Main Walk: 12½ km (7.8 miles). Three hours walking time. For the whole excursion including trains, sights and meals, allow at least 7 hours.
Explorer 161. Crystal Palace and Forest Hill are in south London.
3 out of 10.
This short suburban walk takes in five attractive parks and gardens with plenty of interesting and unusual features. The majority of the walk is necessarily on urban paths and pavements but two sections explore the neighbouring Sydenham Hill Wood and Dulwich Wood, the last remnants of the ancient North Wood which once covered south London (and gave its name to the suburb of Norwood).
The Crystal Palace was the popular name for the vast building which was constructed in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition in 1851. After the exhibition closed it was rebuilt in south London and the surrounding area eventually acquired the name. The building was completely destroyed by fire in 1936 and only traces of the gardens and terraces survive. The small Crystal Palace Museum tells its history: open weekends and Bank Holidays only from 11am, last entry 3pm winter, 3.30pm summer; free admission.
The most unusual sight on this walk is the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, the first ever life-size sculptures of dinosaurs and extinct mammals. They were constructed in the 1850s – before the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species – and extensively restored in 2002.
The central section of the walk is through the leafy suburb of Dulwich and passes Dulwich Picture Gallery with its important collection of European old master paintings: open daily (except Mondays) from 10am (11am weekends), last entry 4.30pm; admission (2017) is £8. Alongside is Old College, the original site of Dulwich College which later became one of England's largest independent schools in the New College buildings.
Close to Forest Hill is the Horniman Museum with its unusual collection of natural history, anthropology and musical instruments: open daily from 10.30am-5.30pm; free admission (apart from the aquarium).
Note that all these parks and gardens close around dusk.
The written directions are from Crystal Palace to Forest Hill, which would let you visit the Horniman Museum at the end of the walk. The walk works equally well in reverse and in this direction you could visit the Crystal Palace Museum towards the end of the walk (weekends only), but note its rather early closing time.
You could join or leave the suggested route almost anywhere. The directions point out alternative stations along the way and there are also many local bus routes.
There are frequent suburban trains from Victoria and London Bridge to Crystal Palace (in TfL Zones 3/4) and Forest Hill (in Zone 3). Both stations are also served by London Overground trains from Highbury & Islington.
The suggested starting time for this walk is between 10.30 and 11am (eg. with a train from central London at around 10:15). In practice you could start at any convenient time, depending on how much sightseeing or museum visits you plan to do, but check the relevant opening times to ensure that you won't arrive too early or too late.
The suggested lunchtime pub is the newly-refurbished Crown and Greyhound (020-8299 4976) at 73 Dulwich Village, 7 km from Crystal Palace and 5½ km from Forest Hill. This is a large town pub with a good range of home-cooked food, served all day.
Alternatively, there is a Pizza Express opposite the pub and a few other restaurants nearby. The walk route also passes the Dulwich Park Café and a few other pubs.
There are refreshment places at both ends of the walk, including a good café at the Horniman Museum. Two appealing places on London Road as you approach Forest Hill station are a delicatessen at #56, The Teapot, open to 5pm Mon–Sat, 4pm Sun; and a JD Wetherspoon's pub converted from an art deco cinema at #11-21, The Capitol.
If you do the walk in reverse the Crystal Palace Park Café is conveniently placed but fairly basic. A short detour onto Crystal Palace Parade at the top of the park will take you to Café St Germain, whose French décor tries to persuade you that you are looking at the Eiffel Tower rather than a large TV mast.
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Out: (not a train station)
Back: (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline SE (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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The directions for this walk are also in a PDF (link above) which you can download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
Click the heading below to show/hide the walk route.
- Crystal Palace Station to Sydenham Hill (3½ km)
- Turn right out of Crystal Palace station into Crystal Palace Park. Turn right and go along the perimeter path to the lakes.
The life-size Dinosaur models were commissioned as part of the park's renovation for the reconstruction of the Crystal Palace in 1852-54. They were designed and sculpted in Sydenham by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins with advice from Sir Richard Owen, a leading palaeontologist at that time, but knowledge of these extinct species was still sketchy and they are now considered inaccurate.
