Plan Your Trip: Kew Gardens in London

by Paul Stafford  |  Published August 27, 2020

Kew Gardens is one of the finest botanical gardens in the world. The verdant escape is an easy trip from Central London that can be done as a full day or half day trip, or included as part of a longer day tour incorporating other top sites around the UK capital’s southwest. Explore the options available below to help plan your trip, along with handy directions and opening times.

Spring at Kew Gardens (Photo: Brian Tomlinson via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

The concept of the botanical garden is an ancient one. Although it’s uncertain whether they ever really existed, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are included among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Even if little more than a myth, it seems that idyllic sculpted green spaces have long been synonymous with perfection; the positive epitome of our species’ interaction with the natural world. And while Kew Gardens makes no claims to ancient Babylonian greatness, the grand tradition of curating nature’s splendour to suit human ideals of beauty is masterfully upheld there.

Because the primary purpose of Kew is to serve scientific research, and therefore education also, you will find a diverse array of botanical treasures in the gardens. With some 50,000 different species of plants and fungi, it is believed to be both the largest and most diverse collection in the world. Meanwhile the herbarium is home to almost 10 million additional preserved specimens, and the site’s library houses 750,000 volumes dedicated to the field of botany and its adjuncts.

A peacock at Kew (Photo: Herry Lawford via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

The arboretum contains a collection of around 14,000 trees belonging to 2,000 different species. Understandably, these cover the majority of the site, dappling the pathways that run between them. These paths string together a variety of features and ornamental buildings, such as: the 50-metre-tall Great Pagoda; Alpine House with its collection of plants that grow above the tree line in their native environment; Palm House, with its elevated walkway allowing visitors to see the crowns of the palm trees within; and The Hive, an accessible art installation recreating the interior of a bee hive.

The Hive at Kew (Photo: Ashley Van Haeften via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Opening Hours & Directions

Kew Gardens is open to the public Mon–Fri from 10am–7pm and weekends from 8am–8pm. The last entry is an hour before the official closing time, but it’s advisable to arrive at least two hours or more before closing to experience more of what Kew has to offer. Entry before 10am on weekends is via Victoria Gate only, which is located on the eastern side of Kew, closest to Kew Gardens train station.

Walking: Kew Gardens is surrounded on three sides by the River Thames. For the ambitious, that’s a 12-mile walk along part of the Thames Path from Waterloo. If you’d like to incorporate a slightly less arduous walk to Kew Gardens as part of your day out, you can walk six miles along one of the finest inner city stretches of the Thames Path from Putney Bridge Station on the District (green) Line. Alternatively, you can get to Putney Pier on the Thames Clipper ferry, which connects this terminus along the river to Canary Wharf and numerous Central London stops in between, including Embankment and Blackfriars.

Kew Gardens from the air in late autumn (Photo: Mike McBey via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Direct Public Transport: By far the easiest ways to reach Kew Gardens on public transport are by the London Overground from North London and District Line from Central London. Kew Gardens Station is less than 500m from the Victoria Gate entrance to Kew Gardens. Kew Bridge Station, on the north bank of the River Thames, sees trains from Waterloo and Clapham Junction heading towards Weybridge.

Bus routes from Central London are a little trickier. The simplest option is to take the 391 bus from Hammersmith, which is connected by the London Underground’s Hammersmith & City (pink), Circle (yellow), District (green), and Piccadilly (dark blue) lines, to Kew Gardens station.

Colourful Chihuly sculpture at Kew (Photo: John Briody via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Insider Tip: Kew Gardens station on the London Underground is home to one of London’s more charming pubs: The Tap on the Line. It is accessible both from the platform and from outside the station and serves food and a variety of cask ales.

Tickets & Tours

There are plenty of different ways to experience Kew Gardens, but please bear in mind that Kew runs a timeslot ticketing service, which means the only way to visit is by making an advance booking and arriving on time. This improves the visitor experience by restricting the number of people within the gardens throughout the day. Once inside, you are free to stay as long as you’d like.

Tickets cost around £18 per adult, are free for under 4’s, £6 for ages 4-15 and around £10 for ages 16-24. Bookings can be made via the Kew Gardens website, although the easiest and fastest way to book a time slot is actually via Getyourguide here.

The Waterlilly House (Photo: Dunk via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

If you’d prefer to entrust the organisation to a registered tour operator, then there are some excellent fully-organised day-trips available. The bonus of these options is that you can also experience other elements of London and the English countryside along the way. The three options listed below are designed to avoid the rush hour so that you don’t have to worry about braving huge crowds on the Tube in order to reach Kew. In each, to allow you time to fully experience the gardens, the tour effectively ends at Kew, so it may be necessary to return to your accommodation using public transport listed above. Here are some of the best tour options to Kew Gardens available, as well as information on how to book them.

Visit Kew Gardens & 3-Hour Westminster Walking Tour – £53 per person – This is an ideal tour for anybody who is new to London, or looking for a refresher of some of the capital city’s top sites. Start the day at 10am in Green Park, with a guided walking tour taking in the world-famous sights of Buckingham Palace, Big Ben (please bear in mind that the town is covered up until 2021 as it undergoes restoration) and Westminster Abbey, as well as a dozen other historically significant spots in the Westminster region. The walk is also timed to witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony. Then head over to Kew Gardens, where you can explore the gardens at your leisure. The Kew entrance ticket is included in the price. Book at Viator.com.

Water lilly at Kew (Photo: neiljs via / Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Amazing Kew Gardens & London Landmarks Tour – £69 per person – If you’d like a more in-depth tour, then this longer tour option also includes the impressive sights around London Bridge and the Southbank area beside the River Thames. After the Changing of the Guard and Downing Street of Westminster see more modern marvels like HMS Belfast and the Shard alongside the cultural icon of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. This guided tour of Central London lasts around five hours, after which you’ll then head out to Kew with around three hours to explore the botanical gardens. Book at Viator.com.

English Country Gardens 4-Hour Private Tour – £280 per group up to 3 people – The two tours above are as part of a group of up to 15 people. However, if you’d prefer a more bespoke experience when travelling to the gardens, this private tour for up to three people is the ideal way to see London. With pick-up from your hotel included, head direct to Kew Gardens, passing some of London’s historic sites along the way. This option allows for around three hours at the gardens before conveying you in comfort back to your accommodation or preferred stop. Alternative options to Kew Gardens using this tour are Wisley village in Surrey, or Stourhead, which are both also celebrated for their gardens. Please note that entry fees to Kew are not included in this option. Book at GetYourGuide.com.

Plants within the glass at Kew (Photo: David Goehring via / Flickr CC BY 2.0)