The name is recorded in 1320 as Elmsted and means 'place where elm trees grow'. The name was shared with Elmstead Place mansion and the woodland of Elmstead Wood. After the local railway station opened it took the name Elmstead Woods.
Elmstead Woods railway station serves the area with services to London Charing Cross, Orpington and Sevenoaks. Transport for London bus 314 connects the area with Eltham via New Eltham and to New Addington via Bromley and Hayes.