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A One Day Visit to Maritime Greenwich (London) England, A UNESCO World Heritage Site

by Suzanne Fluhr on October 13, 2016 · 23 comments

Ship in a bottle, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich England

Ship in a bottle, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich England

A ship in a bottle from a collection at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England.

It wasn’t until my fifth visit to London that I finally made it to the Royal Borough of Greenwich, one of 33 local authority districts within Greater London. When Mr. Excitement was invited to attend a speakers’ dinner hosted by the European Respiratory Society in the Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich (along with at least 350 of his science peeps), we finally had our excuse raison to visit Maritime Greenwich, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.

The rigging of the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, England

Looking down a Greenwich street, the rigging of the museum ship, Cutty Sark, reminds visitors of the maritime history of the borough.

We spent two nights in Greenwich, giving us a full day for sightseeing. However, most Greenwich tourists arrive for the day, many by boat on the River Thames from central London, including from a stop at the popular, enormous sight-seeing ferris wheel, the London Eye. Greenwich is also accessible via the London underground (subway, metro) system and by light rail. Public transit options are fully explained on the VisitLondon website. Because I was lugging a suitcase and had time issues, I took an hour long Uber ride from Paddington Rail Station to Greenwich for approximately 25 pounds, about $30.50 with today’s exchange rate favoring the US dollar. (London is big!)

Gate to the entrance of the Royal Park in Greenwich, England.

The ornamental gate entrance to the Royal Park and UNESCO World Heritatge Site in Greenwich.

The Maritime Greenwich UNESCO World Heritage Site takes in the Royal Park laid out by André Le Nôtre in the 1660’s and the adjacent area of Greenwich. The following venues are located within the World Heritage Site:

The Old Royal Observatory

Straddling the Prime Meridian at the Old Royal Observatory in Greenwich, Engalnd.

I suspect I’m not the only person with a photo of themselves straddling the Prime Meridian with a foot in the east and west hemispheres at the Old Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England.

My fellow geography geeks know Greenwich, England to be the location of the Prime Meridian or zero degrees longitude, the imaginary line dividing the east and west hemispheres of the world. This line, runs through the Old Royal Observatory, established in 1695 on a hill in Greenwich, outside the pollution of the coal fires that heated London homes at that time. The Royal Astronomers appointed to the Royal Observatory were charged with observing and mapping the stars and moon in order to provide mariners with an accurate way of measuring longitude on their long sea voyages.

The admission fee for the Old Royal Observatory includes a good audio guide, which provides narration for viewing the old astronomical equipment and living quarters. There is a also a room with exhibits that provide an in depth recounting of the various methods undertaken to try to solve the problem of measuring longitude at sea.

The Cutty Sark

One of the Royal Museums of Greenwich, The Cutty Sark, is a restored 19th century tea clipper ship. The Cutty Sark won speed records during the years she sailed the world. The Cutty Sark is the museum closest to the Greenwich piers used by river transportation to and from central London, so it is most efficient to plan your visit to the Cutty Sark for the beginning or end of your day in Greenwich. Visitors can tour below decks where cargo was stored and the crew lived. I was most in awe of the rigging top side. Bend your neck all the way back to see the tops of the masts and imagine being a sailor having to manage ropes and billowing sails during heavy weather.

A display of ship figure heads in the Cutty Sark ship museum.

A display of ship figure heads in the Cutty Sark ship museum.

The National Maritime Museum

It is not surprising that this island nation with a proud seafaring tradition boasts the largest maritime museum in the world. It is well worth a visit for those fond of all things nautical and for unashamed history geeks such as myself. In addition to its regular collection which includes the uniform in which Admiral Lord Nelson, the hero of the Battle of Trafalgar, received his mortal wounds in 1805, there are revolving special exhibitions. We spent some time in one covering the First World War Battle of Jutland off the coast of Denmark. Visitors can check information about hours and special exhibitions at the website of the National Maritime Museum.

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich England

Entrance to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, said to be the largest in the world.

