Attraction Reviews,  Things to Do

Kew Gardens Review: Gorgeous Greenery or Overgrown?

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Love plants? You’ll adore Kew Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can find the “largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world.” (source) It houses over 50,000 living plants, four Grade I-listed, and 336 Grade II-listed buildings spread across 330 acres of land – all within 30 minutes of central London.

I have been going to these botanical gardens for over 30 years, yet I remain amazed each time I revisit. Whether you’re a first-time or repeat visitor to England trying to plan your London itinerary, I’m here to help with this review of Kew Gardens. Below you’ll find a detailed overview of visiting this London attraction, from the basic information of how to get there to tips to help you decide if it’s worth your time! 

Bonus! As part of the London Pass, you can receive free admission to Kew Gardens (valued at £23pp in 2024!). Click here to read my London Pass review and click here to buy your own London Pass and save during your London trip.

Basics of Visiting Kew Gardens

Before jumping into what you’ll find at Kew Gardens and what I personally think about it, I wanted to start my Kew Gardens review by covering some of the basics of how to visit.

Location & Transport

Kew Gardens is located in southwest London, in the beautiful borough of Richmond. It’s about 30 minutes out of central London and thus a little out of the typical tourist path. If you want to get the most out of your trip, visit on the first Sunday of the month: Kew Village Market is held every month except January.

There are several ways of reaching the gardens:

  • By bus: If you’re looking to get off as close to Kew Gardens as possible, Bus 65 will bring you to Lion Gate, Elizabeth Gate, and Victoria Gate. Bus 110 also takes you to Elizabeth Gate.
  • By tube or overground: Kew Gardens station is 0.3 miles from Victoria Gate and can be reached by the District Line as well as the London Overground. Keep in mind that the District Line often has delays and is a relatively slow line (the seventh slowest, to be exact.)
  • By boat: my favorite way to get to this London landmark is by Thames River Boat from Westminster! (However, you will have to walk 0.2 miles from Kew Pier to Elizabeth Gate, and there are only 2 sailing times: 11 a.m. and 2.30 p.m.)
  • By bike: all four garden gates have bicycle racks, but note that the bikes are not allowed into the gardens.
  • By car: parking spaces are quite limited so I personally prefer to take public transport instead of driving!

Note: there are also two train stations near Kew Gardens – Kew Bridge and Richmond – but they’re about 15 to 20 minutes walk from the gardens. If you require a lift, take the train to Richmond Station, from which you can take bus 65 (towards Ealing Broadway) to Lion or Victoria Gate.

Hours, Admission & Tickets

Okay, to be honest, the hours of admission at Kew Gardens are a bit complicated; they change each month based (more or less) on sunset. As briefly as possible, here are the basics:

  • The gardens are open daily from 10am. That’s the easy part…
  • In summer and through September, the gardens close at 7pm on weekdays and 8pm on weekends and bank holidays.
  • Things get squirrelly in October: the gardens close at 6pm til the 26th, then at 5pm on the 27th, and at 4pm from the 28th to the end of the month.
  • In November, the gardens close at 4pm til the 11th, and then at 3:15pm for the rest of the month and all the way through the end of the year (and into early January)

Note: The last entry is always one hour before closing time. The glasshouses, galleries, treetop walkway, children’s garden, and most eateries close at 4 p.m. every day, regardless of the month. (If you need a bite after 4pm, go to Victoria Plaza Cafe, which is open until 4:45pm.)

The pricing for Kew Garden tickets is a bit complicated too: there are different ticket prices for children, adults, students and people between 16 to 29, visitors with a disability, senior citizens over 65, families, etc. Even within a particular category, the ticket price differs depending on when you go (peak vs off-peak) and where you purchase the ticket (online or at the gate.) For adults, the prices are as follows:

Off-Peak Season (November 1 to January 31)

Online/in advance:

  • £12 on weekdays
  • £14 on weekends

At the gate:

  • £14 on weekdays
  • £16 on weekends

Peak Season (February 1 to October 31)

Online/in advance:

  • £20 on weekdays
  • £22 on weekends

At the gate:

  • £22 on weekdays
  • £24 on weekends

Then, between May 1st and September 30th, if you want to enter after 4pm (til 7 or 8pm depending on the day…), admission is just £10. This is by far the most reasonable way to visit!

If you’re totally confused by admission times and ticket options, the easiest way to get an accurate idea for your exact travel dates is by booking tickets.

Food Options & Facilities

Photo courtesy of Kew Gardens

Next in this Kew Gardens review is the overview of the cafes and restaurants…Unfortunately, none of them are particularly good – they’re more a “necessary evil” of your visit to Kew, rather than destination dining!

