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Kew Gardens, Richmond

BY Boon Koh
Published 6 July 2009

Kew Gardens is one of the rare few spots in the city where Londoners can go and enjoy a day of sunshine without being run over by foreigners with camcorders in one hand and a Harrods shopping bag in the other.

Kew Gardens Treetop Walkway

On a good day, Hyde Park, Regents Park, and St James Park are chock full of tourists eager to experience the “London Summer Life”. Kew Garden offers an escape from all that, plus it offers much much more than just a park with grass and trees and overpriced ice creams. Indeed, it is one of the least celebrated London spots but it deserves so much more credit; it is one of the world’s biggest botanic gardens, collecting plants from all over the world. Sort-of like the London Zoo, but with plants, instead of animals.

The first challenge is actually getting to Kew Gardens. It is, technically, outside London due to its TW9 postcode, but the District Line as well as the London Overground line stops there (zone 3). One tip is that if you are planning to visit on a weekend, check to see if the District Line is suspended or not on the Richmond Branch. Once you get out of the station, the Victoria Park entrance to the gardens is a short walk down a residential road.

The gardens itself inside is massive, as big as or even bigger than Hyde Park was the impression I got. Inside, they have several large greenhouses, each with a specially controlled climate to mimic a certain part of the world. There is the famous Palm House, which looks like an upside down boat, and inside it is a humid 30+ degrees, and houses plants from tropical climates. A definite place to visit during the winter, not so during the summer! There is also a water lilly house, a desert greenhouse, and lots of flora and fauna organized by category throughout the park, in addition to a bee park with lots of hives.

The two big non-plant attractions at Kew are the Kew Palace, which was used as a royal retreat and residence, but looks rather more like a small bungalow than a palace, and the Treetop Walkway, built quite recently.

The Kew Palace costs £5 to enter, and in my opinion is definitely not worth the money. You can see that they really struggled to find enough items to turn it into a museum, and the house itself wasn’t very spectacular or interesting. I think if one wanted a good historical museum trip the V&A or the British Museum are much better, and free to enter too.

The Treetop Walkway was one of the highlights of the trip. Sixty feet above the ground amongst the canopy level of the forest, the views from up there are amazing on a sunny day, not to mention the ability to peer down at the forest below.

There are also numerous free guided tours throughout the day, and we were lucky enough to have arrived just in time to join one of them. The normal guided tours are at 11am and 2pm, and take about an hour. The guides are very knowledgeable about the plants at Kew as well as the history of Kew Gardens itself.

Unlike most other London public attractions, Kew Gardens is not free to enter and costs £13 for adults, and £11 for concessions, although children under the age of 17 are able to get in for free. However, there are ways of saving to make it easier on the pocket! The Days Out Guide website has a 2 for 1 voucher if you are travelling in to London by train. Just keep your inbound train ticket, print out the voucher, and present both at the ticket counter. If you live in London, however, or aren’t travelling in by train, you can take advantage of the DiscountBritain 20% off voucher (also valid at many other places in London).

Verdict: One of London’s hidden gems and bound to please any nature or plant lovers, as well as those looking to relax and have a fun day out in the sun. It is a bit of pain to get there (about 40 minutes from central London), and the admission fee is rather steep, but families should rejoice that under 17’s get in for free. Definitely a must visit place for another Londoner at least once, and for tourists who have the time to spare.