Some of the best things to do in Croydon
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Ever evolving, Croydon is a town under heavy development with a number of ambitious projects reaching for the stars – as long as the British economy prevails. Behind the headline grabbing construction, however, is a hugely creative arts community and a fascinating history
Long swallowed up by London's urban sprawl, Croydon sits just to the north of our county and has an 'Old Surrey' history that defies its modern reputation. While the buildings reach increasingly skyward and delays to hugely ambitious projects are proving to be elephants in the room, the town is a patchwork quilt of change.
September 2019 brings optimism however, with the reopening of the Fairfield Halls arts and entertainment complex following a multi-million pound refurbishment. Originally opened by the Queen Mother in 1962, The Beatles, Eric Clapton, The Who, Elton John and David Bowie are just a few of the stars to have performed on its stages through its heyday.
In fact, Croydon is a town with deeply ingrained links to music, whether it's pub gigs by Jimi Hendrix, those stellar Fairfield Halls performances or Croydon-born Grime artist Stormzy conquering Glastonbury's headlining spot. There's also the BRIT School, found just around the corner from Crystal Palace's football stadium in nearby Selhurst, which has played a part in launching the careers of chart-topping artists includes Adele, Katie Melua, Imogen Heap, Jessie J and Amy Winehouse.
Back in the town centre and you can still find plenty of bastions of the area's history and heritage. Perhaps the most obvious of these is the Croydon Clocktower, which was built in 1892. You'll find the Museum of Croydon there, which opens from Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10.30am to 5pm. Less well known - at least by people who think of Croydon as being just concrete streets and shopping centres - is the impact of The Whitgift Foundation. Established in 1596 by John Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury, to provide care for the elderly and education for the young in Croydon, the foundation's work continues today through three outstanding independent schools, Trinity, Whitgift and Old Palace of John Whitgift School, and their three care homes.
They are also intrinsically linked to many of the town's most historic buildings and sites. Croydon Palace, for instance, forms part of the Whitgift Foundation's Old Palace School and was a summer residence for centuries to archbishops of Canterbury. Elizabeth I was a frequent visitor to the palace.
Moving forward to the present day, and back to those pesky elephants in the room. Confusion currently surrounds the proposed £1.4bn mega-mall by Westfield and Hammerson (aka the Croydon Partnership). Announced back in 2013, the ambitious project would replace the Whitgift shopping centre and renovate Centrale and, at least on paper, transform the town centre. But it's already been heavily delayed and, even with an earliest opening date of 2023 currently pencilled in, some are questioning whether it will ever happen at all with the UK's High Streets in the economic doldrums. A state of limbo for all involved, then.
Elsewhere in town, Boxpark, which is found right next to East Croydon station, has become a bustling hive of street food vendors and bars. Nearby, the historic Surrey Street Market, apparently one of the oldest markets in Britain, operates seven days a week and offers fruit and veg and crafts stalls.
Surrey Street is a place to head if you enjoy a craft beer too - and reflects the creative vibe that Croydon often treads these days. There's the Art & Craft micropub, Mr Fox (which has shuffleboards - a "growing pub game trend" we're told) bar and the Matthews Yard arts and creative hub. There are a number of traditional pubs nearby too.
In the South End 'restaurant quarter', you'll find, among others, Bagatti's (one of Croydon's most popular restaurants for 29 years); Little Bay (Modern European and French cuisine with quirky theatrical decor); Yumn Brasserie (stylish fine dining).
So, Croydon is a town for the open-minded at this point. If you're searching for dreamy little England, it's probably not the place for you, but if those ambitious plans come together, it feels like it can be a blank canvas of a place with a hugely creative community at its heart.
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- Boxpark - Stroll off the platform at East Croydon and you almost walk straight into Boxpark. With pool tables, numerous food outlets, communal benches and pumping music, it's aimed at a younger crowd but has a bustling vibe. It's also home to The Cronx Bar, run by the town's Cronx Brewery. It's tiny but you can grab a beer, settle on one of the benches and watch the world go by.
- Oxygen - Found off the Purley Way, which is perhaps best known for its enormous retail offering (Ikea, John Lewis Home etc), the Oxygen Freejumping trampoline park features more than 100 trampolines and areas. It's one of seven parks around the country and just as much fun for adults as it is kids.
- Fairfield Halls - Reopening after a massive refurbishment, as well as the aforementioned Ashcroft Playhouse, there's the 1,802-seater Phoenix Concert Hall, the Arnhem Foyer (a community hub), The Recreational (a live music venue), the Savvy Studio, the Talawa Studio and John Whitgift Community Cube.
- Croydon Airport - With Gatwick and Heathrow on our doorstep, it's often forgotten that Croydon Airport was once Britain's international aviation gateway. Airport House was in fact the world's first air traffic control tower. Having long since ceased operation, you can still visit and learn about its history on the first Sunday of the month.
- The Addington - One for the golfers here and one that nods to how quickly the green spaces begin to appear again only a short drive outside of Croydon. With its fairways meandering through trees and boasting expansive views of the London skyline, The Addington has a fascinating history. King George VI became patron of the club in 1937 and one of the most famous writers of his day, PG Wodehouse, would also joke that any correspondence to him should be addressed to a savage 30-foot bunker on the course.
24 hours in
- Morning - Croydon has brilliant public transport links and is easily reached by bus or train, so grab a ticket and dive in. There's The Breakfast Club in Boxpark - you don't get to enjoy "70s Christmas chic" in a shipping container every day, after all.
- Afternoon - Replenished, Surrey Life found ourselves fascinated by the street art that adorns many of the walls around the town and sheer jumble of construction projects taking place at once. Walk in the direction of Surrey Street and you'll certainly see a brief synopsis of the changes taking place in the town - and perhaps pop into one of those craft beer bars or the more traditional Dog & Bull. The nearby Ludoquist board game café may also appeal.
- Evening - For the evening, it's got to be a show at Fairfield Halls, the food and drink vibes of Boxpark or a table at one of the restaurants in South End. All very different experiences, of course, and there's always something going on in town - particularly if you have a taste for alternative live music.
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