Philadelphia is considered America’s Garden Capital. With over 30 natural and Botanical Gardens within 30 miles of Center City or a quick drive away, you are sure to find one that is easily accessible during a long layover at Philadelphia International Airport.
The recommendations here are based on drive time to and from PHL and allowing time for your visit and arriving 2 hours prior to departure from the airport.
Renting a car is probably going to be your best bet for visiting the garden estates. Alternatively, you could use a car service such as Uber or Lyft. I would suggest figuring out which one is the most economical choice.
All the properties listed here are included in the Philadelphia Garden Capital Passport. Pick up your passport at any of the participating gardens and then collect your passport stamps as you visit each garden.
6 Hour layover at Philadelphia International
Chanticleer, a pleasure garden
The full name for this garden is “Chanticleer, a pleasure garden” (786 Church Road, Wayne, PA), and for good reason. Everything about it is pleasing. And it is the perfect garden to visit on a 6-hour layover.
Located less than 30 minutes from the airport you can easily grab a Uber or rent a car and spend a sufficient amount of time there to thoroughly enjoy it and still make it back for your flight with time to spare.
This garden may be my favorite because it offers a bit of everything. There are natural gardens, woodland gardens, formal gardens, and even a vegetable garden. Set on just 35 acres and having over 5000 species of plants, this bite-sized garden really packs a punch.
To enjoy this garden you should allow about two hours. This is plenty of time to wander the property at a leisurely pace and still have time for bathroom visits.
If you are short on time then I would suggest visiting the gardens around the house, the Serpentine, and the Pond Garden. If time allows then hit the Ruins and Gravel Gardens.
Chanticleer is open Wednesday – Sunday from 10 am – 5 pm from the end of March through late October. General admission tickets cost $12. Parking reservations are required. Home and Garden tours are held every Friday and Saturday at 11 am. There is also a Garden Highlight tour held every Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm.
Mt. Cuba Center
Situated on over 1000 acres of natural land, the Mt. Cuba Center (3120 Barley Mill Road Hockessin, DE 19707) is located roughly 30 minutes from PHL. Despite its large size, you can easily explore the main gardens in around two hours.
The Mt Cuba Center is located on the estate of Mr. and Mrs. Lammot du Pont Copeland. The home is a colonial revival style home that overlooks acres of meadows and rolling hills.
Mt. Cuba Center offers both botanical gardens and natural habitats. The center is committed to the protection of native species. Additionally, the Mt. Cuba Center is a research facility including a trial garden where species are tested for their suitability and the best conditions for introduction into the landscape.
When you arrive, purchase your tickets at the Visitor Center located near the main parking lot. Then head to Copeland House, the estate’s main residence. Here you will watch a short film about the Copelands, their vision for Mt Cuba, and more. Be sure to take a look around and step into the Conservatory. It’s small but in my opinion, it is stunning. The patio overlooking the Main Lawn is a perfect spot to enjoy your lunch if you’ve brought one.
From here head out to explore the gardens. Because the primary garden area is only 50 acres you should be able to view all the gardens in the time you have allotted. If you have additional time, you may want to head across the bridge to the meadows, a natural area with native species, a pond, and approximately a mile of walking trails.
General Admission tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for kids 6-17, and children 5 and under are free. For full pricing information and tours look here.
The Gardens are open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 am-6 pm from April through October, and November from Wednesday through Sunday, 10 am-4 pm.
Just a 40-minute drive from PHL the Nemours Estate (1600 Rockland Road, Wilmington, DE.) in Delaware’s Brandywine Valley is a breath of fresh air.
Nemours is my favorite of the Brandywine Valleys estates and gardens. Here’s why. When it comes to US estates and gardens, I often find them to be dark, heavy, and even a bit claustrophobic despite their massive size and high ceilings. Unlike many of the mansions of the time, Nemours is light, bright, and airy.
The home and gardens are all based on the aesthetic of French design making them truly unique. It’s a little slice of Europe in the mid-Atlantic region.
When you arrive take the short tour of the 200-acre grounds on the shuttle. The tour is informative and provides context. You will learn a bit about the estate’s original owner Alfred I. duPont. Plus it is an efficient way to see the property and gardens. The mansion is the final destination of the shuttle tour.
Here take a self-guided tour of the 77-room mansion, designed by Carrere and Hastings, in the French style of the late 1800s. The estate, originally situated on over 3000 acres was a gift to Alfred’s second wife Alicia.
If you don’t have time to explore all of the gardens then at least stroll the “Long Walk.” This is the estate’s primary garden which leads from the mansion down to the reflecting pool. The pool features fountains and Art Nouveau sculptures that make up the “Four Seasons” by the French-American sculptor, Henri Crenier.
Finally, if time permits visit the chauffeur’s garage. Here you will find an impressive collection of vintage luxury automobiles.
Both the mansion and Chauffers Garage have trained interpretive staff ready and able to answer questions and provide further information about the property.
You should allow a minimum of an hour and a half to explore the Nemours Estate.
General Admission tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for kids 6-16, and children 5 and under are free. For full pricing information and tours look here.
The gardens, mansion, and chauffer’s garage are open Tuesday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Last entry is at 4 p.m. Mansion & Garage close at 4:30 p.m.)
7-8 Hour layover at PHL
Winterthur Museum, Gardens & Library
40 minutes from Philadelphia International Airport is the wildly popular Winterthur Museum, Gardens, and Library (5105 Kennett Pike, Wilmington, DE). Most people spend around 3-4 hours visiting this estate.
Under the ownership of Henry Francis du Pont (1880-1969) what was originally a 12-room home, built for Jacques-Antoine Bidermann (1790-1865) and his wife Evelina Gabrielle du Pont (1796-1863), Winterthur swelled to what is today a 175-room mansion, museum, and research library. In total, it soars to nine stories and covers more than 96K square feet.
