KEW has comfortably managed to create a day out for everyone with wide stretches of lawn perfect for little ones to run about, flowers to admire, trees to climb, play areas and an abundance of picnic spots. And amazingly, all children under 17 go free with adults – something we’d like to see more of! We started off our Bank Hol weekend with a spur of the moment decision to visit the Gardens, which are celebrating their 250th anniversary this year - and promptly packed up a picnic and rug.
Parking isn’t great around Kew Gardens – most roads have restrictions between 10am-12noon so you may want to arrive towards the end of that to snap up a spot. However, if you do walk, head down the path by the Thames up to Brentford Gate and you may spot some of the parrots that are said to live in the trees nearby.
We entered via Victoria Gate and after a quick stop at the cafe to pick up juice cartons and chocolate brownies to add to our picnic (at 80p per small juice carton, you may want to bring your own!) we meandered over to the Pagoda Vista where we threw out the blanket and stretched out to eat our picnic whilst the children ran around the trees and through the ground-sweeping branches. Perfect den making opportunities abound here!
From here, we made our way to one of the huge greenhouses, the Temperate House, which was reached via the pretty Cherry Walk and King William’s Temple. There are a few steps up to the building so we went up the grassy bank with the pushchair but you could carry it up or there is disabled access mid-building. Inside, exotic plants, enormous palms and flowers plus a mini waterfall and pool captured our attentions but the children probably preferred laying on the grass bank outside and rolling down repeatedly.
The Evolution House was next where the earth’s process was charted with lots of rocks, running water and a winding path. Exit at the other side and a short walk took us to the relatively new Treetop Walkway which is entred via the bug tunnel where we found a small exhibition dedicated to why bugs are useful in the garden. Whilst my partner went up with the older children (the lift was out of order on our visit) to see the treetops 200m above ground, toddler Gabe and I went to see the peacock fanning his feathers in the enclosure at the base.
From here, we went to the Pavilion restaurant and sat outside under the flowering arbours for a quick drink before heading off to see the Ruined Arch – we also spotted chickens – and walk back towards the lake in front of the Palm House where we saw swans, coots, moorhens and other water fowl. Nearby, the Broad Walk has been kitted out with activity benches with things to touch and read which is always good for inquisitive children and us, especially when the kids expect us to be unexhaustible sources of knowledge.
We unfortunately managed to miss the indoor play centre Climbers & Creepers (it closes at 5.30pm) by the White Peaks cafe and shop, but peeping through the windows, we thought it looked like fun with lots of play equipment based on a horticultural theme. Later this year a new outdoor play area should be built with lots more fun things like zip lines and climbing frames with a treehouse theme planned.
Although the entry price was really good value, there were a few extras that we decided to opt out of, namely Kew Palace (adults £5, children free) and the hop-on, hop-off Kew Explorer (adults £4, children £1) as that would have blown the budget.
The last time we visited was 2004 and I really felt since then the Kew team had put a lot of thought and effort into improving the experience for children (the play parks, the activity benches on the Broad Walk, for example) whilst still maintaining the integrity of the gardens as a gorgeous family day out.
We’ll certainly be back later this summer with a plan to visit the play zones, the Palm House, and some of the furthest areas – probably taking the Kew Explorer – such as the Rhododendron Dell, Badger Sett and the lake.
How much? Adults £13, Children under 17 free
Opening times: 9.30 -6pm (7.30pm Sat&Sun, some attractions inside close around 5.30pm)
Pushchair accessibility: All areas accessible.
Facilities: Find near Victoria Gate entrance, Pavilion Restaurant (one step, narrow corridor). Generally good and clean.
Cafe: At Victoria Gate, Pavilion, Orangery, White Peaks, snack cart near Treetop Walk. Light snacks (prices approx: sandwiches £2.70, large sausage roll, £2.70, cakes £2.20-£2.80, juice carton 85p, lemonade £2.25)
SatNav postcode: TW9 3AB
Web: Kew Gardens
Images and words: Camilla Chafer – click images to make bigger.