I was very disappointed, when I lived in London, not to get a chance to go to Kew Gardens–or it would be more accurate to say that I didn’t make the time, and regretted it later. So, when I went back to London this summer, I was excited to finally make time to go.
The first thing to know about Kew Gardens is it really isn’t far from the city. It’s over near Heathrow (and there are planes going past constantly), but you can get there pretty quickly from the city center–the Kew Gardens Station (District line) is less than 5 minutes away.
The Gardens were originally royal land (like most of the parks in London). Most of the land and the structures are ridiculously old and there is even a castle on the grounds with characters in Jane Austen apparel. Note–you have to pay extra to get into the palace, which I did not do, so I can’t tell you if it’s worth it. The gardens are particularly famous for their cast iron hot-houses, all of which date back to the mid-19th century. They’re really beautiful and allowed to sort of decay a little in a beautiful way–something the British are really good at, in my experience, is embracing the beauty involved in age and dereliction. The same is true of Highgate Cemetery–the iron is painted white, but rusting in places because of the humidity. It adds to the charm of the place, in my opinion.
There are lots of structures on the grounds, but I didn’t manage to see them all. The park is quite big, and it makes a long walk. Bring comfy shoes! But some examples of the structures include the aforementioned palace and several hot-houses, such as the Palm House and the Temperate House (largest Victorian greenhouse in the world), and a Chinese Pagoda that dates from the 18th century. There is a cottage on the grounds that was a gift from George III to Queen Charlotte, that has been restored and is open for viewing. There is a Japanese tea house and garden, and a couple of restaurants located in really old beautiful buildings. There are also newer buildings, like the Princess of Wales conservatory and the Treetop Gallery. That last one is pretty cool, though I must say my fear of heights flared up. You take these ridiculous stairs up to the treetop height and you can see pretty far–probably even farther in the winter when there aren’t so many leaves on the trees. Here’s what it looks like:
Though our view was disturbed by leaves, you could see the Gherkin building in one corner, and Wembley Stadium in the other. –If you are a local you may want to entertain yourself by standing at that corner and watching tourists exclaim they can see the Eye. I heard more than one person make that mistake, even though the stadium doesn’t really look like a Ferris wheel.
I really loved my day at Kew, though my legs and feet were killing me by the end. It didn’t help that it was my third (fourth?) day in a row walking 10+ miles. Wear comfortable shoes–I am repeating myself because it’s really good advice. Also, expect the hot houses to be…well…hot. We went on a pleasant day, where the outside air was about 70-75 degrees and it was pretty sunny. Inside the greenhouses it was maybe 5 or 10 degrees warmer, but the humidity was ridiculous. You can go upstairs in a few of the hothouses and get nice views over the park, but you can feel the air getting thicker with every step. It was beyond uncomfortable, though obviously quite necessary for the plants they are cultivating. Bring some water and wear some layers, if it’s cool outside.
Kew Gardens is a great place to take photos, from big open grounds to macro shots. Below are some of the photos we took, though of course I have no photographic talent, I did really enjoy finding good shots while I was there.