Family Outings: Kew Gardens

Play hunt the glass - in a greenhouse

Kew - with its 132 hectares (326 acres) of gardens, millions of different plants and its iconic glasshouses - is a perfect setting for the American artist Dale Chihuly's glass sculptures, which are on display across the gardens until January. Deliberately echoing natural shapes, his vibrantly coloured structures range from simple "reeds" to wild masses of up to 1,000 pieces - sometimes melding with the plants, sometimes standing out dramatically. The greatest concentration of sculptures is in the Princess of Wales observatory and in the Temperate House, where you can view them from above on the high walkway. Kew is already a great place to hang out with kids and even better with this extra diversion.

Something for children

Chihuly's work is very child-friendly; lots of bright colours and youthful shapes - balls, spears and multiple squiggles. Enter the gardens by Victoria Gate to be immediately confronted by two "flaming brands" outside the Palm House, a lively scattering of coloured glass floats on the pond, and a boat that looks as though all the wrapping paper, sweets, and decorations from a party have been artfully piled into it. My son was delighted. In the glasshouses, some of the sculptures are camouflaged or extremely plant-like, so we had great fun playing "hunt the glass". A children's leaflet is available with facts, quotes and activities. And throughout the summer holidays (until 6 September) there will be free daily art activities (first come, first served) on a Chihuly theme in the Climbers and Creepers children's centre, an indoor and outdoor botanically themed interactive play and learning area.

Something for adults

Although many of Chihuly's sculptures are more great fun than great art, some interact with the plants in interesting ways and the more complex ones reward a second look (which you might even get, given Kew's fabulous space for children to run, and the fact that the glass is safely out of reach). Kew's internationally renowned plant collection is undiminished by the presence of glass, and the children's search for the next Chihuly makes for a long and pleasant walk through the grounds.

Refreshments

Four restaurants or cafés with sandwiches, snacks and pricey hot meals. Children's animal lunch boxes come with a packet of seeds - choose five items for £3.50. The Orangery is particularly pleasant, but in summer I'd take a picnic and find a nice quiet spot in the gardens.

Souvenirs

Chihuly cards, videos and souvenir book (£20) as well as a wide range of Kew souvenirs and an excellent selection of books, including children's, in the main shop. The smaller shop next to Climbers and Creepers has lots of children's items from 20p, and the gallery next door is selling Chihuly Studio Edition Glass, from £2,500.

Admission and access

Open daily 9.30am to 6.30pm weekdays, until 7.30pm at weekends and until 4.15pm in winter. Glasshouses close earlier. Adults £10, children up to 16 free, concessions £7. Disabled access: Almost entirely wheelchair and buggy accessible. Wheelchairs available and a people mover runs around the gardens.

How to get there

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 3AB (020-8332 5655; www.kew .org /chihuly; www.rbgkew. org.uk).

By car: M4 junction 2 and signs for Kew Bridge. Free parking on Kew Road after 10am, car park (£3) near Brentford Gate.

By train: District line by Underground, or Silverlink trains to Kew Gardens (5 mins' walk) or South West Trains to Kew Bridge (10-15 mins).

By bus: Numbers 65, 237, 267, 391 stop at or near gates .

By boat: in summer, boats run along the Thames from Westminster and Hampton Court to Kew Pier near Kew Bridge (www.tfl.gov.uk).

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