- Take the lakeside path (with detours if you wish to see more of the models) to the far end. The path leads to the Crystal Palace Park Café (and toilets).
- Penge West station (an alternative start or finish point) is just outside the park here.
- To continue the walk, turn left onto a tree-lined avenue. At the end take the steps ahead on the right to climb onto an elevated walkway.
- Go between the National Sports Centre complex and stadium to reach a large memorial bust.
Sir Joseph Paxton pioneered the design of prefabricated glass and cast-iron buildings, initially for greenhouses and conservatories in his role as Head Gardener at Chatsworth House. His revolutionary design was chosen for the Crystal Palace and it was built in just eight months.
- Keep ahead up a broad flight of steps onto the lower terrace of the old Crystal Palace site.
- For the main route turn right, but to detour to the museum:
- Continue to a second flight of steps, bear left up a slope and fork left at the top.
- The Crystal Palace Museum is at the edge of the park. After visiting it, return the same way.
Towards the end of the terrace you can see the Concert Bowl and a large fishing lake off to the right. There is also a Maze in this part of the park.
- Turn right onto the A212 (Westwood Hill). Fork left at the traffic lights and continue downhill for a further 250m.
- Turn left and go along Ormanton Road into Sydenham Wells Park.
Medicinal springs were discovered here in 1640 but their popularity later declined. The wells were removed in the mid-19thC.
- Take any route through the park to the exit in the top left-hand corner, eg. by forking left in front of the pond and following the path round to the right.
- Turn left onto Wells Park Road and go uphill to its junction with Sydenham Hill. Cross over (slightly to the right) into Crescent Wood Road.
The Wood House pub on the right is a possible refreshment stop.
- Sydenham Hill to Dulwich Village (3½ km)
- Follow Crescent Wood Road for 350m as it curves round to the right.
John Logie Baird, pioneer of television broadcasting, lived at the second house on the left (#3, with blue plaque) from 1933-46. On the right, Six Pillars (1935) is an example of International style.
- Shortly before the road rejoins Sydenham Hill, turn left through a metal gate into Sydenham Hill Wood. Go down a few steps and fork right to follow a numbered trail through the Nature Reserve, passing a Folly at post ④.
The native trees in this ancient woodland are predominantly oak and hornbeam. The more exotic species (eg. a monkey puzzle and a cedar of Lebanon) are remnants from the gardens of six large Victorian houses up on Sydenham Hill which extended into this part of the wood.
- Keep to the main path, ignoring turnings to the left. After passing ⑨ & ⑧, go through a gate and turn left onto Cox's Walk Footbridge.
The footbridge crosses the track of the Nunhead to Crystal Palace (High Level) railway line, which opened in 1865 to serve visitors to the site. The line lost much of its traffic after the 1936 fire and closed in 1954. In 1871 the French impressionist Camille Pissarro painted the scene (unrecognisable today) looking north to Lordship Lane station, as shown on an information panel here.
- On the other side of the bridge turn right and go down the broad avenue of Cox's Walk to leave the wood.
- Turn left and go along the A205 (Dulwich Common). In 400m turn right through Rosebery Gate into Dulwich Park.
- Fork left inside the park. You could continue on this broad avenue, but the suggested route is to bear right, going past the American Garden and later a children's playground to the Dulwich Park Café (and toilets) in the centre of the park.
- Take the boardwalk across the eastern end of the pond and bear right to go around its southern side.
A bronze Barbara Hepworth sculpture “Two Forms (Divided Circle)” (1970) used to stand here but was stolen by metal thieves in December 2011.
- Join Carriage Drive to leave the park at Old College Gate.
- Turn right onto College Road and keep ahead at the roundabout into Dulwich Village for a choice of refreshment places 200m further on.
The Crown and Greyhound pub is on the right-hand side, with a Pizza Express opposite.
