Perhaps the closest you’ll get to an actual village in South London, the neighbourhood of Dulwich is synonymous with boutique, independent stores, smart houses and leafy green spaces. A regular hunting spot for King Charles I back in the 17th Century – pre- losing his noggin of course – it has a rich history and dates all the way back to 967 AD, when King Edgar gifted it as a piece of land to Earl Aelfheah.
Nowadays, it firmly ticks the box of ‘yummy mummy’ territory, with coffee shops galore and fancy restaurants popping up on every corner. There’s plenty to do in this neck of the woods, so without further ado, here’s our rundown of 12 of the best things to do in Dulwich:
1. Take a wander round the Dulwich Picture Gallery
Founded all the way back in 1811, the Dulwich Picture Gallery was the first purpose-built public art gallery in the whole world. The brainchild of Sir Francis Bourgeois, who wanted to bequeath his exquisite works ‘for the inspection of the public‘, it’s now a cultural hub which attracts some of the UK’s leading artists and exhibitions.
The gallery also owns one of the finest collections of Old Master paintings in the world – especially rich in French, Italian and Spanish Baroque paintings – and there are also works dating all the way back to the Tudor times. As if it needed any more fanfare, the building itself was also designed by none other than the famous architect Sir John Soane – so all in all it’s a pretty big deal.
📍Gallery Road, London, SE21 7AD.
2. Explore some of the area’s eclectic street art
It may come as a bit of a surprise that there’s some street art in this bougie neck of the woods – but a wander through the Dulwich Outdoor Gallery will put aside any doubts you may have.
Started in 2012 in a collaboration between beloved London street artist Stik and the late Ingrid Bezley, it was a project designed to ‘to recreate old masters on the streets of the area’. Now, it’s packed full of pieces from renowned artists such as Thierry Noir, Faith47, Nunca and Conor Harrington. If you want more insight into the stories behind these intricate artworks, then the best thing to do is join a guided tour. You can find out more here.
3. Get the pints in at a pub or two
Now we love ourselves a good old boozer here at Secret London – we are Londoners after all – and Dulwich is packed full of some absolutely banging ones. Our top picks would be the East Dulwich Tavern – which those in the know nickname ‘The EDT’ – which has bags of charm, roaring fires and an excellent Sunday roast, and The Rosendale which has a huge beer garden out the back.
Other great spots include the craft beer-heavy Watson’s General Telegraph, The Crown and Greyhound and The Great Exhibition – which has a mean bottomless brunch, regular pub quizzes and an event called ‘Pampers and Champers’ – specifically designed for parents who are happy to have a glass of vino during the early afternoon.
4. Enjoy some peace and quiet at Christ’s Chapel
Another one of the best things to do in Dulwich here – and conveniently located right next to the Dulwich Picture Gallery – Christ’s Chapel is a beautiful building which was consecrated back in 1616 by George Abbot, the Archbishop of Canterbury, as part of the Dulwich College foundation.
Take a peek inside to see its historic organ and magnificent artworks, or enjoy some peace and quiet in the picturesque tree-lined courtyard just outside.
📍14 Gallery Road, London, SE21 7AD.
5. Make friends with the doggos at Dulwich Park
Speaking of peace and quiet, you’ll get plenty of that in the Grade II-Listed Dulwich Park, which offers 29 hectares of open space in which to while away the hours. There’s a lovely lake here with a café overlooking it – the perfect spot for a warm brew or two – and you can also make use of the tennis and basketball courts, cricket nets, outdoor gym and even pedalos and rowing boats if you’re feeling slightly more active.
If the sun is shining, why not bring along a picnic, which will no doubt make you become firm friends with the many pooches here on their daily dog walk. Not that we’ve tried it of course…
📍College Road, London, SE21 7EB.
6. Pay a visit to the beloved Horniman Museum
Straddling the border between Dulwich and Forest Hill lies the Horniman Museum and Gardens – a cherished (and free!) spot which was established back in the late 19th century. Based upon the encyclopaedic collections of English tea trader Frederick John Horniman, you’ll find a gallery of taxidermy (including a famously overstuffed walrus), a World Gallery based on diverse civilisations around the globe, a butterfly house, an underground aquarium (with extra admission charge) and even some cute llamas outside in the landscaped gardens.
