Make the most of your trip to Croydon, South London’s creative borough with its own distinct culture, rich history and vibrant commercial centre. Find ideas for things to do, where to stay, and the best places to eat and drink.
Croydon is not the most obvious port of call for many visitors to London. After all, it lacks any of Britain’s obvious crowd-pleasing sights or top attractions. In fact, on the face of it, Croydon seems like a place in flux, trapped between a hurried past and an uncertain future. Dig beneath the surface though, and it becomes readily apparent that Croydon is a place with a proud history and a vibrant present. You’ll start to uncover centuries-old buildings and modern, ambitious new buildings, imaginative cultural institutions and a rich, multicultural charm.
Contributions to British culture from the area’s citizens have not gone unnoticed either, with the London Assembly naming Croydon the London Borough of Culture for 2023. It is primarily known as a musical hub, thanks largely to the revered BRIT School, a performing arts high school attended by the likes of Adele, Kate Nash and Amy Winehouse. Dubstep and grime also have a strong foothold in Croydon, with the area consistently voted one of the top regions of the UK for producing musical talent. For example, Stormzy, who grew up in nearby Norwood.
The area has a proud history of notable creatives in other fields of the arts too, with D.H. Lawrence (Lady Chatterley’s Lover), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), US writer Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep), David Lean (director of Lawrence of Arabia), Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (the composer) and many more notable individuals having been born or lived for some time in the borough.
Croydon has seen many changes over the decades, developing a rather grim image in the post-war decades, one which is proving difficult to shake. Most recently, a number of ambitious regenerative programmes were set in motion, only to be thrust into financial turmoil by the Covid-19 pandemic. What is certain, however, is that Croydon has a lot to offer visitors, and plenty to experience during a short trip.
Things to Do
The charming 19th-century Clocktower (9 Katharine St), in the heart of Croydon, is a good place to start. It forms part of the red-brick, neo-Baroque Town Hall. It is one of the area’s finest buildings and also houses the Museum of Croydon, home to a variety of exhibitions, including one on composer Coleridge-Taylor, and a collection of art from painters with local connections, including Indian polymath Rabindranath Tagore.
The area of Croydon known as Old Town is where you’ll find Croydon’s oldest surviving buildings, and a rare glimpse at the area’s long history of human occupation. It’s believed there was a small Roman settlement in the area two thousand years ago, although the town really came into prominence around the 6th century as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s estate. Nothing survives of the early buildings, although later buildings, including Croydon Old Palace (Old Palace Rd), and the Whitgift Almshouses (N End) – beautiful remainders of Croydon’s former religious glory – now stand startlingly juxtaposed to the bedlam of downtown Croydon.
The name Whitgift is synonymous with Croydon’s finest institutions, in fact. John Whitgift, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1583 to 1604, was a divisive character. He’s mostly known for the charitable organisations set up at his command, and for strengthening the Anglican Church during the reign of Tudor monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, although that also meant strong persecution of other branches of Christianity, particularly the Puritans. Whitgift is buried in Croydon Minster (Church St), another of the town’s few surviving pre-16th-century buildings.
If you travelled to London from overseas by plane between world wars I & II, you would most likely have arrived at Britain’s biggest airport at the time: Croydon Airport. But very few people have ever even heard of Croydon’s aviation centre. That’s because it closed in 1959, when the need for larger airports and longer runways pushed newer airports beyond the city. Today, part of the old airport is open (albeit only on the first Sunday of the month) to the public as a free museum called the Croydon Airport Visitor Centre (Airport House, Purley Way), complete with old airplanes.
Croydon also enjoys a number of beautiful parks not far from the town centre. Queen’s Gardens (Park Ln) sits opposite the Town Hall, while Park Hill Park (Fairfield Path) is a serene escape near East Croydon Station with an impressive 19th-century water tower. Further afield, Wandle Park (Cornwall Rd) is a great place for a picnic after exploring the Old Town. Lloyd Park (84 Coombe Rd) is a huge green space with playing fields and woodland.
Where to Stay
There are a dozen decent hotels located in the centre of Croydon, with a handful of global hotel chains offering reliable value, minutes from the major train stations. One such example is Jurys Inn London Croydon (Wellesley Rd), where you’ll find pleasant rooms with comfortable beds, and an on-site bar and restaurant.
For a lavish upmarket hotel, the De Vere Selsdon Estate (126 Addington Rd) is a huge, former country mansion in Surrey, a few miles south of Croydon. It has wood-panelled common areas, an indoor pool and acres of beautiful, manicured grounds. London Croydon Aerodrome Hotel (680 Purley Way) is next to the old airport, with spacious rooms, and a lovely restaurant. For a more personal touch to your accommodation, the Croham Park Bed & Breakfast (18 Croham Park Ave) is a perpetual favourite, set inside a pretty, old Edwardian home. It has been awarded the AA Gold Star for its top quality.
Eat & Drink
If you can handle the amount of choice on offer, Boxpark Croydon (99 George St) is the place to go for street food galore. Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Thai, vegan, meat-lovers; you name it, there is a stall here that will have your gastronomic proclivities covered. And, provided you haven’t had too much to drink beforehand, there’s a perfect place to unwind called Bad Axe Throwing (Unit 53-57), which is exactly what it sounds like. You can get a side of hot dogs with your throwing axes.
Fans of a traditional old pub have plenty of choice in Croydon. The Oval Tavern (131 Oval Rd) is a prime example, serving up real ale and delicious meals from a menu that’s almost as multicultural as Croydon is, including African sweet potato and peanut stew, and beef rendang curry. There’s a Sunday roast here that’s reasonably priced (for London), plus regular live music both indoors and occasionally in the leafy beer garden.
The Ludoquist (63-67 High St) has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. The board game cafe has 1,400 different board games (and counting), ranging from the mainstream to the truly bizarre. You can play practically any of them that are available. There is a nominal fee (around £5) payable by each person, allowing you three hours to play as much as you’d like. You can also order hot and cold drinks, snacks, cakes, soups and pizzas, as well as alcoholic beverages. It’s the perfect place to go with a group of friends.
There are lots of great pubs in central Croydon, but if you’re looking to combine a bit of history with a tipple, the Dog & Bull (24 Surrey St) is your place. While the claims may not be corroborated, it is said that there has been a pub at this location since 1431. What’s certain is that the wooden interiors, stained glass and plush furnishings set a warm, inviting tone. There’s a large beer garden out back and a kitchen serving jerk chicken and tacos.