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Things to Do in Forest Hill: An Insider’s Area Guide

Things to Do in Forest Hill: An Insider’s Area Guide

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Forest Hill is one of London’s most chilled-out areas. Ready to explore? Discover the best things to do in Forest Hill London, with this insider’s guide.

Inside the bustling cosmopolitan borough of Lewisham lies little Forest Hill. What was once a small, wooded area is now a quaint little borough filled with beautiful walks, cafes, and shops. 

Forest Hill got its name in 1790 from a developer – it’s a fitting description for the area, encapsulating its relaxing, natural features. 

Initially, the name only applied to a small part of Honor Oak Road, which was a little isolated wood at the edge of Sydenham Common. But over time, Forest Hill grew into the area we know and love today. 

Often overlooked in favour of the more popular areas of London, Forest Hill has many beautiful shops, cafes, restaurants, and museums that are a must-see for any visitors exploring this gorgeous part of South London.  

Ready to explore?

Things To Do In Forest Hill

Explore the Horniman Museum And Gardens

Horniman Museum

Perhaps the biggest attraction of Forest Hill and a must-see for any visitor, The Horniman Museum first opened in 1901 as a place to house the collections of Frederick John Horniman. 

After expanding over time, today it hosts a butterfly house, music gallery, animal walk, nature trail, aquarium, world gallery, and much more. Most of the museum and gardens are free to visit although there is a charge for the aquarium and butterfly house.

Among its most famous exhibits is the iconic walrus. After being killed in the 19th century, the taxidermist charged with stuffing it got a little carried away with the result that it now looks like a very overstuffed walrus-like balloon. Now a symbol of Forest Hill, it can be seen on roadsigns around the area and remains one of the area’s greatest attractions.

Horniman Hill

If the weather’s good when you visit the Horniman museum (which is great on a rainy day), you can’t not visit its beautiful gardens as well. You can bask 16 acres of beautiful gardens lined with flower beds of different colours depending on the time of year.. 

Not only that, there’s a wonderful conservatory where you can walk across the lawns with beautiful views of the London skyline.

Read More: London’s Quirkiest Museums

Appreciate Nature on Cox’s Walk 

Sydenham Hill Woods

Cox’s Walk was an 18th-century public walk that has survived the urbanisation of southeast London and remains as it was today. Running next to Dulwich Woods and Dulwich Golf Course, the walk leads to Sydenham Hill. 

Consisting of 3 acres of gardens, parks, and urban spaces, Cox’s walk is considered one of London’s most beautiful natural spots with 200 species of plants, as well as fungi, birds and forest mammals.

Indeed, it is London Wildlife Trust’s oldest nature reserves comprising remnants of Victorian-era gardens, stunning views towards the City and The Shard and part of the disused Nunhead to Crystal Palace (High Level) railway line where you can walk on the disused track bed. 

Once you get to the end, you’ll find a closed tunnel that is now a registered bat roost.

Marvel at the Greenery on Green Chain Walk 

Green Chain Walk

There is another excellent walk in Forest Hill. When you have completed (and loved) Cox’s Walk, you may want to set your sites on Green Chain Walk. 

This walk is 50 miles long and split into 11 sections, beginning at the Thames and finishing at Nunhead Cemetery. On the way, you will pass through stunning parkland and greenery, including the Horniman Museum Gardens. 

You can join the trail in Forest Hill and choose to go north or south, depending on your mood.

If you choose to go north, then you will be greeted with some of the most photogenic, iconic sights of Forest Hill, including the unique trinity of a vintage car, New York taxi, and red phone box.- perfect for those with a keen eye for photography.

Admire the Beautiful Street Art

Forest Hill is home to many inspirational pieces of street art that you can find dotted around as you wander through the area, on the side of buildings, shop shutters, and walls. From hidden murals in the quiet corners of the borough (think Havelock Walk) to the bright, vibrant walls just outside the station, there is plenty to see.

Begin at Forest Hill Station and wander along Dartmouth Road, taking in pieces by Milo Tchais and local artist DRT, whose art resembles fantastic stained glass windows. Once you reach the Job Centre, turn around and view the siren from mythology painted by Derlon Almeida.

Then head down London Road, which is full of eye-catching pieces, including the saxophone and butterfly and mummy caskets. Head back towards the station to take in the traditional Forest Hill railway sign under the bridge, painted by Lionel Stanhope before going down Stanstead Road.

Here you’ll be greeted by none other than Johnny Bravo. Continue until you pass the Honor Oak Pub (stop if you want to have a drink!) and take in some of the faded signage of years past, and at Brockley Rise, take in a piece above the MOT shop by world-renowned artist Dan Kitchener. 

