'Magical' is not a word I throw around lightly in regard to tourist attractions. Disneyland is magical, and... well actually, that's it. I don't think there's anywhere else I'd deem worthy of the term - except, now, Christmas at Kew.
The annual light festival is now in its 5th year, and I've been lucky enough to attend the press launch on three of those years (in case you haven't noticed, I have a thing about light festivals). This year is by far the best year to date, rendering my colleague Rob and I dazzled like little kids. I had hoped to have a video to show you (I'm high tech now y'know), but I'm having trouble with the files at the moment (alright, maybe not) so you'll have to make do with these photos, which don't go any way to doing it justice.
Enter through a twinkling arch, a temple illuminated in the trees over to one side. So far, so average. But the first big 'wow' moment comes courtesy of 'Moon Over The Vista', a sea of illuminated globes stretched out in front of the famous Palm House, which glow and change colour in time with the festive music.
You'll have to hang about for a while to see the full sequence, but it's worth it - if you can resist the lure of the nearby Christmas tree, which flashes to its own tune and, you'll realise if you look closely, is made up of hundreds of individual sledges. Nice touch.
Other highlights include a group of singing trees, whose lights flash in time with their humming, and a fire garden (a bit spooky - singing, rotating, firey Christmas trees against a backdrop of wintry tree silhouettes). Absolute highlight is the bridge going over the lake, which is animated in time with the lights on the islands, and in the water. The full sequence is 20 minutes or so, but you'll be so hypnotised that staying to watch it won't be a problem at all.
Of course, that now-famous light tunnel is back, drawing Instagrammers to it like moths to a flame:
I say the bridge is the highlight. It was, it was right up until Rob and I rounded the very last corner, chatting away, and we were stopped and silenced in our tracks - it was literally breathtaking. We froze for a couple of seconds before running straight towards it to get the best shot we could (ever the professional journalists). The Palm House is illuminated in a spectacular light show. In front of it, holograms dance on the lake - figures ice skating, a ghostly carousel, kids throwing snowballs, all set perfectly to music.
The layout is very cleverly planned - you can see enough of what's ahead to tempt you onwards, but you can only hear the music for the particular section you're standing in, which is crucial when it's as finely choreographed as it is.
Little disclaimer: I went on press night, which means it's less busy than any other night - although it seems far better organised than the shambolic Chiswick Lantern Festival, so you should be alright. However, Kew's set the bar high for Glow Wild at Wakehurst, the equivalent event at Kew's sister venue. I've got tickets for the opening weekend - watch this space.
Christmas at Kew 2017, 22 November- 1 January, book in advance.