Crystal Palace has it all – it’s leafy, eccentric, unpretentiously bohemian, easy to navigate and just 20 minutes by train south of central London. Its appeal is driven largely by its countless vintage boutiques, designer coffee shops, giddy antique dealers, knockout restaurants, and regular oh-so-fabulous continental food markets. Aside from its illustrious history (remember that big old glass palace that burned down?) a visit to Crystal Palace guarantees some gorgeous views of London and gives you the chance to meet plenty of nice local folk who are ready to draw you into the warm bosom of proper south-London society. So here are eight brilliant reasons to make a date to explore Crystal Palace.
1. The view
At exactly 367 feet above the metropolis, Crystal Palace occupies a very privileged, very fabulous position in London, overlooking the epic grandeur of our lovely city and beyond. From Anerley Hill, you’ll see all the way out to the sprawling hills of Kent and Sussex (on a clear day) and from Gipsy Hill (pictured), to city icons like St Paul’s, the Gherkin and the Shard. For the best views, walk down the entire length of Woodland Road – once you hit the intersection at Camden Hill Road, squint and you’ll see Big Ben and even the tippy top of Her Maj’s palace. Best time to go? At sunset for golden cityscapes and some extreme cloud porn.
2. The shopping
If you're currently going through an interior design crisis or just can’t find a good present, then you've come to the right place. For all things locally made, the ultra swanky Smash Bang Wallop (pictured) is chock-a-block full of exquisite homewares, jewellery and some ridiculously impressive artworks to kit out the modern and stylish London home. If you couldn’t care less about the world of interiors, Bookseller Crow is a brilliant independent bookstore, known throughout the triangle for its quirky window displays and fantastic children’s section. Speaking of kids, shoppers will find a load of gorgeous baby outfits and newborn gifts from the affordable Papagaio.
3. The park
Crystal Palace Park is a bit of an unpolished gem. Once home to the famous palace, it’s ridden with its ruins, rolling green hills, a few fishing lakes, cafés, a cool maze and petting farm for the kids and one hideous transmitter, affectionately dubbed ‘la tour de Crystal Palace’ by locals. From vintage car shows to gigs, funfairs to dreamy firework displays, there's always lots going on in the park, so always be on the lookout for the next quirky shindig. If you only see one thing though, make sure it’s the dinos. These celebrity statues, designed by Sir Richard Owen (the bloke who gave the deadly beasts their name), were the first of their kind in the world, and even predate Darwin’s publication of 'On the Origin of Species.'
4. The restaurants
Crystal Palace is one of those places where it’s possible to have a swanky champagne breakfast in one gaff and a greasy old Chinese in another. Whether you’re in the mood for a fiery Indian, classic English fry-up or just a good old dollop of pie and mash, there’s oodles to choose from along the main strip. For a spot of fine-dining on a budget, the Exhibition Rooms dishes out the best in super-modern British cuisine – fab wine list included. For cheap and cheerful pizza, look to the happy folk at Lorenzo's Ristorante and for something a little different and on trend, the very slick, very modern Crystal Palace Market offers market fresh seafood and grills, along with some rather fine locally sourced produce and killer cocktails.
The best time to experience the full force of the Crystal Palace fashion scene is on a Sunday morning when all the junk shops come out to unleash their fashion magic boxes, decorating the streets with fiery ribbons, creepy old mannequins and flashy dresses. Men in search of the retro look should dive headfirst into Crazy Man Crazy, a marvellous place for guys who have a soft spot for 1950s rockabilly American apparel, bombers and sexy leather. For the ladies? Vintagehart offers a small but divine medley of timeless couture pyrotechnics and a kaleidoscope of bold and frisky shades that will leave you starry-eyed and cashless.
6. Bars and pubs
Cuban, French, Irish, Spanish and good old British – the Crystal Palace triangle has its fair share of down-to-earth, cheap and chic drinking spots for every kind of pisshead, refined or not. The Westow House (pictured) has plenty of live gigs from local bands and a rather excellent selection of beer and wines to down on karaoke nights. For a more laid-back scene, the White Hart on Church Road has a cute little beer garden and dons a well-groomed ‘runway style’ minimalist interior to unwind in. For booze and continental European pub grub with a view, the Sparrowhawk at the top of Gipsy Hill is the boozer for you.
7. The tea and coffee shop scene
Going out for tea or coffee has become a necessary ritual for local workers, mums and Palace bohemians. Loads of tea and coffee shops can be found along Westow Street, where you’ll see countless flamboyant windows decorated with mountains of muffins, artisan breads, fluffy croissants, and moreish cookies. For the finest roastery, look to the peeps at Blackbird Bakery for a heart-stopping piccolo, and for a spot of psychedelic afternoon decadence plucked straight from the Mad Hatter’s tea party, the rather hip and super cute Dalhousie (pictured) is the place to go. On your way home, stop off at Brown and Green inside Crystal Palace station for an orgasmic marshmallow-topped hot chocolate – so worth it.
8. The architecture
Prepare to let your Instagram and Snapchat feeds blow up as there are some seriously dope buildings and structures in Crystal Palace to snap. Streets lined with the remnants of high Victoriana, Georgian splendour, gothic chic and Brutalist estates are everywhere in sight. The gem of Crystal Palace however, is the Grade II-listed Victorian subway (pictured), which was originally built to connect the neo-gothic railway station to the once grand Crystal Palace back in 1865. While not currently open to the public, locals are campaigning to reopen it as a community arts and events venue (yes please!).