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The 10 Best Things To Do At Franklin Park Conservatory

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is not just one of the top destinations for visitors and residents in Columbus; it’s a historical gem that has been a cornerstone of community life since its inception.

The story of this magnificent site begins in 1852, when the Franklin County Agriculture Society earmarked 88 acres, just two miles east of downtown Columbus, for the inaugural Franklin County Fair. By 1874, this expansive space had evolved to host the Ohio State Fair, marking it as a central hub for agriculture and community gatherings.

The Ohio Legislature, recognizing the area’s value and potential, officially designated it as Franklin Park in 1884, opening its gates for public enjoyment.

victorian greenhouse franklin park conservatory
The palm house at Franklin Park Conservatory in 1903. Photo via CML.

In a nod to the City Beautiful movement that swept across America in the late 19th century, Columbus undertook the ambitious project of constructing a grand Victorian-style glass greenhouse within the park. This architectural marvel, known today as the John F. Wolfe Palm House, welcomed its first visitors in 1895, establishing the Franklin Park Conservatory.

It quickly became a beloved retreat for locals, offering picturesque carriage paths, a serene lake, and a charming boathouse for leisurely afternoons.

lake at franklin park
The lake that used to be located within Franklin Park. Illustrated in 1893, via CML.

Ownership and operation of the Conservatory shifted to the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department until 1989. Throughout these years, the facility cemented its reputation for horticultural prowess, showcasing an array of rare and exotic plants. It also became a sought-after venue for family gatherings, weddings, and a myriad of events, weaving itself into the fabric of Columbus’ community life.

In 1992, the conservatory took to the national stage to host AmeriFlora, an international flower festival that attracted attention nationwide, including a visit from then-President George H.W. Bush. While AmeriFlora might not have been a commercial triumph, it remains a cherished memory for many Columbus residents, myself included. It stands as a testament to the Conservatory’s longstanding tradition of community engagement and cultural enrichment.

The Best Things To Do At Franklin Park Conservatory

With such a rich history and a plethora of attractions, Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens indeed offers an overwhelming array of things to see and do. But fret not, as we’ve curated a list of must-visit highlights to ensure your experience is nothing short of epic.

Check out the Chihuly display

Photo by Chelsea Wiley

One of the biggest highlights of any visit to Franklin Park Conservatory has to be the beautiful display of glass-blown works by Chihuly. The sculptures can be found throughout FPC, both inside and out, adding the perfect amount of whimsy to the gardens. While they are always on display, if you’re looking for a special night out, you can visit during Chihuly Nights when all of the installations are professionally lit up to create quite the backdrop inside the Conservatory.
READ MORE: The Chihuly Exhibit At Franklin Park Conservatory Is The Prettiest Thing In Columbus

Visit the Children’s Garden

Photo by Chelsea Wiley.

The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden is an absolute gem. This 4-acre area is full of wonders for the kids to explore, from a natural play area that’s built to look like a stream to a treehouse that will inspire creativity. Children can spend the whole day enjoying the garden, learning about plants and nature, and of course, having fun.
READ MORE: The Children’s Garden At Franklin Park Conservatory Is Nothing Short Of Magical

Shop at the Farmer’s Market

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Held June-September, the Farmer’s Market at Franklin Park Conservatory is free and open to the public. The market is held in the parking lot at FPC, offering a mix of local produce, baked goods, specialty foods, handmade items, and health and beauty products.
READ MORE: The Best Farmers Markets Around Columbus

Take a glassblowing class

The Hot Shop features daily glassblowing demonstrations by local, professional gaffers. Viewing the demonstrations is included in your admission to the conservatory, but if you’re looking for something a little more hands-on, you can take a glassblowing class for an additional fee. Classes are offered from April through December.
READ MORE: Test Out Your Glassblowing Skills At Franklin Park Conservatory’s Hot Shop

Attend an evening of cocktails

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While the Children’s Garden might be all the rage for the kids, the adults can treat themselves to an awesome night of Cocktails at the Conservatory. Each event has a different theme, local food & drink vendors, live music, and more. These events are 21+ only and occur after the conservatory is closed to the public.
READ MORE: Cocktails at the Conservatory

Enjoy the seasonal programming

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Franklin Park Conservatory has shifting seasonal exhibitions throughout the year. From spring events like Blooms & Butterflies to the incredible holiday light display during Conservatory Aglow, there are wonderful exhibitions on display year-round. You can view the full list of season exhibitions right here.

Experience a butterfly release

Franklin Park Conservatory

Speaking of Blooms & Butterflies, one of the coolest events of the year happens every spring at the conservatory. Thousands of butterflies flutter through the Pacific Island Water Garden biome. On bright, sunny days, the butterflies are most active, flying around visitors and landing on nearby plants where you can get a closer look.
READ MORE: Blooms & Butterflies At Franklin Park Conservatory Is The Perfect First Taste Of Spring

Have a picnic

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Once you’ve tired yourself out by exploring the conservatory all day, you can grab some food from the cafe and head out to the grounds of Franklin Park to enjoy a picnic. It’s a peaceful area with great views of the Palm House.

Explore the Victorian-era Palm House

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First constructed around 1895, The John F. Wolfe Palm House is the crown jewel of the conservatory. Inside the palm house, you’ll fund a stunning double grand staircase, a tropical setting, iron gazebos, and even a Venetian-style fountain.

Visit After Dark To See An Incredible light display

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If you’re visiting after hours for any of the conservatory’s special events, be sure to step outside and enjoy the beautiful light display on the Palm House. Renowned light artist James Turrell designed the light installation at FPC, which features approximately 7,000 computer-controlled LED light sources. To get the best view, you should head out to the Grand Mallway.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to visit Franklin Park Conservatory
Admission to the conservatory is $23.50 for adults, $19.50 for seniors, and $16 for kids 3-12. Discounts are available and you can learn about them here.

Are there things to do for kids?
The park is full of wonderful things to do with the kids, especially Scotts Miracle Grow Children’s Garden. Admission to the Children’s Garden is included in your admission to the conservatory.

How long does it take to walk through Franklin Park Conservatory?
Franklin Park Conservatory is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (unless there’s a special event) and visitors should plan on spending at least 2-3 hours exploring. It can be done in less, but you’ll definitely feel rushed.

How large is Franklin Park Conservatory?
The visitor experience at Franklin Park Conservatory spans roughly 13-acres, which includes the Conservatory building, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden, and the Grand Mallway. The conservatory is settled within Franklin Park, an 88 acre City of Columbus park.

Can you get married at Franklin Park Conservatory?
Yes! In fact, the conservatory is one of the most popular wedding locations in the city. The cost of weddings at the conservatory varies based on a variety of different factors. You can learn all about what the conservatory has to offer couples for their big day right here.

Is the conservatory open year-round?
The Conservatory is open seven days a week, all year round, except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.