The most famous attractions in the park are the grade I listed dinosaurs. Designed by sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins in the 1850s, the life-size models were the first of their kind. Free audio guides are available to download and then listen to on your smart phone at: www.audiotrails.co.uk/dinosaurs.
MUMMY’S GIN FUND SAYS
This is a really fun and fascinating park. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else! It’s fairly big (about the same size as Greenwich Park), hilly, and has an unusual layout. So be prepared for a fair amount of walking and bring the buggy if you’ve got toddlers in tow. Download this leaflet for a helpful map: www.bromley.gov.uk/downloads/file/1199/crystal_palace_park_leaflet.
We like to go there on the 122 bus from Lewisham as it stops right at the top of the park. Travel early on a weekend to avoid the worst of the traffic and you could be there in around 35 mins. At busier times, it’ll take around 45 mins, but the bus route goes near the Horniman Museum and past Sydenham Hill Woods if you want to break the journey up. The 202 from Blackheath also goes directly to the park via Catford, but takes around 1 hour.
Don’t miss the terraces at the top of the park, for a fascinating glimpse into the history of the Crystal Palace and stunning views all the way to the North Downs. There are giant stone Sphinxes, spooky headless statues and even some secret ‘ruins’! See if you can find the excavated remains of a Victorian aquarium near the base of the TV transmitter, or the entrance to the original pedestrian subway on Crystal Palace Parade which has a spectacular vaulted ceiling (not publicly accessible, but look out for occasional open days at: http://www.cpsubway.org.uk/).
Crystal Palace Rail station is south of the terraces, leads directly onto the park and now has several lifts to the platforms. Our preferred route is on the spacious air conditioned Overground from New Cross Gate or Brockley (c20/25 mins). But Southern trains also go from London Bridge and London Victoria (c25/30 mins). If you’re driving, there’s a 250 space car park in the centre near the National Sports Centre (accessed from Anerley Hill), and some free parking at the Thicket Road entrance (near the dinosaur lake).
The grassy area by the concert stage (known as ‘the bowl’) towards the north east of the park is a good spot for a picnic and the maze is close by too. The playground, boating lake and dinosaur area are all clustered towards the bottom of the park. This area is relatively flat, though there’s a bit a climb back up again to the farm and the rail station. There’s a cafe and toilets around this area too, and some in the National Sports Centre too (though it’s tricky to navigate!), but unfortunately the rest of the park is lacking in facilities.
Head to Brown and Green’s stylish cafe at the rail station for coffee, homemade cakes and delicious brunches (including a specific kids’ menu): www.brownandgreencafe.com. Or venture up Anerley Hill to the Crystal Palace ‘triangle’ and you’ll be spoilt for choice with loads of nice cafes, pubs, restaurants and independent shops. The views across London are amazing (see if you can spot St Paul’s). It’s worth the steep trek!
Address: Thicket Road, London, SE20 8DT
Playground: Yes, it’s quite a small, busy, fenced-off playground with a few sets of swings and a slide. The best bit is the sandpit, which has a pretend dinosaur skeleton and eggs buried in it. Bring your bucket and spade and get excavating!
Cafe: A new cafe is currently being planned: www.crystalpalacepark.org.uk/2015/cafe-plans/. The cafe in Crystal Palace station – www.brownandgreencafe.com – is excellent.
Toilets: Yes, wheelchair accessible, with baby change near the Penge Entrance and cafe.
Pram / wheelchair / mobility friendly: Yes, lifts at station and paved paths, but the park itself is quite hilly.
Parking: Large free 250 space car park in the centre of the park near the National Sports Centre, via Anerley Hill entrance. And some free parking at Thicket Road entrance.
Train: Crystal Palace (Southern Trains, Overground), Penge West (Southern Trains, Overground).
Bus: 157, 249, 358, 410, 432 all stop in the park.
Phone: 020 3236 0078 (park ranger).
Email: [email protected] (The Crystal Palace Park Community Stakeholders Group).
Opening hours: 7.30am to dusk, daily
The Crystal Palace was an enormous glass and iron structure originally built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851 at Hyde Park. Three years later, Sir Joseph Paxton completely rebuilt the Palace south of the river at Sydenham. Along with its surrounding grounds – which included two huge Brunel-designed water towers, numerous fountains and lakes – the Palace was the world’s first ‘theme park’ and attracted two million visitors a year at the peak of its popularity. Sadly, it was completely destroyed by a fire in 1936. Nothing is left of the Palace itself now, but some of the original features of the park survive. The huge Italian terraces, grand staircases and stone statues can still be seen at the top of the park, which offers magnificent views across south London. An 1880s School of Practical Engineering lecture room now houses a small museum dedicated to the history of the Crystal Palace (open on weekends 11am-4pm; free; guided tours on the first Sunday of the month, 12pm, April-Oct, £3.50; www.crystalpalacemuseum.org.uk).
The iconic 1960s National Sports Centre (with its 50 metre competition pool and high dive boards) and the 15,500 seater athletics track still dominate the centre of the park. See website for more details: www.better.org.uk/leisure/crystal-palace-national-sports-centreinsert).
Other features include a children’s farm (see separate review), concert area and lake, maze, playground (with sandpit) and small cafe. Pedalo boats can also be hired at weekends, bank holidays and school holidays (10.30am-5.30pm; £2 kids; £4 adults; £10 family for 30 mins).
Review by: Rachel Smith