Crystal Palace

Oh faded glory! There’s something rather lovely about Crystal Palace Park, which is only 20 minutes by train from central London. All that once-grand, Empire-guzzling power and might of the actual Crystal Palace now reduced to sweeping terraces overgrown with brambles and statues with their heads lopped off. Imposing steps lead to nowhere, where once they rose up to the imposing glass and metal structure that burned down mysteriously one night in 1936.

FA Cup Finals were played at the Palace until 1914 and also where Grand Prixes were raced (Photo public domain).

FA Cup Finals were played at the Palace until 1914 and also where Grand Prixes were raced (Photo public domain).

Head down to the lakes to see the Victorian dinosaurs; they are pleasingly crap

The park itself also has its own rather wonderful history: the site of the brutalist National Sports Centre in the park was once where FA Cup Finals were played (until 1914) and also where Grand Prixes were raced; nowadays the athletics stadium seems to crumble gently away under the weight of such history.

The park’s perfect for a sunny day spent out of town; take a picnic (there's a café down by the lakes selling fairly adventurous fare if you can’t be bothered to make your own sarnies), find a shady spot under the trees, and lie back and relax in the sunshine. 

Or you can get lost in the maze (we didn't – we cheated and strolled straight to the heart of it via the ‘escape gate’), wander up to the old concert bowl (where Pink Floyd, Bob Marley and The Beach Boys all played), head down to the antique Victorian dinosaurs on the islands (they are pleasingly crap and unlike how they would have looked when they were walking around; the Victorians made some wild guesses based on a lack of knowledge and mixing up the bones and fossils found). 


The Crystal Palace as it looked when it stood in Hyde Park in 1851 (Photo public domain).

Take a plastic pedal boat out on the boating lake; wander around the deserted stadium and peep through locked gates, imagining Chariots Of Fire-style glories on the track. Walk the high Italianate terraces and look out over to Kent (on a clear day you can see the Dartford Crossing); imagine all those Victorians strolling about, believing that their incredible glass and metal structure would stand for a thousand years.

If you want to retreat to the pub, the nearby streets of Crystal Palace have much to recommend them; The Alma is a perfect choice with great beers and a smashing menu. Joanna's is also a delicious lunch spot and a family favourite. But really it's the park that is the centre of all the attention; all those past glories and faded dreams overgrown, crumbling and beautiful in a melancholy way.