Kew Gardens: Introduction
Size of the Gardens
The Gardens are 300 acres. To get an idea of walking times between landmarks see the Kew Gardens map (pdf). If you are visiting with small children be prepared to double walking times.
How Much Time?
It is suggested that most people take around three hours to explore the whole of the length of the Gardens. (It is about one mile across and takes about 40 minutes to walk across.) We usually stay the whole day and still never see everything. If you have time, spend the whole day at Kew. Don't rush it; stay longer, have lunch, and enjoy your visit.
Kew Gardens is on the Heathrow Airport flight path. Noisy planes go overhead every few minutes. Initially this is distracting but, honestly, you soon get used to it and stop noticing them.
Kew is a photographer's paradise. You will see lots of people with cameras ranging from the cheap disposables to amazing long lenses on professional equipment. Most people walk around holding their camera and a map so if your camera has a neck strap do use it. As with any photo opportunity make sure you have all you need for a day away from the shops: extra batteries, film (if not digital), and an empty memory card or lots of space (for digital).
Kew has a history of outdoor sculpture exhibitions and some of the best have been David Nash at Kew and Moore at Kew.
Getting to Kew
Use Journey Planner to plan your route by public transport.
By London Underground
Nearest Tube Station: Kew Gardens. Take the District Line towards Richmond.
Approx. Travel Times: 15 minutes from Earl's Court and 30 minutes from Westminster on the District Line to Kew Gardens Station (Zone 3).
Top Tip: If steps are a problem for you, for example, if you are traveling with a child in a buggy, go to Richmond station (it's only one more stop) and come back on the Eastbound train to Kew Gardens. This way you can avoid the steps and bridge over the train tracks.It's a ten-minute walk from Kew Gardens Station to Kew Gardens Victoria Gate.
Train services (South West Trains) from Waterloo, via Vauxhall and Clapham Junction, stop at Kew Bridge station.
Planning Your Trip to Kew Gardens
Kew is open 363 days of the year (closed for Christmas) so you can visit all year round. The plants vary throughout the seasons but that is what makes more than one visit so interesting. Before you visit you can get lots of useful information from the Kew Gardens website, such as the Parent's Survival Guide.
Wear a jacket that is easy to remove when inside the glasshouses as these buildings are hot and humid. Wear flat shoes as narrow heels will go through the holes in the grated floor in the Palm House.
You will be given a free Visitor's Guide when you arrive. This includes a map and information on facilities. The Visitor's Guide is updated regularly due to the seasonal changes at Kew Gardens and is usually only valid for three months as the botanical world changes so fast.
Toilets Upon Arrival at Victoria Gate
Toilets are the other side of Victoria Plaza (go through and come out the other side). There are more toilets and another baby changing station around the corner along the side of the lake (less than a minute away).
Kew Explorer Bus Tours
If you really are short of time you can see Kew in under an hour on the Kew Explorer. There is an additional charge for this hop on-hop off tour of Kew with 8 stops. Tours are daily and run every hour from Victoria Plaza. I haven't tried this tour but it looks like fun. It includes a running commentary of the sights.
There are daily walking tours, usually two a day, lasting 60 minutes.
You need to register at the Guide Desk just inside Victoria Plaza at least 15 minutes before the start of the tour. There are also often other seasonal tours available so check at the Guide Desk for information.
Kew Gardens Rules
- no climbing trees
- no ball games
- no bikes and scooters
- guide dogs only
Kew Gardens Opening Times
- Open Daily, Closed 24 and 25 December only.
- Closing times vary throughout the year
- Dates are approximate. Check Kew Gardens website for exact dates this year.
Fire Alarm Tip
All public indoor areas have regular fire alarm testing. Check doors to indoor areas for fire alarm testing notices.
More Tea for Your Money
A paper cup of tea in the Victoria Plaza is the same price as a pot of tea (2 cups) in the Pavilion Restaurant.
Ramp Access to Temperate House
Disabled access is available at the back of the Temperate House.
Best Picnic Spots
- Next to the River Thames, near the Badger Sett, marked as a View Point on the free map. There are bench seats available and plenty of space to laze on the grass.
- In front of Queen Charlotte's Cottage is a good quiet picnic spot, as it has even ground and some shaded areas, although the nearest toilets are about 10 minutes walk away, near the Waterlily Pond.
- Near the Waterlily Pond is another good spot with bench seating.
Kew Gardens Ticket Information
- Visit this attraction for free with a London Pass
- Buy the London Pass now (Buy Direct).
There are different Winter and Summer ticket prices. Children (under 17) go free. For the latest prices see the Kew Gardens website. You can also buy Kew Gardens tickets through Viator. Concessions are available for 60+, students 17+ in full-time education, long-term disabled, unemployed.
Kew Gardens Shopping and Eating
- Victoria Plaza Shops:
- Garden Shop - plants and objects for your garden
- Book Shop - botanical and garden-related books
- Cook Shop - exclusive sweets, teas, coffees and condiments
- Gift Shop - wide range of unique mementos
- White Peaks Children's Shop - pocket money toys, fun games and small toys
All purchases from Kew Gardens shops help to support Kew's vital science-based conservation work throughout the world. Find out more about Shopping at Kew.
