Just eight miles from central London, Greenwich is the ideal place for a day trip. There is so much to see that you could easily spend two or three days here. This is a historic town with classic architecture, world class museums and an enviable riverside location. And the whole of Maritime Greenwich is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Why is Maritime Greenwich a World Heritage Site?
Maritime Greenwich became a World Heritage Site in 1997. This was for several reasons. Firstly, the town has royal origins, and the former Greenwich Palace and hunting grounds were particularly associated with the Tudor dynasty. Secondly, it has a long maritime heritage and played an important part in naval education. Linked with the maritime history is the research into navigation at the Royal Observatory that led to astronomical discoveries and to international agreements on time and longitude. And finally, Greenwich has some spectacular buildings, the work of notable architects including Sir Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones.
Museums and Buildings of Maritime Greenwich
The World Heritage Site includes the whole of Greenwich Park, central Greenwich, part of the river front, and some of the surrounding area. Greenwich Park itself was originally a royal hunting ground and a favoured haunt of King Henry VIII. Close to the Royal Observatory at the top of the hill is one of London’s protected panoramic viewpoints, looking across the river to St Paul’s Cathedral and the buildings of the City of London (you also get a good view of the London Docklands).
There are several notable buildings and museums within the World Heritage Site:
The Old Royal Naval College
Even if you’ve never been to Greenwich you may have seen pictures of the twin domes of the Old Royal Naval College: this is the classic view of the town from the river. Explore the College for its architecture and spectacular Painted Hall (read more about the Old Royal Naval College).
National Maritime Museum
The National Maritime Museum is housed in a former school for sailors’ children, built in 1807. It became a museum in 1937 and is now the largest maritime museum in the world. It showcases British naval history and also features artworks and special exhibitions.
The Queen’s House was designed in the classical style by Inigo Jones. It was completed in 1636 and was home to several members of the royal family. In 1805 it was given to the Royal Naval Asylum, for the benefit of sailors’ children.
Today the Queen’s House is part of the National Maritime Museum. It houses an important art collection, including works by Gainsborough, Hogarth and Turner.
The Royal Observatory
Learn about the astronomical discoveries that led to the measurement of longitude and the establishment of Greenwich Mean Time. And stand on the Prime Meridian, the imaginary line that divides the world into east and west (read more about the Royal Observatory).
The Cutty Sark
The Cutty Sark is a 19th century tea clipper that was once the fastest sailing ship on the ocean. Explore the ship and discover its history (read more about the Cutty Sark).
Exploring the Town of Greenwich
Once you have explored the Greenwich museums and park, have a look at the town itself. This is full of old buildings, including Greenwich Market (built in 1737 but with 14th century origins) and the church of St Alfege (medieval but rebuilt in the 18th century). A little further afield (around 3 miles from the town) is Eltham Palace, a 20th century Art Deco mansion and the remains of a Tudor palace.
One of the pleasures of Greenwich is its historic pubs. The oldest is the Plume of Feathers, a coaching inn established in 1691, but there are many more. Try the Trafalgar Tavern, on the river front, which opened in 1837 and was featured in one of Charles Dickens’ novels. Or the Cutty Sark Tavern, also by the river, which dates back to the early 19th century.
How to Get to Greenwich
There are lots of options for travelling to Greenwich; some are an excursion in themselves! If you are coming from central London a popular option is the Thames Clipper, the river boat that calls at several piers, including London Eye, London Bridge and Tower. You can buy a single ticket, or enjoy a day’s sightseeing with a hop-on-top-off ticket.
If you are in London Docklands, on the opposite side of the river from Greenwich, you have two options. You could walk through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, built in 1902 to allow workers to cross the river. The tunnel starts in Millwall and there are stairs and lifts at either end. Or you could take the Emirates Air Line cable car for views over the river and the city. (The cable car leaves from Emirates Royal Docks, not far from Royal Victoria station, but note that it will take you to North Greenwich, around 4 miles from the town centre.)
Greenwich is also well served by public transport, including Docklands Light Railway, tube and overland rail.
This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.