Days out around London with toddlers and children: Crystal Palace Park and Dinosaurs

If you want to see dinosaurs in London, where do you go? The Natural History Museum…. or a windswept hill in SE19?

Crystal Palace is famous for its dinosaur statues dating back more than 150 years. They really are something special – they were the first time anyone had attempted to make scale three dimensional models of extinct creatures using fossils as a guide.

So as you can probably guess, they aren’t quite accurate. Research has moved on somewhat since the 1850s but that’s what also makes these statues unique – they depict what was known about dinosaurs at that point in time.

Personally I wouldn’t have noticed the difference as you won’t find a T-Rex or Stegosaurus at Crystal Palace but instead the more unfamiliar (to me at least) Labyrinthodons and Ichthyosaurs and more.

Where do you go to see the dinosaurs at Crystal Palace?

To see the dinosaurs you follow a path and come across them one by one, much like you would animals in a zoo. There is an information plaque near the start but then nothing next to each dinosaur, which somehow adds to the sense of adventure – almost as if you are seeing them in the wild. Each statue is a fair distance away from the path (where there are barriers or fences) and arranged on the edge of a pool or half way up a hill – you can get a good view but half the fun is in spotting them as you come around a corner.

I’ve heard complaints that the statues look run down and when one friend visited not long before us she said some of the shrubbery around the dinosaurs was so overgrown they were hard to see in some cases, and it looked as if it had been tidied up by the time we visited.  I’ve also read a comment complaining on TripAdvisor that the dinosaur statues look quite old but that is kind of the point! I really felt like we were in the presence of something special – while my daughter was just very excited to see dinosaurs in real life and not just television or pictures!

What else is there at Crystal Palace Park?

The park has a lot to offer as well as the dinosaurs. It is home to the National Sports Centre which is also historic – built in the 60s it was the UK’s first multi-use sports hall. We didn’t go in but saw people people playing beach volleyball outside.

Just across the bridge is a racetrack used by a model car club and we were able to watch for a while, through there’s also a lot of ‘pit time’ in between where the participants fine tune their cars. The cars are built from kits and while the more basic models don’t require too much engineering expertise, I know from experience that it can take many many hours to build the cars, involving soldering, electronics, painting the body shell and so on. My husband used to take part in this kind of model car racing in his teens and early 20s and won a lot of trophies – and decided to take it up again, building his car during lockdown. This isn’t the car club that he belongs to but it’s the same thing, so it was nice for me and the mini moo to be able to watch and see what it involves!

After the sports centre and car track you enter the park proper. A huge green open space there is a playground, a cafe, an ice cream can and even a lake with pedalo boats. We decided Sophie was a bit young to take on one of the boats but I’m looking forward to taking her here in future!

Where do you park to visit the Crystal Palace dinosaurs?

Just a quick word on parking. It’s free which surprised me and makes this an amazingly good value day out – seeing the dinosaurs costs nothing and if you take your own picnic the whole day out could be free (though the pedalos are £5 per adult and £3 per child for half an hour on the water).

The closest car park to the dinosaurs is off Thicket Road and there is also on street parking on Thicket Road. We found the car park was quite small and already full at 10.30am (on a Sunday in August) – and what’s more a lot of cars had parked well across the lines of their bay in what could only have been deliberate to make sure they had enough room to open their doors – meaning one car took up two bays. There were enough examples of this in the car park that it can’t have been simply down to poor parking!

Instead we used a car park by the sports centre which I think is the one on Crystal Palace Park Road – it was a large car park and almost completely empty and also free. It’s really not that far to walk into the park itself and over to the dinosaurs even though you are at the other end of the park.

We had a brilliant time and this is definitely somewhere you can go easily while adhering to social distancing and somewhere I plan to go back next summer!

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