The Queen’s House

Armada portrait, Queen Elizabeth

The Armada Portrait, Queen Elizabeth I on display in the Queen’s House.

Officially part of the National Maritime Museum, the Queen’s House is a royal residence constructed between 1616 and 1635 under the direction of famed architect, Inigo Jones. It is said to be the first building in England to be built in the Classical style. Unfortunately, we were unable to visit the Queen’s House as it was just finishing a major restoration and conservation project. It is now reopened and houses a substantial collection of 17th to 20th century marine paintings and portraits, including the famous Armada portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. Information about visiting this museum is available on the Queen’s House website.

The Queen's House, Greenwich, England

The Queen’s House as seen from the courtyard of the Old Royal Naval College. The Old Royal Observatory is visible in the background at the top of the hill.

The Old Royal Naval College (formerly Greenwich Hospital)

Chapel of the Old Royal Naval College at dusk in Greenwich, England

The Chapel of the Old Royal Naval College at dusk.

The Old Royal Naval College Chapel

Between 1696 and 1712, a complex known as the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich was built on the site of the old Tudor palace where Queen Elizabeth I was born. The buildings were designed by the famous architect, Sir Christopher Wren who is also responsible for Saint Paul’s Cathedral.  In 1873, the site became a training college for the Royal Navy until 1998 when it was taken over by the Greenwich Foundation which has leased some buildings out for educational and cultural uses, including a music college. We were fortunate to accidentally time our Chapel visit to coincide with a final exam concert by a counter tenor. Because of the concert, we were not allowed to take photographs of the interior of the Chapel, but they are available on the Chapel’s website along with other information to help plan your visit.

The Painted Hall, Old Royal Naval College

The Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College during a banquet. The side columns and wall carvings are actually flat trompe l’oeil faux painting.

The Painted Hall

Sir James Thorton's murals in the Painted Hall, Old Royal Naval College

Some of Sir James Thorton’s murals in the Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

As I mentioned, our decision to visit Greenwich was encouraged by Mr. Excitement’s invitation to a speakers’ dinner held at the Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College. Also designed by Sir Christopher Wren as a companion to the Chapel, in 1708, painter Sir James Thornhill was retained to decorate the walls and ceilings with murals dedicated to Britain’s naval history. It took him 19 years to complete his work. As much as I adore conversing with international scientists and pretending to understand what they’re talking about, being there for a dinner, gave me ample time to explore this magnificent venue between courses. I was particularly intrigued by the use of Trompe-l’œil in many faux representations of architectural and decorative detail. For example, many of what seemed to be carved columns and medallions were, in fact, flat painted surfaces.  The Painted Hall is being conserved, so it is important to check the website for information about visiting.

So, ahoy matey, maritime Greenwich is certainly worth a day long visit, at least. If you truly have salt water in your veins, consider spending the night in Greenwich so you can have an extra day or half day to savor this multi-museum World Heritage Site. If you will be visiting during the summer tourist season, buy your tickets ahead of time on line. Combination tickets for the various museums are available both on-line and in person.

For ideas about other UNESCO World Heritage Sites to visit, check out these articles by other Travel Buzz Media collaborators:

Grand Canyon National Park and UNESCO Heritage Site by Noel Morata of Travel Photo Discovery

Suomenlinna: A Helsinki UNESCO World Heritage Site by Betsy Wuebker of Passing Thru

71 UNESCO World Heritage Sites You May Have Visited Without Knowing It by Kerwin McKenzie of Pass Rider

A Visit to Malbork Castle in Poland by Mary Jo Manzanares of Traveling with MJ

 

Have you visited Greenwich? If so, do you have any additional recommendations? Have you visited other maritime museums in the world?

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Edward Holmes October 14, 2016 at 8:19 am

Nice night pictures!

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avatar Jacqueline Gum October 14, 2016 at 9:25 am

Wow! The painted hall left me breathless! And I have always admired the architecture of Christopher Wren! Seems to me you crammed quite a bit in tis one day tour! Remarkable!

