Londoners do like to climb stuff, as I mentioned here before, but in the winter there’s so little daylight that by the time you get to the top of whatever monument – the Shard, the London Eye, the O2 – it’s too dark to see anything. So at this time of year we have to resort to our second favourite activity, if we can’t climb it, we light it up! All around the city you’ll see bridges, tourist attractions and famous buildings covered in pretty coloured lights. For the best view of all, stand on Waterloo Bridge and on one side you’ll see Parliament and on the other St Paul’s and the city, all reflected in the river – it’s stunning.
So given our love of lighting effects, it’s no surprise that this Christmas a number of London’s green spaces have created special installations to allow you to walk around after dark, drink mulled wine and generally feel very festive. The most impressive of these is Christmas at Kew, a 75 minute walk around a darkened Kew Gardens (and thanks to fellow blogger The Four Kids One Mom Guide to London for recommending this). I know what you’re thinking, that doesn’t sound very safe; it’s a big park, few lights what if there are crazy people hiding in the bushes? Well there is an official trail to follow which only covers about a mile of the park space which is well staffed and doesn’t let you deviate into other areas, so there’s no chance you’ll be scrambling in the undergrowth till dawn.
This is quite a well organised activity and even with timed entry from 5pm-10pm (last entry is 8.15pm) to control the numbers, it was quite busy on a Saturday night. It’s a big loop so you start off near the entrance with some stalls selling mulled wine and food should you need it before you make your way to the back of the Palm House which has various shapes, including snowflakes projected around while a looped piece of music controls the pattern of lights, and water sprays shoot on cue from the lake.
Then, you’re guided through the Winter Garden where you’ll see some of the more interesting trees lit in a variety of colours and giant snowflakes projected onto the pathway. The most spectacular part is the giant light installations that look like a garden with flowers, trees and grass including one tree hung with Christmas presents. It’s like being in the flower garden from Alice in Wonderland, except they don’t talk to you – maybe next year! These amazing and beautiful light sculptures are incredible to wander through, from giant green grasses to enormous fruit trees and delicate flowers all made entirely of light.
At this point you can divert to the White Peaks café for some hot doughnuts and mulled wine, while the children can make use of the mini Victorian Fairground with helter skelter and gorgeous old merry-go-round. It was -2c when we were there, so a midway break was very necessary to defrost your fingers. You get to walk through the flower garden again and on through a tunnel covered in small gold LEDs which looks amazing; it’s like walking through a Shirley Bassey dress. You pass a tree containing a few chandeliers before heading back towards the front of the Palm House for more coordinated lights and music from the Nutcracker, but this time there are shots of fire!
If you’re looking for an alternative Christmas or New Year activity then this light trail at Kew is a great family outing with fairground stuff for the children and some art and mulled wine for the adults. Seeing as we are in almost perpetual darkness at this time of year, then any time from 5pm when it opens and you’ll be able to see the sculptures and installations to best advantage. It’s fairly standard London prices as well £15 for adults and £10 for children aged 4-16, with family tickets available, but make sure you book in advance. There are plenty of tickets available until 3 January but they tend to sell out before the day you go. It may be a bit on the expensive side but it’s an unusual activity and one that gives a renewed purpose to an area of London that’s synonymous with spring and summer. Since it is Christmas, it’s nice to see something with a bit of wow-factor which this certainly has. Maybe next year someone will combine London’s two favourite activities and light something you can climb up!
Christmas at Kew runs from 5pm-10pm (last entry 8.15pm) until 3rd January, tickets are £15 for adults and £10 for children.