Maritime Greenwich

Maritime Greenwich
Photo by Nan.

Maritime Greenwich is renowned for its architecture and role in the science of navigation and astronomy.

Many of its buildings are by the greatest British architects of the 17th and 18th centuries such as Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren. They include the Old Royal Naval College, the Queen's House, National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory, Greenwich Royal Park, the Ranger's House and the historic town centre. At the Royal Observatory, the world standards Greenwich Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time were developed. 

Community Perspective: The Old Royal Naval College has its highlight in the Painted Hall which features the finest Baroque decorative paintings in Britain. The museum at the Royal Observatory and the Palladian Queen’s House are also worth visiting. James has written a comprehensive overview of its main parts and their history.

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James Bowyer

United Kingdom - 29-Sep-22 -

Maritime Greenwich by James Bowyer

I have been to Greenwich twice now and greatly enjoyed both visits. It is readily accessible from two of London’s other WHS and, appropriately for a maritime site, the quickest way from Westminster to Greenwich is often using the river bus along the Thames. It is also a short jaunt on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) from the Tower Gateway station, near the Tower of London, to Cutty Sark station, which lies just outside the core zone. The railway line travels beneath the towering skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, for many years the tallest in the UK, and the Georgian elegance of Greenwich is an intriguing clash to the giant pillars of steel and glass across the river. There is a foot tunnel under the river linking both sides that was opened in 1902 and is still operational. Since then, the northern side has been totally transformed from a bustling dockyard at the heart of an imperial trade network to a forest of high-rise buildings that are a hub for bankers and other financial services (the reader can draw their own conclusions about how much has really changed vis-à-vis the balance of wealth around the globe). Meanwhile the south bank has hardly changed since the height of Britain’s naval power in the 18th Century.

Whilst there was a royal palace at Greenwich on the banks of the Thames from the 14th Century, there is no sign of it now and the oldest building that survives to the present is the Queen’s House, dating from 1616. The eponymous Queen who commissioned it was the wife of James I, Anne of Denmark. It was designed by famed architect Inigo Jones and, as the first Palladian building in Britain, inspired stately homes and country villas throughout the country for the next two centuries. Today it is a museum and whilst a ticket is required these are free of charge. After the English Civil Wars and the subsequent restoration of the monarchy, the palace was in disrepair and Charles II planned to construct a new one but only one wing was built along with a park landscape by André Le Nôtre, better known for his work on Versailles. A royal observatory was established in the grounds in 1675 and various star charts and catalogues were developed, including those of the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, and the famed Robert Hooke. Work at this observatory was integral to establishing methods for determining longitude at sea, the discovery of which helped to enable Britain to establish global mercantile and military naval dominance in subsequent centuries. British astronomers long used the Greenwich Observatory as the baseline for their measurements and, at an international conference in 1884, Greenwich was defined as the international standard for timekeeping and mapmaking as the Prime Meridian. This was despite protests from the French contingent who eventually abstained on the vote and continued to use the Paris Meridian for another 27 years. Until 1954, the precise value of Greenwich Mean Time, and thus all time in the world, was measured from the royal observatory. The observatory is now also a museum but unusually for the UK, where most museums are free, there is a charge to enter.

Queen Mary II commissioned Christopher Wren, and later Nicholas Hawksmoor, to build a Royal Hospital for Seamen on the site in 1692, which subsequently became the Royal Naval College and trained many of the great admirals of Britain and beyond until teaching finally ceased in 1998. The college is the architectural centrepiece of the complex with an iconic symmetrical Baroque design. Today, many of the buildings are occupied by the University of Greenwich. In recent years, it was also a filming location for Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World. The National Maritime Museum was established in 1934 in buildings formerly used by the Royal Hospital School and contains a fantastic array of naval artifacts from Britain and around the world. This is free to enter. One item I found particularly remarkable was the fantastically well-preserved jacket worn by Lord Horatio Nelson at the decisive Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 where the entry point of the fatal musket ball is clearly visible in the left shoulder (see picture attached). On display not far away is the famed ship, the Cutty Sark, which has been conserved in dry dock since 1954. Built in 1869, it was one of the last of the great tea clippers, narrow sailing ships designed for speed in transporting cargo from the Far East back to Britain. Visitors can board the ship but only after purchasing a ticket. There is a package deal for the Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory to save costs but I would say that is only worth the effort if spending a whole day here. The OUV of the site was apparent, at least to my mind, in half that time and through only visiting the free entry attractions.


Malta - 16-Jul-13 -

Maritime Greenwich by Clyde

I visited this WHS in June 2013. I used the underground and walked by the Cutty Sark, the Naval College, the Discover Greenwich information centre and up to the Royal Observatory and Park. The museum is very interesting and helps you appreciate the site better. I took a quick photo on the prime meridian line and saw the red ball drop at around 11:30. An interesting half day trip from London City Centre and it certainly deserves WHS status.

