Greenwich is one of London’s not so hidden treasures – with a wealth of museums, markets and sights, it’s one of the city’s must visit destinations. Want to explore? Don’t miss this guide to the best things to do in Greenwich – from star attractions to hidden gems.
The first time I went to Greenwich was on a school trip: we’d seen the (then new) Thames Barrier, tramped underneath the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, visited the Observatory and the National Maritime Museum.
It was an introduction to a very different part of London (though I will say, the sandwiches that day were very disappointing) and I gabbled about it to my patiently listening mother before zonking out on the bus home.
That trip was the beginning of a lifelong appreciation for this part of town – where a Royal Park that Henry VIII used to hunt in sits just across the river from the controversial Millennium Dome (now the Greenwich O2 Arena).
To me, it’s this blend of old and new, tradition and a willingness to push the boundaries, that’s what really sets Greenwich apart.
Ready to explore? Let’s go.
Best Things to do in Greenwich
The Royal Observatory & London Planetarium
One of Greenwich’s biggest attractions, visiting the home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is at the top of most people’s lists when they’re in the area.
The Royal Observatory played a central role in the history of astronomy and navigation, and is home to a colossal feat of Victorian engineering that is still the UK’s largest refracting telescope. Together with the Planetarium, it makes for an intriguing day out.
I’ll warn you: a pretty steep climb up to the observatory (my one piece of advice would be to avoid doing this immediately after lunch) but the views from the top are worth it alone.
Entry to the Royal Observatory: Tickets for the Royal Observatory are £10 on the door, £9 if you book in advance online.
Entry to the London Planetarium: Tickets for shows are priced individually. You can check times and book in advance here.
I’m not going to lie, Queen’s House is my new-found favourite place and one of the very best free things to do in Greenwich.
The house was built in the 17th century for Queen Anne (James II’s wife) – designed by groundbreaking architect Inigo Jones, it was the first in England to be built in the Neoclassical style.
Unfortunately, Anne died before it was completed, and instead Henrietta (Charles I’s wife) was the first queen to inhabit the royal residence.
From the outside, it’s a simple yet striking piece of architecture but it’s the inside that I fell in love with. From the heavily Instagrammed Tulip Staircase to the gorgeous tiled floors, it’s a beautiful setting.
There’s more to it than that though: Queen’s House is currently being used to showcase some of the Royal Museums’ collection of portraits (which is the second biggest in the UK after the National Portrait Gallery’s).
The rooms are filled with portraits and other artworks from floor to ceiling – striking the perfect balance between the lustrous setting and the striking artworks.
Pieces currently on exhibition include Queen Elizabeth I’s Armada portrait and Gentileschi’s Joseph & Potiphar’s Wife.
Don’t forget to peek out of the windows too – there are beautiful views to the Royal Naval College at the front and over Greenwich Park and to the observatory at the back.
Entry to the Queen’s House is free.
Greenwich Park is one of London’s Royal Parks and the oldest of them all. With a history that dates back to the Roman times, it was enclosed as a park in 1433.
Henry VIII was born here and it was he who introduced the famous deer to the park (you can still spot them roaming the park today).
No matter how busy it is, you can always find a nice space to claim as yours for the afternoon to laze away while nibbling on tasty tidbits.
The Royal Observatory and London Planetarium are also based in Greenwich Park. Even if you aren’t going to the Observatory, you should climb to their entrance for a stunning London cityscape.
The Cutty Sark
The Cutty Sark is a beauty of a boat and one of Greenwich’s most famous attractions.
She was built in Scotland in 1869 and was the fastest ship of the time, thanks to her modern design.
The Cutty Sark was built as a tea clipper, used to escort tea from China to Britain as quickly as possible – now she’s the only remaining tea clipper in the world.
A visit to The Cutty Sark is a chance to learn about the ship’s history: over the years, she’s been used as a wool clipper, spent a spell in Portugal and used as a training ship in Kent.
