Greenwich London Day Out

01 of 08

Getting There

Gautier Houba / TripSavvy

You can get to Greenwich easily by train or bus, or by taking a boat down the Thames. For the best experience, go by river, weather permitting, and return by rail. Not only will you and your children enjoy the boat ride, but you'll get to see the London Eye, St Paul's Cathedral, Shakespeare's Globe, The Tower of London, and Tower Bridge. You'll be traveling the Thames—the historic water highway from London—as royalty ​have traveled to Greenwich for hundreds of years. Also, arriving by river puts you in the perfect position to begin exploring Greenwich.

By water, the trip is about 30-60 minutes each way. You can get onboard sightseeing cruises near the London Eye at Waterloo, Westminster, and Tower piers.

London River Services (LRS) London River Services (LRS) provides safe and reliable river transportation for both commuter and leisure journeys. Check the Transport for London website for river maps and the latest timetable.

For City Cruises, boats basically leave every 40 minutes depending on the location. Tickets are available online.

If you arrive by DLR (use Cutty Sark station), then turn left on the Greenwich High Road, proceed to the Cutty Sark, and then pick up the tour as described on the next page.

If you would prefer a guided tour to get the most of your time in Greenwich do contact Greenwich Royal Tours in advance. They have regular half day and full day tours with more options being added all the time.

If the climb up the hill in Greenwich Park to the Royal Observatory is not enough for you and want a really exciting climb why not consider climbing over The O2 at Up at The O2? And if you head over to The O2, why not try the London cable car/Emirates Air Line too?

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02 of 08

Cutty Sark

The Cutty Sark, Greenwich, London
Tony C French / Getty Images

When you get off the boat at Greenwich, you'll find the Cutty Sark immediately in front of you. This handsome vessel is a tea clipper and one of the most famous ships in the world. She was built to bring tea quickly from China.

The odd name comes from a short story by Robert Burns. It tells of a farmer named Tam O'Shanter who saw a beautiful witch dancing in a short petticoat, which was called a 'cutty sark' in ancient regional Scottish. Overcome by the dance, he called out "Weel done 'cutty sark'!" and was then chased by the witch, who was furious to have been spied. She was hot on his heels until he crossed the River Doon and was saved—witches cannot cross running water.

The Cutty Sark reopened on 26 April 2012 after a six-year conversation project that cost £50 million. You can now explore below the ship in a new glass-roofed visitor center and even have a cup of Twinings Cutty Sark-inspired tea in the cafe. Visitors can also go to the hold and learn about the other cargoes she carried (it wasn't all tea), discover how the sailors lived and worked as well as go on the main deck and pretend to steer—it's a great photo opportunity.

From here you can see the entrance to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel but we'd recommend going in​ Discover Greenwich which includes the Tourist Information Centre and an exhibition about Greenwich and is part of the Old Royal Navy College.

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03 of 08

Old Royal Naval College

Royal Naval College
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The Old Royal Naval College was originally established by Royal Charter in 1694 as a Royal Naval Hospital for the relief and support of seamen and their dependents.

Sir Christopher Wren planned the site and, during the early 1700s, a number of different architects completed his design. In the 1800s, the number of Pensioners dropped steadily and the Hospital was closed in 1869.

But soon after, the Royal Naval College moved in. Here, a short distance from the sea, were trained ship captains who commanded the fleets that projected British military and economic might throughout the world.

When the Royal Navy moved out to Shrivenham the site was given over to the Greenwich Foundation to conserve and open to the public. Whilst the University of Greenwich and Trinity Laban rent some buildings, the whole Old Royal Naval College is a publicly accessible heritage attraction, not a university campus. Among the highlights of a visit to the ORNC, which is open to the public free of charge, are the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre, chapel, and the Painted Hall, one of Europe's finest painted interiors.

Much earlier on this site, Henry VIII is reputed to have had his favorite palace.

You can find out more about the Old Royal Naval College and the rest of Greenwich at Discover Greenwich, the Visitor Centre for the area.

Cross over the main road (Romney Road) to reach the Queen's House, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich Park and Royal Observatory.

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04 of 08

Queen's House Greenwich

The Queen's House is nowadays part of the National Maritime Museum. Built in the 17th century, it was originally part of the Royal Palace of Placentia., Greenwich, London, Greenwich, England.
VisitBritain / Britain on View / Getty Images

The Queen's House was designed by the architect, Inigo Jones, for Anne of Denmark, wife of James I. Construction began in 1616.

Queen's House is now the art gallery for the National Maritime Museum and includes works by Canaletto and Van der Veldes.

In the wings of the Queen's House is located a collection of nautical artifacts, displays and historical exhibitions. These include:

  • Astronomical and Navigational Devices ranging from astrolabes and armillary spheres to quadrants, nocturnals, and sundials.
  • Maps and charts dating from the medieval period to the present day. Some were used by well-known naval officers to plan/record events that became history.
  • Maritime-related coins and medals from around the world.
  • Carved figureheads and other seafaring objects from the late 17th century until the early 20th century.

