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Climb the Great Pagoda at Kew Gardens

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by Sue Lancaster (subscribe)
I live and work in west London and enjoy writing as a hobby. Visit my blog at
Published September 16th 2018
It's only 253 steps to the top
On a recent visit to Kew Gardens, I was excited to see that the garden's famous pagoda was finally open after an extensive restoration project.

The Great Pagoda
The Great Pagoda from below

The ten-story octagon tower has returned to its 18th-century glory, complete with the re-introduction of 80 magnificent dragons adorning the roofs. Some of these new dragons have been carved from wood and gilded with real gold. The dragons were removed in 1784, rumoured to have been sold to settle George IV's gambling debts. However, experts believe that since they were made of wood, they had simply rotted over time.

Dragon on the Great Pagoda
One of the 80 new dragons on the Great Pagoda

My eldest daughter and I bought our tickets for the next available 30-minute time slot - 4.50 for myself and 3.00 for her (this is in addition to the entrance fee to the gardens). My husband waited at ground level with our three-year-old, as under 5s are strictly not permitted above the ground floor for safety reasons. There are 253 spiral steps to reach the top, so it's not for the faint-hearted. There are, however, breaks in the staircase at each level, with plenty of wooden benches for rest stops.

Inside the Great Pagoda
Inside the Great Pagoda

The Great Pagoda was designed by Sir William Chambers and completed in 1762 as a gift for Princess Augusta, the founder of the botanic gardens at Kew. It offered one of the earliest and finest bird's eye views of London, although I suspect the skyline has changed somewhat since then.

View from the pagoda
The view towards central London

The tower stands at almost 50m and each level is 30cm narrower than the one below. According to the attractions page of the Kew Gardens website, at the time of its construction, the pagoda was considered so unusual that people were unconvinced it would remain standing. Now it is a landmark of South-West London and visible for miles around.

The Palm House
View towards the Palm House and beyond

During the Second World War, British bomb designers wanted to study their latest inventions in flight. They made holes in each floor of the pagoda and dropped bombs down in secret to test their inventions. The repairs to the holes are still visible today.

Hole in the floor
One of the remaining holes (now covered with glass!)

The pagoda is open until the end of September when it closes for the winter, so there is still time to visit this year. If not, it will reopen again next summer.

Kew Gardens opens daily at 10am and is accessible via London Underground (Kew Gardens station), by train (Kew Bridge station), by bus (the 65 stops at Victoria and Lion Gate), or by car (although parking is limited).

View from the pagoda
Another birds-eye view

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Why? For birds-eye views across London
When: Daily from 10am (the Pagoda is open from 13 July - 30 September)
Where: Royal Botanic Gardens Kew Richmond TW9 3AE
Cost: 4.50 (adults), 3.00 (children). Essential carers go free (entrance to the gardens is separate)
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