She’s been docked on the edge of the River Thames in Greenwich since the 1950s but was closed between 2007 and 2012 for a renovation project that saw her permanently lifted three metres out of the water so visitors could see the full boat for the first time.
Entry to the Cutty Sark: Tickets for the Cutty Sark cost £13.50 per adult. You can buy them on the day or book in advance.
Take a Flight on the Emirates Air Line
While it’s not in Greenwich Village itself, a trip on the Emirates Air Line is a must for any Greenwich day out.
Over on the Greenwich Peninsula and near to the Greenwich O2 Arena, the Emirates Air Line is a cable car that shuttles between North Greenwich and Royal Docks near to the Excel Centre.
Yes, the Air Line is operated by Transport for London, and is probably a useful means of transport for many people, but it’s also the perfect way to take in London from a different perspective as you hover 90 metres above its skyline.
It goes without saying that if you’ve got a bit of a fear of heights, you might want to give it a miss.
Entry: Use your Oyster Card, the Emirates Air Line is part of London’s public transport system.
The Old Royal Naval College
The Old Royal Naval College is a must-visit during your Greenwich day out.
To be honest, it’s a pleasure to wander around the huge grounds, with their symmetrical layout and imposing buildings.
That said, make sure that you don’t miss the college’s two highlights – the Chapel of St Peter & St Paul and the Painted Hall.
The Chapel is a marvellous example of 18th century baroque design, complete with an ornate plaster ceiling and a large altarpiece by Benjamin West.
The Painted Hall is just that, with a huge ceiling painting by James Thornhill.
The buildings were commissioned by William III’s queen, Mary as a naval hospital. She engaged Christopher Wren, who designed the hospital’s distinctive buildings so as not to block the views of the river enjoyed by The Queen’s House nearby.
The naval hospital became the Royal Naval College in 1869 and is now partially occupied by the University of Greenwich and Trinity College of Music.
The National Maritime Museum
The National Maritime Museum is one of those surprise hits you don’t think you’ll really enjoy but totally do.
The first time I went was for an Ansel Adams exhibition a few years ago. Being an avid photographer, there was no way I was going to miss that exhibition and I figured that seeing as I was there, I might as well have a look at the rest of the museum.
I was very glad of it. The National Maritime Museum charts the history of Britain’s naval heritage through an expertly curated range of exhibitions.
The museum tells so many tales, from that of the East India Company, who controlled large parts of India up until the mutiny in 1857, to the dark side of the British obsession with tea (which was bound up with the rise of the opium trade).
There’s also a gallery dedicated to Nelson and the role he played in shaping British history. Kids (well, adults too) love the interactive features and there’s a children’s gallery and play area to keep the little ones entertained.
Entry to the National Maritime Museum is free. Special exhibitions are charged separately.
Greenwich Foot Tunnel
Most tunnels in London are unremarkable affairs. Not so with the Greenwich Foot Tunnel – which was one of the great feats of 19th century engineering.
The tunnel stretches for 370 metres under the Thames, its tile-lined walls creepily echoey if you’re in there alone at night.
Opening in 1902, the tunnel was designed by Sir Alexander Binnie and used by the hundreds of thousands of dockland workers who used to commute over to the Isle of Dogs.
Unusual Things to do in Greenwich
The Line Contemporary Art Walk
Although it’s not entirely in Greenwich, you can check out a few artworks from The Line in Greenwich.
But what is The Line? It’s a contemporary art walk stretching from Greenwich to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford – the first of its kind in London.
Several pieces in the Greenwich stretch of the walk were actually created as part of the Millennium Dome project in 2000, including Anthony Gormley’s Quantum Cloud and Richard Wilson’s Slice of Reality.
The large-scale works are framed by the living backdrop of the Thames, which adds its own movement to the overall effect.
