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A land of dinosaurs and a ‘crystal palace’ in south east London you say? All is not quite as it sounds but Crystal Palace Park is indeed a rather ‘magical’ and historical grade II listed park that features dinosaurs, sphinxes, a gorilla and remains of the former Great Exhibition building.
Crystal Palace Park is a lush, 200 acre site that originally opened in 1854, as the new home for the ‘Crystal Palace’ building, which was relocated from Hyde Park after the famous, Great Exhibition in 1851. Very much a Victorian amusement ground originally designed to educate and entertain, it is still very popular today with locals and day trippers, with several nods to its past still visible today, including some of the foundation stones from the original Crystal Palace building (it unfortunately burned down in 1936).
Most of the main attractions are now sadly gone, such as the huge water towers designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the original park railway station and a massive aquarium. However, there still are lots of fun (and some rather unique) attractions to enjoy so here is our activity guide for Crystal Palace Park:
Crystal Palace Dinosaurs Park
Who needs Jurassic Park when London has its very own phenomenal lake full of dinosaurs that are totally free to visit? This Grade I listed treasure was one of the original attractions from when the park first opened in 1854.
Although they might not be as accurate or realistic as what you might see at the Natural History Museum or in the movies, it is rather fun to walk through the park, spotting dinosaurs all around the lake, in rather unusual surroundings (definitely more interesting than pigeons and squirrels!) The Crystal Palace dinosaurs (which include a few extinct animals) were also voted London’s favourite public sculptures by readers of Time Out London earlier this year (2020).
Recently, the dinosaurs have sadly fallen into a state of disrepair with chipped paint and cracked tails (ouch!) so work is underway to restore them, with the fundraising work endorsed by the likes of the London Mayor and Slash, formerly of Guns and Roses (who knew?!).
Crystal Palace sphinxes / spinghes
You can also get up close with six sphinxes (try saving that after a pint of beer) that remain from the Crystal Palace Exhibition Building and used to adorn the regal terraces, based on a sphinx that was on display in France’s Louvre museum.
They were repainted red in recent years to restore them to their original colour, after being on the national ‘At Risk’ register. We are also led to believe more than one sphinx is classed as ‘spinghes’ but it looks odd (the ‘riddle of the sphinx’ eh) so we’ll include both just in case…
Crystal Palace Boating Lake
Open weekends, bank holidays and school holidays, you can hire a pedalo for as little as £5 – a serene setting (if you don’t include the nearby dinosaurs) that is always a lot less busy than other London boating lakes such as Victoria Park or Hyde Park.
Guy The Gorilla
A statue of Guy The Gorilla was unveiled in 1961, by sculptor David Wynne, depicting London Zoo’s most popular primate, who died at the ripe old gorilla age of 32 years old. He was said to be the very same ape that they studied the movements of, for the opening sequences for Space Odyssey 2001.
Other Crystal Palace Park attractions
Further fun things to do in Crystal Palace Park include :
Crystal Palace Maze – London’s largest free outdoor maze (160 ft / 50 metres) across and alas, nothing to do with the 80s British Quiz show of a similar name (The Crystal Maze), generations of families have been getting lost in this maze since the 1870s.
The National Sports Centre was also constructed here in the 1960s, alongside an athletics centre, which was the first of its kind in the UK.
Crystal Palace Bowl played host to the likes of international supergroups like Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Coldplay and…erm…East 17. Although now no longer used due to damage and disrepair, there are plans backed by the local council to bring it back to life.
How to get to the Crystal Palace dinsoaurs
Crystal Palace Park is walkable from both Crystal Palace Station or Penge West station.
Other London blog posts
- Borough Market guide – London’s most famous food market
- The 10 best markets in London to visit
- A guide to Victoria Park Village and park
- The ultimate guide to the Bermondsey Beer Mile
- The best brewery taprooms in London
- Top things to do in Greenwich
- Things to do in east London
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