They’ve also got an ever-changing series of exhibitions on throughout the year. Currently they’ve got the family-friendly ‘Brick Dinos’ – which showcases mighty dinosaurs in miniature form using LEGO® bricks – and ‘Elmer and Friends: The Magical World of David Mckee’ which celebrates the acclaimed writer and illustrator.
📍100 London Road, London, SE23 3PQ.
7. Shop ‘til you drop in Dulwich Village
Frequented by the likes of BBC newsreader Huw Edwards, comedian Mickey Flanagan and actors James Nesbitt and Iain Glen, Dulwich Village is certainly popular – and for good reason. Sure, to own a house in this leafy and affluent (AKA posh) area you’d probably need to sell a kidney, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a leisurely stroll around it – right?
There’s everything here from boutique florists and posh farm shops to independent wine merchants and high-end delicatessens, so there’s plenty of things to spend your hard-earned cash on here. Go on – you deserve it.
8. Visit the eccentric House of Dreams
A worthy addition to this roundup of the best things to do in Dulwich here, the House of Dreams is a rather eccentric place just down the road from East Dulwich station that is well worth a visit whenever you’re in the area.
The personal art museum of former textile designer and art director Stephen Wright – who was influenced by the folk arts of Mexico, South America and Asia – it’s full to the brim of kooky shrines, colourful mosaics, false teeth, hanging dolls, wigs and more, and Wright worked on it for well over a decade. In other words, it’s a place that really has to be seen to be believed.
📍45 Melbourne Grove, London, SE22 8RG.
9. Try and get a hole in one at Dulwich & Sydenham Golf Club
This 6,100-yard-long golf course is situated on the slopes of Sydenham Hill, and offers incredible views over the gleaming skyscrapers of The City and the pristine, manicured lawns of Dulwich College.
Founded by the esteemed golf course architect Harry Shapland Colt back in 1894, it’s a pretty swanky spot characterised by undulating fairways, fast greens and mature trees – i.e. lovely for a game of golf. You’ll need to be a member, but if you’re into your swing as it were, it’s definitely worth joining for the spectacular panoramic views alone. They offer expert coaching here for adults and youngsters alike, and there’s also a clubhouse that rustles up some slap-up meals.
📍Grange Lane, College Road, London, SE21 7LH.
10. Cool off with a dip at Brockwell Lido
Ok, so we’re cheating a bit with this one, as Brockwell Lido is technically in Herne Hill. However, it’s that good that we couldn’t not include it to be honest. A 50-metre outdoor pool operated by the same folks as London Fields Lido, this peaceful swimming spot is noted for its Art Deco buildings and café-come-bar – which is actually really rather well-regarded thank you very much.
The surrounding park is also a bloody lovely place to spend the rest of your afternoon, and there are plenty of good pubs nearby too. You can book your swim sessions here. However, word of advice – it’s not heated so be prepared for it to be fairly brisk!
📍Brockwell Park, Dulwich Road, London, SE24 0PA.
11. Take a step back in time at Camberwell Old Cemetery
Our penultimate entry onto this roundup of the best things to do in Dulwich might be thought of as a bit left field being a cemetery and all, but it’s a peaceful spot that is well worth a visit if you’re wanting to get an insight into the history of the area and the people that lived within it.
There’s a Gothic Revival lodge here that was restored following a fire back in the 1970s, as well as 288 Commonwealth service war graves from the First World War. There are also two Screen Wall memorials, which mention the names of the men tragically killed during WW1 and WW2 respectively.
📍Forest Hill Road, London, SE22 0RU.
12. Explore the ancient Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Woods
If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life but don’t want to travel too far, then you could do worse than going for a pleasant amble through the Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Woods. Looked after by the London Wildlife Trust and a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation, it’s the largest remaining tract of the ancient Great North Wood, which stretched from Deptford to almost as far as Croydon.
Following the well-marked trails through these adjoining woods makes for a great walk, and if you’re lucky you may spot some of the resident wildlife here including tawny owls, green woodpeckers, kestrels, wood mice and hedgehogs.
📍5 Peckarmans Wood, London, SE26 6RY.
So there you have it – the very best things to do in Dulwich. From discovering various trinkets inside the Horniman Museum to taking a wander through ancient woodland, there’s plenty to keep you occupied here. So what are you waiting for? Get yourself down South and see what all the fuss is about!