Welcome to Greenwich, the place where time began and where kings are born! Located in the south-eastern part of London, Greenwich is like a little village all on its’ own. Whether you are a fan of military history, nautical tales, Kings and Queens, keeping time or just a good story, Greenwich has you covered. What follows is a self-guided walk around one of the most interesting locations in London. Be sure to check out our other self-guided tours of London and our guided tour of Greenwich.
Additionally, consider joining Brit Movie Tours' Film Tour of Greenwich. Blockbuster films such as Thor 2, Les Miserables, Sherlock Holmes 1 and 2, Pirates of the Caribbean 4, The Mummy Returns, Click here to learn more and book. and many others have all been filmed here. Tours run on Saturdays at 3pm and cost £10 per person, but use code AGTFTF100 for a discount.
To learn more about this and other great parkland areas in the city, make sure to read our post covering the Best London Parks and Gardens.
SELF-GUIDED GREENWICH TOUR
Top Tip: This self guided Greenwich England walking tour should be taken at a leisurely pace, if possible, so that you have time to enjoy the beautiful views or nip into a museum as you wander!
You have two options to get here - either Island Gardens if you have arrived by DLR or Greenwich Pier if you have arrived by boat. Either walk through the tunnel from Island Gardens, or stand just outside the domed structure near Greenwich Pier.
(STOP A) - The Greenwich Foot Tunnel, designed by Sir Alexander Binnie for the dock-men who worked and lived on different sides of the Thames, was opened on 4th August 1902, replacing an earlier (more expensive) ferry service. The entrance shafts at both ends are housed underneath giant domes and access is granted via stairs or lift. The tunnel itself has an internal diameter of 9 ft (2.74m), is 50ft (15.2m) deep and is 1,215ft (370m) long. The entire tunnel is coated in 200,000 white glazed titles and is open to the public 24 hours a day.
From here you can see the Millennium Dome, which was opened to the public on 1st January 2000 until 31st December 2000, housing a major exhibition celebrating the start of the third millennium and at a cost of over £700 million. Each of the yellow support towers are over 100m high and there are 12 of them, representing each month of the year as well as a clock face, referencing the importance of time in the area. The entire diameter of the dome is 1,197ft (365m) and is actually not a solid piece, but a giant canopy supported by an elaborate cable network attached to the support towers.
After the millennium, upkeep of the dome ran around £1million a month and the structure was put up for sale. Today it operates as The O2 and houses an indoor arena, a cinema, and exhibition space, in addition to a number of bars and restaurants. During the 2012 Olympics basketball and artistic gymnastic events were held inside.
Trivia: The first musician to play in the O2? Jon Bon Jovi in June 2007!
Leave the Tunnel and Dome at your back and head away from the river. Shortly, on your left-hand side you will see:
(STOP B) – The Cutty Sark was built in 1869 at a cost of £16,500. She was one of the last tea clippers to be built and is also one of the fastest. In fact, at one stage in her career she was thought to be the fastest freight ship in the world. It was retired in 1954 and has been in a ‘dry dock’ ever since. Badly damaged by fire in May 2007, the Cutty Sark has undergone a £35million restoration project and is now open again to the public.
Continue on with the river behind you, heading up Greenwich Church Street. From here turn left onto Turnpin Lane, boasting many fine houses dating back to the early 1800’s, into:
(STOP C) – Greenwich Market. There has been a market in Greenwich for centuries owing to a permission granted in 1700 to the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital giving the right to hold a market here for the next 1,000 years! The Market is open Tuesday – Sunday from 10am to 5pm, however some market shops and pubs are open all week. The market is both a delicious place for lunch and a mecca for those who like to shop for individual and unique items.
Trivia: Greenwich Market is the only market in London located within a World Heritage Site, Greenwich having received that title in 1997.
Exit the market onto Nelson Road and turn left along King William Walk. Enter Greenwich Park and walk up the hill.
