Discovering the charming Borough of Greenwich should be on everyone’s list of things to do when visiting London. With three designated UNESCO World Heritage sites: the Old Royal Navy College, the Queen’s House and the Royal Observatory all within walking distance, a day spent exploring this quieter side of London gives you an opportunity to see some incredible and unique landmarks.
After checking off the top classic sights of London from my travel bucket list, I had decided it was time to discover a different part of London and find out first-hand what makes the Royal Borough of Greenwich so special.
The most popular and scenic way to reach Greenwich is via a cruise down the Thames River. The 45-minute journey begins at the Westminster Pier (located by “Big Ben”) and ends at the Greenwich Pier. Even though it is relatively close to London’s city center, Greenwich seems like a world away with its small village atmosphere.
Traveling by ferry is not only relaxing, but passengers are also treated to an informative (and at times comedic) commentary of the history behind some of London’s most famous landmarks and iconic sights as they float past the London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Tower of London, The Tower Bridge, The HMS Belfast, The Shard and Canary Wharf. For avid shutterbugs (and there were plenty on board), the Thames River cruise provides a great opportunity for some stunning photographs, as well as a few obligatory selfies.
The Walking Tour:
When you get to Greenwich, it’s time to explore. What I loved most about this day trip was that Greenwich is surprisingly compact and easy to navigate on foot. All the major sites and attractions are located less than 1 mile from the pier, allowing you to pack in a lot of sightseeing in a short amount of time. Just make sure to wear comfortable shoes, as part of your journey will include a moderately steep uphill walk.
My walking tour of Greenwich began with a quick stop at the Greenwich Visitor’s Center before heading out to the farthest destination on my itinerary and then working my way back through the town to the pier for my return trip to the city.
Sights to See:
Stops (B) Royal Observatory and (C) The Prime Meridian
My first two stops of the day involved a scenic walk through beautiful Greenwich Park and up a moderately steep hill to reach the highest point in Greenwich. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Royal Observatory is home to an incredible wealth of astronomical history.
Founded in 1675, The Royal Observatory consists of several buildings, including the Flamsteed House, the Prime Meridian, the Peter Harrison Planetarium and the Weller Astronomy Galleries. This is where you will also be treated to some of the most breath-taking views of the London skyline.
One of my highlights was having the opportunity to straddle the Prime Meridian. You may need to have a little patience with waiting your turn, but actually standing in two hemispheres at the same time is one of those rare experiences you don’t want to pass up.
Stop (D) Greenwich Market
After the journey back through Greenwich Park I needed a bit of refueling, so a stop at the Greenwich Market was in order. Established in 1737, the Greenwich Market houses everything from boutiques, great restaurants to a myriad of vendors selling a variety of items from antiques to handmade jewelry.
The Carriage and Horse, one of many eateries at the market, served up a mouth-watering fish sandwich with chips and a refreshing pint of strawberry ale (not pictured). With my belly full, I was ready to see more of Greenwich.
Stop (E) The National Maritime Museum
A short stroll from the Greenwich Market along the perimeter of the Greenwich Park, you will come to the National Maritime Museum. The museum, one of the many free museums in London, is a fascinating look back into England’s powerful maritime history.
Filled with historic treasures, this unique museum attracts visitors of all ages with its educational exhibits. After learning about the rich history of Britain’s maritime might, it was time to explore the next stop on my itinerary.
Stop (F) The Queen’s House
Located next to the National Maritime Museum sits the quieter Queen’s House. Completed in 1636, the Queen’s House is an architectural masterpiece designated as a UNESCO site.
The museum is home to the world-famous Tulip Stairs, the first geometric self-supporting spiral staircase built in England and the Gilded Ceiling.
The best part of visiting the Queen’s House is the lack of crowds (even though it’s free admission), which gives you the feeling that you are on a private tour. There are rumors of ghost sightings, but on the day I visited there were none to be seen.
Stop (G) Old Royal Naval College
The third UNESCO World Heritage site to visit in Greenwich is the Old Royal Naval College. Established in the 17th century, the Old Royal Naval College was the center of maritime study.
The Chapel and the Painted Hall Ceilings, London’s largest painted ceiling, are the main attractions that draw visitors to this historic place. The symmetry of the buildings are remarkable and the grounds are beautiful.
Stop (H) The Cutty Sark
My walking tour of Greenwich ended with a visit to the Cutty Sark museum. Built in 1869, the Cutty Sark was the world’s fastest cargo ship, primarily designed to carry tea from China. It was fascinating to walk through the ship and take a peek at how sailors lived for months on end.
Back at the dock, I waited for my return cruise back to London’s city center and reflected on all the wonderful surprises that Greenwich had to offer.
If you do make the journey to Greenwich, let me know what your favorite place was. As a side note, admission to the Cutty Sark, Royal Observatory, and the Thames River cruise are included with the London City Pass. Admission to the Queen’s House, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich Market and the Old Royal Naval College is free of charge.
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