Every year, it feels like something is missing until we visit Longwood Gardens, a historical garden and grounds in Kennett Square, PA. With different themed events throughout the year, it’s become a tradition for my family to go to this Brandywine Valley, Pennsylvania, attraction in any season. My kids are always thrilled to watch the trains go over the bridges and under the tunnels at the Garden Railway, see the twinkle of over half a million lights for the holidays during A Longwood Christmas, and admire the beautiful fountain shows in the gardens for the summer. We’ve found there’s something different to see in every season, making no two visits alike. Scroll down for info on what to do at Longwood Gardens, and if you want to stay local, there are plenty of gardens in NJ to visit as well. (featured photo credit: Eileen Tercha, Longwood Gardens)
Longwood Gardens: A Seasonal Delight
Feast your eyes on holiday delights at Longwood Gardens
Despite the wintery temps, A Longwood Christmas twinkles with half-million lights along Flower Garden Drive with their wintery hues. This year’s theme— A Very Retro Christmas—features nostalgic knickknacks adorning trees (hello, tinsel) and mid-century magic in a decked-out festive party scene and vintage Christmas street from now until January 7. The gorgeous luminaria displays give the Large Lake a warm glow, and the 200-foot-long Meadow Tunnel, with nearly 20,000 sparkling lights, shifts from rainbow to warm colors to give a galaxy effect. While outdoors, you can’t miss three decorated treehouses where kids can climb and explore. The largest Canopy Cathedral Treehouse (inspired by a Norwegian Church) can make any adult feel like a kid again while climbing the two-story structure to take in gorgeous views of the lights and the lake below. Indoors, the East Conservatory is home to A Longwood Christmas exhibit with flickering flame lanterns and trees. The mesmerizing Exhibition Hall, where the whole Conservatory is filled with one showstopping spectacle after another, is definitely worth a peek. The highlight is the Music Room with silk paneled walls, larger-than-life Christmas trees, and a perfectly decorated fireplace mantle that could inspire anyone to create their own masterpiece at home.
A historic beginning and thriving future
In the early 1900s, wealthy entrepreneur Pierre S. du Pont purchased the grounds to preserve them after learning that the original Quaker farmstead was being sold. He created his first garden, a 600-foot-long Flower Garden Walk, and twenty years later, he built The Conservatory and opened the grounds to the public. Today, Longwood Gardens is known worldwide for its horticultural enrichment, and visitors come every year to view the indoor and outdoor horticulture displays covering 1,100 acres, divided among six areas, known as districts. Along with the outdoor gardens, The Conservatory District is the jewel of the gardens—it retains many of the original plants since its opening in 1927 and offers lush displays year-round in rooms that highlight the light and beauty of the building’s 19th-century architecture. Another standout is the fountain shows during the warmer months that show off dazzling displays at the Open Air Theatre or the Main Fountain Garden, which shoots out 35,000 gallons of water daily. The music and seasonal events at Longwood Gardens add to the spectacular scenery and entertain every age.
As the weather turns warmer and blooms begin to pop, it’s a great time to visit the gardens from late March to early May, when everything turns to color. See flowering trees, tulips coloring the walkways, and the gardens bursting back into life. The Open Air Theatre also comes alive in April with fountain shows again, which are a dazzling display set to music. The Wisteria Garden alone is worth the visit in May to see the purple and white blooms. You also won’t want to miss the magnolias, ephemerals, and the Idea Garden, with bulbs and artful botanical combinations opening up during the season.
Summer at Longwood Gardens
Summer is magical at Longwood Gardens, where the flowers bloom all season, and over 1,700 jets of water shoot into the air during the Festival of Fountains from mid-May to late September. At night is when the magic really happens—the fountains are illuminated, and the light and water dance along to the accompanying live music. You can also stroll through the Rose Arbor or cool off in the Conservatory when you and the fam need a break from the summer heat and check out the largest Aeolian organ ever constructed in a residential setting at Longwood Gardens. The organ comprises 10,010 pipes divided into 146 ranks, and its powerful sound can be heard in the Conservatory.
Fall at the gardens
The changing colors of autumn at this Kennett Square site are worth the visit. Whether you are visiting for the Chrysanthemum Festival in late September to November or the Pumpkin Playground in October for interactive play and photos with the littles, the fall is full of fun. Another display not to be missed is the Garden Railway—this whimsical railway is always a highlight during our trip. It creates an air of excitement and thrills for all of us when we see the dozens of diesel engines, steam engines, locomotives, and specialty engines zooming around the tracks. Littles and bigs can anxiously watch as trains weave in and out of tunnels and peek out from behind buildings on over 500 feet of track. And for Thomas fans, take note—don’t miss everyone’s favorite train character and his friends zoom around the railway, which is a real treat.
Just for kids
Secret stairways, hands-on water features, plant displays, and hand-crafted sculptures create a unique experience for children of all ages (and adults too!) Longwood Gardens originally built the Indoor Children’s Garden in 1987, and now it’s become a major attraction. Pick up a paintbrush to “paint” the dragon’s teeth with water or “chase” the water up the fountains as the water hops from one spray to the next. Outdoors your kiddos won’t want to miss the Garden Railway with various locomotives and steam engines or climb to the top of one of three tree houses that will make you feel like a kid again. Longwood Gardens also has Discovery Boxes for purchase for ages 6-12, which include indoor and outdoor activities with materials and easy-to-follow instructions; boxes include anything from seeds to learning about insects in your own backyard. You can also print out activities at home with a bunch of coloring pages and activity sheets to do at home or bring with you to the gardens.
What To Know Before You Go
Tickets for adults are $30, kids are $16, and children under four are free. Timed Admission Tickets are required daily from opening to closing, and you can purchase them online. Most paths are paved, and you can use strollers on the grounds; however, a few areas are not accessible to strollers. The Lookout Loft Treehouse is the only treehouse that is wheelchair and stroller accessible. Private changing tables are available in each restroom, and there is a nursing room along the Green Wall in the Conservatory (FYI, there are substantial private bathrooms along the Green Wall). If you want to learn more about horticulture, Longwood Gardens offers classes and workshops for kids, adults, and there are online courses too. There is plenty for kids to do at the gardens, from the Flower Garden Walk to the treehouses to the Indoor Children’s Gardens. They also have family and kid-friendly events and activities that you can print out before you visit.
You can’t bring your own food, but Longwood Gardens has plenty of options. There’s 1906, a full-service fine-dining restaurant with gourmet entrees and desserts. More casual spots are The Cafe, an outdoor beer garden with wood-fired pizza, or a BBQ grill hut with burgers and dogs. There are also little stands throughout, offering snacks and small bites. No matter where you stop, make sure to enjoy a steaming cup of their famous mushroom soup, available in many food locations on the grounds.