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The Old Royal Navy College

 Things to do in Greenwich, London

 

Introduction to Greenwich, London

 

Everyone loves London — and for good reason. Offering historic sights, lively pubs, lush parks, and diverse neighbourhoods, London is a city with something for everyone. No matter your interests or budget, you’ll find something here for you!

But London is huge. Every area of the city has its own style and is different from the others. Read my London Travel Guide if you want to find out more about what London has to offer. One of the most popular of these areas is Greenwich.

Greenwich is in Southeast London by the River Thames overlooking the business district, Canary Wharf.  Here you can see 19th Century Victorian houses and council flats run by the government, as well as locals and students studying at Greenwich University.

Greenwich was made famous because it’s the home of Greenwich Mean Time but there is actually a lot more to see and do here than just learning about time (though the Royal Observatory here is worth a visit).

In this post, I’ll share my list of the best things to do in Greenwich so you can have a great visit without breaking the bank!

Greenwich Market

 

1. Greenwich Market

 

Greenwich Market first opened on the 3rd of September 1737, and you can still see the colourful 19th Century shop fronts selling vintage arts and crafts.

Since COVID-19 affected travel, Greenwich Market’s visits have declined. Nearly all the stalls are empty, but London is now back to normal, so there’s been a slight increase in its tourist visits. I’d still recommend visiting the market, Greenwich Market still sells its usual vintage bargains.

Greenwich Market is small compared to other markets in London. During the weekend it gets busy with around 50 people crowding around tightly. During the week, the number of visitors decreases to around 20 people per day. Surrounding the market, you’ll see many souvenir shops, traditional British pubs, cafes, and restaurants. 

If you like crowds, visit during the weekend, but if you want some peace and quiet, visit on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.

The vintage “Greenwich Market” plaque hangs on top of the market. The grey cobbled pavement consists of around 3 or 4 street food stalls smelling food from Japan, India, hot dogs, and many more. I could also smell incensed nearby telling me there was an Indian-themed shop around there. Hundreds of people would squeeze their way into the market before COVID, and 20 stalls would open. Now, there are only around 10 stalls. Since COVID hit, the buzz has gone, a lot of stalls are empty, and many sellers sit on their stalls waiting for customers to buy. It’s more browsing than buying nowadays, but Greenwich Market hasn’t changed its charm since as old times. Here’s why.

You’ll see vintage products from old Agatha Christie books, Oliver Twist, a famous 18th Century English Literature, colourful children’s books, and the National Geographic dating back 10 years. You’ll also see Toy Story dolls, vintage silverware, colourful “My Little Pony” horses, vases, furniture, vintage jewellery, handmade cards, handmade teddy bear crochets, handmade chinaware, and many more. 

If that’s not enough, you can grab your piece of crepes and gelatos while listening to the radio turned on by a random seller. If you want to grab a quick fix from here, there’s not a massive queue compared to Camden Town or Portobello Market London street food stalls. 

 

 

Greenwich Market, 5B Greenwich Market, London SE10 9HZ. The opening times are between 10 am – 5:30 pm 7 days a week.

 

Cutty Sark Ship, Greenwich, London

2. Cutty Sark Clipper Ship

 

The 152 feet and 47 metre Cutty Sark Clipper Ship was the fastest clipper ship of its time. The Cutty Sark Ship launched itself on the 16th of February 1869 in Dumbarton, Scotland, and eventually set sail in 1870 from London to Shanghai loading 1.3 million pounds of tea. The number of crews varied depending on where they travelled, but on average, the ship took around 26 crews maximum.

You can go on tour with an actor Captain and touch the starboard steering wheel. Pretend you’re sailing somewhere far and hear actors on loudspeaker acting as crew members telling you what life on board was like. During the tour, enjoy rig climbing the ship with a guide. You can see the ground from the top.