Finish at Crofton Park Station, where another Lionel Stanhope piece will greet you before getting on a train and giving your insta a massive boost! 

Dacres Wood Nature Reserve

Dacres Wood Nature Reserve sits between Forest Hill and Sydenham train stations. It occupies 2.5 hectares of land and was once part of a massive Victorian garden.

Unfortunately, the reserve isn’t open all year round, but there are open days held on the last Saturday of each month between 1 and 4 pm, giving you ample opportunity to explore.

Once there, you will be greeted by vast green spaces, a variety of diverse fauna, and the final remnants of the Croydon Canal, which was closed officially in 1841. 

You can also hire the field in Dacres Wood Nature Reserve for your events and parties, while the nature reserve also hosts educational events including arts and crafts days, den building, and even woodland picnics.

Take a Needlework Workshop

Local haberdashery store Stag and Bow is a great place to head if you enjoy needlework, and other fabric-based crafts. As well as being the go-to place to stock up on supplies, they also run regular classes and workshops to help you feed your inner creativity.

From survival sewing skills to learning your way around that sewing machine that’s been sitting in the attic for decades and more. From beginners crochet classes to understanding the finer points of darning. 

Quilting, Sashiko (a Japanese way of fixing and strengthening clothes), knitting repairs, and patchwork workshops are among those also available. So, if you’ve been wanting to get learn how to get started with fabrics, needles, and threads, there’s no excuse not to.

Go for a Swim at Forest Hill Pools

We love to keep active, we love water, and we love combining the two. One of our fave spots to indulge these twin interests is at the gorgeous Victorian red-brick style building that is home to Forest Hill pools.

With a six-lane 25m swimming pool that caters to the casual swimmer and those that like to glide (or splash) up and down lanes, while the 16.7m teaching pool offers a family-friendly spot for kids and parents to safely explore the water. 

Combining classic architecture dating back to 1884 with a sleek, modern facility next door, this historic swimming spot is bound to make a splash with you.

Restaurants & Bars 

Canvas & Cream

A stone’s throw from Forest Hill Station is Canvas & Cream. Opened in 2012 as a community venture, the space needed some TLC as it stood without electricity, walls, or plumbing. Locals helped kit the space out and Canvas & Cream became a reality.

The result is a charming cafe, restaurant, and bar filled with curious little nooks, armchairs and a beautiful secret garden. They also have seven artists studios available for hire and also host quarterly open studio sessions.

Food-wise, they do killer brunches, with ranch eggs and the haddock kedgeree really hitting the spot. After midday it’s lunchtime, with salads, flatbreads and burgers available. Delectable cakes, ice cream and pancakes do the rounds for afters.

Sylvan Post

Canvas & Cream isn’t the only noteworthy place to grab some grub near the station. A short walk down Dartmouth Road will bring you to the Sylvan Post, a former post office that’s now become a charming boozer. 

While there’s a great range of craft ales and spirits on offer for the discerning drinker, the real treat comes when you look at their food options.

You can grab three small plates for £21, including truffle mushroom pate, cheesy jalapeno bites (they have a kick!) and incredibly moreish red onion and carrot bhajis. Want something bigger? No problem. The Lentil shepherds pie is perfect for a winter warmer, and the burger mayo on the cheeseburger doesn’t disappoint.

Junction 876

We love exploring different cuisines and you can’t really say you’ve visited Forest Hill without trying out some fresh and tasty authentic Caribbean vibes. Junction 876 is the place to head to get a taste of calypso cuisine whatever the weather in SE23.

Sit indoors or outside as you sample their stunning eclectic menu. Go for fresh seafood dishes, proper Caribbean curries and stews, or take on their twist on a West Indian classic jerk chicken. Wash it down with a rum cocktail and you’ll be sashaying your way home with a wonderfully warm glow inside.

Top Shopping Spots

Dartmouth Road

Dartmouth Road is home to an array of big names and independent shops – it’s the top spot for some retail therapy in Forest Hill. 

While there’s the usual brand names that adorn most suburban high streets, you can grab a massage, head into the Art Gallery and dealer at Doopo Doopo, explore the charming gift shops Max Made Me Do It and Farr & Wyde, and find just about everything else you could need within a couple of minutes walk. 

Other shopping streets in Forest Hill include Devonshire Road, London Road, and Perry Cale.

The Horniman Market 

The Sunday Market takes place at the Horniman Museum and makes Sundays one of the best days of the week at Forest Hill. 

The bandstand in the gardens is the centre point of this market, where you’ll find stalls selling all kinds of locally grown produce, breads, artisan chocolates, homemade jam and preserves, chutneys and glazes, and some of the best beers, wines and spirits.

This market is open every Sunday from 10am to 3pm.

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