(STOP D) – Greenwich Park was the first Royal Park of London to be enclosed (in 1433) and stretches over 74 hectares (180 acres). The land here was given to King Henry IV by his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester in 1427. Henry VIII used the park for hunting and it was opened to the public during the 18th century.
Trivia: On public holidays in the 18th century, the big hill in Greenwich mark was used for mass tumbling, as men and women rolled down the hill for fun!
Continue up the hill toward:
(STOP E) – The Royal Observatory was commissioned by Charles II in 1675 and the foundation stone was laid on the 10th of August in that year. It was in the same year that Charles created the position of ‘Astronomer Royal’ to serve as the director of the observatory. John Flamsteed was the first Astronomer Royal and oftentimes the Observatory itself was referred to as ‘Flamsteed House’ in his honour.
Flamsteed house was designed by Christopher Wren and became the first purpose-built scientific research facility in Britain. It was built at a cost of £520 – which was actually £20 over budget! The main purpose of the Observatory was to measure and monitor time and the most famous aspect of the Observatory comes from this purpose: The Prime Meridian. At 0 degrees longitude, the Greenwich Meridian marks the point where all time around the world is measured. The Prime Meridian was established in 1851 and gained international use by 1884. A stainless steel strip in the courtyard marks the line and since 1999 there has also been a green laser that shines down 0 degrees.
Today the Royal Observatory holds a museum of astronomical and navigational tools, including artifacts documenting the history of precision time keeping for navigational and astronomical purposes. Inside you can also find the Peter Harrison Planetarium as well as one of the largest telescopes in the UK: the 28-inch Grubb refracting telescope.
Trivia: To help people synchronize their clocks to Greenwich Mean Time, the Astronomer Royal in 1833, John Pond, had the time ball installed on top of the observatory. The ball drops daily at 1pm all year-round – so get your mobile phones and your watches ready!
Leave the Observatory and head back down the hill. Follow the marked paths and signs toward the:
(STOP F) – The National Maritime Museum, located at the bottom of the park, is the largest maritime museum in the entire world. Established in 1937, it houses a collection of over 2 million objects including over 2,000 model ships!
Trivia: The official opening of the museum took place on the 27th of April 1937 by King George VI. He was accompanied that day by his daughter, Princess Elizabeth – our current Queen! - who travelled to Greenwich with her father along the Thames.
Walk along the marked path towards
(STOP G) – The Queen’s House is a formal royal residence and dates from around 1619. It was designed by Inigo Jones for Anne of Denmark, the queen of King James I and was later altered for queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, hence the name of the house. The view of the river from The Queen’s House is actually a protected view and explains why Christopher Wren’s Naval College (which stands between you and the Thames) is made up of two identical buildings that are not connected to each other. Wren was given specific instructions not to impede the view of the Thames from the Queen’s House, which meant he couldn’t connect the two wings of the College!
From here walk towards the river and turn right onto Romney Road. Then make a left onto Park Row and walk all the way down to
(STOP H) - The Painted Hall - Designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor, this is one of the most impressive interior spaces in London. It was originally intended at an eating space for naval veterans to eat while they were admitted to the Naval Hospital. The fine paintings in this room demonstrate the power and grace of the British maritime history. Horatio Nelson lied in state here after the Battle of Trafalgar. You can take part in their guided tours of the space or download their self-guided tour http://www.ornc.org/assets/images/shared/ORNC_PH_leaflet_(ENG).pdf.
(STOP I) – The Trafalgar was built in 1837 and was a favourite drinking spot of Charles Dickens. In the Victorian age, The Trafalgar hosted a dinner for Members of Parliament at the end of each Parliamentary session in an upstairs ballroom which still exists today – although now it is accessible to all members of the public, so stop in for a pint or a snack!
Trivia: Crane Street here is named for the fact that many cranes used to line the water to move cargo onto and off of ships.
From here you can follow the river path back towards Greenwich Pier and the end of the walk.