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Walk of the Week: Botanic Gardens

By Linda Stewart

This route explores an historic city park with many interesting features, buildings and botanical collections.

Botanic Park is home to the famous Victorian Palm House designed by Charles Lanyon, as well as the fascinating Tropical Ravine, where you might see some bananas growing.


By bike: The park is adjacent to NCN Route 9. By bus: Metro Services — any 7 or 8 bus. By car: On-street parking around Botanic Avenue and Stranmillis area.

This is a circular walk that can be started from any of the seven entrances to Botanic Gardens. This description begins at the main entrance at the Stranmillis Road.

Once inside the main gates of the park you will see the statue of Lord Kelvin in front of you. Follow the path to the right — this leads past the front of the Ulster Museum and the entrance of the Tropical Ravine.

From the ravine take the flagstone path to the right. Continue past an entrance gate, to your right, and straight ahead of the herbaceous borders.

This path goes along the top border and then doubles back on itself along the lower border. Follow this until you reach a set of steps on your right that leads through the stone pergolas in the centre of the rose garden.

Beyond the rose garden turn right on the path and then take the narrow path on your left, which leads on to the main path around the park. Turn right and follow this path past the bowling green and two further entrances on your right. Pass the rockery and then the main lawn on your left, until you reach a three-way junction.

From here you can see the Palm House. Pause to enjoy the splendour of the Palm House, both inside and out. To complete the walk continue along the path, which leads past the oak and conifer collections, back to the entrance at Stranmillis Road.

the backdrop

In 1807, botanist John Templeton expressed a desire to have a botanic garden in Belfast. This arose out of the increased interest in botany, horticulture and gardening during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, due in part to exotic plants being brought back by explorers from the Far East and the Americas.

So in 1827 the Belfast Botanic and Horticultural Society was established and an acre of ground taken at Bradbury Place and a gardener employed to landscape the area. This proved somewhat unsatisfactory and two years later a 14-acre site was purchased at the junction of Malone Road and Stranmillis Road. It was one of the first botanic gardens in the UK to be set up entirely from public subscriptions.

The idea to erect a conservatory came early in the life of the society. They appointed one of Belfast’s top architects, Sir Charles Lanyon (responsible for many of Belfast famous landmarks, including Queen’s University and the Crumlin Road Gaol), to design the Palm House.

The original design, however, is very different from today’s building; with a low central dome and smaller terminal domes at the end of each wing being changed for one higher dome in the centre. Many of the species on display during the 19th century are still growing today.

The Marquis of Donegall laid the foundation stone in 1839 and the 37½ foot high dome completed in 1852, bringing the building project to fruition.

Members of the public were required to pay for admission into the gardens, with the working-class public being granted free entry on Saturday afternoons from 1865 onwards. This fee ended on January 1 1895 when the Belfast Corporation took over the gardens and the Botanic Gardens became Belfast’s sixth public park.

Lord Kelvin’s Statue, standing tall at the entrance on Stranmillis Road, commemorates the famous physicist and was erected in 1912.

The Tropical Ravine was constructed between 1887 and 1889 by Charles McKimm, curator of the garden, and his staff. The ravine contains a fascinating collection of exotic species growing in a sunken glen.

The four wide herbaceous borders are among the longest of their type in the country. They look at their most colourful in summer but the beauty of the grasses and bamboo can be equally appreciated in the winter months.

The rose garden was laid out in 1932 and contains a good selection of large-flowered and cluster-flowered roses.

more information

For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (caan) at, tel: 028 9030 3930 or

CAAN in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information.

CAAN and Belfast Telegraph, however, cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions but where such are brought to our attention, the information for future publications will be amended accordingly.

Walk Name: Botanic Gardens.

Area: Stranmillis Road, Belfast.

Nearest big town to start: Belfast.

Distance: 0.8 miles/1.3km.

Terrain: This short circular walk is on surfaced paths with a few steps.

Refreshments: There are numerous amenities and coffee shops along the Stranmillis Road and Botanic Avenue.

Publications: A Walk in the Park, available from Belfast City Council, Parks Section or via the website A Breath of Fresh Air — The Story of Belfast’s Parks by Robert Scott available from Belfast City Council. Belfast Botanic Gardens – leaflet available from Belfast City Council.

Walk Developed By: Belfast City Council.

Map: Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discovery Series sheet 15, available from LPSNI Map Shop, Colby House, Stranmillis, Belfast BT9 SBJ

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