As the gardens are enormous, in addition to outdoor pop-ups at The Orangery and Victoria Gate Cafe where you can take away a hot drink and snack, there are several food options (listed below from cheapest to most expensive): 

  • Victoria Plaza Cafe (£): you can enjoy drinks, and snacks such as cakes and sandwiches indoors, next to the entrance. However, during peak hours such as weekends, it can be extremely hard to find a seat as a good portion of the space is allocated to the shop. (The food isn’t particularly tasty either.)
  • Orangery (£-££): Another casual eatery offering light meals and drinks, The Orangery has both indoor and outdoor seats. (The interiors are quite stylish too!)
  • Family Kitchen & Shop (££): Offers family-friendly meals such as pizza and ice cream indoors.
  • Pavilion Grill and Bar (££-£££): where you can indulge in a more filling meal of burgers or Mediterranean grilled dishes, indoors and outdoors. The food isn’t amazing though and you have to watch out for bird poop if you sit outside!
  • Botanical Brasserie (£££): the restaurant is gorgeous and pricey, but the savory food is not particularly memorable. Thankfully, the afternoon tea is better! Both indoor and outdoor seats are available, and you’ll need to make a reservation if you only want to sit inside.

I highly recommend bringing your own food and enjoying a picnic in the gardens when the weather is nice!

If you’re mobility challenged, you can borrow a wheelchair or mobility scooter. There’s no need to reserve the wheelchairs, which can be found at all public entry gates (but note that only a limited number are available.) Mobility scooters, on the other hand, must be reserved at least two weeks prior by calling 020 8332 5655. You can find them at the Brentford, Victoria, and Elizabeth Gates. 

Gift Shop & Souvenirs

Like most tourist attractions, there are several gift shops at Kew:

  • Family Kitchen & Shop – Besides food, this cafe also sells souvenirs for kids (think toys, books, and planting kits)
  • Victoria Plaza Shop – this is another souvenir shop located next to an eatery. It’s the largest of the three shops, so is your best bet for finding a unique gift or memento. However, there is sometimes a better selection online (worldwide delivery possible.)
  • Galleries gift shop – located in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery, you’ll find prints, books, and other knick knacks inspired by the art at Kew Gardens here.

My Experience at Kew Gardens

So, is Kew Gardens worth it? 

I’ve been to Kew Gardens several times, and I find that it’s never the same: depending on the time of the year, or the time of the day that you visit, there’s always something new to discover and enjoy. (One of the best times to visit, in my opinion, is before Christmas, when all the lights are up.)

I’m not a huge fan of commuting – though thankfully the District line is usually not as busy as, say, the Picadilly line – so the 30-minute trek out of Central London always seems like a mammoth endeavor. However, I never regret going after actually seeing the gardens! Kew Gardens is a terrific place to do some sketching, take photos for Instagram, or just enjoy some time in nature. (You might even see wildlife such as a fox if you’re lucky!)

Be prepared to walk a lot to enjoy the gardens to the fullest. Here are some highlights that you may want to watch out for:

  • Kew’s Kitchen Garden: As a foodie who dreams of having her own vegetable garden, this is one of my favorite things to see at Kew. From carrots to edible flowers, you’ll find all sorts of edible plants here, including some heritage varieties, which are used in the Kew Garden restaurants. (During lunch on Friday in summer, you may even have the opportunity to buy some of the produce!)
  • Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art: this is the world’s first public botanical art gallery which often holds exhibitions by different international artists.
  • Palm House: spring and summer are obviously incredible times to visit Kew Gardens, However, if you’re there during winter, this indoor rainforest is not only (relatively) warm and cozy, but it houses several rare endangered species. 
  • Princess of Wales Conservatory: has housed the iconic Orchid Festival every spring, for over two decades. You can also see the Titan Arum, a flower that may be bigger than you!
  • Temperate House: home to 3000 plants, the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse was awarded “Best UK National Treasure” by National Geographic readers in 2018.

Photo courtesy of Kew Gardens via Instagram

The above are just a few of the many things to see and do at Kew Gardens. A few things that weren’t appropriate to mention above:

  • Unfortunately, there’s quite a bit of noise pollution at Kew Gardens due to the planes passing overhead.
  • Although there’s a lot of walking, the gardens have many benches for you to stop for a breather
  • Remember to check that the District Line train you’re boarding terminates at Richmond (as the District Line also goes to other places, such as Wimbledon, without passing Richmond) 

On the whole, I think Kew Gardens is one of the best easy days out of central London that a nature lover can plan for his or her London trip!

Do you have any questions about my Kew Gardens review or whether you should add it to your London itinerary? Let me know in the comments!

Don’t Forget! As part of the London Pass, you can receive free admission to Kew Gardens (valued at £23pp in 2024!). Click here to read my London Pass review and click here to buy your own London Pass and save during your London trip.

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Zhen fell in love with London when she first visited at the age of 4. After that, she was lucky to have the opportunity to live in UK for 11 years, 7 of which were spent in London. (She particularly adores the areas around Kensington, Southwark and Baker Street!) As someone who loves both food and travel – don’t we all? – you can find her sharing her Asian food recipes over at greedygirlgourmet.com.

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