Maritime magnificence: London’s Greenwich and Docklands attractions

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Not for nothing is the historical district of London that’s ‘Maritime Greenwich’ one of the city’s four UNESCO World Heritage Sites, so stuffed is it with fantastic attractions for all the family. And, lest we forget, the historically important and fascinating Docklands area of the city’s also nearby. So, if you’re planning on a visit to the capital soon (and especially if you’re likely to be staying in or near The City of London), what sites here should you make a beeline for…?

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Cutty Sark

(King William Walk SE10 9HT)

An eternally popular tourist attraction on the banks of the River Thames just a short walk away from the majesty of Greenwich Park and the area’s other sites, this Victorian clipper ship was once used as a trade vessel, regularly voyaging from the UK to both China and Australia, but today serves as an example of Britain’s maritime history over which kids (especially) are welcome to scramble and get tactile experience of the nation’s ocean-going past. Renovated as an attraction following a fire several years ago, it’s now a better attraction than ever before.

Royal Observatory

(Blackheath Avenue SE10 8XJ)

Famously situated atop the glorious rolling hill of Greenwich Park, the Royal Observatory is a site of enormous historical and cultural significance given it played a pivotal role in the development of global astronomy and navigation. And it remains the location of the ‘prime meridian’, the line from which not just Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) – or Co-ordinated Universal Time (UTC) – but all time across the globe is measured. Indeed, what better to take from a stay in the capital at a boutique hotel London like The Montcalm Chiswell Street (with its Brewery restaurant) than being able to brag when you get home that you stood astride the line and actually straddled time?

Old Royal Naval College

(King William Walk SE10 9NN)

Opened way back in 1694, the two buildings that make up this site are the architectural centrepiece of ‘Maritime Greenwich’. Having originally served as a hospital for wounded British seamen, between 1873 and 1998 they were used just as their name suggests – as a training base for naval officers. Used as a location in many a recent movie, the Christopher Wren-designed buildings were fully opened up to the public in 2002, their biggest draw being the magnificent mural in the Painted Hall, which – thanks to a restoration project – can currently be viewed up close by members of the public.

queen's house

Queen’s House

(Romney Road SE10 9NF)

Built by legendary architect Inigo Jones as a home for Kind Charles I’s queen consort Henrietta Maria, this can claim to be the first building in Britain constructed (consciously, at least) in the classical style and, to that end, was enormously revolutionary when completed in 1635. Today, it’s home to many outstanding artworks from between the 17th and 20th Century owned by Greenwich’s marvellous National Maritime Museum, while its Tulip Stairs (and the lantern at their summit) remain an undeniable catalyst for many a visit, being the first centrally unsupported helical stairs built anywhere in the country and remaining an architectural delight.

Thames Flood Barrier

(1 Unity Way SE18 5NJ)

Finally, operational since it opened more than 35 years ago, this dynamic, modernist-looking barrier prevents the River Thames’ floodplain from filling with water and flooding the capital, thus playing a massively functional role for the wellbeing of the entire city. Yet its fascinating appearance – each of its barrier-gates that line up across the river resembling the iconic sail-like roofs of the Sydney Opera House, only in sunlight-reflecting silver – is what makes it a favourite for visitors, whom can get up close and personal with it via riverboat tours.