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Christmas is a wonderful time to be in London, and there is so much to explore. There are a few different light and sound trails across the capital, but Christmas at Kew is one of if not the biggest and best.

Although I’ve heard many good things about Christmas at Kew, I had never been myself. So, in November 2023 I decided to put that right and see what it was all about.

Kew Gardens is a lovely place to visit at any time of the year, and I’ve been several times – however always during the daytime. This was my first time at Christmas, and I was intrigued to see what it was like after dark. Is it worth visiting and what is it like? Read on to find out in my review of Christmas at Kew!

What is Christmas at Kew?

For anyone who isn’t familiar with Kew Gardens, it’s a botanic garden in southwest London covering a 326-acre site. During normal opening hours you can visit their large collection of plants in tropical glasshouses as well as wander around the grounds. If you haven’t been it’s really worth a visit!

Christmas at Kew runs from mid-November to early January, and is a specially designed festive trail through the grounds that opens once it gets dark. The trail features various light and sound installations, as well as a small funfair, food and drink stalls and you can even meet Santa along the route! The light displays are spectacular – in total over 1 million lights are used!

Merry Christmas at Kew Gardens
Merry Christmas at Kew Gardens

If you buy Christmas at Kew tickets, these don’t allow you normal entry so if you did want to visit the gardens first you would have to buy separate entrance tickets. Personally though, my favourite times of year to visit Kew are spring and autumn.

Getting in

There are three entrances – I used the main one at Victoria Gate, but there’s another at Elizabeth Gate if this is more convenient. There is a third entrance, at Brentford Gate, however this is only available if you purchase reserved parking too. The trail starts at Victoria Gate, and while you can join it part-way round, it works better I think if you start at the beginning.

Illuminated tunnel at Christmas at Kew
Illuminated tunnel at Christmas at Kew

My time slot was for 7 p.m., and despite it being quite busy it didn’t take too long to get in. Once in, there was a quick bag search then I was free to wander. It didn’t seem that busy and wasn’t particularly crowded, but I expect it gets busier closer to Christmas. It’s a big venue anyway, so there’s plenty of room to spread out.

The Trail

The trail is clearly signposted, and runs in a clockwise direction. There’s also a handy map that you can download to your phone or print off. Each of the installations is numbered, so you can easily check where you are on the map as you wander along. There are also Kew Gardens staff positioned along the trail to give directions if you need help.

As you begin the trail, you walk through a colourful welcoming archway, festooned with Christmas decorations. The trail runs along pathways through the gardens, so you don’t need to worry about getting muddy feet.

Tree and lights at Christmas at Kew
Tree and lights at Christmas at Kew

Almost immediately, I was immersed in the experience – impressed by the light displays and ambient music in the background. Some of the installations are seriously impressive! Pulsating tunnels of light, giant trees covered in glittering fairly lights and giant lily sculptures are just a few that stood out for me.

Some of the light displays are static, others move and there are even trees lighting up in time to the music as part of a synchronised display. The result is amazing.

Christmas at Kew decorations
Christmas decorations at Kew

Each installation is by a different artist, and they are all unique. They all have a soundtrack playing through speakers nearby, and these vary from atmospheric sounds to Christmas songs to Elvis.

Some were fun, some spellbinding and others were very moving.

Do allow yourself some time at the end to watch the finale. This is a spectacular display of lights projected onto the Palm House alongside an orchestral soundtrack. Fountains shoot water high into the air, illuminated to match the light display. This was really impressive, and a fantastic way to end the evening.

How long does it take to walk around Christmas at Kew?

The Christmas at Kew trail is approximately 3km (2 miles) long, and it took me 3 hours to walk around. Kew Gardens themselves recommend at least 2 hours, however I’d allow a bit more if you want to take your time, visit the fairground, or stop for a bite to eat along the way.

Fairground at Kew Gardens
The fairground

You could do it in less than 2 hours, but you would need to rush through some of the displays and I’d really recommend taking your time and enjoying the experience.

If you are pushed for time, then make sure you leave 5-10 minutes to watch the finale – it really is worth it.

Food and drink at Christmas at Kew

Around 1/3 of the way around the trail you’ll find a street food market next to the funfair. This had a good selection of stalls offering anything from burgers to Indian street food. I had a cheese burger and it was delicious. Prices aren’t particularly cheap, but are no worse than any of the Christmas markets in London.

You’ll also find a few bars dotted along the route if you need to top up on mulled wine or hot chocolate. There’s even a fire pit where you can toast marshmallows!

If you wanted to have a sit-down meal, you can book a table at the Botanical Brasserie which overlooks the stunning Palm House pond. There are 4 sittings, so you can choose one that lets you eat before or after your trail.

Is Christmas at Kew worth visiting?

Definitely! It’s fantastic! It’s now one of my favourite things to do at Christmas, and I’ll certainly be back next year!

Walking through the gardens with a cup of warm mulled wine in your hand and your senses tantalised by the incredible displays is a truly magical experience. You won’t fail to leave leave feeling wonderfully festive.

Temperate House light display at Kew Gardens
The Temperate House light display is fantastic

It’s seriously impressive in scale, and done really well. Christmas at Kew is a really enjoyable experience and can be enjoyed by all the family.

It’s also good value when you compare it to some of the other similar Christmas experiences available in London.

How does it compare with other Christmas trails?

I visited Christmas at Kenwood House last year, and while I enjoyed that Christmas at Kew was even better. It’s bigger, the light installations are better and there are more options for food and drink along the route. And that’s even without the amazing finale at the end of the Kew trail, which is almost worth the price of admission by itself. Amazingly Kew is pretty much the same price as Kenwood which makes it fantastic value for money.

Light display at Christmas at Kew
The light display finale is very impressive!

How to book tickets for Christmas at Kew 2024

Booking in advance is a must, and tickets do sell out quickly. If you do want to go then I’d advise booking early. I booked my tickets in early September, and by the end of November it was pretty much sold out with just a few slots available in January.

Tickets for Christmas at Kew 2024 are already on sale – you can buy them online here.

All you need to know

Dates: 13th November 2024 to 5th January 2025
Times: 4:20 p.m. to 10 p.m. (last entry 8 p.m.)
Nearest Station: Kew Gardens or Kew Bridge
Cost: £22.50/£29 (off-peak/peak) for an adult. Tickets must be booked in advance via their website.

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About the Author

An award-winning travel and landscape photographer based in London.

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