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.
Discover London's maritime village
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. It was a place of revelry and, importantly, close to Henry's navy under construction at Deptford. Apart from the foundations, little remains can still be seen at the old Royal Naval College.
Age of elegance
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. It was thought the study of the heavens would solve the longitude problem, allowing English captains to navigate the world safely.
The longitude issue
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.
The globe is split into lines or meridians, which run from the north and south poles to make navigation possible. Greenwich is on the prime meridian or ' 0.' There are 360 meridians. You lose (west) or gain (east) one hour for every 15 degrees distance from the prime meridian.
Sailors needed a timepiece that could keep good time in all conditions at sea; the problem was there were no such devices available. For example, the Canary Islands in the Atlantic are north 27-degrees latitude and west 15-degree longitude. Therefore the sun rises 1 hour behind London or 15 degrees distance west. Knowing the precise time at Greenwich and the time in your ocean location from the sun and stars enabled the ship's company to pinpoint their location on the globe with the use charts.
Navigators could already establish their latitude by observing the angle of celestial bodies. Knowing both your latitude and longitude enabled explorers to plot their position on a chart or map.
The timepiece's accuracy made all the difference. The watchmaker John Harrison invested all his knowledge and talents to create the ultimate timekeeper. Greenwich was chosen as the fixed point that all ships captains synchronised their marine clocks. Today the Prime Meridian of the World, longitude zero, cuts straight through the Royal observatory.
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 during the reign of King William III (1689-1702) and Queen Mary II (1689-1694).
The magnificent Painted Hall
In the 1700s, Britain was on the brink of becoming the world's most dominant 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. Still, it was enjoyed 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 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.
Sail to Steam
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. The new state-of-the-art training facility gained a reputation for excellence around the world. The armed forces moved out in 1997. 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 a 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.
We are here to customise a tour of London based on your interests, pace of travel and occasion. Our Tour Designers will devise an itinerary from scratch or suggest one of our carefully planned itineraries. Our Royal London Tour and the Old City of London Tour are the perfect combinations for a first-time visit. Please see our day tours from London page.
Arrive at Greenwich pier in style, book a luxury private Thames Boat Tour and see the city from a different perspective. For those with energy use London’s safe bike lanes and enjoy a panoramic Bike Tour of London before arriving at maritime Greenwich.
London has many hotel options, including more five-star places to stay than any other city on earth. Where do you start? Please take a look at our recommended hotel list; the Best 4-star and 5-star accommodation in London.
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
Help us make your trip exceptional
Our UK, EU and US office-based staff will listen to what you want to see and experience.
Whether you are a honeymoon couple, a family or a corporate incentive group, our team’s collective resources will be brought together to build the experience that’s right for you.
We will require your arrival and departure dates, details of your personal preferences and places that you would like to visit as well as the events you would like to experience.
We will then prepare a draft itinerary and send it to you by email for your approval. Once agreed, we will send you a Booking Confirmation with Personalised Itinerary and Information Pack via email.
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