Admission is free.

The National Maritime Museum is next to the Queen's House.

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05 of 08

National Maritime Museum

National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, UK
Paul Panayiotou / Getty Images

The National Maritime Museum is also free to visit and covers 500 years of Britain at sea. This is the world's largest maritime museum and it connects Britain's maritime past with our lives today.

You can see the uniform Nelson was wearing when he was fatally shot at the Battle of Trafalgar, fire a cannon and steer a ship into port. The children's ​All Hands gallery is a fantastic way to learn through play.

Behind the Queen's House and the National Maritime Museum is Greenwich Park.

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06 of 08

Greenwich Park

UK, London, Greenwich, Greenwich Park and Canary Wharf
Alan Copson / Getty Images

Although the grounds have been used by nobility since the 1400s as hunting grounds and a source of freshwater for Thames-side mansions, the layout of the park primarily reflects Charles II's desire to have French-style formal gardens to set off the new palace that he planned (but did not build) on the waterfront. In the early 1660s, Charles II hired Le Notre, gardener to Louis XIV of France, to design the plans for the park. Although these plans were not fully realized, the outlines of the design can be seen in the rows of trees that line many of the park's paths.

The Boating Pond is open in the summer months and offers pedal and rowing boats. There is also a 9ft sundial next to the pond that children can walk on.

The Children's Playground started around 1900 as a large sandpit to create 'Seaside in Greenwich Park' as a safe place for local youngsters to play. It has since been modernized and offers climbing frames with scrambling tubes, a Wendy house and slide, and more.

If you are here in September or October, do look for conkers as there is a traditional children's game you can play with these seeds.

Greenwich Royal Observatory is on top of the hill. The pathway up can be a little steep, especially if you are pushing a stroller. If you'd prefer a longer but easier way, follow the signs for the accessible path, which winds around the back of the hill up a more gentle slope.

If the climb up the hill in Greenwich Park to the Royal Observatory is not enough for you and want a really exciting climb why not consider climbing over The O2 at Up at The O2?

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07 of 08

Greenwich Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian

 Gautier Houba / TripSavvy

The Greenwich Royal Observatory was established by King Charles II in 1675. The initial building, Flamsteed House, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren.

In 1884 most delegates to an international conference agreed that Greenwich should be adopted as the Prime Meridian of the world, Longitude Zero (0° 0' 0"). This line is marked by a metal strip running through the courtyard. By standing over this line, you can be in both the eastern and western hemispheres at the same time.

Every place on the Earth is measured in terms of its angle east or west from this line (longitude), just as the Equator divides the northern and southern hemispheres (latitude). Latitude and Longitude are used on ships to determine where they are.

Latitude was determined by measuring the height of the sun above the horizon. Longitude was determined by keeping to clocks, one on local time and the other on a standard time (now GMT) and comparing the difference. Given that an error of only a few minutes could result in shipwreck, the creation of an accurate shipboard clock was a matter of vital research for many years.

The Greenwich Observatory is also sometimes described as being at the center of world space and time and was the first place to observe the new millennium. Greenwich was chosen as the site for the UK's Millennium Exhibition, comprising mainly of the Millennium Dome. The building stood empty for years after but is now The O2 entertainment venue.

GMT is mean solar time, with midday defined as the time at which the sun crosses the Greenwich Meridian, 0 degrees longitude.

Watch the Ball Drop

The red ball on top of Flamsteed house drops at 1 p.m. GMT each day (under midday is defined as the time at which the sun crosses the Prime Meridian). Countdowns to the drop are always good with children.

Other Buildings at the Royal Observatory

The Altazimuth Pavilion and the South Building were built between 1772 and 1897 and now house a collection of historical astronomical instruments and a planetarium. The Peter Harrison Planetarium opened in May 2007 and features Europe's first digital planetarium projector.

Before leaving the observatory grounds, look to the East to see Vanbrugh Castle. This castle, with its fairy-tale towers and turrets, lies just outside the park on Maze Hill. It was designed in 1719 by architect and playwright Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726) as his home.

If the climb up the hill in Greenwich Park to the Royal Observatory is not enough for you and want a really exciting climb why not consider climbing over The O2 at Up at The O2?

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08 of 08

Greenwich Market

Gautier Houba / TripSavvy

There has long been a strong royal connection to Greenwich, going back to the old Royal Palace of Placentia, which was the monarch's main palace from about 1450 to the middle of the 15th century to about 1700. Greenwich is the birthplace of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Mary I.

There is also a strong shopping connection, with a Royal Charter Market being originally assigned to the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital in 1700 for 1,000 years.

In the main shopping area around the high road, there are lots of places to eat — many good for children — and lots of cute little shops — most not so good for children.

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