- Dulwich Village to Dulwich Wood (3 km)
- After lunch retrace your steps by heading south to the roundabout.
The old Grammar School (on the right) was established as a free school for local boys after the college became fee-paying. It was designed by Charles Barry in 1842.
- Fork right and go along Gallery Road for 500m, passing Old College and the Dulwich Picture Gallery on your left.
The almshouse-like Old College is the original site of Dulwich College of God's Gift, set up by Edward Alleyn in 1619 as a charitable foundation. Entry to the school was by drawing lots and the twelve successful boys drew a slip of paper inscribed “God's Gift”.
- Turn right into Belair Park and follow the perimeter path anti-clockwise to the lake.
The Adam-style Belair House was built in 1785. The mansion is now a restaurant and the grounds are owned by the local council.
- Turn left onto either of the two paths alongside the lake. At the far end there is a car park and tennis courts.
- To finish the walk here, make your way past the tennis courts and across the A205 to West Dulwich station.
- To continue the walk, bear left and go out through the car park, turning right onto Gallery Road.
- At the T-junction turn left to go along the A205 (Dulwich Common), passing the playing fields of Dulwich College on your right.
The New College buildings were designed by the younger Charles Barry in 1870, in North Italian Renaissance style with extensive use of terracotta.
- At a crossroads turn right into College Road, passing an old Mill Pond on your left and then coming to the main entrance to Dulwich College on your right.
If the grounds are open, a short detour up to the North Cloister (to the right of the front door) will let you view the James Caird, the famous lifeboat from Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1915-16. Its epic voyage of 1,500 km across the southern Atlantic Ocean secured the rescue of the party stranded on Elephant Island after the loss of their ship Endurance.
- Continue along College Road for 450m, almost up to a toll booth in the middle of the road.
The Toll-gate dates from 1789 and is the last one still in use in London.
- Turn left into Grange Lane and go uphill between playing fields, a golf course and later allotments.
At the top of the hill there is a gate on the right leading into Dulwich Wood, just past the car park for Dulwich and Sydenham Golf Club.
- Dulwich Wood to Forest Hill Station (2½ km)
- Enter Dulwich Wood and take any path on the left to head east through the wood for about 400m; the most direct route is a narrow path just inside the entrance which stays fairly close to the left-hand edge of the wood, while there are wider paths further along.
The wood is privately owned but the Dulwich Estate allows public access.
- At a corner of the wood (where the path curves left), veer right off the path to find the trackbed of the dismantled Nunhead to Crystal Palace line. Go up to the entrance to Crescent Wood Tunnel on your right, where there is an information panel.
The London Wildlife Trust have built a hibernaculum for long-eared bats in this disused railway tunnel.
- Turn around and walk back along the trackbed. Continue until the way ahead is fenced off, then veer left up the bank as indicated.
- Walk along the top of the bank, with the trackbed of the old railway below on your right, to come to Cox's Walk Footbridge.
- Cross the footbridge (in the opposite direction to your outward route at ) and fork left up a short slope. Turn left through a new metal kissing gate and go down an enclosed path towards a housing estate.
- Continue downhill in the same direction between blocks of flats, eventually on a path between fences leading out to the A205 (London Road).
- Cross the main road at the traffic lights and go into Horniman Gardens.
Frederick John Horniman was an avid Victorian collector who opened his house to the public “to bring the world to Forest Hill”. He later commissioned a more suitable building for his collections from the architect Charles Harrison Townsend. He donated these grounds to the public and the new museum was formally opened in 1901.
- Take any route up to the bandstand near the centre of the park for a fine view of the city.
- Go back down the hill to find the Horniman Museum and its Café on your left.
- From the café, return to the main path and turn left to leave the park.
- Turn left onto the A205 (London Road). Fork right at the traffic lights by the petrol station.
The Teapot delicatessen is near the start of the parade of shops on the left, and The Capitol pub is on the right at the bottom of the road.
- At the bottom of the hill go straight across the road junction to Forest Hill station.
» Last updated: November 8, 2017