Crystal Palace overview
What’s it all about?
Crystal Palace came into being after the 564 metre long iron and glass structure that housed the Great Exhibition was moved there in 1854 and reopened as a 'Winter Park and Garden Under Glass' offering education and entertainment. The same year a train station opened and new terraced housing was built on the grounds surrounding the park. Although the Crystal Palace itself burnt down in 1936 leaving only fragments, the park and town remained. Since the extension of the Overground line, Crystal Palace has risen like a phoenix from the ashes, reinventing itself as a great place for families, young couples and professionals, who can commute to London’s financial centre in just 20 minutes. Despite the 200 acres of parkland here, Crystal Palace retains an urban feel that appeals to first time buyers and young families. Straddling the boroughs of Bromley, Croydon, Lambeth and Southwark, it’s a busy hub, with bars, restaurants and shops centred around Westow Street, Westow Hill and Church Road, a patch known locally as ‘the Triangle’. The park is filled with historical quirks, like the Crystal Palace Circuit, which hails back to the earliest days of motor racing (and where the original Italian Job was partly filmed), and is also the proud home to the only Grade I listed dinosaur sculptures in the world. Recent regeneration of the park and rumoured plans to rebuild the Crystal Palace itself have added to the area’s buzz.
- The area is named after the Crystal Palace that was built for the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851. Moving the massive structure to Sydenham Hill cost the equivalent of £115 million in today’s money.
- At 109m above sea level, Sydenham Hill is one of the highest points of London with fabulous views over the city.
Architecture and property
The area we know now as Crystal Palace was covered in ancient forest land called the Great North Wood (remembered in name alone by neighbouring West Norwood) before rapid building began in the 19th century. The vast majority of houses in this area are Victorian terraces, although there is also a high proportion of impressive Victorian villas, some with as many as 14 bedrooms, surrounding the park designed for the more wealthy members of the middle classes. Many of these have now been converted into flats. Modern apartment blocks and several 1930s semi detached houses also add to the character of the area.
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Eating: The wealth of pubs and restaurants in Crystal Palace means eating out is never a problem. Take your pick from the open fire at The White Hart, table football at Westow House or the extensive wine list at The Alma. The Exhibition Rooms is a good place for both food and cocktails. Three local favourites are Gurkha Cottage for Nepalese, Mediterranea for a taste of Sardinia, and Numidie, a French Algerian bistro with particularly good tagines. On a special occasion, locals head to the private table at Joanna’s.
Drinking: Cocktail Embassy offers a great cocktail special, Monday to Friday and a DJ every Saturday night. The Grape & Grain offers something for everyone, including the best selection of real ales and cider in Crystal Palace.
Film: For the first time in 2014, Crystal Palace Park hosted The Luna Cinema at its outdoor concert bowl and further summer screenings are likely.
Spa: Crystal Palace has a wealth of beauty and relaxation options, but the hammam at The Crystal Palace Spa is the ultimate indulgence, including a steam room session, exfoliation and foam massage.
For kids: Crystal Palace is very family friendly, as evidenced by the SE19 Kids website, which organises camps and events for local children.
- Upper Norwood Library is over 100 years old and definitely worth a visit. It runs reading groups for children and book clubs, author talks, and free computer lessons for adults.
- Exhibitions at Crystal Palace Museum tell the history of Crystal Palace, housed within the only surviving building constructed by the Crystal Palace Company, dating from around 1880. It showcases a number of original artefacts rescued from the Palace after the fire, as well as photographs and documents.
- The Crystal Palace National Sports Centre – home to one of only a handful of 50 metre swimming pools in London – features a gym, exercise classes, sports hall, rock climbing, indoor/outdoor football, an athletics track, a dance studio and trampolines.
- There’s a Sainsbury’s five minutes’ drive from Crystal Palace station, with a large car park, and a Tesco Express just outside the station for smaller shopping trips. The Crystal Palace Food Market every Saturday has stalls selling everything from organic wines to gluten free pastries.
- In summer, the Crystal Palace Overground Festival is a community run arts and culture festival featuring music, sport, theatre and a huge number of attractions for kids.
Crystal Palace Park is much more than grass and playgrounds. Grade II listed, it is one of the largest parks in South London and was initially built to showcase Victorian grandeur and innovation. Here, the National Sports Centre sits next to tree lined paths that echoed to the sound of racing drivers roaring by from the very earliest days of motor racing in 1899 to the 1970s, when the track closed. Spread over 200 acres, the park contains a concert bowl, boating lake, maze, children’s farm and Grade I listed collection of Victorian dinosaur sculptures. The nearby South Norwood Lake and Grounds is the home of the Croydon Sailing Club, and has tennis courts, a bowling green, and children’s playground.
In October 2013 a Chinese developer, The ZhongRong Group, announced a £500 million development plan to rebuild the Crystal Palace. This has significantly increased interest in the area’s properties and, if it goes ahead, is likely to impact property prices considerably.
Rail: In rush hour, trains go directly from Crystal Palace and Gipsy Hill stations to Victoria up to six times an hour and to London Bridge as frequently as seven times an hour. Thanks to the Overground, it’s just 24 minutes to Canary Wharf (via the Jubilee line) and you can be at Highbury and Islington in 40 minutes.
Road: Crystal Palace is less than 40 minutes from the M25, and just 15 minutes from the A23 leading into London or to the M23.
Bus: There are many buses to and from Crystal Palace bus station, including numbers 3 (to Oxford Circus), 122 (to Plumstead), 202 (to Blackheath), 227 (to Bromley North), 249 (to Anerley), 322 and 417 (to Clapham Common), 358 (to Orpington), 363 (to Elephant and Castle), 410 (to Wallington), 432 (to Brixton), 450 (to West Croydon), 931 (to Lewisham). Night buses N2, N3, N63, and N137 run from all over London to Crystal Palace.
Getting away: To travel further afield, Gatwick Airport is an hour away by car.
One of the reasons so many families are moving to Crystal Palace is the quality of both primary and secondary schools in the area. The Gipsy Hill Federation runs three primaries in Crystal Palace and Gipsy Hill, all of which that are highly sought after. The Harris Federation is a group of high performing academies, with a strong presence here in the shape of Harris City Academy Crystal Palace and the Harris South Norwood Academy. There is also easy access to the range of independent schools in Dulwich.
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