A visit to Kew Gardens is the perfect getaway from London, offering a tranquil setting in a botanical paradise. This top tourist attraction outside the city also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of the largest botanical gardens in the world. That’s why we’ve created this day trip guide to help you make the most out of your time at Kew Gardens.
Officially called the Royal Botanic Garden of Kew, these beautiful grounds are perfectly manicured, with the indoor collections being equally and beautifully curated. There are over 50,000 different kinds of living plants in the Garden. A trip to Kew is your chance to get closer to nature and uncover the science behind the plants and glasshouses.
Kew dates to the 18th century when it was established on the grounds of a royal palace. Originally only 9-acres, there are now 14,000 trees set over 300 acres for your exploration, all located in Richmond in Southwest London.
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There’s more than just plants though. This garden is a globally renowned scientific institution for fungal and plant research, with Victorian glasshouses and artwork to see as well.
This guide will cover all the top attractions within Kew Gardens, as well as what to budget and the best times to visit. Always check their website before you go though because they temporarily shut exhibits down at random times, they always have new displays that might not be listed here, as well as pop-up events and festivals to enjoy.
Kew Gardens Top Attractions
Bamboo Garden and Minka House
Bamboos are the fastest growing woody plants in the world and create dense landscapes wherever they grow. The Bamboo Garden at Kew has 130 bamboo species from China, Japan, the Himalaya and Americas, being one of the largest collections in the UK. They’re arranged by appearance to maximise the variety of form and leaf shapes. As you wander around, you’ll come across the Minka house. Meaning ‘houses of the people,’ these farmhouses are a treasured feature of Japanese heritage. The simple homes or ‘minka’ were common in Japan until the mid-20th century.
This is one of the things that you should definitely do at Kew Gardens is walk among the treetops. But if you’re like me and you’re slightly terrified of heights, it can be a little daunting. Just take a deep breath, enjoy the views and make sure you don’t look down.
The Treetop Walkway towers 18 metres above the ground and is a chance to observe the complex ecosystem of the trees’ uppermost branches, birds, insects, lichen and fungi. On the ground level, you’ll find sculptures carved from tree trunks and a path that leads below ground to the Rhizotron, which is an underground lab for studying the soil.
There are 118 steps up to the walkway in total.
Palm House is where you’ll wander through the depths of the rainforest, where the air is heavy and dense. Discover treasures like the oldest pot plant in the world, along with the disease-fighting periwinkle. Lots of these plants are endangered or extinct. Rainforests are vital to sustaining life on earth, making up 50% of species. The Palm House is a living laboratory giving a chance to glimpse the magic of the rainforest.
The nearest entrance is Victoria Gate.
Great Broad Walk Borders
This is a feast for the senses! At 320 metres, these are possibly the longest herbaceous borders in the world. Arranged in colourful themes across eight large circular beds, you’ll be filled with fresh fragrances, feathery grasses, and dazzling flower beds that evolve with the seasons. Although they’re at their finest in summer, they’re still amazing in spring and autumn as well.
The nearest entrance is Victoria Gate.
This is the perfect place for quiet reflection, combining a Garden of Peace, Garden of Activity, Garden of Harmony and Japanese Landscape. You’ll find areas reminiscent of a traditional Japanese tea garden, stone lanterns, a dripping water basin, flowing water and stone and rock outcrops. The landscape was designed by Professor Fukuhara of Osaka University and has a near replica of the Gate of Nishi Hongan-ji (Western Temple of the Original Vow) in Kyoto, Japan.
Th nearest entrance is Lion Gate.
There are 14,000 trees rooted in the Arboretum, with more than 2,000 species, including rare and ancient varieties. This is an opportunity to experience the diversity of forests around the globe, as it stretches across two-thirds of the Gardens. This incredible collection includes trees as old as the Gardens themselves, with many that you can’t find anywhere else in Britain.
The Marion North Gallery
This gallery has a vivid collection of 19th century botanical art, with more than 800 paintings covering the walls. Marion North solo travelled the world to record the tropical and exotic plants that she so loved and chose to paint the plants in their natural setting. Her vast collection is on permanent display at Kew and is exhibited in geographical order so you can follow in her footsteps.
The nearest entrance is Victoria Gate. The Gallery is located near the Temperate House and Pavilion restaurant.
The Davies Alpine House
Alpines are able to grow above the altitude at which trees can survive, making them some of the world’s most resilient plants. They’ve adapted to be able to endure severe conditions such as the Earth’s poles and Arctic mountaintops. Because they have a short growing season, the plants must flower and then set seed quickly. So, the flowers in this glasshouse are only displayed when they come into bloom, when you’ll see a range of bright purples, bold pinks, fragrant lavenders and many other unique species.
Mediterranean Garden and King William’s Temple
Get ready to be transported to the sun-kissed landscape of Southern Europe in this part of the Garden, depicting a typical Mediterranean natural habitat. Built in 1837 and standing in the centre of the Mediterranean Garden is King William’s Temple, in memory of William IV. The Tuscan porticos of the Temple, have iron plaques commemorating British military victories from 1760 to 1815.
The Hive towers 17 metres high and is an installation recreating life inside a beehive. It’s one of the most photographed spots in the Gardens and a magnificent piece of contemporary art. You can actually walk inside the enclosure and enter into the world of a real beehive, with music in the background responding to the activity. This is the place to explore the secret life of bees and celebrate their role in sustaining life!
