Christmas at Kew has become an annual highlight for many families - one of those rare London festive events that is great for all ages, not super-commercialised, and makes you go 'wow'.
It's not cheap - £16 per adult, £10 for kids, under 4s are free, or a family of four costs £52 (these are advanced prices) - but having just unwrapped our scarves, hats and gloves from our New Year's Eve trip to Christmas at Kew, we can definitely say it's worth it.
So here's our top tips and FAQs for anyone planning a trip.
What is it?
Without wanting to give away the magic - plus the actual attractions change every year - it's a lit-up trail with attractions (some set to music) ranging from multicoloured lights in trees, to the 12 days of Christmas in models and fire rings, to giant candles and light tunnels. There are lit-up sculptures too, a Santa, elves and a short show, plus - my personal favourite - marshmallow toasting fire pits. You can buy marshmallows (£1.50) which seemed miraculous types - always caramalisingly toasting and never burning. We bought one each and kept having to restock... The finale is a laser light show outside the lake outside the Palm House.
Who should go?
We saw everyone from newborns cosy in buggies or slings to great-grandparents on the mile-long trail. But if you're wondering if your child is too young to enjoy the lights, we took our 20-month old and he was enchanted. "Sparkly lights!" "Stars" "Hearts!" "Fire!"
The thing to watch out for is walkability - scooters are banned, so you'll need to make sure your child can either walk the whole distance, or will sit in a buggy.. or you have really strong biceps :)
What about food?
There are stalls throughout selling things like (nice) burgers, cheese toasties, mulled wine, gingerbread and more. My favourite Kew restaurant, the Orangery, isn't open for these evening sessions, but the White Peaks cafe is (half way through the trail) with fish and chips, other hot food, salads, and sandwiches, and so is the restaurant at the end near the Victoria Gate, where there are more food stands too including hog roast.
You can also take your own food with - though it's nice to sit down somewhere warm. If you're after a restaurant outside the gardens for before or after, family-friendly locals include the Botanist pub, Pizza Express, Coach and Horses pub on Kew Green, and Kew Greenhouse Cafe. Try booking if you can.
We are members of Kew so got there around 3pm to enjoy the gardens and soft play, which meant parking was plentiful. We did get caught out though - the gardens close at 4.15 and Christmas at Kew isn't til 5pm, so we had to kill 45m in Starbucks inbetween. Also if you're worried about tired kids, this isn't the best idea.
So, parking.. on the main Kew Road there are no restrictions from 16.30; likewise there's free parking on most of the side roads too. If you've been driving around and can't find anywhere, park on North Road on the 'wrong' side of Kew station. You can then walk over the bridge or under the tunnel and Victoria Gate is about a 4 minute walk away.
How long does it take?
You could speed round in an hour but you won't want to! This is a trail where you'll want to pause, saunter, take pics, and eat... It took us about half an hour to do the first part of the trail, then there's a kids' fair with carousel, rides and more. They're £2.50 per ride or 10 for £20. There's also an ice cream parlour here and the White Peaks cafe and food stands - and toilets.
Once you leave this area to get back on the trail, it's about a 45 minute walk, but you may well linger longer at the Father Christmas show, the toasted marshmallow stand (mmmmm) and the laser light show at the end is worth a few viewings.
Is it busy?
Yes - most sessions sell out. It's not rammed, but it's dark and busy so make sure you take precautions - lots of parents popped a glow bracelet or necklace or wearable torch around their kids, plus the buggy, even for kids who think they've grown out of them, can be useful - it's all accessible.
What should I wear?
Warm clothes! It's chilly in a wintery evening. Saw lots of children wearing wellies, and although it was a bit muddy in some places on the grass, this wasn't really a problem so cosy normal boots or shoes might be better.