The exterior of the ship is huge, but when you step inside, it’s small and narrow. The first thing you’ll notice are several replicas of wooden boxes containing different types of imported tea, which the names were imprinted on the wooden boxes. Along with tea imports, the ship also imported wool from Australia.

The middle deck contains objects restored from the ship from a torn and dirty life buoy, a small replica of the ship, an old compass, and many more.

King William Walk, Greenwich SE10 9HT, Tel: 0343 222 1234, https://www.rmg.co.uk/cutty-sark, Price: Adult:£16, Child: £8, Opening Times: Monday to Sunday – 10:30 am – 4pm.

3. The River Thames

 

The river Thames is opposite the Cutty Sark Ship. You’ll often see people sitting by the river talking to their friends. Whether it’s windy, cold, hot, or warm, there are always people hanging around there. During the weekends, there are usually around 10 street food stalls to try out. I’ve never actually bought anything from the stalls, but there’s usually a selection of Greek, Thai, fish and chips, and many more. There’s also a long queue of people buying from the stalls. People usually eat by the River Thames too.

In the river Thames, you’ll usually see sea creates and boats stationary floating on the water. The water is not the cleanest of water, and you never know what you’ll find if you actually dig for treasure, but the best way to admire the river Thames is to walk along it. Aside from admiring the river at Greenwich, you can walk along the South Bank where you’ll see some of the major attractions like the London Eye, Sea Life, and London Dungeon. Find out more about things to do in South Bank London.

Take photos in front of Canary Wharf and Cutty Sark, then walk towards Greenwich Park, one of 8 royal parks in London

River Thames, London

4. The Old Royal Naval College

 

The Old Royal Naval College opened in 1873 and was a training ground for seamen in the Royal Navy for 125 years. The Royal Navy College left Greenwich and moved to Shrivenham, Oxfordshire to add a new headquarters there. Since then, the Greenwich Foundation for the Old Royal College was born.

Greenwich Foundation offered a mix of projects for locals and tourists. These include Greenwich University and Trinity College of Music. It also opened Painted Hall, the Chapel, and the Visitor Centre to the public for free tours and viewings. Find out more on their website.

When you reach the Old Royal Naval College, the first thing you’ll notice is the clean-cut green grass and creme footpath going east to west, and north to south. When you walk through the exterior grounds, you’ll be walking through history. Admire the intricate designs on the ceiling. Touch the 19th Century stoned walls of the College. Spend some time in the quiet and serene square made of pebbled grounds. Take photos in front of the College. There are not a lot of people that hang around there, so it’s peaceful, and quiet, and the grand architecture will charm you. 

Far ahead into the distance, you’ll see tiny moving dots, the Emirates Cable Cars, and the O2 dome. This takes only a 15-minute 2 bus ride from the Old Royal Naval College depending on traffic. 

 

 

King William Walk, London, England. Tel: 020 8269 4799, www.ornc.org, Admissions: Free of Charge. Opening Times: Monday to Sunday 10 am – 5 pm.               

Greenwich Park, London

5. Greenwich Park, London

 

Greenwich Park spans 183 acres and is full of giant oak and ash trees, as well as long winding paths that are perfect for afternoon strolls. Greenwich Park is one of 8 royal parks in London and had been a private property of the royal family. The Queen’s House (located in Greenwich Park) is one of the properties that belonged to King James I in 1616. 

The Duke of Gloucestershire, Duke Humphrey built a mansion known as Bella Court and was granted permission from Henry VI to enclose the 200-acre land in 1433. During this time, around 1510 deer were let free in the park so it could be used as a hunting and recreational ground for the Royal Family. Then, throughout the 18th Century, Greenwich Park eventually opened to the public.

You can relax on the grass, grab takeout from Greenwich Market, cycle, or just enjoy nature. 

6. Roman remains in Greenwich Park, London

 

There are many Roman remains in Greenwich Park. The Romans invaded London in AD 43, made their journey through the river Thames, and built a settlement here. As it was near the river Thames, they thought it was a good spot to cross a road, a border, and a river. 

