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Christmas at Kew light trail 2023 - is it worth visiting

Father Christmas at Kew <i>(Image: Kelly Rose Bradford)</i>
Father Christmas at Kew (Image: Kelly Rose Bradford)

Since our first visit in 2013, the Christmas at Kew light trail has become an eagerly anticipated festive tradition in my family.

So what keeps us coming back year after year? And how have this year's installations compared to previous visits?

My son was a schoolboy when we first encountered Christmas at Kew a decade ago, and now, as an almost 21-year-old undergraduate, he is just as keen to keep up our traditional November jaunt over to the famous botanical gardens. 

Getting there 

When you book Christmas at Kew tickets, you select which entrance you require, so if you are travelling from out of town, and do not know the area, be aware there are two stations, and each has a different entrance for the gardens.  Kew Gardens underground station, which is minutes from the Victoria Gate, and also Kew Bridge station, for which you need the Elizabeth Gate entrance. 

All Christmas at Kew tickets are by advance booking on the Kew Gardens website, and you choose a timeslot, which means admittance is staggered, which is great, because the trail never feels too busy, or that you can't stop and take photographs for fear of holding people up. 

The trail timeslots are between 4.20pm and 8pm, with the gardens closing at 10pm (7pm on Christmas eve).

Ticket prices start at £22.50 for adults, and from £15 for children, with family tickets from £69. 

So once you are in, what can you expect to see?

Lights, basically, and thousands of them, over a 3km trail that takes around two hours to complete.

This year, there are eight installations making their UK debut at Kew,  including a crop of superb three metre tall illuminated abstract flowers, and, in conjunction with John Lewis, a certain Venus fly-trap called Snapper from the store's Christmas advert.

Great British Life: It's Snapper!It's Snapper! (Image: Kelly Rose Bradford)

Old favourites from previous years are also in situ, including our family fave, the stunning Christmas Cathedral, which is an arched tunnel of gorgeous fairy lights, its shape reminiscent of church windows.

We also really love the Fire Garden, which has been newly designed for this year, and now consists of over 300 candles in lanterns illuminating the Temperate House, which is the oldest Victorian glasshouse in the world. 

But the trail isn't just about the visuals, it's a very sensory experience throughout, with music and smells adding to the experience as you make your way around. 

There is also much – albeit gentle – messaging to remind you that you are out in nature, and the importance of protecting and caring for the natural world. 

Text beamed on to the paths encourages visitors to do 'One Small Thing' to help protect the environment. (And it's worth noting that since 2013, Kew has been working hard to make the Christmas trail more sustainable, and their 2022 event used 50% less power than the 2021 installations). 

Great British Life: Lasers at the Palm House Lasers at the Palm House (Image: Kelly Rose Bradford)

The trail concludes, as it does every year, with the Palm House light-show, where breath-taking lasers and coloured lights illuminate the iconic building in time to a rousing accompaniment of seasonal music. 

Oh, and of course, no festive event would be complete without the big man himself, Father Christmas, putting in appearance would it? And I can confirm we did spot him, outside his chalet, taking a well-earned break from going through all those Christmas present wish-lists!  

With so much to see, it's impossible to do the event justice simply by describing the installations we saw; to experience the absolute wow factor has to be seen in person to be believed.

There is something magical about walking around the gardens at night, and seeing the space so beautifully transformed in such an imaginative way. It is a totally uplifting evening out, which engages all your senses, and really gets you in the mood for Christmas.

Is Christmas at Kew worth it?

Admittedly it can be expensive to eat and drink as you go round (we paid £13 for two cups of mulled wine...) and you do have to book your tickets early to stand a chance of going, but the overall Christmas at Kew experience is one of such absolute joy and is now so firmly part of my family's build-up to Christmas that we can't imagine ever not doing it. 

Roll on Christmas 2024. 

READ MORE: Hyde Park Winter Wonderland: Prices, opening times and more



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