Whether your coming from Richmond, Runcorn, or Rome, Greenwich is a major tourism town that sees millions of people paving its streets every year. This year, however, has slightly been a little different. With lockdown eased and things coming back to a sense of ‘normality’ again, the streets of Greenwich are starting to fill up a bit more.
The August Bank Holiday always used to remind me of the Notting Hill Carnival but this year, it’s a different story. If you are heading out to anywhere this bank holiday weekend why not add Greenwich to your plans for a day trip out with family, friends or even as a solo wander.
There is so much for you to see and do in Greenwich that I’d recommend taking out two days to see everything. It is really possible to do everything in one day however you will be tired and will also need to have your itinerary plan on point and stick to it. Top tip: Start early to really get the most out of everything. Greenwich is home to the Royal Museums Greenwich which is the umbrella for the top three museums (National Maritime, Cutty Sark & Royal Observatory) plus the stunning UNESCO heritage site, Queen’s House.
This Guide to Greenwich is more of a loose guide, you don’t have to follow it in the same order but due to the geographical locations of the sites, I’ve placed them in the order below.
How to get to Greenwich
I’d recommend getting to Greenwich as early as 10AM to get the most out of your day. Your closest stations to Greenwich is Greenwich Cutty Sark DLR which is right in the centre of town, Greenwich railway station is a 7-10 mins walk away or a short bus ride whilst North Greenwich station is a 15 mins bus ride away. Another lesser known rail station is Maze Hill station which is ideal if you want to start your day visit off at Greenwich Park, Queen’s House, or Royal Observatory Greenwich.
Be aware that if you’re visiting with young children, you’ll need to plan in extra time as they will tire easily so limit the number of attractions you want to see. Focus on just 1-2 main attractions and fill the rest of your day with free time to have a hassle-free experience.
NOTE: Pre-booking is highly recommended for all museum visits if you don’t want to be disappointed. Walk-in bookings may not be possible and some attractions are fully booked well in advance.
Things to see and do in Greenwich:
This month was the first time we actually set foot onboard the main deck of the Cutty Sark. She’s the last tea clipper standing, and thanks to the restorations, she’s looking more beautiful than ever.
It was amazing to stand on the main deck with the kids – we saw how tiny the ship cabins were, found out that toilets were called ‘heads’ as they were originally designed to be at the head of the ship. We also discovered that Cutty Sark not only carried tea on board her cargo but she also carried many weird and wonderful things including beer and spirits, clothes and even the odd piano! Throughout the day you can also meet the ‘Cutty Sark Characters’ who will tell you a story of her past travels.
Highly recommended! Until the end of August, you can get a free child ticket with every paying adult ticket (£15)
The Painted Hall
Calling all culture vultures and fine art lovers. The Painted Hall boasts one of the most spectacular Baroque interiors in Europe.
Gaze up at The Painted Hall’s incredible ceiling and wall decorations which were designed and hand-painted by British artist, Sir James Thornhill. Thornhill used a variety of painting techniques including trompe l’oeil, which literally means to ‘trick the eye’. This clever use of illusion, combined with the Baroque architecture is something that needs to be seen in person to truly appreciate the breathtakingly beautiful paintings.
(Photo Credit: ORNC website)
You’ll need to wear a face covering when you enter a shop, building or any indoor public place – this includes all of the museums in Greenwich. For restaurants, if you are dining in, you’ll obviously not be obliged to wear it as you’re spending most of your time eating however I’d advise to make sure you have one with you just in case.
Even though the Greenwich Market which is a covered open space, I’d advise you to wear a face covering when inside as there are a mix of food and retail stalls so you can help protect yourself and others by doing so. The Market stalls are also operating at a reduced service so make sure you check online their opening times if you wanted to visit.
Where to eat out in Greenwich
There’s so many places to eat in Greenwich that you can simply take your pick; love pizza? My recommendation is Franco Manca, their sourdough-base pizzas are delicious beyond belief. Prefer something lighter? The Grind Greenwich is perfect for a brunch or a light lunch. Want food on-the-go? Choose from cheap ol’ Greggs and Subways to premium M&S Foods and Peyton & Bryne bakery (which is delicious!). If you have a sweet tooth, you might like Kaspa’s Desserts or the desserts over at Bill’s restaurant.
Fancy more cultural cuisine? There’s Vietnamese food (Pho Street & Pho City), Italian (Bianco 43, Franco Manca), French (Cafe Rouge), Portugese (Nandos) are some of the few you can find around the high street. Alternatively, the Royal Observatory Pavilion cafe and National Maritime Museum cafe are open for eating in and takeaway.
For toilets, there is one public toilet close to Cutty Sark, opposite Starbucks. It’s a locked toilet so you’ll need 50p to use it. Alternatively, you can use the public toilets inside Greenwich Park which is 20p at the turnstile but we went recently and it was free to use as the turnstile doors were open. If you’re close to the National Maritime Museum you can use the cafe’s toilet but be advised that it’s for customer’s only so grab a snack or drink to go on your trip to the loo.