- Victoria Terrace Café: This is right next to the Victoria Gate which is the entrance/exit you use when traveling by tube or train. It serves tea, sandwiches, cakes, and snacks and is open the longest of all the cafes.
Top Tip: A paper cup of tea in the Victoria Plaza is the same price as a proper pot of tea (2 cups) in the Pavilion Restaurant.
- Pavilion Restaurant: This would be my first choice for lunch or a snack as it has a wide choice of well-priced hot and cold meals, a lovely choice of cakes, and that pot of tea. It's located near the Temperate House and the Pagoda, so in the southern part of the Gardens, and has a large outdoor seating area. This venue is most popular with regular visitors. Note there are extra toilets nearby on the edge of the Gardens).
- White Peaks Café: The menu here has improved dramatically and I've seen hot carved roast in a bap as well as children's lunch boxes.
- The Orangery Restaurant: Enjoy seasonal dishes in this elegant Grade 1 listed building, built in 1761.
Visiting Kew Gardens With Children
The best news is children under 17 go FREE to Kew Gardens! The Gardens are 300 acres. To get an idea of walking times between landmarks see the Kew Gardens map. It's suggested a five-year-old will take 15 minutes to walk from the Victoria Gate to the Xstrata Treetop Walkway.
Kew's landscape has many paths and most buildings have ramped access. The only areas that are not accessible with buggies are:
- Xstrata Treetop Walkway (there's a buggy park at the bottom)
- Galleries in both the Temperate House and the Palm House
- The Waterlily House
- The Aquatic Display in the Palm House (no problem in the Princess of Wales Conservatory)
- Queen Charlotte's Cottage
- Kew Palace
Check the Kid's page of the Kew Gardens website for events and activities. Here are some tips and fun ideas:
- Climbers and Creepers: Kew's interactive play area. Amazing fun for 3- to 9-year-olds. Explore the Gardens first as once the kids get here they won't want to leave! Don't start your visit with Climbers and Creepers, though, or you'll never get to see the gardens!
- Treehouse Towers: Kew's outdoor play area, next to Climbers and Creepers.
- Aerial walkways in the Palm House and the Temperate House.
- King William's Temple (behind the Palm House). Great for echo practice!
- Evolution House: Beware of the wet floor from the noisy waterfall. This area is meant for kids so they can learn about plant evolution.
- Stag Beetle Loggery: Not much to see.
- Giant Badger Sett: You can walk through the underground tunnels.
Kew Gardens Highlights
- Xstrata Treetop Walkway: Xstrata Treetop Walkway is 18 meters high and offers the chance to explore the tree canopy and views across London.
- The Palm House: Palm House is the stunning glass house near to the Victoria Gate entrance. At one end you can see the world's oldest pot plant, a Cyrad, and at the other end look at the sealing wax plant which turns red at the top. The Palm House is very humid - look up for the high steam jets. The plants are divided into areas of the world. Beware of overhanging plants on the walkways. Use the ornate wrought iron spiral staircase up to the gallery and down to the aquatic display.
- Princess of Wales Conservatory: Opened by Princess of Wales on 28 July 1987, the design now seems rather '80s and dated. There's an aquatic display on the lower level. Buggy access via sloped walkways with wide low steps – not wheelchair-friendly. (Top Tip: the Aquatic Display in the Palm House is better.)
- Temperate House: The world's largest surviving Victorian glass structure. It took 38 years to build. As you enter the Main Block there is a 'wow factor'. It has a stunning high ceiling and the plants are huge. It is not uncomfortably hot, like the Palm House. In the center, you can see the world's tallest indoor plant, a Chilean Wine Palm.
- Queen Charlotte's Cottage: Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) used this as her summerhouse to picnic with her family. The surrounding 37 acres were known as the 'Queen's Cottage Grounds' and was a game reserve.
- Kew Palace: Kew Palace is the smallest and most intimate of the royal palaces. There is an additional charge to visit.
- The Davies Alpine House: Bizarre glass structure, reminiscent of the new Wembley Stadium.
- Pagoda Tree: This is a bit surreal as it's grown sideways. From China, it is grown in Buddhist Temple grounds
Xstrata Treetop Walkway at Kew Gardens
The Xstrata Treetop Walkway at Kew Gardens opened in May 2008 and at 18 meters high, it offers visitors the chance to explore the tree canopy and see magnificent views across London including the London Eye, which was designed by the same architects (Marks Barfield Architects). No extra ticket is required once you have paid your entrance to Kew Gardens. (Remember, under 17s go free.)
There is no other treetop walkway that starts underground but it makes sense to learn about the roots of trees before winding your way up to the treetops. The roots are the most important part of a tree but they couldn't be exposed so you can see interesting animatronics and a wonderful bronze sculpture of tree roots. This area is open all the time and it is expected that wildlife will go in at night so all exhibits have been built to withstand the elements.
Unfortunately, the lift has never worked so you will have to climb the steps up to the 200-meter long treetop walkway. There is a classroom platform which would be a fabulous place for a lesson!
The structure is made from weathered steel and will be maintenance free for 100 years and is expected to last 500 years! The Xstrata Treetop Walkway can accommodate 3,000 visitors a day and is a major highlight when you visit.