The nearest entrance is Elizabeth Gate.
Princess of Wales Conservatory
This Conservatory has ten computer-controlled climate zones and a series of fascinating ecosystems. Discover carnivorous plants, spiky cacti and succulents, and a celebrated giant waterlily, with a surprise around every corner of the winding glasshouse.
Elizabeth Gate is the nearest entrance.
Library and Archives
The Library and Archives collection at Kew spans 2,000 years, with classification and uses of plants, ecology, conservation and naming. This is for the garden lover, researcher or avid reader, with plenty of resources on botanic gardens and herbaria worldwide. The oldest collection dates back to the 1370s, with copies of ancient works of botany taking you back even further in time.
The Main Library is located in the Herbarium building off Kew Green to the right of Elizabeth Gate.
The Queen’s Garden has plants and architectural styles of the 17th century, designed to complement Kew Palace. Most of the plants in this garden are species grown in the 1600s or even earlier. In May and June, the displays in this garden are simply spectacular.
The Rose Garden contains 170 different species of the rose, making it a floral feast for the eyes. Designed in 1848 by English landscape architect William Nesfield, it wasn’t actually planted with roses until the 1920s. The best time of day to see the Rose Garden at its best is early in the morning or early in the evening, when the scent linger between the beds.
This incredible glittering cathedral is home to 1,500 species of plants. Travel the world with plants from Africa, Australia, America, Asia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. These are all temperate plants that need to live in conditions above 10 degrees to survive. The Temperate House tells us about how Kew is working to rescue these rare and already extinct plants.
The nearest entrance is Lion Gate.
The Rock Garden display is framed by sandstone peaks and cascading waterfalls, mimicking life in the world’s mountainous regions. It’s over an acre in size, being constructed in 1882, making it one of the oldest and largest Rock Gardens in the world. The naturalistic display transports you to a rugged, wild landscape, with planting combinations designed to evoke the communities seen in nature.
Where to Eat and Grab a Coffee Within the Gardens
While spending the day at Kew, you’re sure to need a perk up with coffee and food. Here are your five options within the Gardens.
For indoor and outdoor dining, the Orangery even has pop-up stalls available. Warm yourself up with a toastie, burger or Lebanese Barbeque.
Pavilion Bar and Grill
Enjoy dining surrounded by vines with views of the Pagoda and Temperate House. This is the place for plant-based options, as well as burgers, seasonal salads and cake from the kitchen.
The Botanical Brasserie
Enjoy delicious breakfast, afternoon tea and lunch dishes and this hotspot.
Victoria Plaza Cafe
This is the place for the perfect picnic grub. Grab sausage rolls and barista coffee for eating in or for taking away.
Family Kitchen Shop
Craving some pizza? Add to that a salad bar and ice cream servery and you’re good to go! The Family Kitchen Shop is conveniently located right next to the Children’s Garden.
Best Times to Visit Kew Gardens
Kew Gardens has peak and off-peak times to visit, but it’s open year-round. Here’s what each season has to offer.
Naturally, signs of new life spring up all over the Gardens in the season of fresh beginnings. You’ll see swathes of yellow daffodils in various areas, while bluebell seekers should visit in April and May and head to the Natural Area for a carpet of blue. And while you’re at it, indulge the senses with cherry blossoms along Cherry Walk near the Temperate House and in the Japanese Landscape, on display between the end of March and the beginning of May.
Summer at Kew offers something bright and beautiful at every turn. The Rose Garden is the top spot to visit during the summer months, bursting with sweet fragrances and a sea of colours, from yellow and orange to pink and scarlet. The Waterlily House offers the striking waterlilies, while the Mediterranean Garden is a sunny landscape.
The trees steal the show in Autumn at Kew. This is the best time to visit the Treetop Walkway, overlooking the bronzed chestnut, beech and oak trees. The Japanese Landscape is another autumn hotspot, along with the Grass Garden and the picturesque autumn reflections in the Lake. Autumn is also the best time of year to see fungi.
There are many botanic gems to discover at Kew, even during the chilly months. Walking among the conifer collection, you’ll notice the bright winter berries mixed with cones and foliage. And the Holly Walk near the Temperate House has one of Europe’s biggest holly collections, adding in bright colourful dashes to the winter landscape. I’ve visited once during the Christmas lights display, which is incredible and I totally recommend seeing if you’re planning a visit around the holidays.
Ticket Prices and Discounts
Just to quickly cover tickets, the normal entry price to Kew Gardens is around £16, but it varies a bit with the time of year you go. You can also get a discount if you’re a student, family, or by using the Days Out Guide. For the Days Out Guide, you’l get a rail ticket, not an Oyster card, and it will give you a two for one voucher to enter. Purchasing tickets in advance is recommended.
As you can see, Kew Gardens is definitely worth a visit! It had been on my London bucket list for ages and it was well-worth the wait. You’ll find something in every corner of Kew Gardens so keep your eyes open as you walk around. You don’t want to miss the colourful border paintings, majestic wooded areas, ornamental structures and garden art. Get ready for a multi-sensory sensation!
Hi, I'm Kat, an Australian that moved to London in 2013 to start a new adventure. What a roller-coaster that was! I love helping others move to the UK and people explore the world! I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.