With longstanding ties to the navy, Greenwich is one area of London you can’t skip! Here are the best things to do in Greenwich, plus tips for making the most of your visit.
Located on the South Bank of the River Thames, Greenwich is one of London’s hidden gems — which is ironic considering it boasts a sizable UNESCO World Heritage Site and has longstanding ties with both the British royal family and the navy.
One thing you’ll immediately notice when you emerge from the Cutty Sark station and step foot into Greenwich is the strong maritime influence of the area. Its strategic location along the River Thames made it an ideal home for prosperous dockyards as well as training future naval officers.
For many years, the royal family resided in Greenwich. London is now an expansive city, but Greenwich was once removed from the hustle and bustle (and stench!) of the city center and provided refuge to the country’s monarchs when they needed a break from city life.
There are many noteworthy places to visit in Greenwich, and I’ve done my best to mention the absolute must-see spots in this post. This is a wonderful area to visit for anyone interested in learning more about London’s maritime history — and the views aren’t bad either!
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How to Get From London to Greenwich
Note that Greenwich is a large area on the South Bank in London. Many locals will either specify Greenwich or North Greenwich when discussing the area.
All of the Greenwich tourist attractions mentioned in this post are located in Greenwich and are either in or around the designated UNESCO World Heritage area.
To get here, you’ll want to hop off at the DLR Cutty Sark station.
If you take the Tube to the North Greenwich station, you’ll wind up far away from the attractions I’ll be discussing (although the North Greenwich station is right by the O2, which hosts concerts and sporting events).
Tip: Be sure to tap out with your oyster card when exiting the Cutty Sark station. It’s not the most noticeable card reader, and I walked right past it which wound up costing me more money. Oops!
Best Things to Do in Greenwich (London)
It’s amazing how much there is to do on a visit to Greenwich! Below are the activities in Greenwich that I’ve experienced myself and can 100% recommend. I’m sure there’s more to do in the area, but I never recommend anything I haven’t visited personally.
The thing to do in Greenwich is visit the Old Royal Naval College, which is at the heart of the Maritime Greenwich UNESCO World Heritage Site. Before the college was built, Greenwich Palace stood here. Greenwich Palace was the monarchy’s riverside estate and where the kings and queens of England would come to escape the hustle and bustle (and occasional plagues!) of central London.
The Royal Naval College was built by Sir Christopher Wren, the architect behind many of London’s most famous buildings. From 1694 to 1869, the campus served as the Royal Hospital or Seamen. Then, from 1873 to 1997 it was the Royal Naval College.
Today the college is a popular Greenwich tourist attraction, but it’s still a working campus used by the University of Greenwich and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.
If you think you’ve never heard of the Old Royal Naval College, think again! It’s been used as the backdrop for many famous movies and TV shows, including Thor: The Dark World, The Crown, Les Miserables, The Iron Lady, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and more!
While here, you’ll want to explore the grounds, go through the visitors center (it has a fantastic free exhibit detailing the history of Greenwich as well as the Naval College!), the Painted Hall, the Chapel of St Peter & St Paul, and the skittles alley.
Try timing your visit to coincide with one of the 45-minute guided tours. This is still a working college so there aren’t plaques and signs detailing every last little thing, so a quick guided tour is useful.
Known as the “Sistine Chapel” of Britain” the Painted Hall is the crown jewel of the Old Royal Naval College.
The Painted Hall was designed and painted by Sir James Thornhill, and the project took 19 years to complete (largely due to lack of budget). The stunning space was originally the dining hall for pensioners who had served in the Royal Navy. Many belive that the elaborately painted dining hall was a marketing tactic to encourage young men to enter the navy, believing they’d be able to live in luxury upon retirement — if they survived, that is.
The Painted Hall is decorated with maritime imagery that’s largely pro-British / anti-French in sentiment, which reflected the political sentiments of the day.
One of the most famous events to occur here was the lying-in-state of Lord Nelson in 1806. He was one of Britain’s most famous naval officers who died in the Battale of Trafalgar.
I almost didn’t pay to enter The Painted Hall, thinking the whole “Sistine Chapel of the UK” thing was a marketing ploy. To my amazement, The Painted Hall is utterly spectacular and I’m so glad I went inside!