The Fan Museum
Claiming to be the only museum in the world dedicated to fans and the art of fan making (TBH, I can’t see it being overrun with contenders, fans are pretty niche), The Fan Museum contains over 3,500 fans raging from ancient times to the current day.
Visit and you’ll see how even the most practical object can take on so many forms – some of the fans in the collection were decorated by leading artists of the day.
It’s also a great chance to take a peek at the secret language of fans that flourished at the turn of the 19th century. Someone using their fan to hide themselves from the sunlight – unfortunately that’s fan-speak for “you’re unbearably ugly” – hate to be the bearer of bad news.
Greenwich Park’s Sunken Bath
Search in Greenwich Park between the Ranger’s Lodge and the Rose Garden and you’ll find a curiosity – a sunken bath with a staircase. Think it’s odd? Wait until you hear the story behind it.
The bath is the last remaining vestige of Montague House, whose former resident, Princess Caroline of Brunswick made a rather unfortunate marriage with her cousin George Prince of Wales (to become George IV).
If you want to put it politely, you could say that George was something of an oddball – if you wanted to call it as it is, you’d say he was a drunk and a philanderer… in other words, not ideal husband material at all.
The marriage was a total failure, with George spreading vicious rumours that Caroline never bathed, had stinky breath and was a complete sloth.
They separated and Caroline went to live in Montague House, before finally going to live abroad.
George didn’t take the news too well, responding by ripping down Montague House – now Greenwich Park. One thing the bath tells us though? George was clearly telling porkies when he said Caroline never bathed…
Where to Eat & Drink in Greenwich
There are really two parts to Greenwich Market: the shopping part and the food stall part.
If you like food, or shopping from quirky independent traders (or both) then there’s something for you here.
The market dates from the 18th century and is one of the city’s prettier ones.
Shoppers can browse through a large array of goods – from handmade leather bags to limited edition photography and hand forged curtain poles.
If you’re hungry, Greenwich Market’s continental food court should also not be missed – lovers of Caribbean food should definitely try the West Indian food stall there.
The craft beer scene in London is so expansive that it can feel like there’s a brewery on pretty much every street. That wasn’t always the case though – 20 years ago, there were only a few adventurous brewers forging the craft brewery scene and Meantime Brewery’s founder Alaistair Hook was one of them.
It might no longer be an independent brewery, but their taproom and brewery tours are well worth taking some time out for. The taproom, complete with lounging sofas and old-school video games like Street Fighter, is the perfect place to spend an afternoon working your way through their collection.
Goddard’s at Greenwich
Goddard’s is a pie, mash and liquor restaurant and the place to try some traditional British grub.
Pie houses grew in popularity in the 1700s and have been warming Londoners’ stomachs ever since with their range of hearty pies.
Goddard’s is also the place to try those rare cockney treats – jellied or stewed eels.
The Cutty Sark Pub
It’s not a proper Greenwich day out without a proper pint in a pub. There are few places better in Greenwich to do this than The Cutty Sark Pub.
The pub’s riverfront building dates back to the Georgian times and the three floors offer pretty views of the Thames and Canary Wharf.
Sit down with a pint one of the Young’s special brews on tap, relax and congratulate yourself on a day well done.
So there we are, the perfect Greenwich day trip. Enjoy!
Practical Tips for Exploring Greenwich, London
- Greenwich is split into two main parts split by the River Thames – Greenwich and North Greenwich. Many of the places to visit in Greenwich listed in this guide are in Greenwich, not North Greenwich, so plan your trip accordingly.
- Greenwich can be reached via Greenwich Railway Station, Maze Hill Railway Station, Greenwich DLR and Cutty Sark DLR. You can reach North Greenwich via North Greenwich tube station on the Jubilee Line. You can also catch a Thames Clipper river bus (you can use an Oyster Card for this).
Map of the Best Places to Visit in Greenwich, London
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Check these out…
The Greenwich Area Guide
Time to Discover: The Tulip Stairs
Unusual London Guide Book