After five years of meticulous restoration, the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse opened to the public again at the start of May 2018, and none other than David Attenborough described it as a, ‘breathtakingly beautiful space’. Although, even without that stellar praise, a collection of over 10,000 plants housed in Decimus Burton’s 1860 masterpiece at the heart of one of the largest botanical gardens in the world, should be more than enough to tempt you to come take a look this summer, and definitely bring the kids.

Victorians might have preferred their children ‘seen and not heard’, but their finest London gardens have more of a ‘pipe up, be curious, ask questions, get involved’ attitude to young visitors these days, and a fantastic year-round programme of family events as proof.

Celebrate 250 years of circus with Cirque Bijou at Kew

250 years ago, in 1768, arch showman Philip Astley laid out a 42 foot rope ring on some boggy land near London Waterloo. He packed his makeshift arena with acrobats, jugglers, contortionists, musclemen and horses and then sold tickets, and the world’s very first circus was born. So what do you get a fresh-faced and dazzling as ever veteran for its 250th birthday?

kew gardens temperate house

Jeff Eden © RBG Kew

If you’re Kew, you simply celebrate by commissioning a soaring ballet from the master aerialists at Cirque Bijou; invite cellist Rob Lewis to compose an original score, and then stage every performance high in the majestic roof-space of the greatest glasshouse on earth.

kew gardens circus

Jeff Eden © RBG Kew

You can see this graceful celebration of circus for yourself, every weekend from now until the start of September. As well as paying homage to the birth of big top, it also evokes the symbiotic relationship between people and plants, conjures up images of diversity in science, nature and society, and is aptly named ‘Harmonic’.

A not to be missed at any cost spectacle, it’s the perfect excuse to visit the newly restored Temperate House, and guaranteed to cause open-mouthed, awe-struck wonder in curious kids.

Harmonic is performed at 12.30pm, 1.30pm, 2.30pm and 3.30pm, on both Saturday and Sunday, until 2 September 2018. Each performance lasts 20 minutes.

Meet Gnomus Enormis, the world’s greatest glasshouse guide

At 4880m² Temperate House is the largest of all Victorian glasshouses and contains over 10,000 plants, including some of the rarest and most threatened on earth. A wonderland of lushness if you’re just strolling around on your own, but it doesn’t often work that way with questioning kids in tow. Don’t fret, Kew has you covered this summer. Or rather, Gnomus has you covered. He’s part giant puppet, all-knowing plant expert, seasoned conservationist, and the fun guide for story-led family walking tours round the glasshouse this summer.

Catch Gnomus for a 15 minute tour any weekend, from 21 July to 2 September. Tours last for a kid-friendly 15 minutes between 11am and 5pm on Saturday or Sunday.

gnome kew gardens

Jeff Eden © RBG Kew

kew gardens the hive

Jeff Eden © RBG Kew

Feel the buzz about bees on a family day out at Kew

Step into The Hive this summer and let kids discover the secret life of bees through the sight, sound and feel of a beehive. The 17m high Hive is made up of 170,000 aluminium components, contains 1000 LED lights, and was originally designed by Wolfgang Buttress for the British Pavilion at Milan Expo 2015. It took an astonishing four months to reconstruct at Kew, and now has pride of place in the Wildflower Meadow where it’s linked to working beehives, so the sensations experienced inside are triggered by the activities of real bees. Which is about as close as mere humans get to being as busy, and indispensable, as these incredible insects.

Don’t worry if you haven’t swotted up on apiaries before you visit, The Hive is another great family experience with Kew Explainers on hand to answer all kids’ questions.

Go wild for 121 hectares of natural adventure

Kew Gardens are a UNESCO World Heritage Site but nobody expects kids to stand on ceremony. Quite the opposite: wild exploring is actively encouraged, there’s plenty of space for adventuring, inspirational areas by the acre, tons of stuff to discover, and even a viewing platform to give them a good look at Europe’s largest compost heap doing its stuff.

Stretching legs takes on a whole new meaning on the Log Trail, a fantastically rugged running path made entirely from trees uprooted during a storm over 30 years ago. And if kids liked the secret life of bees in The Hive, they’ll be just as fascinated by the underground tunnels and warrens of the Giant Badger Sett, tucked into the satisfyingly untamed Natural Area, to the south of the garden. There’s also a great fun Woodland Walk in this part of Kew: well worth taking time over to spot the creepy-crawlies checked into cunningly designed bug hotels along with way.

kids running at kew gardens

© RBG Kew

And whatever else you do at Kew this summer, don’t miss ascending 18 metres into the air for a wander along The Treetop Walkway. The views are mesmerising any time of year, but summer strolls are best of all for spotting birds and insects in the lively tree canopy.

The lowdown: Kew Gardens

When

Harmonic by Cirque Bijou
Every Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays, until 2 September 2018.
12.30pm, 1.30pm, 2.30pm and 3.30pm
Gnomus Enormis Story-Led Walking Tours
Every Saturday and Sunday from 21 July to 2 September 2018.
Between 12.30pm and 4pm.

Where

The Temperate House, Kew Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey

Cost

Adults – £16
Children from four to 16 years – £4
Under fours – free
Circus Bijou and Gnomus performances are included in ticket price.

Opening hours

Open daily from 10am, gardens close at 7pm, last entry 6pm

Find out more about what’s on at Kew Gardens

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