Europe’s largest botanical garden hides in Moscow’s concrete jungle

An island of greenery squeezed by the concrete tower blocks in the north of the city, the Botanical Garden is the perfect place to get away from the capital’s hustle and bustle.

The main Botanical Garden of the Academy of Sciences, as it is officially called, is Europe’s largest, occupying twice the size of Monaco. The idea for it was first raised shortly before World War II: fighting was still raging when, in April 1945, construction began.

The country’s botanical gardens were traditionally under the patronage of the Russian royal family. The Soviet authorities, however, managed to outdo the Tsars both in scope and grandeur. The chosen area, now in Moscow’s north, was once far outside the city and a popular place for the country homes of Russia’s nobility.

In the 18th century, it became the property of the very wealthy Sheremetyev family. A large park was laid out and five ponds were created, with water coming from the nearby Kamenka River. The river is now sealed in an underground pipe, but reemerges inside the garden, with the ponds remaining one of its key attractions. The garden took almost 15 years to lay out, and opened for visitors in 1959.

Around 18,000 plant species from across the Soviet Union and around the globe were gathered. Walking here was meant to feel like taking a tour of the entire northern hemisphere – from North America to Russia’s Far East and through central Asian deserts.

In order to build up the garden’s collection, its staff crisscrossed the world on their hunt for rare and exotic varieties. The garden is now a botanist’s treasure trove, but you can enjoy it even without any special botanical knowledge.

Although the garden is more of a living museum than an amusement park, it is perfect for getting away from the noise and stress of urban living. Once inside, it is hard to believe that the garden is surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Moscow’s densely built-up northern suburbs.

The garden’s founders did their best to preserve the area’s beauty and history – even the garden’s research lab was styled to look like a Russian count’s palace. The park’s highlights also include a glorious oak grove with trees aged up to 200 years old and a Japanese garden that opened in 1987. Laid out by Japanese designers to bring an exotic touch of the Orient to Moscow, it has always been a hit with visitors.

The botanical garden has had its fair share of ups and downs since its Soviet heyday. A lack of money and a lack of staff remain an issue. However, it is still a unique nature resort in the big city and if the call of the wild is what you are looking for, this is your ultimate getaway.

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