Visit Greenwich and enjoy the relaxed vibe of a London village full of amazing things to do. Our favourites include several maritime-themed attractions great for the whole family to enjoy and a Royal Park with some of the best views of London.
The nicest way to arrive at Greenwich is by taking a riverboat on the Thames. When you walk off the at Greenwich Pier you’ll be right in front of Cutty Sark, a 19th-century tea clipper with brilliant interactive galleries for children. To the right is a circular red brick building with a glass-domed roof which you might think is an old Victorian public toilet – it’s actually the entrance to the Greenwich foot tunnel that runs all the way under the River Thames to the Isle of Dogs.
The foot tunnel was opened in 1902 to allow dock workers living in South East London to get to work at the Millwall docks. It’s still open today, 24 hours a day, there are elevators but they only run from 5 am-9 pm. The walk shouldn’t take more than five to ten minutes to get to Island Gardens on the other side, very close to Mudchute City Farm. Not only can you say you’ve walked under the Thames but you’ll have a good photo opportunity from the north side of all the great buildings on the Greenwich bank!
The central part of Greenwich is a lively place and fairly small so it’s easy to walk around and see what’s there. As well as a popular area for tourists, Greenwich has a University in the Old Royal Naval College buildings on the banks of the Thames. The University took over some of the main buildings in 1999 from Royal Navy and Trinity College of Music moved into the King Charles Court building in 2001. If you walk past Greenwich Market and through the gates at the end of College Approach you’ll often hear students playing classical music through the open windows.
Table of Contents
Enjoy a Tasty Lunch from Greenwich Market
Greenwich must be just about the grandest university campus in London, big and imposing with columns everywhere, but nicely spread out with a large manicured lawn is in the centre. If you’re getting lunch from Greenwich Market, this is a nice place to sit and enjoy your food.
Walking down to the riverside you’ll see Canary Wharf rise above the trees from the other bank, and if you go further down the bank towards the Trafalgar Tavern you get a good look at the Millennium Dome at the head of the next bend in the river. A number of films have shot scenes around the college including Patriot Games, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Four Wedding and a Funeral and The Crown.
Walking towards Greenwich Park, you’ll pass through the National Maritime Museum where kids can play in the wonderful Children’s Gallery. Once you go past the Museum towards the park there’s a large open grass area crisscrossed by paths that leads up the Royal Observatory on top of the hill where the view is fantastic overlooking the Thames and Isle of Dogs.
Check out Blackheath Farmers’ Market
At the top of the hill leading away from the Observatory is Blackheath Avenue which ends at the heath (starting point of the London Marathon). If you’re out walking on Sunday, follow the path down from the heath to Blackheath village and by the train station you’ll find a great local farmers’ market (open until ~2 PM). Spending a day in Greenwich with kids is well worth your time, you’ll find it a lot more relaxing than the hectic pace in Central London.
London’s oldest Royal Park, Greenwich Park was once the hunting ground for King Henry VIII. It was landscaped for Charles II by André le Notre, who also designed the gardens of the Palace of Versailles. It is the home of the Old Royal Observatory and offers stunning views across the River Thames to Docklands and the City of London. If you’re bringing young kids, check out Greenwich Park Playground and it’s popular sand and water play area.
James I’s Queen, Anne of Denmark, had commissioned Inigo Jones to design this superb building in 1616. It was completed for Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, in 1638. Inspired by the Italian palaces and villas of the Palladio, it is the earliest English building in the classical style. It revolutionised English Jacobean architecture overnight–and for over 200 years dominated European and American architecture. Straddling the old Deptford to Woolwich Road walled road (now marked by magnificent double colonnades) it joined the Tudor Palace grounds with the wooded hunting country that is now Greenwich Park and Blackheath beyond.
Framed by Greenwich Royal Park, The Queen’s House is the centrepiece of the historic landscape that rewards visitors to Greenwich today and was reopened in 1990 after major work that restored the building to its 17th Century splendour. Today, with its dazzling interior which includes the first spiral staircase in England, the Queen’s House is a museum covering the Tudor and Stuart periods.
Royal Naval College
The College stands on the site of earlier palaces; the most famous of which being Placentia, where Henry VIII was born. With the English Civil War this original Tudor palace fell into disrepair and in 1664, John Webb, a pupil of Inigo Jones, began a new building for King Charles. Only one side of the planned three-sided Palladian court was completed as the somewhat improvident Charles ran out of funds.
Two decades later, after the naval victory of La Hogue, William and Mary started rebuilding–not this time a palace, but a hospital for seamen. Of this Samuel Pepys wrote, “…as an Invalides with us for the sea, suitable in some degree to that of Paris for the land” and by 1705 the first pensioners were housed. Wren, who for some twenty years gave his services free, assisted by Nicholas Hawksmoor and John Vanbrugh, had realised one of the finest examples of English baroque–but hardly a practical building for aged and infirm ex-sailors. After a Royal Commission enquiry and closure in 1873, the Admiralty rented the buildings from the Hospital Estate at £100 per annum and formed a Naval College.
