As modernity continues its reign of terror over the rest of the capital, Dulwich is one of the few places in London that's managed to maintain an 'old world' feel and fairytale-like village charm. Spread over two SE postcodes and four very distinct districts, a visit to this part of London suburbia guarantees a cultural and foodie tour-de-force that, for any London nomad, is just too good not to experience. Here are eight absolutely fabulous reasons to make a date to explore Dulwich.
1. The food
East Dulwich has a food scene for days – French, Indian, Polish, British, Spanish, Italian, Bengali, the list goes on and on. For some extreme barbecue, The Flying Pig smokes out southern-style American barbecue and offer an unrivalled selection of craft beers to pair it all with. If the French tickle your taste buds, the uber-friendly peeps at The French House plate up orgasmic pots of cheese fondue and raclette (have the fondue Normnade – délicieux!), tartes flambées and other speciality dishes from France’s Alsace region. And for more cheese to take home, stop off at the Cheese Block deli for a superb selection of almost 300 continental cheeses. Whatever you nom your way through, you’ll be at least 400 pounds heavier than when you arrived.
2. Dulwich Picture Gallery
Founded in 1811 by Sir Francis Bourgeois and designed by the then leading architect John Soane, the Dulwich Picture Gallery is the world’s first purpose-built public art gallery and contains the finest examples of French, Italian and Spanish baroque paintings in the land. History lesson over, the gallery showcases a vivid range of artworks from all the great old masters including several by Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, Claude, Watteau, Gainsborough and Poussin. If you've only got an hour or two to explore though, don’t miss Rembrandt’s famous ‘Girl at a Window’, Poussins’ ‘Triumph of Goliath’ and Lely’s glorious ‘Nymphs by a Fountain’, one of the museum’s most celebrated narrative pieces.
3. Dulwich Park
Created in 1890, Dulwich Park began its life as a group of meadows called 'The Five Fields' and was once a favourite hangout of Queen Mary who, according to local rumours, loved to sniff the rhododendrons in the American Garden. Covering 29 beautiful hectares of green space, the fairytale park is packed with wildflowers, ancient oak trees, period buildings, romantic picnic spots and a cool boating lake. If you're one of those sporty types, there are free-to-play tennis courts, an outdoor gym, a couple of epic football pitches and a bowling green run by the local bowls club. Fancy.
4. The gorgeous houses (just look at the pictures!)
5. Dulwich College
It's London's very own Hogwarts for boys. Dulwich College is one of the oldest independent public schools in the country and is worth a quick glimpse just for its Venetian-inspired architecture. Edward Alleyn, an actor and entrepreneur in the world of Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre founded the college in 1619. The area around the estate was often frequented by the poet William Blake who called the fields surrounding the magnificent building 'the Gate into the world of vision'. Built on a 70-acre site, the main building, New College, was designed by Charles Barry Jr (the son of the bloke who was the brains behind the Houses of Parliament) in an architectural style he dubbed 'North Italian of the Thirteenth Century'. Who needs to go to Venice when you've got this beauty on your doorstep?
6. The shops
If you're the kind of boy or gal in search of unusual, independent and unique shopping experiences then you've come to the right place. Bookworms should head to Village Books in Dulwich Village to rummage through 7,000 books spread over two bonny floors. The shop hosts loads of events, from signings to evenings with celebs, so make sure you're on the lookout for the next big bookish jamboree. Just down the road from the book nerds you'll find Tomlinsons (aka Rigby & Mac), a gorgeous little shop selling fab and very on-trend vintage shabby chic homeware direct from France and Scandinavia. Two words: buy everything. For the latest in stylish apparel, Question Air in East Dulwich is a glorious little boutique that stocks an impressive portfolio of designers including Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith, Lucy Choi and for the guys, garms fresh off the runway from Acne Studios.
7. The pubs and wine hangouts
Dulwichites love their booze, especially their wines, craft beers and spirits. For a proper south-London pub experience, The Plough on Lordship Lane taps out a diverse range of liquors, craft beers and ciders, which you can down in their lovely family-friendly pub garden. Wine, cheese and olive addicts should trolley on down to ToastED to discover 200 artisan wines from across the globe – they've also got a shop just in case you want to take a bottle or ten home. If it's live music, quiz nights and fierce roasts you're in search of, then the Great Exhibition pub on Crystal Palace Road is the piss-upery for you.
8. The Dulwich Outdoor Gallery
Move over Shoreditch, a new street art queen is in town. Back in 2013 the Dulwich Street Art Festival transformed the homes and businesses of many Dulwich folk with an arty project devised by the experts at the Dulwich Picture Gallery and Street Art London. The aim of it all was to recreate some of the most famous traditional baroque paintings housed inside the Dulwich Picture Gallery – like Conor Harrington's epic 'Fight Club' above, which was based on Charles Le Brun's 'Massacre of the Innocents'. Every corner you go, you'll see loads of spray-painted murals by internationally acclaimed street artists like Stik, MadC, Thierry Noir, Remi Rough, Mear One and Phlegm splattered all over pub walls, local landmarks and even on people's gaffs (jealous!).