trees that are well over 100 years old. The bonsais on display change with the seasons, so there’s always something new to see.
You may have to line up briefly to get into the museum, which is just a small wing of the conservatory with around 15 bonsais. My friends and I got through the line in 5-10 minutes, and it was well worth the wait.
One fun fact I learned is that while bonsais are tiny, the fruit and flowers they grow are standard-sized! Also, any tree can be turned into a bonsai; “bonsai” doesn’t refer to a specific type of tree but instead the art of growing and training mini trees in containers.
4. There are more themed garden collections.
At BBG, there are unique collections such as the Shakespeare Garden, Fragrance Garden, and Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden.
The Shakespeare Garden is an English cottage-style garden full of plants mentioned in the author’s works.
The Fragrance Garden was developed with accessibility mind. The plants are grown in raised beds to accommodate people in wheelchairs and children. There are also Braille labels, scented flowers and leaves, and plants meant to be touched.
The Japanese Hill-and-Point Garden has a Shinto shrine, wooden bridges, Japanese maples, and cherry blossoms. It was still kind of bare when we visited in April, but I bet it looks the best in the fall when the maples change colors.
5. The surrounding area is more interesting.
The New York Botanical Garden is in the middle of the Bronx, which is not the most exciting or the nicest area. I have nothing against the Bronx—I’ve spent a lot of time there, and parts of it have definitely grown on me, but it’s not a place I’d recommend to tourists, nor a place where I really want to hang out.
The area main entrance of NYBG is near Fordham University and a very loud part of the Bronx (because of traffic). There’s lots of big box stores and some chain restaurants. You can’t even visit Fordham grounds as of April 2023; my brother and I tried, but we were turned away since we weren’t students there.
On the flip side, Brooklyn Botanic Garden is close to Prospect Heights and Crown Heights in Brooklyn. It’s quieter and quaint, and there are lots of local restaurants, cafes, and shops. My friends and I ate at Luanne’s Wild Ginger (vegan Asian fusion) and got coffee/dessert at Cafe con libros (Black-owned coffeeshop and bookstore).
If you want to make your outing to the garden an entire afternoon or day trip with a meal, I would recommend BBG over NYBG.
Should You Visit Both Gardens?
I really enjoyed visiting both NYBG and BBG. I definitely prefer the conservatory at New York Botanical Garden, but Brooklyn Botanic Garden is in a nicer neighborhood, and the cherry blossom esplanade is really impressive.
If you like botanical gardens, I would recommend visiting both. But, if you’re a tourist and only have time to visit one, I would recommend BBG since it’s in a more accessible and fun area (even though I prefer NYBG between the two gardens).
I actually became a member of NYBG since you get free reciprocal entry to botanical gardens across the country (this is not an affiliate link, just a cool program I think you should know about). I joined with a friend, and at $125 total for a dual membership, I figured my half would pay itself back after just visiting 3-4 gardens. You get free reciprocal admissions if you’re a member of any participating garden (including BBG, which has slightly cheaper fees), but if you want to visit NYBG, they only give you reciprocal entry to the grounds and not the conservatory.
In 3 months, I’ve visited NYBG twice and BBG once, and I’ve also been to botanic gardens in Phoenix and New Orleans for free. So, my membership has already paid itself back (and then some).
If you plan to go to NYBG, you can purchase tickets on GetYourGuide if you found this post helpful and want to use my affiliate link.
Feel free to leave any questions in the comments, and let us know what you thought after you visit!
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