It may be chilly outside but you can still nurture your passion for Nature and magnify the benefit of sunshine on an Autumn day by visiting a grand glasshouse. Europe is a wonderland of luxury greenhouses, amazing and historic constructions, homes for some of the most exotic plant life on the planet.
Found in bountiful parks and botanic gardens, these green beauties are amazing works of art and have a little something for everyone. From the monumental Royal Greenhouses in Laeken (Belgium) to the sleek and modern geodesic domes of The Eden Project in Cornwall, we are sure you will not regret taking a trip to one of these architecturally intriguing and plant-packed destinations under glass.
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The idea of growing plants in environmentally controlled areas has existed since Roman times, but the greenhouse as we know it today, often an ornate glass and iron building, became more common in England, during the 19th century, thanks to the wealthy upper-class businessmen and nobles turning into aspiring botanists.
Here’s our edit of some of the biggest and most beautiful greenhouses to visit in Europe.
The 19th-century Palm House remains one of Britain’s best-loved glasshouses and it is considered to be one of the most significant Victorian era greenhouses in the world. Designed by Decimus Burton and engineered by Richard Turner, it was created specifically for the exotic plants that were brought over to Europe. Grade II-listed, it has undergone two restorations. The Temperate House is the largest glasshouse in the world. It houses over 10,000 plants, with 1,500 of these coming from places such as Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific Islands.
Composed of 45,000 sheets of glass, the Palm House at Schönbrunn Palace Park in Vienna was designed by Franz von Segenschmid and constructed by metalworker Ignaz Gridl in the 1880s. It is the most prominent of the four greenhouses in Schönbrunn Palace Park, and is also among the largest botanical exhibits of its kind in the world, with around 4,500 plant species. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is one hundred and thirteen metres long and linked by tunnel-like passages.
Conservation, education, horticulture and theatre: all within space-age biomes showcasing magnificent plants from the humid tropics and warm temperate regions. Here, glasshouses comprise two sets of domes made of hundreds of hexagonal and pentagonal inflatable plastic cells supported by steel frames. The first imitates a tropical environment, with very high temperatures and moisture levels for plants such as banana trees, coffee, rubber and bamboo. The second has a Mediterranean setting and houses arid plants including olives and grapevines.
A stunning green world in the heart of the city. Pringle Richards Sharratt Architects designed the Winter Garden in Sheffield, providing a modern and wonderful indoor garden with winding paths, park benches, kiosks and a central space for entertainment for visitors to enjoy. More than 2,500 plants live in this award-winning temperate glasshouse, which is 70m long and supported by wooden arches 21m high. Plants include palms from Central America, China and Madagascar, and Norfolk Island pines.
In 1873, architect Alphonse Balat designed for King Leopold II a complex of greenhouses which complement the castle of Laeken. Built in the classic style, the complex has the appearance of a glass city set in an undulating landscape and it is covered in glass cupolas, massive pavilions, and wide arcades that cross the site like covered streets. In The Winter Garden, you will still find tall palm trees, the majority of which date from the time of Leopold II.
One of the jewels in the Botanical Garden is the over 100-year-old Victorian greenhouse. The romantic glasshouse is named after the giant water lily Victoria, and the glass pavilion is also home to tropical marsh and water plants. It offers a magnificent example of late-nineteenth-century art nouveau design in glass and steel. Twenty-five metres high and set on the eastern edge of the garden, it towers over another 14 display greenhouses placed around it. Featuring tall trees with epiphytes growing on them, and marvellously coloured plants below, as well as lianas and other climbers, it gives you an idea of the huge variety of tropical vegetation.
Completed in 1840, the Palm House at Ireland’s Belfast Botanic Garden is one of the earliest examples of the Victorian greenhouse. The Palm House is known for its assortments of exotic plants. You’ll find hanging baskets, tropical plants, birds of paradise, and various seasonal displays. The building was designed by Sir Charles Lanyon, who also helped design parts of nearby Queen’s University. The foundation stone was laid in 1839 and the two wings were completed in 1840 by leading ironmaster, Richard Turner. The dome was added in 1852.
The Botanical Garden is an extension of the Natural History Museum of Denmark at the University of Copenhagen. The garden and subsequently the greenhouse that surrounds it holds the largest known collection of living plants. The Palm House was built by Carlsberg Breweries founder J. C. Jacobsen in 1874. Designed in the Victorian style, the structure took its inspiration from the Crystal Palace, an iron-and-glass structure erected in London in 1851 to house the World’s Fair.
The National Botanic Garden of Wales is home for The Great Glasshouse, designed by the world-renowned architects Foster + Partners. It is the world’s largest single-span glasshouse (measuring 110m long x 60m wide) and home of the largest collection of Mediterranean plants in the Northern Hemisphere planted among rocky terraces, sandstone cliffs and gravelled scree slopes.