The additions were built to hold what is today the pre-eminent collection of American Decorative arts. Winterthur possesses more than 90,000 objects made or used in America dating back to 1640. The collection holds everything from Chippendale furniture to simple items found in nature.
The natural elements in the collection and the naturalized gardens may seem odd choices for such an opulent grouping put together by a man of extreme wealth. However, du Pont began collecting as a young boy gathering items such as bird nests, eggs, and feathers from the home’s gardens and woods.
The concept of bringing elements from nature into interior designs was such a significant concept to du Pont that Winterthur has a standing exhibit dedicated to the idea titled “Outside In.” This display is a partnership with the Delaware Museum of Natural History.
The mansion is situated on 1000 acres of woodlands, fields, streams, and naturalized gardens. Winterthur is a unique four seasons garden that is the vision of the estate’s founder. Spring is a marvelous time to visit especially when the azaleas and rhododendron are in full bloom.
Garden highlights include the Azalea Woods, the Reflecting Pool and Glade Garden located behind the mansion, the Enchanted Woods, and the Sundial Garden. Each is distinctly different and noteworthy in its own right. If you have kids then the whimsical Enchanted Woods is a must-visit.
Walk or take the shuttle from the Visitor Center to the mansion for the House tour. If you choose to walk, you will stroll along a paved walkway flanked by mature native trees and natural beauty. While the surface is paved and the walk is not more than a couple of city blocks there are a few brief sections with steep inclines. Consider your fitness level when deciding how to get around.
In addition to the shuttle, visitors can opt for a 30-minute guided tour of the gardens by tram. Tram Tours operate Tuesday thru Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. They are first come, first served and weather permitting.
Touring the home takes about an hour and timed tickets are required (can be purchased at the Visitor Center) for the tour.
General Admission tickets are $22 for adults, Student admission (12 and older; valid ID required for college students) is $20, and kids 2-11 are $8, with little ones 2 and under free. For full pricing information and tours look here. Tickets can be purchased at the Visitor Center.
Garden and Estate Grounds are open Tuesday–Sunday, 10:00 am–5:00 pm (closed January 9–February 27, 2023).
PHL Layovers longer than 8 hours
Attracting visitors from around the world, Longwood Gardens (1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, PA) is surely the Crown Jewel of the Brandywine Valley. It is also massive and requires a bit of time to do it justice.
With at least a 45-minute drive from PHL, it is also a bit further than some of the other properties listed. But if you have a longer layover at Philadelphia International Airport you can certainly make the journey and thoroughly enjoy the gardens.
If you’ve read this far you probably won’t be surprised to learn that this property was once owned by a du Pont. In this case, it was Pierre du Pont.
In 1906, Pierre du Pont purchased the Pierce farm primarily to preserve a large stand of trees planted by the property owners and heirs Samuel and Joshua Pierce. Inspired by his travels duPont set about planting floral gardens with no particular plan in mind. Later he added fountains and Italian-inspired formal gardens as well as built the conservatory. When du Pont began planting he had no idea that Longwood would one day become one of the world’s premier gardens.
Open year-round and having both indoor and outdoor spaces Longwood Gardens is less seasonal than some of the others listed here. You can enjoy this amazing property even in the dead of winter. The holiday season is simply spectacular and one of my favorite times to visit.
This 1000+ acre garden is broken into “Districts” including the Conservatory, the Main Fountain Gardens, the Lakes District, the House and Theatre District, the Chimes Tower District, and the Meadow and Forest District. Each district is distinctive and deserves to be seen.
But if your time is limited then you may want to focus on the Conservatory, the Main Fountain Gardens, and the Chimes Tower Districts. These three districts are closest to the visitor center and are the grandest.
There are daily fountain shows accompanied by music every 15 minutes. During the summer months though Longwood holds its Festival of Fountains. You’ll be delighted watching illuminating fountain dance upon the water and sore into the air. Take in a nighttime fountain show and really be dazzled.
The Conservatory is a must-visit no matter what time of year you visit. It is simply splendid. du Pont loved to entertain and would hold grand events in the conservatory which houses the largest Aeolian organ ever constructed in a residential setting. The organ was refurbished in 2004, and visitors can see and hear this magnificent instrument during their visit.
Currently, the conservatory and the surrounding area are being expanded and redesigned in what is being called “Longwood Reimagined.” This massive project is slated to be completed in the Fall of 2024. But don’t worry most of the Conservatory remains open during the reimagining process however, some of the exhibits have been put on hold or are in locations different from where they usually reside.
Onsite you will find multiple dining options ranging from beer gardens and cafes to a full sit-down meal at 1906, Longwood’s full-service dining experience. The Kennett Square Mushroom Soup is a staple of 1906’s menu and is a must-try. Reservations are recommended.
Admission to Longwood Gardens is based on timed ticketing. If you plan to visit you should purchase tickets online to be certain that you get the timeslot you need. Otherwise, you may end up with a later entry than anticipated thus cutting into your already limited time to visit. Don’t short-change yourself.
If you visit during the holiday or busy summer weekends you will definitely want to secure your entry in advance as many timeslots sell out. Pricing can vary so for full pricing information visit Longwood Garden’s website.
January thru March Garden hours are Wednesday–Monday: 10:00 am–5:00 pm and closed on Tuesday. From April 1 to Mother’s Day, the gardens are open Wednesday–Monday: 10:00 am–6:00 pm and closed on Tuesday, Summer hours are as follows: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday and Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., Thursday through Sunday. For a full listing of hours look here.
After visiting any one of these amazing gardens, garden lovers will be booking a longer stay in Philadelphia to check out more of what America’s Garden Capital has to offer.