When people think of the iconic locations to visit in and around Philadelphia, they are quick to name places like the Liberty Bell, the Philadelphia Art Museum, or Valley Forge National Historical Park.
While those are certainly noteworthy sights, one of the Philadelphia region’s best destinations is actually in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, 60-minutes north of Baltimore. That would be the nearly 1,100-acre Longwood Gardens, winner of USA Today’s best Botanical Garden in the United States recognition for several years running.
Longwood Gardens has what post-covid Lockdown travelers are looking for this summer; it’s close to home and totally out in nature. You can’t get more natural (and beautiful) than Longwood Gardens!
This botanical garden is open year-round, always providing incredible displays to take in. And thanks to a $250 million renovation project, Longwood Gardens will continue to see improvements into Fall 2024, promising new attractions.
So if you have heard of Longwood Gardens but never been, maybe it’s about time you saw what everyone has been talking about. And we have everything you need to plan your trip here.
History of Longwood Gardens
Longwoods is not only visually compelling but also has a long and fascinating history to the land. The first makings of the gardens actually began over a century ago in 1907 when the owners of that time began putting their personal touch on the property.
The “Longwood” name was adopted from the nearby Longwood Farm, with it being believed that the word “Longwood” was in reference to the local forests.
However, the history of the land of course dates back to a time before it ever had an owner. It wasn’t until 1700 that the land was formally bought. Prior to that, Native American tribes traversed those lands for thousands of years. When visiting Longwoods you can actually see some of the evidence substantiating this, such as arrowheads and spear points that they keep on display in recognition of the property’s rich history.
About the Owners
Pierre du Pont is the man we have to thank for laying the foundation that would become the Longwood Gardens everyone knows today. He purchased the property in 1906, and quickly began creating his vision for the land which included many features that are still part of the modern attraction.
This includes the 600-foot-long Flower Garden Walk, and the Open Air Theater that is used to host concerts and performances.
Du Pont would make many such additions to the property until his final days. After du Pont’s death in 1954, his nephews became the trustees of Longwoods. It was at this juncture that Longwood Gardens transitioned from being a private property to opening up to the public.
In the years since then, Longwoods has only continued to expand, both in ambition and in leadership. Today the garden has an entire leadership team devoted to it, with the President and Chief Executive Officer for the last 14 years being Paul B. Redman. Redman has more than 30 years of experience studying and working in horticulture, keeping Longwood Gardens in capable hands.
It is not just word of mouth that testifies to what a treat Longwoods is to experience. The location has actually been the recipient of various accolades over the years. For instance, in a contest sponsored by USA Today, Longwood Gardens was voted as the Best Botanical Garden in North America in 2014, 2016, and 2018.
And for those who love Christmas decorations, in 2020 USA Today readers also voted Longwoods as the winner of the Best Botanical Garden Holiday Lights contest—this was the third consecutive year Longwoods received the award. So if you enjoy looking at Christmas lights, definitely keep Longwoods in mind come December for their more than 500,000 outdoor lights.
And then one area you might not anticipate Longwood Gardens receiving recognition in is their bathrooms. And yet, in the 13th annual Cintas America’s Best Restroom contest Longwood Gardens was voted as having the best public bathrooms in America in 2014.
The reasons given for the selection were the combination of eco-friendly facilities, as well as artistically providing “a restroom that’s creative and memorable for guests.” Specifically, the award mentioned Longwood’s bathrooms by their green wall, which is a section in one of the buildings with a hall full of restrooms with the walls along the hallway covered in plants.
Even for those not currently in need of a restroom, that area still attracts people to walk along it to view the verdant architecture.
Make sure to head to the Longwood Gardens site so you can buy your tickets in advance. The days and hours of operation at Longwoods will change depending on the day of the week and season, and only so many people are admitted per timeslot, so be sure to check their schedule for the day that interests you.
Once you have your tickets, you will be able to enter up to 30 minutes prior to the time you selected or as late as 30 minutes after your designated time. If something causes you to miss your entry window, Longwoods states that they will still work to accommodate you, though you may have to hang out and wait until the next entry timeslot. However, once you enter, you can stay on the grounds for as long as you enjoy prior to closing.
As far as pricing, admission is typically $25 for adults (though prices are slightly higher for tickets during their Christmas display). However, there are various discounts for seniors, students, adolescents, and members of the military. Children 4 and under are granted free admission year-round.
If you enjoy the experience enough that you think you would want to return during different seasons to see everything Longwoods has to offer, you can also save by getting a yearly membership that will even give you a discount on many of your purchases for food and the gift shop.
When to Go
The garden has different days and hours of operation depending on the season, so make sure you check their current schedule before making plans. Regardless, the garden is typically open most days of the week, starting at 10:00 am and closing at 6:00 pm in the winter months and 10:00 PM during summer months (to accommodate the Festival of Fountains).
Friday and Saturday are often the most popular days for people to visit.
While the garden and various buildings to walk through are certainly enjoyable enough even on an ordinary day, you may want to schedule your visit during one of the events they have throughout the year. Currently, during the summer, you can enjoy the Festival of Fountains. This event lasts from May into September and accentuates the typical splendor of the gardens with incredible fountain performances.
The water is manipulated into different shapes and colors to make it dance along to music for your entertainment. (see the YouTube video at the bottom of this post for a beautiful excerpt of a 2019 Festival of Fountain performance.)
There are often fun special spectacles and activities to enjoy at Longwoods throughout the year, so it is always worth checking out their events page as you plan when you would like to make your visit.
The GPS address for Longwood Gardens is 1001 Longwood Rd, Kennett Square, PA 19348. If you are coming from Philadelphia, it is about 30 miles to drive there. The actual entrance ramp to Longwood Gardens is going to be found along US Route 1.
The official site recommends that those who will be arriving from the south, such as visitors from Maryland, or Washington, DC, travel by I-95 North as the most expedient route with the fewest tolls.
Where to Park
Longwood Gardens has ample on-site parking for you to take advantage of free of charge. However, even with Longwood’s numerous lots, it is possible their immediate parking may be full during peak seasons. Fortunately, there is also free off-site parking that can be found through signage in the area, and Longwoods provides a shuttle to take you from these other lots to the entrance of the garden.
Car services like Uber can also pick you up from Longwood’s visitor center. Longwoods is not the most common destination for car services to be utilized at though, so they recommend making your arrangements in advance to ensure a driver will be available when you need one.
And for those with electric cars, there are two charging stations that can be found in the visitor center parking lot for your use.
While you’re at Longwood Garden, here are the 20 most beautiful and awe-inspiring sites, sounds and experiences you want to take in.
With that, you should be all set to enjoy your day at Longwood Gardens! If you are bringing small children, the majority of the sights are stroller friendly.
There are also numerous spots within Longwoods to grab snacks, beverages, or even a full meal.
The average time spent at Longwoods is around three or four hours, and most of the sights are outside so dress comfortably for the weather and lots of walking. And most importantly, have fun and enjoy your visit!
A 2019 excerpt from Longwood Gardens’ nightly Festival of Fountains performance.