It’s a nice day and you want to blow off the cobwebs? Don’t know where to go because you don’t want to face the tourists in central? Never normally head south of the river? Only stay south of the river? Well, look no further, the answer to the perfect Sunday lies in Crystal Palace park, whether you’re on a first date, fiftieth, with kids, on your own, mate date or taking out your parents it’s such a great park, with so much to keep you occupied and some lovely green space to sooth the soul.
Although it feels like Crystal Palace is at the edge of the earth (well, maybe particularly more so for those of us that live north of the River), the journey itself is really simple. If you’re driving there’s a car park, and if you’re getting the train, it’s really simple and surprisingly quick on the Overground, just make sure you get one that terminates at Crystal Palace and not West Croydon.
Let’s be honest, these are the real pull of the park – the things you can’t get in any of London’s others. The dinosaurs. Dinosaur Court was opened in 1854, and is quite frankly as Victorian as it gets. They are dotted about the park, particularly around the lake (more on that later) and are huge. Like, GIANT. They portray the British influence in science, and although nowadays they are inaccurate and completely biologically wrong, they are fabulous – they show how science and understanding has developed over time, and shows how Dinomania began. I’m not sure they convey the ferocity of the dinosaurs that we would expect, but they are quite funny when you stop to have a look at them. They are also undergoing conservation to stop them from being damaged any more than they have been.
Something that is available at other parks, but is still fun, no matter how old you are, are the pedalos on the boating lake. Why is it that competent drivers turn to mush when you have to remember to steer opposite and pedal at the same time?! The Boating Lake in Crystal Palace Park is run by Park Boats London and is open at weekends, bank holidays and school holidays between Easter and October. The lake is open for boating fun between the hours of 10.30am and 5pm, weather permitting, and costs £4 per adult, £2 per child, or £10 for a family of 4. Don’t forget that they don’t take card so cash only!
Capel Manor Urban Farm is amazing. A huge array of animals in a small space of Crystal Palace Park, and free to go in and visit. Not only that but it is a teaching college run by Capel Manor, so lots of the people working there that you see are studying towards qualifications. They have pigs and ponies, snakes and lizards, goats and chickens, cats and rabbits, and loads more! There is always plenty to see and do, whether you’re there at feeding time, or bed time, it is fascinating. It’s free and open to the public from 12-4 every day except Wednesdays.
We have to admit, we were a bit cocky going in to the maze at the beginning of autumn, being taller than the hedgerows, but boy were we wrong. A complex thing, but still fun, we managed to (eventually) get to the centre! One of the largest in the country (we still have yet to check out Hampton Court Palace), it has a diameter of 160 feet! Built in the 1870s, the maze is still as was, and is free to all, but plan in longer time than you think you will need! With some fun symbols and great history attached to it, it also links quite nicely to the history of the girl guides and their belonging in Crystal Palace park. Oh the memories of Lord Baden-Powell…
A brand new (designed) 1,100 square metre skatepark in the park was one of the coolest stop offs on our trip. It’s a very big, busy pool and the exciting thing again here is the history – this is where where the first major UK national skateboarding competition took place in 1977, and is located right next to the site of the world famous skateboarding half-pipe of the 1980s. Although it’s not totally finished yet (bring on December), it’s a really great place to sit and people watch if you can’t skate (like Jess) or reminisce if you used to (like Tim).
The skatepark, funded by the Mayor of London, consists of an extended 100 metre long and 11metre wide curved concrete band, filled with a wide range of rideable terrains. At one end sits an advanced cloverleaf pool, complete with swimming pool-style stone coping and tiling. In the middle is an L-shaped steelcoping bowl, particularly suited to skilled transition riders, and offering a multitude of hips and curves. And at the other end of the skatepark is a large mellow section, aimed at those of all abilities and riding styles, and for those just seeking to explore different lines and speeds. BMX, quad-skating, rollerblading, scootering and skateboarding have all been considered in this design, and riders of all ages and abilities will be very welcome.
To be honest, what else are parks for?! The greenery was delicious, and there were a very large number of extraordinary good boys (dogs, duh!) around. Just get yourself lost and enjoy it a bit, there are a couple of cafes in the park, and at one end a pub too!
Other bits of the park we didn’t manage to see
The Terraces – The Italian terraces are suffering the elements but are still an amazing way to start to understand the sheer scale of the Crystal Palace. The upper and lower terraces are connected by flights of steps each of which was flanked by a pair of sphinxes. These are among the few remnants that survived after the fire of 30th November 1936 which destroyed the Crystal Palace. Walk along the grass bank on the Upper Terrace for an amazing view over Kent. You can see the Dartford Crossing on a clear day as well as the rolling hills.
The Museum – The history of the Crystal Palace is kept alive here at the museum and tells the story of both the Hyde Park and Sydenham Crystal Palaces. Housed in the only surviving building constructed by the Crystal Palace Company built around 1880 as a lecture room for the Crystal Palace Company’s School of Practical Engineering. Only open on Sundays from 11am-4pm, and completely free, it provides great insight into the local area and the entire park that you could spend your day at!
The Sports Centre – although we walked past it a few times (there were some hockey matches going on), unless you’re going to spectate or participate, I’m not sure what else you would need to be there for. It has a gym, pool, running track and all sorts, but then again, if you’re going to go to the park, I’m not sure you care about this. It is lovely and modern though!
In some ways, it was really lovely to get away from “London” for the day, and just hang out with nature, without being too far away. It also made Tim far less negative of life south of the river!