Great gardens on the National Cycle Network

Pink flower in the midst of green stems

The UK is full of places where you can appreciate the finest in plant life

Two young men in sports gear walk through botanic gardens. One holds a bike, a large glass house is in the background

Outside the Palm House at Belfast's Botanic Gardens

Older man in shorts sat on bench while reading map in front of greenhouse. Brompton bike is leaning on the bench, flowers are in the foreground

Pairing green fingers with green travel. Image © Jason Patient/Sustrans

From botanical collections to the gardens of castles and stately homes, the UK is full of places where you can appreciate the finest in horticulture.

And with many of them accessible via the National Cycle Network’s walking and cycling routes, you can pair green fingers with green travel. Here are our top tips for great gardens on the Network. 

The Lost Gardens of Heligan – The Pentewan Trail

This 200-acre site contains a centuries-old collection of exotic species, forgotten for decades before being lovingly restored. It’s open all year, with there being something for all ages - flower buffs, in particular, should look out for the renowned collection of Rhododendrons and Camellias. The Pentewan Trail – an 8-mile traffic-free link between St Austell and nearby Mevagissey – links directly to the site.

The Eden Project – Clay Trails to Eden Project

As well as the rainforest and Mediterranean plant environments maintained within its SciFi-looking domes, the Eden Project also boasts a wide array of outdoor gardens and a collection of Costa Rican orchids. The traffic-free, gravel-surfaced Clay Trails are not without their hills, but there is a discount for Eden Project visitors who come by foot or bike.

Kenilworth Castles Elizabethan Gardens – National Route 52

Originally created by an amorous admirer of Elizabeth I, this Renaissance gem was recreated using evidence from a 16th-century description. Featuring fragrant flowers, fruit-bearing plants and even an aviary, this castle garden is located close to National Route 52, which is largely traffic free to the north of the town.

Ripley Castle and Gardens – The Nidderdale Greenway

The springtime aroma of hyacinths is a major draw to the walled gardens of this impressive country house, but there are also hot houses containing tropical plants and a kitchen garden growing herbs and other produce to be seen throughout the year. You can get here using the Nidderdale Greenway – a traffic-free path between Harrogate and Ripley.

East Riddlesden Hall Gardens – The Airedale Greenway 

The gardens of this historic manor house pay tribute to its former function as a buzzing farming estate, with scented herbs and fruit-laden trees alongside its flower-filled formal garden. Located along the Airedale Greenway, a traffic-free path following the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, this is could be an ideal trip combining history and horticulture. Take care, however, crossing Bradford Road to access the property. 

Cambridge University Botanic Gardens – National Route 11

An important research centre for the university’s Plant Sciences Department, these gardens have many diverse collections which are open to the public – including scented, seasonal and rose gardens, and glasshouses containing international species. The gardens lie close to National Route 11, which is traffic-free through much of the city.

Blenheim Palace Gardens – Oxford to Blenheim Palace

There are acres of manicured gardens to be explored at this grand country house, including a rose garden, a secluded “secret” garden and even a maze. The palace can be reached via the Oxford Blenheim Palace route which is frequently traffic-free, though there is a canal towpath section which is not recommended for those on road bikes.

Oxford University Botanic Garden and Arboretum – National Route 57

From its centuries-old walled garden, through to its ornamental flower collections and medicinal herb beds, this garden has something for everyone. And for true obsessives, the Herbarium Rooms is a must – it’s the oldest of its kind in the country and holds around a million dried species. The garden lies close to the largely on-road National Route 57.

Levens Hall – National Route 700

For those looking for something more refined after the rugged majesty of the Lake District, Levens Hall is just the ticket. With sculpted topiary, a rose garden, wildflower meadows and a labyrinth among its beguiling features, this lush garden is located close to National Route 700.

Hampton Court Gardens – West London Thames Ride

The range of plants to be seen in Hampton Court Palace’s 60 acres of formal gardens is eye-boggling, from its hedge maze (the oldest in the UK) to its huge grapevine (the largest in the world) via its special species collections. Hampton Court lies close to the traffic-free section of National Route 4 in South West London.

Belfast Botanic Gardens and Palm House – Lagan and Lough Cycle Way

Along with flower beds, a rose garden and seasonal displays, this Victorian-era garden includes two impressive glass houses – the Palm House, containing tropical plants and exotic birds, and the Tropical Ravine, which also contains rare species. This public garden can be accessed via the traffic-free Lagan and Lough Cycle Way.

Dr Neil’s Garden – National Route 1/Edinburgh to Musselburgh

Somewhere to get away from it all – this tranquil getaway in the east of Edinburgh features magnolias, a range of flowering shrubs and a medicinal “Physic Garden” dedicated to the site’s founders. This well-kept secret is close to the Innocent Railway section of National Route 1.

Pollok House and Gardens – National Route 7

In the midst of the 360-acre Pollok Country Park to the south of Glasgow, this neat garden boasts a huge collection of rhododendron species, reflecting the horticultural passions of the Pollok House’s former occupants. National Route 7 passes through the park and close to the house.

Tredegar House – Celtic Trail East

Plant aficionados in South Wales could do worse than visit this 17-century red brick mansion, which holds three formal gardens in its estate – an orangery, an orchard and a garden containing a centuries-old Lebanese Cedar. The Celtic Trail East section of National Route 4 passes the entrance. 

National Botanic Garden of Wales – Celtic Trail West/Swiss Valley Cycle Route

A huge glass house containing a wide range of themed gardens; a collection of fauna including a butterfly house and bird of prey centre; a nature reserve of meadows and pastures – there’s enough here to keep a nature enthusiast occupied for hours on end. Plus, if you go by bike, you get admission for half price. The site can be reached via the Celtic Trail West and the traffic-free Swiss Valley Route

Powis Castle and Gardens – Lon Cambria

Powis Castle may originally have been built as an imposing fortress, but its verdant formal gardens, featuring an orangery, sculpted yew hedges and herbaceous borders, could not be more inviting. This Italian- and French-styled paradise is close to the Lon Cambria route on National Route 81.

Find more inspiration for nature-filled trips on the National Cycle Network