The New York Botanical Garden is one of my favorite places to visit. My family lives less than an hour from the Bronx and it’s a pretty drive on the parkways. The 250 acre campus was created in 1891 and has over one million planets, 30,000 trees, and over four million specimens on site. They have dozens of classes, workshops, field trips, family events, summer camps, and even college degrees; the fall 2017 catalog is 55 pages! There is so.much.to.do for every age and interest; the Saturday morning bird watching walks are especially popular.
We purchased a family membership four years ago and we visit at least once a season (yes, it is beautiful to visit during the winter!). The children always enjoy visiting, and the entire campus is stroller friendly (they will ask you to leave stroller outside at some buildings). Plus, they do a nice job of having plenty of clean restrooms spread throughout The Garden. The grounds are accessible by train, local buses, and car- there is a good size parking lot and a garage not too far away. You'll notice my photos span the past 5 year when we started visiting.
My favorite times of year to visit include:
November- January: The Holiday Train show, held in the Haupt Conservatory. It’s truly magical for all ages. By far, this is one of my family's most favorite holiday activities. There are dozens of trains spread throughout the Conservatory ( it’s warm inside). It gets super crowded, especially on the weekends in December, so we actually wait to go after the New Year. We’ve found it to be less crowded (especially because we go first thing when they open) and it’s not Santa centered, so there’s not the pressure to visit before December 25th. There are tons of beautiful holiday decorations throughout The Garden, including a 25 foot decorated tree and a gingerbread theme in the Children’s Adventure Garden.
February-March: Annual orchid show, held into the Haupt Conservatory. There is a different theme each year, but no matter the theme, the flowers are beautiful, and the tropical environment will make you feel like you're in the Caribbean.
Late April: Daffodil Weekend. Daffodil Hill blossoms with over one million daffodils. Children will LOVE following the path through the hill. There are other events that weekend, including wine tastings and special food trucks.
May: It feels like everything comes alive in May, but make it a point to visit the Rose Garden (there are over four thousand roses in almost seven hundred varieties that blossom), the Peony Collection, and the Lilac Collection.
April-October: Special exhibits. The past two years The Garden has hosted special exhibits: In 2016 the feature was artist Frida Kahlo and this summer and fall, The Garden is hosting a massive Chihuly exhibit, with more than 20 art installations throughout the grounds (both inside the library and conservatory and outside) by famed artist Dale Chihuly.
We always take the tram around The Garden, which has nine stops (don’t worry, you can still get in plenty of steps walking). It’s covered (and enclosed during the winter) and narrated, so you’ll learn a lot about what you see on either side of the tram. Our favorite spots include:
- The Haupt Conservatory has 11 galleries to explore. My children especially like climbing the metal staircase called the skywalk to look over the trees, flowers, and "whale's tail" and running through the "underground" tunnel to the Plants of the Deserts gallery.
- The Everett Children’s Adventure Garden has mazes, rock gardens, a puppet theater, and a variety of wooden musical instruments leading up to the Discovery Center. Inside the Discovery Center there are classrooms, reading nooks, areas to play with blocks, and the Herbarium (my kids LOVE going inside the 103+ degree room and watering the plants). They always have a take home project for kids; We’ve taken home cacti and herb plants.
- Daffodil Hill and Rose Garden (see above)
- The Edible Academy and Howell Family Garden have tons of family programs and camps where children can grow their own vegetables. They also have one day programs, but sign up as soon as registration opens. The Academy is currently being redesigned and will open next year.
- The Mertz Library houses over one million documents and usually has areas open to the public on the 2nd, 4th (Rotunda and herb room with displays of nuts, rices, and herbs from around the world), and 6th floors (a gallery with rotating displays and the research library). There is also a 400 seat auditorium for lecture and shows (look out for the Thomas the Train show every holiday season).
Eating with the Locals: There are a few options on site, including the Pine Tree Cafe where we usually stop. The food is delicious, but expensive. There are often food trucks at some of the entrances.
On occasion, we’ll take a short (about one mile) drive to Arthur Avenue, considered the “Little Italy” of the Bronx. There are literally dozens of restaurants, pizzerias, and pastry shops. The four that came most highly recommended to me are Dominick’s, Enzo’s, Zero Otto Nove, and Mario’s. We ate at Mario’s last year and enjoyed our meal. This past visit, Dominick’s was closed for vacation, Zero Otto Nove didn’t open till 1pm, so we went to Enzo’s. And we’re glad we did. The food was very good, the staff was super friendly, and they allowed my children to split a plate of spaghetti, since they don’t have an official kid’s menu. A good sign: there were no leftovers. But we did stop at Ezidio's for pastries for later in the day.