Padua Botanical Garden: The world’s first!

The Padua Botanic Garden may not be huge but it has a very important claim to fame – it was the first in the world.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Visiting the Padua Botanical Garden

Almost 500 years ago this site was established as the world's first botanical garden and, amazingly, it's still in operation with the same original design layout.

Now, you can explore the heritage and learn about the scientific legacy when you visit the Botanical Garden of Padua.

There was a time when the botanical garden at Padua was the biggest in the world and when it was the greatest in the world… because it was the only one in the world!

Of course, none of those things is true these days.

But like the soil in the garden that brings life to the rare and exotic plants, the idea behind the site at Padua was to be the foundation for all future botanical gardens around the globe.

It was the first to ever be created and it changed the way humans and plants interacted when it was opened in 1545 in the north-eastern Italian city of Padua.

Padua Botanic Garden, Italy

To see it today, as a relatively small site, may feel a little strange, knowing how other botanical gardens are designed. There are places like Kew Gardens, for instance, that are enormous tracts of land with carefully landscaped terrain, small forests, and lakes.

Not here, though. With plenty packed into its historic core, there are lots of things to see at the Padua Botanical Garden… but there’s no ignoring the fact that it’s pretty tiny.

What is the oldest botanical garden in the world?

The oldest botanical garden was founded in the Italian city of Padua in 1545. It is still in operation, which means it’s also the oldest surviving botanical garden in the world.

Why is the Padua Botanical Garden important?

The Padua Botanical Garden was listed as a World Heritage Site for several reasons. Firstly, because it’s the world’s oldest botanical garden, but also because of the impact it had on the field of botany around the world for centuries. The garden is also important because of its original layout (still in place) as a circular plot representing the world.

Is it worth visiting the Padua Botanical Garden?

Although the historical part is relatively small and it doesn’t take long to explore, visiting the Padua Botanical Garden is one of the best things to do in the city. It’s a fascinating look at a piece of heritage that has had an outsized influence on the rest of the world.

Because of its size and its age, I end up concentrating much more on the small details, and giving more thought to the atmosphere.

I listen for a bit – everything is quiet, shielded from the traffic noises by subsequent additions to the garden that include a ring of rainforest-style plants.

Students walk through with notebooks, tourists take photos and some elderly locals sit on the benches and pass time. No one makes much noise, though.

Padua Botanic Garden, Italy

Even the tour groups that come here are respectful, and I find it quite interesting to overhear some of their conversations – there’s a lot you would perhaps not appreciate just by coming by yourself.

One great way to see Padua is on this private guided tour with a local.

Over the centuries there have been additions to the botanical garden and there’s now more to see than just the historic section.

So, let’s have a look at what to expect when you visit the Padua Botanical Garden.

History of the Padua Botanical Garden

First, it’s important to know a little bit about the site’s founding.

The Padua Botanical Garden was created for scientific research – the same thing it is still used for today. However, it was mainly about medicinal uses for the plants back then.

These medicinal plants were used for natural remedies and were an important part of research and education. The local authorities also thought it would be a way to distinguish between real medicinal plants and fake ones that some people were trying to sell.

The Padua Botanical Garden was originally designed as a circle that represented the world, with a ring of water around it and a square centre. It was based on the renaissance ideals of the time of balance and harmony.

Padua Botanic Garden, Italy

Over the centuries, the garden significantly expanded its collection. It also added features to the layout and design.

There was a network of fountains, powered by a massive waterwheel, that ensured proper irrigation for the flourishing flora.

And then, in the 17th and 18th centuries, there was the construction of the present-day main palace, adding an elegant touch to the landscape.

Padua Botanic Garden, Italy

Ever since its founding, the Padua Botanical Garden has been really influential and has played an important role in the evolution of studies like botany, pharmacy, medicine, and ecology.

When UNESCO listed the site on the World Heritage List, it said the garden “represents the birth of science, of scientific exchanges, and understanding of the relationship between nature and culture”.

That’s a pretty impressive description for what could be mistaken for a small park.

Padua Botanic Garden, Italy

Even today, the gardens are still in use and is still a centre for scientific research. New modern sections have allowed that to continue in a way that hasn’t disturbed the original layout of the historical part.

That main part, created centuries ago, is only 86 metres in diameter. Within that area, half the space if probably taken up with paths. There are no rolling grassy hills or shaded paths for joggers.

This is, and has always been, a pure scientific research centre – and that’s really important to remember when you compare it to somewhere like the sprawling Singapore Botanic Gardens (another World Heritage Site).

Padua Botanic Garden, Italy

That scientific focus can also be seen in a couple of the really important collections here.