Today, the King William Block with the Great Hall, vestibule and cupola painted by James Thornhill (he laboured 19 years on the Great Hall at £3 a foot for the ceiling and £1 the walls) is particularly splendid. It was here that Nelson’s body lay in state in Jan 1806 after the battle of Trafalgar.
Across the courtyard is the College Chapel. Gutted by fire in 1779 it was rebuilt and decorated by James Stuart, the classical revivalist, to become a masterpiece of English Georgian craftsmanship. The altar painting of St Paul shipwrecked off Malta is by Benjamin West. Today the Chapel is often used as a concert hall. Beneath the Queen Anne Block is the Undercroft, where Wren’s unused carved keystones contrast with the fine Jacobian building.
Royal Observatory Greenwich
The Royal Observatory is the home of Greenwich Mean Time, where you can stand with a foot in both Western and Eastern hemispheres.
Since 1833 its red timeball has fallen daily at exactly 1300 hours to enable ships to set their clocks accurately. Britain’s first telegraph cable linked it to a similar timeball in Walmer on the south-east coast for the benefit of shipping in the English Channel. In keeping with this naval tradition, a cannon is sounded daily on the deck of the Cutty Sark at 1300 hours.
Since 1884, the world has set its clocks according to the time of day on the Meridian of Greenwich, longitude 0°–an imaginary line joining the North and South Poles through the dead centre of a specialised telescope installed at the Observatory in 1851. Today, the Observatory houses Britain’s largest refracting telescope.
Following its complete renovation in 1993, you can see a unique collection of historic timepieces and navigational instruments which tell the story of time and astronomy and the origins of the Observatory itself; you can walk around Sir Christopher Wren’s Octagon Room and the apartments of the Astronomer Royal; and you can enjoy regular shows in the intimacy of the Observatory’s tiny Planetarium and visit one of the country’s few camera obscuras in the courtyard.
History of the Royal Observatory
Charles II appointed John Flamsteed as his first Astronomer Royal in 1675 to devise ways of calculating the time at sea which was essential for the exploration and mapping of the globe. The following year saw the completion of the Royal Observatory, one of the oldest extant observatories later extended with additional buildings.
Edmond Halley of comet fame succeeded Flamsteed and in 1784 the third director, James Bradley, discovered the nutation of the earth (the slight oscillation of its axis). In 1884 the meridian (0° longitude) at Greenwich was chosen the world’s Prime Meridian, from which East-West longitude and time zones are calculated.
Greenwich Mean Time
Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is the time on the Greenwich meridian, used as the zero for longitudinal measurement, according to the Mean Sun. The Mean Sun is an imaginary body that moves around the celestial equator with constant angular speed, making a complete circuit with respect to the vernal equinox in one tropical year. GMT was established as the world standard in 1884. In 1928 it was also given the name Universal Time. The International Time Bureau in Paris now coordinates astronomical measurements and atomic clock readings from around the world to arrive at Coordinated Universal Time.
In 1919 the Observatory organized expeditions which confirmed predictions made by Einstein’s theory of relativity. After World War II, the day-to-day working of the Observatory was transferred to Herstmonceux Castle, near Hailsham in Sussex (UK) from which reports of observations continue to be published.
The Cutty Sark, the most famous tea clipper ever built and the only one still in existence, was built in 1869 at Dunbarton on the Clyde in Scotland. Her name, meaning “short chemise”, comes from the poem “Tom O’Shanter” by Scotland’s national hero, Robbie Burns, and her figurehead represents the witch clasping the tail of Tom’s horse.
Her sleek lines and huge mast area were designed for speed: in the year of her launch, she took part in a famous race with the Thermopylae–and was leading by some 400 miles [650 km] when she lost her rudder in a gale in the southern Indian Ocean.
Ironically, at the very time the Cutty Sark was being built, a French nobleman–Ferdinand de Lesseps–was sowing the seeds of her obsolescence. His visionary ten-year project to build the Suez Canal was completed in the year of her launch, shortening the journey to the Far East and robbing British tea clippers such as the Cutty Sark of their former profits. They continued to bring wool from Australia but were unable to match the larger–albeit slower–four- and five-masted sailing ships. So as this wonderful ship–the greatest of its day–first took to the water, the age of sail was already fading.
National Maritime Museum
The National Maritime Museum is formed from the Queen’s House and two separate wings, joined by colonnades. See the separate page for information on the Queen’s House. The museum was first opened in 1937.
The west and east wings, plus the linking colonnades, were built in 1807-16 by Daniel Alexander. They were built as extensions to the Naval Asylum School, which had recently moved into the Queen’s House. The west wing has become much larger than the east because of a number of later extensions, and this holds the main body of the museum. The east wing is nowadays mostly used for special exhibitions. The number of exhibits in the museum is enormous; the intention is to show the entire history of mankind’s association with the sea.
Hailed as one of the seven miracles of the modern world, this mighty feat of engineering is the world’s largest movable flood barrier.
The magnificent structure spans 520 metres across the Thames, protecting the upper reaches of London from the very present risk of flooding. Much of the riverside parts of Greenwich would be submerged were it not for its man-controlled power to stem the tides which have in past times wrought havoc on the ancient city.
