I wrote in an earlier post about how I arrived by river at Greenwich with a friend, on one of the commuter ferries that ply up and down the Thames, giving us a great sightseeing tour en route.
We stepped off onto the ferry pier just as kings and queens of England had done before us, for here was the site of Greenwich Palace, favourite residence of the Tudor monarchs and birthplace of Henry VIII and his daughters Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I. By the 1660s the palace had fallen into disrepair and Charles II ordered it to be demolished and a new palace was started which was eventually incorporated into the Old Royal Naval College, now a University Campus.
As we walked up from the river, we passed the old Tea Clipper the Cutty Sark which was under restoration when it caught fire in 2007 and is now being restored for a second time. There was also the Greenwich Wheel, similar to the popular London Eye on the South Bank, which was open for the summer for views of the river and surrounding area.
We decided to concentrate on the historic sights and walked through the imposing wrought iron gates of the Royal Naval College. Students were everywhere as it’s now part of the University of Greenwich and we could hear classical music wafting from some of the windows. The College was laid out by Sir Christopher Wren, in two halves as Queen Mary had decreed on her deathbed that the uninterrupted view of the river, from the Queen’s house behind, should be preserved. On one side of the court you can visit the beautiful Chapel, which originally had a plainer interior, but after a fire in 1779 was remodelled with the painted gilt interior we see today.
On the other side of the courtyard we visited the Painted Hall. Originally it was intended as the dining hall for the pensioners for the Naval hospital, but after it was decorated by James Thornhill, it was considered far too grand and became part of the Royal Court. The hall is laid out with long dining tables and is used on special occasions such as the dinner to commemorate the Battle of Trafalgar. There were guides and written information available in both the Chapel and Painted Hall and both were free to look round.
Behind the Royal Naval College is the National Maritime museum which is also free to enter. We had a late lunch in the cafe above the main entrance where you can get nice baguettes and open sandwiches and there’s another cafe which has a terrace overlooking the park at the back of the museum. There were plenty of fun things to look at, but we only had time to see the Nelson Gallery where we saw the uniform , complete with bullet hole, that Admiral Nelson was wearing when he was fatally wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar and the famous painting of his deathbed scene.
We moved on to the Queen’s House which was commissioned in 1616 as a private retreat for Queen Anne of Denmark, wife of James I. The rooms contain many portraits and paintings depicting Greenwich and are arranged around the double height Great Hall which has a geometric black and white patterned marble floor. The guides were all very knowledgeable and helpful and when we suddenly realised that we only had an hour left to visit the Royal Observatory, a kind gentleman let us out the back door to give us a short cut.
We climbed up the hill to the Royal Observatory and had a quick look in the Astronomy galleries, where we were invited to touch a knobbly lump of metal which was actually part of a meteorite. I’d love to come back with my kids and take them to one of the Planetarium shows which take place several times a day. Finally we just had time for the obligatory photo taken on the meridian line from which all distances of longitude and latitude are measured.
The view from the top of the hill down to the Queen’s House, Royal Naval College and Canary Wharf across the Thames was stunning and we found a cafe nearby where I sat in the rose garden with my friend to catch up on all our news over a cup of tea.
The journey home was also by river, just as we had come, but we were too weary to do much more than sit in the comfy airline-style seats and watch the river drift by. The best thing was that all the things we visited were free, so apart from the ferry and the cafe stops, it was a free day out. Not bad for London, which is now one of the most expensive cities to visit in Europe, if not the world!
You can see all my photos of Greenwich on my flickr site here.
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