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Travel / Tours / London / Greenwich
Visit Greenwich, London
  Cutty Sark
  Old Royal Naval College
  National Maritime Museum
  Royal Observatory
  Further information


This page is a brief visitor's guide to Greenwich (pronounced "grenitch") in south-east London. UNESCO has designated Greenwich as a World Heritage Site, because of its historical, scientific and architectural importance.

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The Cutty Sark is a type of trade ship called a clipper. It first sailed in 1869, carrying tea back to Britain. In 1871 it won an annual race for clippers from China to London, completing the journey in 107 days.

Close to the Cutty Sark is the Tourist Information Centre.

The building with the glass dome on the left of the picture is the entrance to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. It is possible to walk from here under the river to the Isle of Dogs to see the modern financial district around Canary Wharf. Canada Tower, with its distinctive pointed roof, has 50 floors and is the tallest office building in Europe (it is 250m high).

The Cutty Sark

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A royal palace was previously on this site: Henry the Eighth, Elizabeth the First and Mary lived here at one time. The Royal Naval College was built by Sir Christopher Wren (the architect of St Paul's Cathedral and many other fine buildings). It was used for many years for training officers in the British Navy, but is now used by the University of Greenwich and Trinity College of Music. Wren's original chapel burnt down in 1779, but its replacement is beautifully decorated. The Painted Hall is the other building here which is open to the public.

Old Royal Naval College


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The Greenwich Wheel is a 60m high observation wheel from which you can enjoy fine views of the surrounding area. A ride in one of the capsules lasts about 12 minutes. Note that wheel rides are only available in summer months (from July to September).

The Greenwich Wheel

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The National Maritime Museum was built in the 19th century as a school for the children of sailors but is now a major museum about Britain's heritage at sea. You need to get a ticket to enter the museum, but this ticket is free.

The sea has played an important role in Britain's history. It has protected Britain from attack on many occasions, for example against the Spanish Armada, Napoleon and Hitler. The sea provided the route for exploration, colonisation and trade. The domination of the sea by British ships assisted the creation and maintenance of the British Empire.

Entrance to the museum

View of the museum from Greenwich Park

National Maritime Museum: The Habit of Victory - The Story of the Royal Navy
Author: Captain Peter Hore
Publisher: Sidgwick & Jackson
Date: February 2005
The Island Nation: A History of Britain and the Sea
Author: Brian Lavery
Publisher: Conway Maritime
Date: June 2005

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To sail safely at sea it is important to know your exact location. It was easy for sailors to know their latitude (how far north or south) but difficult to know their longitude (how far east or west). One approach to solving the longitude problem was to study the stars and to produce a set of tables which sailors could take with them. An observatory was created at Greenwich from which accurate measurements of the star positions in the northern hemisphere could be made using telescopes. Astronomers called John Flamsteed and Edmund Halley worked here.

An alternative approach to solving the problem of measuring longitude was based on measuring time. The earth rotates once in 24 hours, so you can determine the longitude if you know the current time (which you can find out from the position of the sun or of a bright star) and if you also know the time at a fixed point on the Earth (such as at Greenwich). Unfortunately it wasn't easy to create an accurate clock which could be taken on a ship - because of the movement of the sea and changes in the temperature a simple pendulum clock wouldn't work. A man called John Harrison worked for many years to produce an accurate portable clock. You can see his early models in the museum. The success of his inventions led to the development of watches. Later versions of these watches helped explorers such as Captain Cook to map out the world.

Longitude is measured relative to a line from the North Pole to the South Pole passing through the observatory at Greenwich. This line is known as the prime meridian and is marked outside the museum. If you stand one one side of this you are in the western hemisphere and on the other you are in the eastern hemisphere.

This line marks zero longitude

One foot in each half of the world

Time throughout the world is measured relative to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). To help ships who were sailing in or out of London to check the time, a time ball was placed on top of the observatory: this rises to the top shortly before 1 o'clock and falls down on the hour (a visual system such as this is more accurate than one based on sound, for example a firing cannon). A 24-hour clock at the entrance to the observatory helped people to set their watches. The creation of railways created the need to standardise time across Britain. GMT is used during the winter but during the summer months the clocks are put forward by one hour to what is known as British Summer Time (BST).

The time ball:
starts to rise shortly before 1pm

At 1pm the ball
falls back down

Shepherd 24-hour gate clock:
showing Greenwich Mean Time

Since March 2011 there is an entrance charge to visit the Royal Observatory's Meridian Line Courtyard and the museum in the surrounding buildings, although the Astronomy Centre remains free. In 2011 the charge for an adult is £10, concessions cost £7.50, children of 15 and under are free (but must be accompanied by an adult aged 18 or over), tickets are valid for 1 year). Please check the Royal Observatory website for up-to-date information about charges.

Author: Dava Sobel
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Date: October 1998

"Endeavour": The Story of Captain Cook's First Great Epic Voyage
Author: Peter Aughton
Publisher: Phoenix
Date: July 2003

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Some boats from Greenwich continue east to the Thames Barrier (in the area known as Woolwich). This was completed in 1982 and is designed to protect London from flooding. At the Thames Barrier Information and Learning Centre (in a building close to the south bank of the river) you can learn about the history of the River Thames, the building of the barrier and how it works.

The Thames Barrier

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During the year there are many festivals which take place in/near Greenwich. These include the following:

- The London Marathon (a race around London, starting in Greenwich, in late April):
- Greenwich + Docklands International Festival: (an outdoor arts festival in June)
- Greenwich Beer & Jazz Festival:
- Greenwich Riverfront Jazz Festival: (jazz concerts in May and in September)

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To get to Greenwich from central London:
- Boat: cruises to Greenwich start from Embankment Pier, Waterloo Pier, Bankside Pier or Tower Pier
(Catamaran Cruisers:, or City Cruises:
(note that one-day sightseeing bus tickets include a free boat trip: Travel/Tours/Company/TheOriginalTour)
- Tube: take the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) towards Lewisham - get off at Cutty Sark
- Train: take a train from Charing Cross, Waterloo East or London Bridge to Greenwich, then take the DLR to Cutty Sark
(the journey from Charing Cross to Greenwich takes about 20 minutes)
- Bus: eg: service 188 goes from Russell Square via Holborn, Aldwych, Waterloo and Elephant & Castle

Greenwich tourist information:
Cutty Sark:
Greenwich Wheel:
National Maritime Museum / Queen's House:
Royal Observatory Greenwich:
Greenwich Park:
Fan Museum:

Old Royal Naval College:
Tinity College of Music:

Thames Barrier Information and Learning Centre: (map)
(nearest train station: Charlton, three stops east of Greenwich train station)

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Photos from a London boat cruise from Westminster to Greenwich: Travel/Tours/London/Cruise
The London Marathon (starts in Greenwich): Ideas/Album/LondonMarathon
Tour of London with a disabled visitor: Ideas/Diary/Akemi

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