What was Kew Gardens like with corona restrictions?
Kew Gardens is a fantastic outdoors location to visit and right now, outdoors locations are probably the most appealing places to visit in London. After they opened I was keen to visit with my family but was wondering how it might be with all the coronavirus closures and restrictions. If you are planning to visit I hope this helps!
Last time I was at Kew Gardens was a few years back, when I took my then three year old daughter. I thought it was a fantastic place to take kids to and wrote a few tips on how to make the most of Kew Gardens with the young ones.
This time we visited at the beginning of August when pretty much all attractions for kids were closed, and the only things outside the (of course stunning) green spaces were few of the eateries and the glass houses. That said, it was still a fun experience for the kids so I would not be worried about this aspect. Things do change, so before you go check the What's closed page, and also note that the Children's Garden (fantastic for kids) is due to reopen on 8th August, but you have to book a time slot (separate to your entry time slot) to enter the Children's Garden.
You have to book a time slot to enter - this time slot is 45 minutes so 9AM to 9.45AM for example. My personal observations are that the morning time slots 9AM, and 10AM are the most popular, so if you need to arrive early, book well ahead of time. I haven't seen any discount tickets for Kew at this time, so unless you are a member or a corporate member expect to pay full prices for all tickets - a family ticket is £40.
I heard quite a few people get concerned they might miss their slot as there was lots of queuing involved, but as long as you are queueing before your slot runs out you are fine, or so I was told by staff.
Getting there / parking
You can get the public transport quite easily. That said, you might not want to currently. You can also drive and park at Kew Gardens, which is probably the more popular option right now with the concerns about public transport and corona. The parking costs £7 for the whole day.
If you are driving, and visiting Kew on the weekend note that the parking space gets filled up very quickly if it is a nice sunny summer day. We had the 11AM slot and arrived 11.20. By this time most of the Ferry Lane car park (post code TW9 3AF) was full and I doubt there were much if any spots left for 12M slots. At this point the Herbarium car park should act as an overflow car park.
It took ages to park, and then to queue for parking tickets and then to queue to enter the park. I, and quite a few people were concerned we might miss our slot, but as long as you are queueing before your slot runs out you are fine. Try not to make it too fine though.
What was there
We visited in the beginning of August and unfortunately quite a few exhibitions were closed. Glass houses were open, and of course all the major outdoors areas were open. Hive was open but the Tree Top Walkway was closed. I also saw a note somewhere saying that due to closures earlier in the year some of the flowers and greenery were not looking their best, but to be honest, they were still gorgeous.
We spent many hours and there was plenty to see so the visit was still worth it.
Two shops were open although I didn't fancy queuing for either of them. There were also two outdoors restaurants - burger / hot dog stand at Orangery and pizza at Victoria Plaza. Both locations also had a cafe and outdoor vans, for sandwiches and drinks, coffee and ice cream.
Social distancing at Kew Gardens
Kew Gardens is massive so it is fairly easy to socially distance. The difficult points were the usual - in the queues to get the parking and to enter social distancing no one seemed to socially distance and it was quite annoying.
Inside the park, in some pinch points it was a bit tricky and some people often forgot to socially distance - namely on some narrower paths and roads, in glass houses, and in shops/cafes. Mostly though I felt there was plenty of space to socially distance, and if you are very concerned, try to stay away from the most populous areas which I call the "high street" of Kew Gardens - the strip between Orangery and Victoria Plaza. As you can see from my images, there were a lot of people around - we visited on a sunny and warm Sunday.
There were plenty of hand sanitiser stations around - at the entrance and exit at all glass houses and bathrooms, near restaurants and cafes and if I remember correctly, at the entry and exit gates too.
Bathrooms had an attendant outside enforcing that not too many people would enter the building at once. Bathrooms were tidy and clean, and it was a very busy day. I wish that in the bathrooms the hand blowers would be disabled and only hand towels would be provided.
There were marking on the floor reminding people to keep their 2 meter distance when queuing, for food or to enter shops, and also to wear a mask where needed. Picnic tables were well spaced apart.
There were one way systems in place too in all indoor locations and glass houses.
Glass houses also had an attendant ensuring not too many people would enter the glass house at one time. This led to queues outside. Unfortunately inside at times it was difficult to socially distance as some might walk faster than others, and others would stop for photo opportunities, and there was only one route to take.
Suitability for kids
Unfortunately every exhibition aimed at kids was closed when we visited. Thankfully the Children's Garden is now reopening on 8th August but you have to book a time slot to visit the area.
That said, I think it was still a great time for the kids. Mine are two and seven. The two year old doesn't really care too much where it is, as long as she can run around, and the seven year old found some of the plants and glass houses very interesting, and enjoyed climbing trees. Both also very much enjoyed The Hive. They also enjoyed Kew Palace grounds and pretending to be princesses even if the palace was still closed.
So all in all, a very nice day out as long as you appreciate that many of the indoors exhibitions are still closed, and most things dedicated for kids are also closed. Coronavirus measures were very reassuring and well done, and social distancing certainly feasible, although people didn't do it very well in queues and in glass houses and on some paths.
Have you visited Kew Gardens in 2020 and what did you think?