Hallowed for its strong association with the Tudor kings and queens (King Henry VIII set up his court in the area and Queen Elizabeth I was born here), Greenwich is also one of the richest and most unique parts of London any visitor to the capital could wish to visit. Indeed, thanks to its significant connections to the history of both seafaring and timekeeping, it’s one of the most intriguing districts in the city. Here are its highlights you must, yes, make time for…
The Royal Observatory
The world is supposed to take its time from Greenwich – and, arguably, it’s still the area’s biggest claim to fame – that’s to say, all other time zones around the globe are either ahead of or behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). That’s because what’s referred to as the Prime Meridian Line (and its Marker) is here, to be found outside the observatory; making for the incredibly tourist-friendly act of standing in the ‘east’ or the ‘west’ of the world (on either side of the line) or, naturally, straddling both east and west by standing over the line. You can do all of this for free as it’s located outside at the top of a hill on which it and the observatory stands, plus you can get into parts of the observatory for free – but the most interesting parts of the latter (the rooms containing the giant telescope and the early seafaring timepieces) charge visitors to enter.
Greenwich Hill and Park
Fantastic for a sit down or a lie down, a session of good old people-watching or simply to enjoy the spectacular panorama of the city to the north on a fine spring or summer’s day, the park is a marvellous expanse of lush green, having been in centuries past only enjoyed according to the then monarch’s wishes (given it’s officially a Royal park). Obviously the observatory and Meridian line are at the top of the hill, from which you can easily make out landmarks such as the O2 (formerly known as The Millennium Dome) and further west the winding of the Thames and The Shard, as well as other things if you’ve an eagle-eye.
The National Maritime Museum
One of London’s several fantastic free museums, this one contains fascinating and timeless artefacts associated with Britain’s rightfully proud sea-going history that date right back to the age when it truly ‘ruled the waves’ – making this place one of the ultimate Greenwich things to do. Little ones, in particular, will be doubtless enchanted by the Great Map and delight in having a go on the ship navigation simulator as well as discover all that the dedicated children’s gallery offers – the opportunity to learn a bit of Morse code and, yes, fire a cannon at pesky pirates. Arrr!
The Old Royal Naval College
A true masterpiece designed by Restoration architect extraordinaire Sir Christopher Wren, this building is something, all right; in fact, in its way, its beauty’s arguably as breath-taking as the aforementioned view from Greenwich Hill that overlooks it. Not for nothing has it doubled for a great many buildings – both fictional and real – in a whole parade of film and TV period dramas in recent times. Actually, The Discover Greenwich Visitor centre, which can be found in a part of the building, would make for a very sensible starting point for your trip to the area, featuring as it does some handy hands-on exhibits for the kids, while adults will revel in the fact you can get even handier info and advice from a help desk here.
The Cutty Sark
One of – if not the standout of – the landmarks of Greenwich, this tall, Victorian era clipper ship may boast a rich history and, inside, displays for the curious that offer real educational value, but frankly, the bottom line is that it’s a hell of a sight, sitting as it does, resplendent in its dry dock right next to the beating current of London that’s the Thames river. Actually, it was almost burnt to the ground a few years back, but fortunately – and rather magnificently – has now been restored to its full, former majesty.
Finally, an absolute must for both foodies and the plain hungry, Greenwich’s undercover market isn’t just a pleasant, family-friendly and bustling space to visit, but also offers some terrific food from all over the world courtesy of its stalls, many of which also sell antiques, collectibles and local crafts. It’s also a top spot to grab a bite. If it’s a nice day, why not purchase something here and then enjoy a picnic in the park in a break from visiting all the other attractions? Now there’s an idea!
How to get there
Greenwich is amply served by London’s various public transport networks, so it’s relatively straightforward to reach (even if it’s not in Central London) from wherever you may be staying – whether that be, say, accommodation near Brewery Road London City or, indeed, anywhere else:
• By rail – probably the fastest and easiest way to get to Greenwich from elsewhere in the city is via the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), which is the equivalent to the London Underground (Tube) in this part of town and, should you have an Oyster card for travelling on the Tube, you can use it to pay for DLR travel; the network’s stop for most attractions is Cutty Sark DLR station (nearest mainline stations are Greenwich and Maze Hill)
• By bus – Greenwich is equally well served by London’s bus network; to find an appropriate route and stops, check the TfL website
• By water – this can be a very pleasant way to travel to and from Greenwich (especially when the weather’s fine!) with many river-based services stopping at Greenwich Pier, very near many of the area’s attractions; again, it’s a good idea to check with TfL for available services.