Discover Greenwich London's maritime borough with grand naval heritage
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Greenwich in London has multiple places of interest in a compact area. Each historic vessel, museum, observatory, college, and palace has a connection to the sea and navigation. Greenwich is the historical epicentre of Britain's marriage with the world's oceans and seas.
Learn about explorations, cruising and sea power at the National Maritime Museum. Hear the story of time and navigation at the Royal Observatory. Go on-board the world-famous clipper the Cutty Sark and marvel at the Painted Hall at the Royal Naval College. Browse the market stalls and enjoy a pub lunch.
As you can see, Greenwich can be a full day out; it will be up to you. We can design a day to include a particular attraction or visit them all with a specialist tour guide. Our Greenwich and Thames River Cruise Tour is ideal for the first visit to Greenwich.
A brief history of Greenwich
Viking raiders chose Greenwich as a base to launch inland attacks, causing havoc and mayhem. The Danes (Vikings) raided Canterbury and took Archbishop Alphege prisoner and held him here at Greenwich. The refusal to pay a ransom led to his death and ultimately Sainthood.
King Henry VIII re-built a great palace at Greenwich, and it was probably his favourite palace. It was a place of revelry and importantly, close to Henry's navy under construction at Deptford. Little remains, apart from the foundations seen at the old Royal Naval College.
In the early 17th Century England's first true architect Inigo Jones started work on the Queen's House at Greenwich. The designs of Andrea Palladio inspired the classic house by Inigo Jones. It was the first building of its type in England and considered ultra-modern for the time. Many regard the palace as one of the finest in Britain.
In the late 17th Century, King Charles II (1660-1685 reign) founded the Royal Observatory. Many thought the study of the heavens would solve the longitude problem, which would allow English captains to navigate around the world safely.
In 1714, the British government offered £20,000 to solve the longitude issue following several navigational blunders. A clockmaker, John Harrison, solved that problem. He made a reliable marine timepiece, that could keep accurate time in all seagoing conditions. The ship's captain would set the chronometer (marine timepiece) at local time, in this case, Greenwich. As the ship sailed east or west the navigators on-board could identify the time in their present location from the sun and stars. They would then check the time at their departure point (a fixed location) from the chronometer. Allowing them to calculate how many degrees east or west they had travelled and pinpoint their longitude. Navigators could already establish their latitude by observing the angle of celestial bodies.
It was the accuracy of the timepiece that made all the difference, which was created by the talented watchmaker John Harrison. Ultimately, Greenwich was chosen as the fixed point that all ships captains synchronise their marine clocks. Today the Prime Meridian of the World, longitude zero, cuts straight through the Royal observatory today.
Following England's horrific civil war (1642-1651), there was a period of reconciliation. During the reign of King Charles II veterans from the war were seen wandering the streets of London desperate, poor and in need of support. The Royal Hospital at Chelsea was founded in 1682 to house and care for veterans of the army. Shortly after in 1694 Greenwich Hospital (Royal Hospital for Seamen) was established for retired seamen.
In the 1700s Britain was on the brink of becoming the world's most dominate the maritime nation, the powerful King France, Louis the 14th was on the back step, and there was a desire to show off. Britain no longer had absolute monarchs, like much of Europe. Therefore a gift to the ordinary naval servicemen who had made naval dominance a reality seemed fitting. The creation of the Painted Hall glorified the monarch but used daily by Royal Navy veterans as their dining hall. For most, it seemed a little too grand. The vast space has 40,000 square feet of the painted surface. Allegorical figures tell the tale of Britain's successes at sea with a few political swipes thrown in at the expense of France, Britain's great rival.
In 1873, the Royal Hospital for Seamen buildings changed use to became the Royal Naval College. The Royal Navy was moving from sail to steam, and the new state-of-the-art training facility gained a reputation for excellence around the world. The armed forces moved out in 1997, and now the buildings are preserved for visitors and mainly occupied by the University of Greenwich.
The equestrian events took place in Greenwich at the 2012 Olympics, with the backdrop of UNESCO world heritage complex of historic buildings including the Queen's House, the Old Royal Naval College, Royal Observatory and the Cutty Sark.
Today Greenwich is a vibrant London borough with markets, pubs, independent shops and mountains of history.
What to see in Greenwich
The Painted Hall
The vast dining hall for sailors is one of the most impressive interiors anywhere in Europe. It is Britain's 'Sistine chapel.' It is largely unknown but deserves more visitors. The painted walls and ceiling depict the story of Britain's place in the world in the 1700s. It was a time of growth and optimism.
The Cutty Sark
See the famous and fast Cutty Sark. This Victorian vessel sailed from Shanghai to London and back bringing tea to the capital. The quicker it arrived, the fresher it was and therefore fetched a higher price at market. The Cutty Sark made the journey in just over 100 days. The story of the Cutty Sark is a fascinating one, and you can explore all decks here in Greenwich.
The National Maritime Museum
The museum tells the story of human adventures on the high-seas, the danger, the sea battles and the cruise ship era. It is a wonderful museum for young and old.
The Royal Observatory and Planetarium
Knowing how far you sailed east or west was a challenge before the clockmaker John Harrison, solved the longitude problem in the 1700s. The Royal Observatory was the centre of the study of the heavens, time and navigation. Discover the story of one of the worlds major scientific breakthroughs. The Peter Harrison Planetarium offers several different shows, including 'A Day on Mars.'
The Queen's House
The architectural masterpiece houses a much-admired art collection, plus rotating modern art and various other exhibitions. The beautiful objects in the house bring the place alive and show off the stunning interiors.
Take a stroll through the town, stop at the market and enjoy street food or pick up a gift. Visit St Alfege's Church, the site of the martyrdom of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who later became a Saint. Christopher Wren's prodigy, Nicholas Hawksmoor, designed this wonderful place of worship. There are around 15 pubs in Greenwich with historical themes and connections, stop for a pint or two and enjoy lunch.
Touring and accommodation
There are no five-star hotels in Greenwich, the nearest high-end places to stay are in the City of London or Canary Wharf. Although, if you are passionate about ships and seafaring, consider staying at the Sunborn Hotel. The Sunborn Hotel London is a large luxurious superyacht moored on the Greenwich peninsula. Please ask for further details.
Where ever you are staying in London, Greenwich is a half or full-day experience, depending on how much you wish to see. Our Greenwich and Thames River Cruise Tour allows enough time to see all the highlights of maritime Greenwich.
Our Tour Designers are here to customise your private tours of London and day tours from London. Tell us about you and your interests, and we will create a tailor-made tour.
If this is your first time to England, we would recommend a custom version of your Town and Country Tour; it covers the famous places and allows you to utilise your private driver-guide by getting-off-the-beaten-path. Our Classic tour of Ireland is a good place to start for the first trip to Ireland, and we suggest the Classic tour of Scotland for your first trip to the bonny Highlands. Merging Wales with England makes for a dynamic experience of mountains, stately homes and cosy country pubs.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Explore historic maritime Greenwich
- Visit the restored Painted Hall
- See the National Maritime Museum
- Explore the Cutty Sark
- Visit the Royal Observatory
- See the world class art at the Queen's House
Greenwich Park and Queens House
The Painted Hall, England's Sistine Chapel
Shepherd Gate Clock, an early electric clock
Royalty in glory the Painted Hall
The Old Royal Naval College
Greenwich from the River Thames
Naval College with Queen's House
Royal Naval College