National Maritime Museum
NMM is currently partially closed with their full re-opening scheduled for September 2020. The cafe, museum shop and Insight Astronomy of the Year exhibition, which are all on the ground floor, is open to the public. Their full return is highly anticipated, I know all the local parents will be fighting to reserve their free spaces for the ‘Ahoy Gallery‘ play area (for 0-5 years) as soon as those tickets are released.
At the moment, the museum’s set up two self-led outdoor nature trails which you can get involved with. We had a go of both and loved the Hide & Seek Bird trail. The trails are available until end of August.
We LOVE Greenwich Park. It has so much to offer and the park is so big that you can’t fit it all in a day’s visit plus seeing attractions. Most of us locals would divide the park in two halves. The top half of the park has the deer sanctuary, rose garden and a semi-hidden ‘secret garden’ called the Jubilee Gardens. If you’re planning on visiting the Royal Observatory then you’ll be at the top half of the park and the viewpoint from up there is amazing looking down on the whole of Greenwich Park. If you’re at the lower half of the park you’ll be closer to the children’s playground, the boating lake, National Maritime Museum and the Queen’s House. You’re also a close walk to the Cutty Sark, The Painted Hall, the town centre and river Thames.
If you have young children, the playground area is fantastic for up to 10 year olds. There are swings, climbing frames, play sand, a merry-go-round, slides and so much for the kids to enjoy. I wouldn’t say it’s the best place to go if you’re super strict on social distancing as it’s quite hard to do it properly as there is usually A LOT of kids there. You will see local families do try their best but sometimes with the little ones, you know it’s almost near impossible. I would highly recommend a ride on the pedal boats (weather permitting) – you get about 20mins on the water to enjoy the views (and get a bit of a workout) and the prices are decent enough to not burn a hole if your pocket. It’s good fun if you’ve got older kids ie. teenagers.
Highly recommended especially if the Maritime Museum is closed or fully booked.
As one of the UNESCO heritage sites, the Queen’s House was the first Classical building in the UK, and was also home to royalty including the Tudor family and King James I. This palace was also once home to Elizabeth I and many other great queens after her. Now, it houses an internationally-renowned art collection.
Take a look through the gallery’s paintings and portraits then snap a selfie on that infamous Tulip Staircase. PS. Don’t be afraid of the resident ghost that is said to patrol the staircase area… eek!
Royal Observatory Greenwich
As mentioned earlier, at the top half of Greenwich Park you will find the Royal Observatory Greenwich, home to the largest lensed telescope in the UK.
Currently, the Royal Observatory’s planetarium is closed however the rest of the museum is open including access to see the telescope, the shop and grabbing that selfie at the Prime Meridian Line (like we did!) which has been dividing the Eastern and Western hemisphere since 1884. At night, the line glows a deep, fluorescent green which can be seen on a clear night sky.
Hiring a Greenwich Blue Badge Guide
If you really want to soak up the most history Greenwich has to offer, I’d recommend booking yourself a Blue Badge guide to take you around the town. The guides are amazing and extremely knowledgeable. There’s a few companies to choose from but support local and check out the guys at Greenwich Tours.
Travel safely to Greenwich
Here are some helpful tips on how to travel safe in and around London if you’re coming from other parts of the UK or abroad:
- Plan your route to Greenwich in advance and check on the day of your visit for any last-minute transport delays, closures, or diversions – there are regular weekend train and tube closures and roadworks constantly going on in Greenwich (we currently have a cycle route being built!) so it can get a little crazy around town. Planning your route in advance will cut out any hassle, frustration and unwanted expenses.
- Avoid travelling at peak times which is usually the rush hour times; 8-10am in the morning, 3-4pm in the afternoon and again around 6-7pm in the evening are usually the busiest times. I personally find weekend afternoons and weekday mornings and evenings are busiest times around Greenwich and the road traffic can be terrible!
- Wear a face covering when you are on public transport (bus, train, tube, tram and minicab) and use an oyster card or contactless card for the cheapest prices. You can also still purchase paper travel cards and tickets at some train stations. London transport no longer accepts cash payments and not all stations have a dedicated customer service desk.
- Bring a bottle of water with you especially if you will be using the tube (underground) as there will be no shops to stop and purchase, you’d then need to exit the platform or station and then pay again to return back on your route.
- Maintain social distancing as much as you can – this is a difficult one as Greenwich roads are terribly narrow, they’ve tried to widen them up for pedestrians but it means the roads are even more narrow so try your best to not barge fast people if you’re in a rush.
P I N T H I S P O S T :
NB. We were kindly gifted admission tickets to the Cutty Sark and Royal Observatory Greenwich however this post was not written in collaboration with Royal Museums Greenwich. All words, photos and content are my own and cannot be used without permission.