GO BANANAS AT ALLY PALLY
Perched on a hill between Muswell Hill and Wood Green in North London is the imposing Alexandra Palace, affectionately known as Ally Pally. It was built in in the late 1860s-early 1870s by the Lucas Brothers, who also built the famous and beautiful Royal Albert Hall in London at around the same time. The Great Hall and West Hall are today typically used for exhibitions, music concerts, and conferences. There are also activities such as skateboarding and boating for visitors.
Alexandra Palace, Alexandra Palace Way, London N22 7AY
It was a hot day as we walked up the hill, stopping off on the sloping lawns to take in the view of the London skyline. Families had taken advantage of the beautiful sunny Sunday with picnics spread out on mats and kids running around playing.
Alexandra Palace was never a palace in the true sense of the word but a massive recreational centre designed solely for the enjoyment of the people – opera, musicals, plays, and all kinds of entertainment. It opened in 1873 but just 16 days later was gutted by a tremendous fire. However, it was quickly rebuilt and re-opened two years later.
In Victorian times, audiences were thrilled by actors seeming to appear and disappear into thin air and leap to incredible heights made possible by the under-stage machinery and traps. The theatre remains frozen in time, hidden away for more than 80 years, with much of the original décor and stage machinery still in place. Since 2016, a lot of work has been underway to bring the theatre back to life while retaining its original character. Excitingly, it is now open to visitors and not to be missed!
It’s a little forlorn through years of neglect, but Alexandra Palace is still an impressive building with an incredible alternative history. In the First World War, it was used as a refugee camp then an internment camp. Then, in 1936, the BBC leased the east wing to use as a production and transmission centre. It remained in residence for 50 years, but as other studios developed in and around London, the Ally Pally studios became outdated and eventually closed in the 1982, especially after the second massive fire in 1980 left a large portion of the building derelict. This wing also housed a Victorian theatre and, amazingly, both the studios and the theatre survived the fire. Today, it is the only surviving early TV studio in the world and is still used to exhibit historical television equipment.
There are numerous events and shows taking place daily at Ally Pally, as well as activities like the indoor ice rink, outdoor skateboard park, boating lake, and the ‘Go Ape’ adventure park. At £36 per adult (£28 for children under 16), Go Ape isn’t cheap, but everyone inside seemed to be having so much fun that we bought tickets. We were in for challenging, blood-pumping action tackling high rope obstacles including Tarzan swings, a fun 79m-long zip line, and a 46ft sheer drop called the Plummet.
Kids are catered for in a separate Tree Top Junior specially designed for mini Tarzans aged between 6 and 10 years. They’re safely harnessed and taken around a practice run to ensure safety and comfort first. It is high, but the children loved it and staff were on hand to provide encouragement and support for not-quite-so brave.
There is also a 10-hole Pitch and Putt course open in the warm months and a picturesque lake where you can hire boats or ride in brightly coloured flamingo pedaloes. The indoor skating rink is open year-round, as is the Phoenix pub for drinks and food.
Our visit coincided with a Sunday morning Farmers’ Market at the bottom of Muswell Hill, and we walked through it, breathing in the aromas of fresh bread and home-made cakes and pastries. We ate at a French-Caribbean stall – a delicious Bokit’la, a pitta-style pocket bread stuffed with aubergine or salt fish, lettuce, avocado – so if you don’t want to eat at one of Ally Pally’s dining options you can always make a day out of it and grab a bite from one of the market’s offerings. With history, entertainment, and views, Ally Pally really has it all.