Check out Queen Caroline’s bath surrounded by green bushes. The bath is quite deep but small consisting of cracked asphalt slabbed over red bricks. Not a lot of people view this as it’s a minor attraction that people just see and pass. Hidden inside the park, you’ll notice a small Roman drinking fountain. It’s hard to notice, and people would just walk past it without batting an eyelid. 

The same can be said about The Roman Temple that was once placed there. You’ll see a sign to say that the Roman Temple once stood there and descriptions of the temple itself, but when you go there, it’s just plain green grass. You could be sitting on where the temple once stood.

7. Cherry Blossom Trees in Spring

  Cherry Blossom trees, Greenwich, London

If you’re coming in mid-April to mid-May depending on the weather, (it can be sunny one day, windy the next, and raining for 10 minutes), walk up tiringly up the hill to the highest point of the park. Walk past the car park, the Royal Observatory, and General James Wolfe Statue. You’ll notice a row of cherry blossom trees and a bed of yellow daffodils.

If the weather is nice, many people take photos in front of the cherry blossom trees. It’s as if you’ve stepped inside the Garden of Eden. The pink petals from the tree would fall like rain as the gust of wind blow them to the side, and hundreds of pink petals scattered all over the floor. If the weather is cold and the trees are still leafless, you’ll see many daffodils die, the petals will not sprout yet, and there’ll be no one taking photos. 

As for the rose garden in Ranger’s House, it depends on the weather. The website says it will bloom when spring is here, but Spring’s weather can be unpredictable. Don’t expect April to be sunny all the time. In 2021, the roses bloomed in July, so July is the safest month that the roses are colourful.

Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London

8. Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London

 

The Royal Observatory is worth a visit if you want to know more about the home of Greenwich Mean Time, astronomy, tools to look at the stars like the telescopes, and how captains and sailors navigated their journey. The Royal Observatory was founded by King Charles II on the 22nd of June 1675. Eventually, on the 10th of August, construction began. You’d expect to see refracting telescopes, astronomical and terrestrial telescopes, prism binoculars, half pennies, manuscripts from captains and admirals including birth and marriage certificates, and personal letters sent to family members, board minutes, press cuttings, and many more.

You’ll usually see families with young children. Book in advance for a specific time slot as it can get busy during Easter. It takes approximately 1 hour and a half to visit.

 

 

Blackheath Avenue, London, SE10 8XJ, https://www.rmg.co.uk/royal-observatory, Admissions: Adults £16, Child £8. Opening Times: 10:30am – 4pm Monday to Sunday.

9. Deer Park in Greenwich, London

 

A small pathway can be found leading to a dark enclosed woodland full of 130 feet tall giant oak trees covering the sky. If you go further in, you’ll find a Deer Park. The deer park is closed off behind a big fence and there’s usually little space for more than 5 people to view. There are usually 2 or 3 people at a time watching the deer. There are around 3 or 4 deer in the enclosure, and they can be timid with people, so you can only make out their tail or their head. You can just about see them from a distance. 

It’s not the best park to see deer, but if you’re in the area it’s worth a quick visit. (If you want to see deer up close and personal, I recommend going to Richmond Park, another one of the 8 royal parks of London with a car).

Maritime Museum, London

10. The National Maritime Museum

 

During COVID, you’d need to book online for a free slot, but now, you don’t need to book, you can take a free ticket from reception. There are two entrances to the National Maritime Museum.

If you’re coming from Greenwich Park, sitting at the top of a stone wall, you’ll see a large glass bottle with Nelson Horatio’s ship inside. If you’re coming from the main road, head your way through a large clean-cut grass with cream-colored pavement leading you to the Queen’s House. The entrance to the National Maritime Museum will be next to the Queen’s House.

