Everyone knows Greenwich and it’s probably on your list of places to visit in London (or if it’s not, then you should make sure to add it)… But there’s definitely more to Greenwich than prime meridian and it would be a pity to miss out.
Why do I like Greenwich? Well, it’s a cute old English town, small but busy, with a very nice covered market where you can have delicious Thai food and an even better churros with dolce de leche. It feels alive and authentic, it has a beautiful park, a ship – and not just any ship: The Cutty Sark – a great Maritime museum and not to forget, the Royal observatory.
Greenwich is one of the London boroughs, in East London and it’s notable for its maritime history and of course, for giving its name to the Greenwich meridian and Greenwich Mean Time. Greenwich is also the birthplace of many Tudors, including Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, in the former Palace of Placentia, which is now the old Royal Naval College.
In 1997, the town was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites for the concentration and quality of buildings of historic and architectural interest. They estimate there are close to 19 m tourists visiting Greenwich every year.
How to get there
In my view the best way to get to Greenwich is to get the river buss from Central London. For 6.5 pounds, you get a lovely ride on the Thames and a different perspective of London. There’s also cruise vessels that you can take, but they’re slightly more expensive.
If the boat is not for you, you can also get there by train or DLR (Dockland Light Railway). The Jubilee line also runs to North Greenwich, for The O2, and is a short bus ride from Greenwich town center.
Once you’re there…
As you step on dry land again at Greenwich, you arrive right in front of the mighty Cutty Sark. She’s the very last remaining tea clipper and, in her day, was one of the fastest ships on the all-important tea runs from China. During the middle years of the 19th century, clipper ships would compete with each other to see who could get the first crop of fresh tea back to the UK and Cutty Sark was one of them.
The ship is now housed in a dry dock and if you want to wander around on the ship’s main deck, learn more about its history and stand at the prow like Leo and Kate, there’s an admission ticket of 12 pounds.
Before heading further, you can stop for a coffee and some cake, to catch your breath and/or post a photo on Instagram at coffee shop in the Waterstones Library. As you walk into the library, you need to go upstairs, as that’s where the coffee shop is located. Amongst thousands of books and overlooking the narrow Greenwich streets.
Good to go? Ok. Next stop – the Maritime Museum
A few minutes walking from Waterstones Library, at the bottom of the hill where the Royal observatory is located, there’s a big, beautiful building – that’s the Maritime Museum. It’s the world’s largest maritime museum.
The entry is free and it makes for a nice visit for all ages – In the main hall you have a huge floor map, which is great to explore, you can simulate driving a vessel through the storm on a ship deck and there’s plenty of other stuff as well – exposition on Nelson, The East India Company, Slave trade and the list goes on.
Ah, and did I mention the ship in the bottle?
As you come out of the museum, you’re in the Greenwich Park and at the top of the hill in front of you is the Royal Observatory. As you walk up the hill, stop and look back – a great view of London will reveal itself, with the glass buildings of Canary wharf and the O2 Arena dominating the frame.
It’s always busy around the Observatory. Not crazy, step on each other busy, but still pretty crowded, so don’t expect to have the place all to yourself. You’ll get to “see” the prime meridian, but don’t expect much – it’s just a line on the wall. If you are here by night, that’s a different story, as the prime meridian is marked by a cool green laser beam that fades into the distance.
On the Observatory building, you’ll see the red ball (the time ball) which was used to signal the time to the navigators aboard ships offshore. The ball was dropped at a predetermined time and so they knew what time it was.
The Royal Observatory was founded in 1675 and the world’s Prime Meridian, passing through here, was adopted in 1884 and it’s since been used as the standard for mapping and timekeeping.
Not exactly the World Trade Centre, but it seems that the Observatory might have underwent the first international terrorist incident in Britain, when a bomb was detonated by a French anarchist, near the observatory building in 1894. – thanks Wikipedia! J
All this walking and visiting should have made you hungry and Greenwich has just the place! You can always stop at one of the pubs and restaurants on the high-street, but if you want something different, then try to food market. The Thai is what I usually get and I love it, but there’s plenty of choice. As for desert, don’t miss the churros with dolce de leche… makes my mouth water!
And if you’re lucky, you might get some live music as well…