The history of this aspect of the River Thames is presented through powerful images and vivid sound in a rolling multi-media show played daily at The Thames Barrier Visitors Centre. Situated beside the Barrier on the south bank, the Centre offers visitors a vantage point from which to view the Barrier and an opportunity to relax over a cup of tea and a snack in its modern cafeteria.
Markets are a part of Greenwich life. The main covered Greenwich Market near the Cutty Sark is dedicated to arts & crafts stalls at weekends and draws an amazing range of individually crafted products from far and wide. The covered market area is lined with speciality shops which also open during the week.
As you enter the covered market from the river end you pass under what used to be an old music-hall, which people once accessed through The Admiral Hardy pub–one of Greenwich’s most popular taverns. A sign dated 1837 over the entrance observes that the Lord delights in a just weight, whereas a false one is an abomination–a reminder of the days when it was a flourishing fruit and vegetable market. Many local residents remember the last few lock-up stalls which operated until the early 1990’s–before they yielded in the face of changing distribution patterns to today’s bijou speciality shops.
There’s a wonderful atmosphere as people browse through the market or stroll off to have a meal and a drink in one of the many restaurants and taverns nearby.
Open-Air Antique Market In Greenwich
Located by the Ibis Hotel, between Greenwich Station and the Cutty Sark–a minute or two from each.
Finding a new lease of life nowadays in spite of the steady proliferation of markets in the parish, the open-air antique market has plodded on doggedly for years. Vaguely reminiscent of clusters of make-shift stalls one might encounter in Paris, it gives much pleasure to stroll around it–marvelling at how one man’s scrap (no pun intended!) is another’s treasure.
If you’d like an old pocket watch [that probably doesn’t work], an old silver lighter, some battered cigarette cards, old beads, boxes and bits of glass – this is for you.
The Foot Tunnel
The Greenwich Foot Tunnel joins Cutty Sark Gardens and Island Gardens, on the Isle of Dogs. It is 1,217 feet in length and approx 50 feet deep. Its original purpose was to allow south London residents to work in the docks on the Isle of Dogs. It was designed by Sir Alexander Binnie and was opened on 4 August 1902 at a cost of £127,000. The tunnel is lined with 200,000 glazed white tiles.
The circular entrance buildings are similar both sides of the river and contain a lift and a long flight of stairs. It is open daily between 6 am and 11pm, although the lifts do not always run the full time.
Pubs in Greenwich
The Trafalgar Tavern
Built in 1837 on the site of an old inn described in the 1815 edition of Epicures Almanac as “the principle house within the village”, the Trafalgar Tavern retains many of its old-style Regency features. The favourite haunt of Charles Dickens (who immortalised it in “Our Mutual Friend” and regularly dined there with his friends Thackeray and Stanfield), it became the home of the Ministerial whitebait suppers, made famous by Gladstone.
Set at the eastern end of the Royal Naval College, it enjoys stunning river views which are perhaps best appreciated from the Hawke & Howe Bar–with its atmosphere of an 18th Century wooden-walled Ship of the Line, complete with upper gallery and quarter deck.
The Nelson Rooms adjacent to the Hawke & Howe Bar on the upper floor of the Tavern are a popular venue for wedding breakfasts and several important Antique Fairs held throughout the year. The Trafalgar Tavern also offers a fine wood-panelled conference room for meetings and private luncheon and dinner parties.
Not, as many visitors imagine, anywhere near the Cutty Sark boat but a riverside pub further down the Thames in Ballast Quay, along the Naval College river pathway, past the Trafalgar Tavern, along Crane Street, past Trinity Hospital and the power station. Its largely wood interior is in the form of a boat and the “tables” formed of old barrels.
Try the home-made pies or chicken breast with Stilton sauce with whitebait for a starter perhaps. In summer it’s a delight to take your drink across the lane outside and watch Thames river life roll by.
More local favourites in the Royal Borough of Greenwich
- The views from up by the General Wolfe statue or, to the east, from One Tree Hill, or to the west, from the hill with a Henry Moore statue on it are stunning. Great places for a picnic on a sunny day.
- Watching a blood-red sunset over the Thames from the bay window on the first floor of the Cutty Sark pub
- Goddards Pie right next to Greenwich Market
- Wonderful Greenwich bookshops
- Learn climbing in Sutcliffe Sports Centre in Eltham
- Eltham Palace & Gardens
Is Greenwich within London?
Yes, the town of Greenwich is within Greater London, located just south of River Thames opposite Isle of Dogs.
Is Greenwich a good place to live in London?
Yes, Greenwich has a good mix of green space and attractions making it an attractive place to live.
What can kids do in Greenwich?
Greenwich is an exciting place for kids. Greenwich Playground is well maintained and safe for toddlers and young children. You’ll find have several attractions with interactive play areas like Cutty Sark and the Ahoy! gallery in the National Maritime Museum. And let’s not forget about all the green space in Greenwich Park, perfect for picnics and sports activities.
Is Greenwich a town?
Yes, Greenwich is a town on the south bank of the Thames in South East London. The town has also given the name to the Royal Borough of Greenwich (also part of London).