The National Maritime Museum is bright and big, but not as big as the British Museum or the Natural History Museum. Prince Frederick’s Barge won’t be missed in front of you. Frederick, Prince of Wales’s long wooden barge is handcrafted in gold. There are 22 red painted paddle sticks placed upright on the barge and a large Welsh flag situated at the end of the barge. Find out more about Prince Frederick and his barge here.

You’ll also notice several giant figureheads that were once placed in ancient vessels. In ancient times, Vikings used figureheads to find their way through the seas. Throughout the 17th Century, figurehead designs varied from dragons, lions, warriors on horsebacks, and many others. 

Along with figureheads, you’ll learn about the introduction of 19th Century boats and dinghies. Discover life in the Arctic and walls surrounded by photos of people at sea. You’ll also see photos of divers, fishermen with their nets discovering sea creatures, their environments, and many more. 

On the top floor, you’ll see several screaming toddlers playing and dragging toy boats on the world map painted on the ground. The museum is popular among families with young children because most children enjoy learning about life at sea. It’s worth the visit if you’re into life at sea and the history of seafaring.

 

 

Park Row, London, SE10 9NF, https://www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum Admissions: Free. Opening Times: 10:30 am – 4 pm Monday to Sunday.

Queen's House, London

11. Queen’s House, Greenwich, London

 

The Queen’s House is another attraction that’s free of charge. Like the National Maritime Museum, you don’t have to book, you can go straight in and get a free ticket.  From photos online, you might think that the Queen’s House is in the countryside, but it’s located on a busy main road in Greenwich. You can hear the traffic in the background, and people walking towards the busy Greenwich High Street. Because of its wide green space and its cream-colored pathway surrounding it, you’ll feel as if you are in the countryside. Walk towards the stony grand staircase, and the small entrance to the house feels like you’re walking through a door that’s made for Alice in Wonderland or it’s as if you’re going inside a dungeon.  Throughout the century, during the Tudor period, Captains, and the royals used this house for their meetings and family gatherings such as theatrical productions involving dance and music accompanied by sets of costumes. Once you’re inside, turn right and you’ll be taken to the Great Hall. The Great Hall dates to the 15th Century, and it’s as if you’ve stepped back in time. The artistic black and white marble floor are made into diamond-shaped check boards. People’s voices echoed, and it felt quiet and intimate. There weren’t many people there and it looked as if there was an event that happened as staff packed up rows of chairs. Long wooden 18th Century benches were placed in the corner of the room. Sit down, and admire the floor and the gigantic circular ceiling designs. It did feel grand. A wooden 17th Century balcony can be found at the top of the hall. People walked up and down the balcony as there were more rooms to explore upstairs.  The room smelled of old wood. Imagine ghostly 15th Century characters having meetings and parties in this room. 

Tulip Staircase, Queen's House

 

12. Tulip Staircase, Queen’s House

 

There’s a lot of hype about the Tulip Staircase. Having read about the Tulip Staircase online, I thought there would be hundreds of people taking photos on the stairs here. People on Instagram rave about how great it is but, in reality, it was dark and narrow and there was no one else there. I loved the spiral concept, but to me, it’s just another staircase leading to another room. Don’t get me wrong, the architecture and the spiral design are beautiful, but when I came, it was smaller than I thought.

13. St. Alfege’s Cemetery, Greenwich, London

 

St. Alfege’s Cemetery is hidden behind St. Alfege’s Church. You’ll see rows of hundreds of tombstones hidden on the edges of the cemetery and at the back of the church. You won’t be able to see their names on the tombstone due to old age and rain. The tombstones date back to the 18th and 19th Century and the people who were buried here were notable people associated with St. Alfege’s Church.  The eldest tombstones covered in lichen and weeds. In the middle of the cemetery, there were around 10 stone crypts dating back to the 18th Century, their names engraved on the side of the crypt. It’s not a large cemetery but it does feel peaceful.