Over the years, the library has grown to hold more than 50,000 volumes and manuscripts of historical and bibliographic importance.

And there’s also the herbarium, which is now the second most extensive in Italy and an important resource for botanists.

Things to see at the Padua Botanical Garden

It’s strange to think what an impact this small garden had on science. Sometimes I think we can take botanical gardens for granted these days. But it was quite a radical idea when it was founded.

To trace that development, you can concentrate on three main areas that make up the Padua Botanical Garden today.

Historical Garden

The core of the Padua Botanical Garden is the Historical Garden (also called the Renaissance Garden), the original site that was founded back in 1545 – and which still looks quite similar to how it would’ve then.

As I’ve mentioned, the plan is a perfect circle with a large square in the middle. Around the outside is a ring of water, depicting an ocean, while the circular plot is divided into four sections oriented to the main cardinal directions.

    Padua Botanic Garden, Italy

There are more than 3500 different species here, in an attempt to represent a significant part of the Plant Kingdom. Some of the highlights include:

  • A Mediterranean palm that was planted in 1585 (the oldest plant in the garden)
  • A ginkgo from 1750 and a Southern magnolia from 1786 (considered the oldest in Europe)
  • A section dedicated to medicinal and poisonous plants
  • A small tropical greenhouse that is used to hold the beautiful orchids

It’s worth exploring the different themed areas that give some more context to the collection and why certain plants have been protected here. You’ll also notice there are different sections for local and foreign plants.

Biodiversity Garden

Separate to the historic part, the Biodiversity Garden is a modern section that has a range of exhibits built to replicated environments from around the world.

For instance, there’s a tropical rainforest, a savannah, a Mediterranean climate, and an arid ecosystem like you might find in a desert.

In these greenhouses that mimic the different biomes, there are around 1300 types of plants, showing how different species adapt to their conditions.

It’s a really interesting exhibition that takes you on a journey around the world. And, just like the foundational mission of the gardens, there’s a focus on education, with information panels on different topics related to what you’re seeing.

So, while the historic area is worth seeing from a heritage perspective, you may actually get more out of the botany in this section.

Botanical Museum

Only opened in 2023, there’s also a new Botanical Museum on the site which explores the history of botany, particularly its relationship with medicine.

The exhibitions use items from the garden’s collection of seeds and herbariums to present the story of the people who worked here and collected plants, and the studies that went along with that.

One of the most important collections on display is a historical herbarium that has about 800,000 specimens of dried plants, algae, fungi, and lichens.

There are also things like (very) old first editions of important books, a chaste tree from the 16th century, and an 18th century pharmacy.

The museum is set in an 18th century building that was originally the living quarters of the head of the garden. It’s a great addition to the site and is included with the entry ticket.

Visiting the Padua Botanical Garden

Padua is not a particularly busy city. There is a nice, slow rhythm to the way of life. But you can still notice the change in the atmosphere when you walk into the garden.

It is like stepping back to 1545, when everything first came into being.

The workers who are tending to the gardens don’t have any mechanical equipment. To water the plants, one man walks with a bucket to a fountain in a stone wall, collects the water that is flowing out the head of a statue lion, and carries it back to pour. He repeats the motions over.

These are the appropriately quaint things that you’ll see when you visit the Padua Botanical Garden.

Padua Botanic Garden, Italy

Getting here is easy because it’s just a short walk from the centre of Padua (although there are also public transport options). So it’s easy to include as part of a day of sightseeing in the city.

If you’re interested in seeing more of the city, I would recommend this excellent private tour of Padua. And there are also a few other good activities to consider here:

There is an entrance fee to visit the botanical garden. But something you may want to consider is the ‘Padua City of Science’ combination ticket that also includes Palazzo del Bo and Museum of Nature and Humankind, saving you a bit of money if you were planning to see all three.

A few other bits of useful visitor information:

  • The garden is completely accessible for wheelchair users.
  • There’s an area for visually impaired people, with Braille plates and the possibility of touching the plants, for a tactile experience.

It’s also worth noting that there is an audioguide that you can access through your phone using a QR code, so bring some headphones if you would like to use that.

Where is Padua Botanical Garden?

The Padua Botanical Garden is found inside the University of Padua, and is located in the southern part of the city next to the Prato della Valle.
The address is Via Orto Botanico, 15, 35123 Padova PD. You can see it on a map here.

How do you get to Padua Botanical Garden?

It’s an easy walk to the botanical garden from the historical centre. If you’d like to use public transport, get off at the Businello Santo stop (lines A, M, TL, U12, U13, U16, U22 and more).
Note: buses and trams generally leave every 10 minutes or less.

