Greenwich in South East London, is now known as the Royal Borough of Greenwich after the Queen awarded the borough with the prestigious title in 2012, recognizing the global importance of Greenwich, home of the Prime Meridian. Very well connected by bus, train, boat and the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), a visit to Greenwich will please young and old with its attractions, the wonderful park and the riverside setting.
On arrival in Greenwich town center the first stop should be at the restored Cutty Sark. The last surviving tea clipper in the world, it has been recently reopened to the public following a painstaking restoration, hindered by a fire that threatened to destroy the ship. The hull has now being raised so, visitors can walk underneath it and take a closer look at all the features on and below this legendary ship.
And the maritime theme continues a short walk away with the buildings of the Old Royal Naval College where the Painted Hall and the Chapel of St.Peter and St.Paul can be visited; described as “the Sistine Chapel of the UK”, the Painted Hall has magnificent decorative paintings on the walls and ceiling.
The building opposite the Painted Hall houses the Chapel with beautiful interiors and an organ still used today during service held here every Sunday. An underground passage known as the Ripley Tunnel connects the two buildings, handy on a rainy day!
At the National Maritime Museum, a number of interesting artifacts are on display including Prince Frederick’s Barge, built for Frederick Prince of Wales in 1732; free exhibitions at the museum include Turner’s Battle of Trafalgar gallery and Jutland 1916 gallery.
Outside the Maritime Museum is Yinka Shonibare sculpture “Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle”, a scaled-down replica of HMS Victory; it was moved from the Forth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, in Central London to its current position outside the museum.
Opposite the Maritime Museum is Greenwich Park with the Royal Observatory visible in the distance on the top of the hill.
At the end of a steep climb, before entering the Observatory, turn around and admire the beautiful view, stretching all the way from the City of London on one side to Greenwich Peninsula on the other with the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf right in front of you.
At the entrance of the observatory, the clock setting the world time (Greenwich Mean Time) can be seen together with the Public Standards of Length on the wall.
In the courtyard of the observatory is the Prime Meridian from where all latitudes and longitudes are measured; it is custom for visitors to have their pictures taken here with their feet across the line dividing East and West.
Inside the observatory there are a number of telescopes and other astronomy related objects to keep visitors entertained.
Next door is the Astronomy Center, Peter Harrison Planetarium and the beautiful Altazimuth Pavilion.
The vast Greenwich Park where the observatory is located includes gardens, a deer enclosure and a small lake with pedaling boats for rent, popular in the summer months.
The park was also featured in the London 2012 Olympic Games as the site of the Olympics Equestrian competitions.
Another building worth visiting in the park is the Queen’s House. A white building with long colonnades connecting the East and West wings, it offers views of the Royal Observatory on one side and the Royal Naval College on the other. Inside, various rooms can be visited, (free of charge) including the Great Hall. Another famous feature of the building are the Tulip Stairs connecting the different floors in the building.
Back in Greenwich town center a place very popular with locals and visitors is Greenwich Market open Tuesday through to Sunday, with arts, craft and food stalls on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday and antiques, vintage and collectibles on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
An experience not to be missed before leaving Greenwich town center, is to walk across to Island Gardens via the Greenwich foot tunnel under the river Thames; the entrance can be found near the Cutty Sark and the tunnel is accessed by stairs or by a lift. At the exit on the other side of the river there is a pleasant park with views over Greenwich and its park and buildings.
A short bus ride away from Greenwich town center is the Greenwich Peninsula; redeveloped in the late 90s, it includes a new urban development called Greenwich Millennium Village, the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park and what was initially called the Millennium Dome, a white canopy structure built to celebrate the year 2000 with a number of exhibitions and shows inside.
After extensive renovation it is now known as The O2. Inside there is a 20000 seat arena hosting concerts and major live shows. Michael Jackson was scheduled to play 51 dates of his “This is it” tour here before his untimely death is 2009; tributes were left outside on the days following his death.
A number of restaurants, a multiplex cinema, a bowling alley and exhibition spaces can also be found inside the O2. Outside, an attraction called “Up at the O2“, gives the opportunity to people not afraid of heights to climb over the canopy to the top of of the building to enjoy 360 degrees views of London from a platform on the roof.
Not far from the O2, is London’s newest method of transport: the Emirates Air Line cable car.
Spanning the length of the river Thames, it takes visitors from the station at Greenwich Peninsula to the Royal Docks opposite. The trip lasts about six minutes and offers the opportunity to see London from a completely different and new perspective. From the cable car station at Royal Docks, it is a short walk to the ExCeL, an exhibitions and international convention center. In summer, Royal Docks is also the site of an artificial sandy beach created on the shore of the river Thames for people to enjoy on a hot sunny day.
Back at Greenwich Peninsula, the Thames Path runs all the way to the Thames Barrier near Woolwich; an architectural masterpiece, the barriers are designed to protect London from flooding caused by tidal surges.
For people opting to go back to Central London, the Thames Clipper stops at the North Greenwich Pier outside the O2 regularly; it travels to the London Eye Pier with frequent stops on the way giving the opportunity to pass under many bridges, including Tower Bridge and view the riverside buildings along the route.