Take a twilight winter walk along a magical trail of sound and light. Stop en route to toast marshmallows or sip a warming toddy. To round off the year here’s a taster of the annual December nighttime treat at Christmas at Kew Gardens, London.
The ancient midwinter festival of the Winter Solstice was marked with fires and feasting to celebrate the shortest day of the year. So a twilight visit to a magical winter light trail that winds through an historic royal garden seemed a perfect way to mark the turning of the year.
This is the second year running I’ve been to the Christmas at Kew event. A friend and I, plus her six year old daughter, set off on the 2k trail through the gardens on a chilly December evening. The pathway winds between the venerable trees and landscaped rides of the UNESCO listed botanic gardens. Along the way the trail and turnings are adorned with over a million twinkling lights.
However well you know Kew Gardens it becomes a magical and mysterious place at night. Visitors follow the twinkling trail closely, stopping at every turn to look, listen – and take photos.
The 2017 trail is as beautiful as ever: imaginative, dramatic and fun by turns. The ‘singing’ trees at the beginning of the walk serenade visitors with festive songs while a field of illuminated globes change colour to the sound of a carol. At Sacler Crossing, the curving bridge across the lake is animated with a sound and light show that illuminates the trees on the nearby island and reflects into the dark water. On the way we stopped for a five minute panto featuring Father Christmas himself.
Further on we found a vintage fairground with a merry-go-round, swingboats and a helter skelter slide.
Along the trail are stalls offering delicious things to eat and drink. Roast chestnuts, hot chocolate, mulled cider or – our favourites – plump marshmallows on sticks to toast on the handy braziers.
There are surprises along the route: a cloud of bubbles, a tunnel of light and an art installation of glowing flowers, reeds and grasses.
The grand finale of the trail is the spectacular light and music display at Kew’s Palm House and pond. Multi-coloured laser beams swoop and soar above the glass house and patterns scatter across its facade or seem to float in an ethereal sphere above the water.
It’s a pretty memorable ending to a twilight Christmas stroll in a park!
Christmas at Kew Gardens London
👨👩👧👦 This is a lovely evening out for friends and families. If you’re planning a multi-gen get- together then it has a lot of potential too. My student sons didn’t show much interest in joining me on this outing but every family’s different!
✨ It took us around an hour and a half to walk the trail, allowing for short stops. It could easily take longer.
👢This is a 2k walk in a park after dark. The trail can be slippery in places or muddy if it rains. Sensible shoes or wellies are a good idea.
🌂Wrap up warm. We went on a freezing night and it’s important to be wearing enough clothes to dawdle comfortably. Gloves, hats, scarves, warm socks, thermals – pile them all on. And pack an umbrella too.
🎠 Unless you have a will of iron know that you’ll be tempted to spend more than the entry ticket. The ticket price, from £16 in 2017, gives entry and the spectacular light show. But half the fun is in the goodies from the stalls that line the trail, all at additional cost. The alluring vintage fair is priced per ride. Kew’s cafes are open and there are tempting re-fuelling opportunities at the fairground too. At the end of the trail, food trucks are ready with delicious suppers to go.
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Christmas at Kew runs until Monday 1 January, 2018 – tickets are officially sold out. Definitely one to think of booking for next year if you live in London or are planning a December trip to the city.
🚇 Kew Gardens is about 30 minutes from central London by tube or train.