Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom
The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are recognized around the world as a centre of excellence for the study of plants—based on unrivalled living and preserved plant and fungal collections. Over the years, the site has made a significant contribution to human knowledge and understanding of botanical diversity and how it can be harnessed for the benefit of future generations.
The Gardens were founded during a period of colonial exploration by Britain. The empire’s botanists saw the value of collecting species from around the world and keeping them safe in one location. This approach began the important scientific and conservation work for which this locale is still famous. Samples from the collection were later used to create new botanic gardens in British colonies like Australia, Singapore, and Sri Lanka. Today, there are more than 33,000 species of native and exotic plants, trees, and flowers on the site. It was also used as the setting for the documentary "Kingdom of Plants," which was presented by award-winning broadcaster David Attenborough.
Kew offers more than 300 acres of parks and gardens to explore. As a global resource for plant and fungal knowledge, it hosts an extensive collections of palms and other plant species. The Palm House is a Victorian glasshouse with a rainforest climate, which supports a unique collection of tropical plants from some of the most threatened environments on Earth. A canopy walkway offers expansive views from the treetops to the royal residences that are open to the public. There are plenty of activities all year round for visitors young and old, including festivals, guided tours and special exhibitions.
Set on 326 acres of beautiful grounds containing the largest living plant collection in the world, Kew Gardens is a UNESCO World Heritage Site less than 30 minutes from central London. On the site of the former summer residence of George III, this is also Britain's most intimate royal palace and a stunning place to learn about history, art, and science.
The Gardens’ famous glasshouses provide hours of fascinating discovery and a slew of inventive settings: a tropical rainforest in the iconic Palm House; a journey through ten climatic zones in the Princess of Wales Conservatory; or giant lily pads in the Waterlily House. A soaring Treetop Walkway offers a bird’s-eye view of the Gardens and two galleries dedicated to botanical art examine the beauty and intricacy of flora from around the world.
There are as many highlights at Kew Gardens as you have hours to explore during your visit. One great example is the Great Broad Walk Borders, which will soon become a permanent horticultural feature of the Gardens. Bursting with swaths of colour for the summer, the Borders flank both sides of the 320-meter long Broad Walk connecting the Orangery restaurant with the Palm House. Designed by Richard Wilford of Kew Gardens’ horticultural team, the project has been three years in the making and features nearly 60,000 plants covering more than an acre, to create the world’s largest double herbaceous borders.
How to Get There
Kew Gardens is in the London borough of Richmond upon Thames, in the southwest of the capital. The easiest way to reach the attraction is by the London underground. Kew Gardens station—Zone 3 on the District (dark green) line—is 30 minutes from central London and then a five-minute walk to Kew Gardens itself.
By train, Kew Bridge station is 30 minutes from Waterloo station and a ten-minute walk to the Gardens. There are also excellent road links and, during the summer months, a boat service operates between Westminster and Kew.
When to Visit
Kew Gardens is open every day except December 24 and 25. Due to the extent of its collection of living plants, there is always something of note to see. Spring and fall offer ever-changing colours—be it from burgeoning bulbs or the autumnal hues of red, orange, and yellow. Summer months provide heady scents and flowers in full bloom, while the winter allows you to appreciate the glasshouses and stunning winter berries.
Open from Easter to late September, admission to the Palace and the adjacent Royal Kitchens is included in the cost of entry to the Gardens.
How to Visit
The Gardens occupy 132 hectares (326 acres) of reasonably flat terrain so the best advice is to dress appropriately for the weather and be prepared to spend time walking. British weather is notoriously fickle, but Kew has plenty of indoor opportunities, including two art galleries dedicated to botanical art, Kew Palace, and the glasshouses.