Crystal Palace Park | Dinosaurs & Mazes Galore
Come for the dinosaurs, stay for the maze, museum, and skatepark! And then, let’s face it, go back for another look at the dinosaurs.
Crystal Palace Park is one of the jewels (or, indeed, crystals) of South London, and a relaxed stroll around the is grounds is as diverting a day out as the city has to offer. It’s a weird, wonderful place – open and strangely quiet, in a way that London so rarely is.
Built by Sir Joseph Paxton in the 1850s, the park was created with the aim of educating and inspiring the throngs of people coming to visit The Crystal Palace, the building which was constructed for the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park and then afterwards moved (with typical Victorian industriousness/insanity) south of the river. Whilst the Palace itself was destroyed by fire in 1936, the park remains, and today, it’s an eclectic treasure trove of free things to do.
There’s the large and beautiful maze – 160 feet in diameter, its towering hedgerows leading one in devious twists and turns en route to the centre, where you’d almost certainly find a minotaur if the climate was a little warmer. There’s a museum, in the Crystal Palace Company’s only surviving building, which chronicles the area’s rich history. That history happens to include the UK’s first national skating competition, in 1977 – and Crystal Palace Park now offers a beautiful 1,100 square metre skatepark, in which young and old alike can ollie, nollie and Christ Air freely, before retiring to the park’s Brown & Green café for a coffee (which, it should be noted, serves some of the best brunch in London, including an outstanding Indian twist on the Full English).
There’s also the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre which, although in need of some TLC/basic health and safety work (a crumbling floodlight pillar recently caused the facility’s closure) is one of the city’s great leisure centres – and has an adjoining 16,000 capacity stadium, which is home to international athletics meetings. Right next to it sits one of London’s loveliest boating lakes, with pedalos for hire in the warmer weather, while at the northern end of the park you’ll find the iconic Crystal Palace Bowl – an architecturally striking open-air stage which has hosted the likes of Pink Floyd and Bob Marley, and is currently the subject of a passionate crowdfunding campaign to bring it back to life.
Aaaand yes, there are those dinosaurs – the giant statues of the ‘Dinosaur Court’ (surely the coolest of all the courts). Iggy, the Standing Iguanadon, and the rest of his pals helped fuel the ‘Dinomania’ that captured the imagination of the 19th century, and persists to this day. Crystal Palace Park is home to over 30 statues of prehistoric beasts, including pterodactyls and a giant sloth (aka Megatherium, to use its fantastic Latin designation). Experts are keen to stress that these vast models aren’t considered ‘accurate’ by today’s standards (whatever, nerds), but they are undoubtedly considered ‘awesome’.
Need a unique, fascinating, wallet-friendly day out? The way forward is crystal clear.
NOTE: Crystal Palace Park is open daily from 7:30 (weekdays) and 9am (weekends) until dark, so timings vary seasonally. You can find out more information right here.
Crystal Palace Park | Thicket Rd, SE19 2GA
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