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avatar Nan Loyd October 14, 2016 at 1:42 pm

I am so in love with this post. It is lighting a fire under me to drag Leland to Greenwich immediately! I love history and architecture and paintings and ships and and and… I want to be there right now. Sigh.

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avatar Roz Warren October 15, 2016 at 10:21 am

Fascinating. I really enjoy my armchair travels with you.

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avatar Michele Peterson October 16, 2016 at 10:04 pm

The Cutty Sark Ship Museum looks like a fascinating place. Are those real (as in restored) ship figureheads? If so, they look so bright and fantastical they would have been quite impressive at the prow of a ship.

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avatar Jo October 17, 2016 at 12:16 am

What an interesting post to remind me of all the things we didn’t do on a very short look around Greenwich before we departed on a longer trip around Europe in 2014. We kept on saying, “we must come back,” and your post today has very much reminded me why we should. We did have a very fine pub lunch in one of the pubs along there near the Cutty Sark if I remember rightly though 😉 It may even have been called that too.

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avatar Rebecca Hall (Bex) October 17, 2016 at 5:50 am

I love Greenwich – and it’s made extra special to think that, as you say, you can stand between two hemispheres!

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avatar Donna Janke October 17, 2016 at 6:06 am

I made it to Greenwich in my most recent visit to London. We spent a day touring various spots around London via Thames River taxi and arrived by boat. We only spent a couple of hours there, wandering the streets and having a pint in one of the pubs. The buildings are magnificent. Next time, I’ll need to take time to go through the museums. They sound very interesting.

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avatar Michele October 17, 2016 at 1:19 pm

I have been trying to get to Greenwich for the last few years, we even had a walking tour organised but could not make it. Thanks for the post I have saved it for our next stay in London to inspire us to get there and explore.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr October 17, 2016 at 3:17 pm

You won’t be sorry. You’ll even be able to visit the Queen’s House which we just missed because it was closed for renovation until this month.

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avatar noel October 17, 2016 at 3:43 pm

I could easily spend the day and more in Greenwich, I think half the day was just at the maritime museum which is amazing. The rest of the borough is just as stunning and panoramic- thanks for showing the highlights.

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avatar Denis Gagnon October 17, 2016 at 4:39 pm

I don’t really have a good excuse for not having visited Greenwich yet. Despite being a (ex-) naval officer myself and a lover of history, despite having lived in London for several years and having visited the city dozens of times over the years, I have never ventured that far east of the city. Shame on me and thank you for a wonderful reminder of the treasures offered by Greenwich.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr October 23, 2016 at 9:16 pm

Sounds like all the folks who live in Philadelphia and have never visited Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. 😉

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avatar Carole Terwilliger Meyers October 17, 2016 at 8:00 pm

I’ve been to London so many times I’ve lost count, but I’ve never been to Greenwich. I enjoyed seeing what I have missed, and would most like to see that display of ship figure heads in the Cutty Sark ship museum. Maybe next time, which is coming up soon.

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avatar Doreen Pendgracs October 17, 2016 at 9:51 pm

Love this post, Suzanne. It reminds me of some of the reasons I love London. So many great sites and attractions. We, too, enjoyed our visit to Greenich. Thx for sharing.

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avatar Anne October 18, 2016 at 11:39 am

What a fabulous opportunity – dinner in that glorious painted hall! Now THAT’S the way to experience Greenwich;)
Thanks for this very interesting post-

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avatar Irene S. Levine October 19, 2016 at 9:55 pm

Sounds like you had a great visit to Greenwich; thanks for taking us along with you through the great photos and text!

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avatar Sue Reddel October 20, 2016 at 5:10 pm

Wow! There’s quite a lot to do and see in Greenwich. I’d have to have one of those photos of me straddling the Prime Meridian too.

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avatar Debbra Dunning Brouillette October 22, 2016 at 1:43 pm

I have only been to London once, way back in 1991. I am hoping to get back to England and, if time permits, would love to visit Greenwich. I love visiting UNESCO sites. The Maritime Museum would be a must for me!

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