14. Greenwich in the evening

 

If you happen to be around Greenwich when it’s dark, you can see Canary Wharf and the Cutty Sark ship light up in the night sky. Order some take-out and eat by the river so you can admire the lights from Canary Wharf. It’s a peaceful way to end your day.

Insider’s Tips:

 

 

  • During April and May, it can get windy, so make sure you dress appropriately. It’s not uncommon for the constant winds to give people headaches.
  • If you want to avoid crowds, Greenwich is quiet when it’s cold. Visit the off-season to beat the crowds.
  • Avoid visiting during Easter breaks when children are off from school if you want to avoid crowds.
  • The pubs are always busy during the weekend, pre-COVID and post-COVID, that’s not going to change. EVER!!! If you want to try the British pubs anywhere in London, visit when it opens at 12pm Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. Thursdays to Saturday evenings will get busier in the evening. If you want to try restaurants and British pubs, the standard price for a meal is £9 – £13. If you want to go high end it will be around £20 upwards.
  • If you’re going by bus, the price has increased to £1.65 per journey, but if you travel to another area of London within an hour by bus, you won’t be charged. It’ll still be £1.65. 
  • Traffic can be a nightmare when travelling by bus. Make sure to plan ahead if you’re going to be bussing to any other areas in the city. It might just be faster to walk.
  • Note: If you spend a day in Greenwich alone, it can be tiring. It was impossible for me to cover all the attractions here in one day. If you can, split half a day over two days.
  • Around 40 minutes away, you can visit the Tower of London by bus and tube. Take the 422 bus, bus stop MS outside Millennium Primary School towards North Greenwich Station. From North Greenwich Station, take the Jubilee Line (grey) to London Bridge. Walk only 10 -12 minutes from London Bridge Station.

 

How to get to Greenwich

 

Greenwich is situated in Southeast London. The best way to get to Greenwich is to use the DLR light rail if you’re coming from Central London. There are also lots of connections from London Bridge and Bank and takes approximately 30 – 35 minutes on the DLR. From Canary Wharf, Greenwich takes 20 minutes on the DLR (light rail).

It costs £5.20 return just on the DLR, and children under 11 travel free accompanied by a paying adult. 

The DLR has two stops which you can take in Greenwich and Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich. Stop at Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich if you want to visit Cutty Sark and Greenwich Park. Greenwich Rail Station and Greenwich DLR are further away from Greenwich Park, so you’d have to walk a few minutes as it’s the more convenient of the two.

 

Accommodation in Greenwich

 

Looking for a nice, affordable place to stay in Greenwich? Here are my suggestions?

 

Located in a busy high street, this Staycity Aparthotel is just a few minutes’ walk to Greenwich.

 

Stay here if you want to watch a concert or an event at the O2 and only a 17-minute bus ride (excluding traffic) to Greenwich.

 

Situated in Canning Town, ibis London is only 30 minutes to Greenwich Park and Cutty Sark, 25 minutes to Excel London, and 16 minutes to the O2 Arena.

 

Canary Wharf is a business district with high-rise 21st Century office and apartment blocks and it’s only a 22-minute bus and tube ride to Greenwich.

 

Conclusion

 

Greenwich is a small town compared to other areas of London, but you can spend a day or two just relaxing and exploring here. Greenwich is ideal for families with young children because they’ll learn about the history of maritime at the Maritime Museum. They’ll discover the stories on the Cutty Sark Clipper ship on a guided tour with a captain. They’ll learn about Greenwich Mean Time and Planetarium, and best of all, they can also run wild in Greenwich Park. 

Except for the Cutty Sark Clipper Ship and the Royal Observatory, all attractions are free. Before COVID, the crowds were plenty, and no space to walk around.  Each attraction takes at least 1 to 2 hours to complete so you can easily cover a lot of ground during your visit. Now, we’re back to normal from COVID, many visitors are flocking to London, mainly UK tourists, so hopefully, in 5 years’ time, international travellers will follow suit.

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