If you are wondering whether to take your kids to Kew Gardens and what there is to do there - we would totally recommend taking a trip. The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew were originally founded by George III’s mother Princess Augusta back in 1759. The gardens are home to some very old plants as well as some impressive architecture including the Palm House, the Hive and the Great Pagoda that was built in 1761 by Sir William Chambers as a present for Princess Augusta.
Kew is easily reached by train, we went via Clapham Junction to Richmond then one further stop to Kew Gardens. It is then a short walk away (around five minutes) to the gardens. We booked online, for a family of four (£41) and paid for one extra child (£5). We booked a 12 noon time slot - they are still keeping this going to avoid it getting too busy. The gardens stay open until 6.00pm.
Be prepared to do a lot of walking, we clocked in over 20,000 steps. The grounds at Kew are an impressive 300 acres! I was advised to use the toilet first as it may be a while before you find one if you're roaming around. The impressive Palm House is something that you'll immediately see, this Victorian glasshouse is humid inside and has a collection of plants from all over the world including the world's oldest pot plant. The floor in the Palm House is grated which allows all of the moisture to disperse so they aren't slippery. My daughter wasn't too keen to walk on them as you can see through the holes (she's not a fan of piers for the same reason).
We then decided to head left towards the Great Pagoda it is 10 storeys, totalling 163 ft in height and is currently closed to the public but will be reopening in the Spring. You'll pass many species of tree and if you are alert you'll spot a few mushrooms too.
Currently (until October 31st 2021) there is a Japan exhibition at Kew. There is artwork in the Temperate House called One Thousand Springs by Chiharu Shiota. This huge artwork consisting of red ropes with 5000 haiku is suspended from the ceiling. There was a queue outside for this that looked pretty long but they let multiple groups in at a time so don't be put off. I think we queued for around 5 minutes. As well as all of the plants there is also a chalk garden with Japanese planting and chrysanthemums in sunset colours. The spiral staircases are currently closed which is a shame.
We grabbed some Japanese street food (Okonomiyaki) from a stall outside the Temperate House. Usually I would take a picnic but this was a treat for everybody. there are at least four other cafes on site.
It was then on to the Japanese Gardens which has the ‘Chokushi-Mon’, or ‘Gateway of the Imperial Messenger’, which was gifted to Kew after its inclusion in the Japan-British Exhibition of 1910 in London. In front of the Japanese garden is a zen style garden the horticulturists rake the gravel once a week into wave, circular and straight-line patterns, symbolising the movement and ripples of water.
As this was our first trip to Kew we did miss a few things including the Momijigari Trail, there is a bamboo garden with a small Japanese Minka House that we didn't see as well as a Gingko grove and Japanese maples. This will have to be saved for another trip. We also missed the Tree Top walkway!
We did walk around the huge lake and cut through a pathway to the Children's Garden. Again, you are supposed to try and book a time slot for the children's play area, but if there aren't any available you can join the queue. Again we queued for around 2 minutes and it was so worth it. There are trampolines, tunnels, bridges, water features, wooden climbing frames, sand pits and slides. Finley would have stayed there for hours.
We then headed to The Hive. This is a large multi-sensory metal structure with lights and sounds - the experience reveals the secret world of the honey bee. You can stand underneath the structure or go up a slope and stand on the frosted glass floor.
Our next stop was the Princess of Wales Conservatory. This is home to ten climatic zones, again it is very humid inside. You'll find orchids, cacti, ferns and a pond with huge waterlilies and Koi carp which were beautiful.
On our way back towards the Victoria Gate we walked through the alpine gardens and woods and back towards the Palm House. There is a huge gift shop as you exit full of plants and other gifts.
We spent a good four hours at Kew and could have easily stayed there much longer. I would love to go back to explore all of the areas that we missed out on. It would also be great to visit during the different seasons, we visited in Autumn.
Kew Gardens went down a treat, the teens loved it and both took loads of photos and were really interested in all of the plants in the conservatories. My 10 year old son, loved the play area most of all, he wasn't quite as interested in other areas but he loved seeing how huge some of the leaves were and just being out in the fresh air.
Top tips for visiting Kew Gardens
Wear comfy shoes, you will be doing a lot of walking.
Go to the toilets as you arrive to avoid being caught short if you've wandered a long way.
Take a leaflet with a map as you arrive, there are sign posts around but it's easier to find your bearings with a map.
Plan out your route. If there are things you don't want to miss out in it is worth planning your way around the gardens.
Don't be put off by the queues, they do move very fast.
Book online and it will save you money.