I recommend taking a guided tour of the hall (ask at the ticket desk when the next tour is, it’s included with the price of your ticket) – it’s the best way to learn about the Painted Hall and gives you the most bang for your buck.
Note that I visited when the moon was there — it was a temporary art exhibit and has now moved into a different venue.
Tip: You get unlimited entry for an entire year when you buy a ticket to the Painted Hall, which means you can revisit time and again!
The original chapel at the Old Royal Naval College was also designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Alas, that building no longer exists; a fire destroyed the chapel in the 1770s, and the current structure was rebuilt by James Stuart.
The chapel is free to enter, so definitely pop in while you’re in Greenwich.
Take note of the stunning altarpiece by Benjamin West. It shows a scene from the Bible where St. Paul is shipwrecked on Malta — very fitting considering the chapel was built for Naval pensioners.
Visit the National Maritime Museum
Another free thing to do in Greenwich is visit the National Maritime Museum. As you’d expect, the museum is dedicated to all things maritime with a special emphasis on Britain’s seafaring history.
There are a diverse array of artifacts, paintings, and tools on display. Although anyone can enjoy the museum, it definitely has a family-friendly flare to it.
The two main objects I recommend tracking down are the coat Lord Nelson was wearing when he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar as well as Turner’s “The Battle of Trafalgar,” which is his largest painting and a true masterpiece!
Tip: You can easily spend a few hours here if the weather is poor, but if your day is packed you can look around for 90 minutes just to see the highlights before heading back out the door. The joy of free museums!
Visit the Queen’s House
Another Greenwich attraction that’s commonly used in movies and TV shows is the Queen’s House. You might recognize it from the likes of Bridgerton, The Crown, or Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
The Queen’s House was finished in 1636 after years of work. The house was designed by Inigo Jones for the wife of King James I, Anne of Denmark. However, the house was only partially completed when Anne died and it was some years later when the project was finally picked back up again.
The royal family used the home until 1805, at which point it was donated to charity and became the Royal Naval Asylum. Eventually it passed into the hands of the National Maritime Museum, which still owns the building to this day.
If you love stately homes (me me me!), a visit to the Queen’s Home is a non-negotiable activity while you’re in Greenwich.
The house is bursting with priceless works of art from artits like Turner and Hogarth. One of the best known attractions of the Queen’s House is the Tulip Stairs, which is the first unsupported spiral staircase in Great Britain (yes, I realize that claim sounds really weird but they actually are fabulous stairs!).
Oops, I forgot to mention the BEST part about the Queen’s House — it’s free to enter!
Tour the Cutty Sark
Once the fastest tea clipper in the world, the Cutty Sark was built in 1869 and used exclusively for the China tea trade.
The Cutty Sark’s sailing days are long gone, but the ship’s been preserved and placed on a dry dock in Greenwich. You can tour the ship to see what a Victorian tea clipper looked like and read up on the history of the tea trade in Britain.
Tip: Even if you don’t have the time or budget to tour the Cutty Sark, you can still walk around it. The dry dock is at street level near the Old Royal Naval College, and the ship is cool just to look at!
Eat Your Way Through Greenwich Market
Greenwich Market is a small but mighty covered market selling all kinds of foodstuffs, plus handicrafts, antiques, and more.
I enjoyed a very filling (but very cheap!) lunch at Greenwich Market after a morning spent exploring the Old Royal Naval College. It’s a great place to come for a drink or a snack in the afternoon, too.
Greenwich Market gets crowded on the weekends, so be prepared to wait in line if you’re coming here for lunch!
Travel Beneath the Thames via the Greenwich Foot Tunnel
The Greenwich Foot Tunnel is one of the quirkier attractions in the area. As the name suggests, it’s an underground foot tunnel linking Greenwich with the opposite bank of the River Thames.
The tunnel was built in 1902 to provide all-weather access for workers of the shipyard. (It blows my mind to think that a tunnel was built beneath the River Thames in the Victorian Era!)
The Greenwich Foot Tunnel takes about 5 minutes to walk across, and it’s worth popping over to the opposite riverbank for a view of the Old Royal Naval College from afar.
The tunnel entrance is right by the Cutty Sark, and it’s impossible to miss because it’s a red brick structure with a domed top – it almost looks like a miniature observatory.