When is Padua Botanical Garden open?

Padua Botanical Garden opens every day but varies in time throughout the year:
November to March: 10:00 – 17:00, Last Entry: 16:15 (closed on working Mondays)
April to September: 10:00 – 19:00, Last Entry: 18:15 (closed on working Mondays)
October: 10:00 – 18:00, Last Entry: 17:15
NOTE: The Garden is closed for 5 weeks in January/February.

What is the Padua Botanical Garden entrance fee?

Entry to the Padua Botanical Garden will cost you €10 for a standard ticket, €8 for concession, and €6 for children and young people (6-25 years).
Children under 6 years are free and children aged 6 – 12 years that are accompanied by an adult who has a standard/concession ticket are also free.
You can also get a family ticket for €25, which includes 2 adults and up to 3 children under 18.

Are there tours of Padua Botanical Garden?

There’s a guided tour in English once a week on Fridays, but booking in advance is recommended.
At the moment, the tour is run at 15:00 in the winter months and 17:00 in the summer months.

For more information, see the official website of the Padua Botanical Garden.

After your visit to the Padua Botanical Garden, you can eat at the nearby L’Officina al Bersagliere where they serve amazing Italian cuisine. If you’re craving pizza, the Pizzeria Kebab Al Prato is also nearby.

Make sure to stop at the famous Prato della Valle before or after exploring the Botanical Garden as they’re located next to each other.

This square is the largest in Italy and one of the largest in Europe. There’s a weekly market on Saturdays.


This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

26 thoughts on “Padua Botanical Garden: The world’s first!”

    • With the amount of time and care they put in, you would hope their plants would be better than any of ours! 🙂
      As to the sharing buttons, I think they’re still working. Maybe just broken at the time.

  1. My gardening ability largely comes down to being able to pull things up, and mow things down. I’m doing my best to grow some chilli bushes at the moment, but I’m not hopeful. As Bret says – it’s always amazing to see what people who know what they are doing can achieve! (I must also admit that that picture of the guy with the bucket looked totally like he was just having a wee in the bush before I had a closer look!)

    • My theory is that if a plant can’t look after itself, it doesn’t deserve to live. I don’t believe in a welfare state for herbs. But it’s still quite impressive to see something like this.

    • You’re right. It’s not the kind of place you would sit and have a picnic, or anything like that. But it’s retained its original philosophy and you really have to respect that.

  2. That is really very cool. Padua is a sister city to Freiburg and we have a street named after them. I really like plants and have a decent ability to keep them alive on our balcony. I am also a great fan of universities and learning. This looks like a really great place for all those.

    • In that case, this seems like the perfect place for you! Maybe you should convince some of the people in Freiburg to send you to Padua so you can check up on the l’il sister 🙂

  3. The birthplace of science! Incredible and so true. We are becoming so removed, but without Padua and places like it, modern medicine could never have evolved to what it is today. Thanks for sharing this, had no idea about it before!

    • It’s nice to remember sometimes where things came from and what life was like before everything was mass-produced with modern technology. Plants don’t get enough credit for their medicinal uses!

  4. Wonderful, I always love to be surrounded by nature. Unlike zoo, I enjoy visiting botanical gardens, they are a lovely way to get closer to nature if you live in a big city.

  5. The more time I spend with indigenous cultures I realize that nature and medicine have such a strong connection. And even as we strive for more synthetic advancements, sometimes the medicine we need is in our garden.

    • I know what you mean. I used to be very sceptical about Chinese medicine and herbal remedies… now I can see that’s where all medicine originates from anyway. Why not do it in a more natural way?

    • I like to think they kept it small purely to maintain the heritage… but I think they’re probably also restricted by the development that now surrounds it. It’s right in the middle of the city.

  6. It’s great to see some history and culture being preserved. Instead of mass producing flowers for the tourists, they stick to the original purpose. I like that.

    • It certainly wasn’t a tourist trap, by any means. I don’t think many international visitors to the city even realise it exists. It seemed mainly like locals and students were there the day I was.

  7. I’m going to Padova in a few months and plan to visit the garden – seems like a nice place to relax and recharge for a little while. I love places that aren’t top tourist attractions – the fewer crowds the better I usually enjoy the space, whether garden, museum, or ruin.

  8. Padua is the western world’s oldest botanical gardens still in its original location, but Pisa is where the first botanical gardens were created and financed by Cosimo di Medici in 1544 – a year prior to Padua – however it moved twice in 1563 and again in 1591 to its present location.


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