Weather: A perfect spring day - bright white clouds scudding across a cobalt blue sky to a chorus of joyous birds and the occasional screech of a parakeet.
Logistics: Kew is pretty close to actual London so be prepared to brave the traffic if heading in by car. There is a car park that costs £7 for the whole day and is conveniently situated close to the adventure playground, indoor play and ice cream parlour when you get inside. There is free parking on some of the side streets, if you can handle the stress of parallel parking in rush hour traffic.
Kew Gardens and Kew Bridge train stations are also close by if you’d rather not deal with other drivers.
The entry fees are pleasingly reasonable; it cost me and 2 kids under twenty quid to get in and there are no hidden costs, everything is accessible once you’re in the gate.
Activities: There are a lot of flowers to look at and I am sure there are wonderful things being done with colours and border arrangements and the like but I had two small humans in tow and they demand a bit more bang for their (my) buck. Luckily the play area is excellent. The indoor bit isn’t really a soft play area, it’s way more involved; allowing kids to pretend to be harvest mice, insects and other mini fauna with myriad structures for climbing and crawling over and under. It’s one of the most free play areas I’ve seen and the kids loved it. The outdoor play looked a bit more familiar to this weathered eye but again offered the kids lots of opportunity for self-directed play which, of course, leaves mummy with plenty of time for important jobs like reading Facebook on her phone and catching up with friends.
That said, you may want to invest in some ninjutsu lessons for your kids, so they can stand up against the monstrous entitlement of the Joules-clad monsters who have invaded from the wilds of Surrey. Honestly, some of the kids must have skipped the elbows off the table lesson, instead learning that elbows are for shoving and poking into windpipes. They were so appallingly behaved I actually left feeling good about my own parenting skills.
We did the treetop walkway, which the kids loved. They found it hilarious when I asked them in a voice like Lina Lamont to please stop jumping on the fragile metal mesh floor that was the only thing between us and certain death. Then they jumped some more. Bastards. In fairness, this walk does feel like the kind of thing that would be well worth doing a few times in different seasons to really mark the changes in the foliage across the gardens over time. I’m sure the views were breathtaking… but I had my eyes closed.
I also recommend taking someone with curly hair into the Palm House. The humidity is so intense you can watch their hair coil up, like Medusa’s snakes. This is the only bit where I tried to crowbar in some learning during the day and tried to get big kid to appreciate the type of climate needed to grow the beans that make the drink that make mummy happy. Small kid enjoyed pointing out all the pink flowers. Of course both of them wanted to go up to the walkway around the ceiling of the greenhouse. So we did. Bastards.
Before going to Kew we knew that there was some sort of Moomin related event on when we were there. We assumed it would be pretty simple to find and join in with. We were wrong. There were plenty of signs heralding the advent of the Moomin Adventure but they were remarkably short on what was actually being offered and where to go. We ended up stumbling upon a wooded glade with moomins, den building and a bunch of other activities on offer but by the time we had found it the kids were off mission and didn’t give a Sniff about joining in with any of it. (That is an excellent Moomin related joke, by the way.) I got this picture of small kid with a moon through a combination of threat and bribery. It was a shame that it had taken us so long to find the activity focal point because I think the kids would have really enjoyed it had they been in the right frame of mind.
I also need to add a disclaimer when writing about what a pleasant a day we had. I was lucky to be meeting with very good friends who are excellent with kids. One of my mates listened to big kid talk about Harry Potter for at least half an hour and made no complaint and she didn't even try to run away. She deserves some sort of knighthood. My other mate brought her gorgeous wee man with her and both of mine are so besotted with him they forgot to misbehave, so I must acknowledge that ti wasn't just Kew that made this a good day but the excellent company as well.
Coffee: Quite simply the best coffee I have had on a day out with the kids. Bravo Kew, bravo.
Food: We all had a lovely picnic together. Kew is a fantastic place for a picnic. As the weather was astonishingly hot we decided later in the day to seek out ice creams. When we got to the cafe, they had a measly four mini tubs left at an eye-watering £3 each. When I asked if they had any more the man behind the counter looked at me in complete bemusement, as if only a weirdo would want ice cream on a day like this. I do not want to be publicly shamed for asking for ice cream on a hot day. I was riled. He was lucky he had made my excellent coffee or I would have set small kid on him.
Grounds: The curators of Kew do not like signposts. They also don’t like putting keys on maps so you’re never sure if you’re on an official path or just a flat bit of grass. Kew itself seems to bend and stretch with some walks you expect to be short taking ages and conversely, just when you’ve planned for a trek across hill and dale the thing you’re looking for turns out to be just around the corner. It’s very confusing. At one point we resorted to the Joey Tribiani school of map reading.
That said, the reason you come to Kew is for the grounds and they are magnificent. It is a wonderful place to spend a sunny day and is probably pretty special in less clement weather. Our highlights were the tulip displays and the sequoia grove. The kids also enjoyed watching the huge fish lazily gliding around the pond.
Accessibility: Old people love gardens and smooth paths. This is good for everyone. Wheelchairs abound at Kew and can get in to most places, even the treetop walk (I think). A kid in a wheelchair would even be able to access the indoor play area with minimal effort too, though you may want to attach blades to the wheels, Boudicca style, just to fend off those savages from Surrey.
Overall: A surprisingly reasonably priced day out with a lot to offer.