Relax in Greenwich Park
Greenwich Park is a beautiful green space with plenty of grassy spots to stretch out and relax. Dotted in and around the park you’ll find some of the top things to do in Greenwich, including the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Observatory, the Prime Meridian line, plus various landscaped gardens.
Adventure seekers may want to track down lesser-known gems hiden in the park like the remains of Queen Caroline’s Bath, which is all that remains of Montague House.
The park is 183 acres, so there’s lots to explore! The parkland has been in royal hands since the 1420s, making it London’s oldest enclosed royal park.
Enjoy the View From the Royal Observatory
Within Greenwich Park is the Royal Observatory, home to one of the largest telescopes in the UK. A visit to the Royal Observatory features displays of astronomical instruments, access to the Flamstead House where the astronomers lived, as well as entrances to the Octogan Room which was designed to observe celestial events such as comets.
While at the Royal Observatory, you can also straddle the Prime Meridian Line. (Although there’s a spot to do that for free, which I’ll explain in the next section.)
However, you don’t have to pay to enter to observatory to get an epic view of London’s skyline! If you climb the hill to the observatory, you’ll be treated to the most stunning view of Greenwich Park, the Thames, and the city beyond.
Straddle the Prime Meridian … for Free!
Again, you don’t have to pay to enter the Royal Observatory to straddle the Prime Meridian Line.
There’s actually a small alleyway near the entrance of the Observatory where you can see the Prime Meridian Line marked on the path. Obviously I had to take a photo of me straddling it!
The Greenwich Meridian is the Prime Meridian, which indicates 0º longitude and is the starting point for marking objects in the sky, such as planets and stars.
Tip: This prime meridian point was created in 1851 and actually is no longer the “true” prime meridian (it gets updated every so often as science and technology advances and new calculations are made).
Explore the Town Center
The Greenwich town center is a cute area with lots of shops and restaurants. If you don’t know what else to do in Greenwich after you’ve ticked off the main attractions on your list, enjoy a tea or coffee at a local café, window shop, and enjoy strolling through Greenwich.
Get a Drink at the Trafalgar Tavern
I’m not a big drinker, but I loved the ambience of Trafalgar Tavern.
It’s a Grade II listed building that’s operated as a pub since 1968. However, before the building that’s now the Trafalgar Tavern has lived many lives. Since being built during Queen Victoria’s reign, the building has served as flats for naval officers during WWII, as a public house, and a home for naval pensioners.
The building was also the setting of the wedding breakfast in Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend!
Trafalgar Tavern is one of the most beautiful pubs in Greenwich, if not in London. Each room is named after British naval battles or famous naval officers and is decorated with prints, knicknacks, and maritime memorabilia.
This is the perfect spot to end a day in Greenwich. You can enjoy a drink or order food, soak up the ambience, and watch the boats passing by on the Thames.
Tip: If you also don’t drink much, like me, you can always order a half-pint of something.
Even More Things to Do in Greenwich!
I haven’t visited the following Greenwich attractions myself, so they didn’t make it onto my list above. However, I’ve heard great things about each and want to see them the next time I’m in Greenwich!
- The O2
- Ranger’s House
- Fan Museum
- St. Alfege Church
- Emirates Air Line cable car
FAQs About Visiting Greenwich
Is Greenwich worth visiting?
Yes! I feel like it’s not talked up as much as the attractions in the city center are (like the London Eye, the Tower of London, etc.) but I highly recommend for first-time visitors to the city.
How much time is needed in Greenwich?
To make your way through all the things to do in Greenwich that I’ve mentioned in this post, you’ll need at least one full day in the area. I’ve listed the absolute top attractions in the section below.
What should I see in one day in Greenwich?
You’d be hard pressed to see every single place I mentioned on this post in a single day, but the absolute top things to do in Greenwich are:
- Old Royal Naval College + Painted Hall
- Queen’s House
- Greenwich Market
- Greenwich Park
- View from Royal Observatory + Greenwich Meridian Line
- Trafalgar Tavern
Obviously you know your own interests better than I do, so do and see whatever excites you the most!
I can’t believe it took me this many visits to London to finally make my way out to Greenwich, but I’m so glad I finally did. Now that you know what to do and see in Greenwich, don’t make the same mistake I did — visit as soon as you can!