Frederik Dawson

Netherlands - 01-May-13 -

Maritime Greenwich by Frederik Dawson

Greenwich is the name that commonly appeared since one of the first things that travelers normally do before travelling aboard is checking the differences of local time and the Greenwich Mean Time which is the international time standard, so coming to England and not visit the place is not a wise way to spend time in this country. On my last day in England, I went to Greenwich which is very easy accessible by tube and DLR systems.

The village of Greenwich was quite lovely with its rural village styled with many cute shops and restaurants. I walked along the river Thames to see the famous clipper, Cutty Sark, along the way there were many banners of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, celebrating the new royal status bestowed by Queen Elizabeth II last year. Then I went to the large complex of Royal Naval Collage, I was surprised that most of the people I saw was students of University of Greenwich which I leant later that the university uses the complex as their campus. The complex is designed by the famous Christopher Wren, I really liked his design that separating the complex into four parts with open courtyard in the middle while the Queen's House is located far behind, forming a nice landscape link for all these buildings from River Thames. I was very disappointed that I did not have a chance to see interior of these three buildings due to its closing for renovation.

Then I walked uphill to the Royal Observatory to see the mark of Prime Meridian line and the Greenwich Mean Time clock. The observatory building is quite strange with design that does not go well with other part of Greenwich's riverside but it is still fine and interesting, and I did not like the shiny modern addition line on the ground and its futuristic statue, I think they are tourist trap for those who want to stand on both hemispheres in the same time, I prefer the traditional red line painted on building. After adjusted my watch with the actual Greenwich Mean Time, and found out that I only had few more hours in this country, I hurry walked back to DLR station and end my trip for Greenwich unhappily, I really liked Greenwich and would be happy to come back again if I have more time to spend in London.


Austria - 20-Mar-12 -

Maritime Greenwich by Hubert Scharnagl

London is one of my favourite cities in Europe and Greenwich is one of my favourite places in London. I've been several times in London, most recently in August 2010, and each time I visited Greenwich. In my view, the Royal Greenwich Observatory is the most beautiful place of the WHS. The view from the observatory to the Queen's House, the Royal Naval College, and the modern office buildings on the Isle of Dog in the background is marvellous (photo). On the roof of the observatory a red Time Ball was installed. This ball is still being pulled up every day and falls down exactly at 1 pm. Once the ships on the Thames used this procedure to set their chronometers to the exact Greenwich Mean Time. The problem of exact time measurement and thus the accurate determination of longitude of a ship at sea and how it was resolved is a major theme of the museum. There you can admire the historic marine chronometers by John Harrison. And of course I stood on the prime meridian and took a photo of my feet.

Also worth a visit are the Painted Hall at the King William Building and the Queen's House with the tulip stairs. Part of the WHS is also the lovely centre of Greenwich with its Georgian and Victorian buildings. And it's funny to walk through the Greenwich foot tunnel (not for people with claustrophobia) to the opposite bank of the Thames. There you can enjoy the view from the Island Gardens to Greenwich.

Els Slots

The Netherlands - 30-Jan-04 -

Maritime Greenwich by Els Slots

Greenwich is part of London, but actually more a kind of village to itself. Going there via the Dockland Railway you pass glittering skyscrapers and modern industrial scenery.

The National Maritime Museum is one of the attractions here: large, with well-presented exhibits. Next door is the Queen's House, a small white building where you really have to see the inside (lovely rooms!). On the hill behind these two buildings is the Royal Observatory - another must-see.

Besides these monuments, Greenwich is also a very attractive place for a walk. The distances are not big, and there are things to see on almost every street. The whole village has a good atmosphere. I found it a great destination for a weekend trip.

Klaus Freisinger

Austria - 01-May-05 -

Greenwich is a site that truly deserves its listing on the WHS. Apart from being very easy to reach from central London, Greenwich's importance in the fields of science, navigation, and world exploration is really universal. I first went there on a warm summer evening in 2002, when all the buildings were already closed, including the Royal Observatory with the Prime Meridian. It was still a great place for a stroll, but of course I had to return one day to see everything. Over 10 years later, I finally came back to London and made sure to set aside a full day for Greenwich and all its attractions. The first thing you see when you step out from the foot tunnel (recommended because you can see the full panorama from the opposite bank of the Thames) is the former tea clipper Cutty Sark which is really very interesting to visit. The Royal Observatory is a bit uphill in the large park, and you should time your visit to be in the courtyard at 1 p.m. to see the famous time ball drop. You will probably stand in line there anyway to get a chance at taking a picture of your feet straddling the Prime Meridian. Both the Observatory and the huge National Maritime Museum include very interesting exhibitions on science, navigation, and history. I also visited the Queen's House, the last remaining buiding of the former Royal Palace of Greenwich, as well as parts of the town's historic centre, also part of the WHS. Finally, the Old Royal Naval College with the Chapel and the Painted Hall, something I had missed entirely on my first visit, is an architectural masterpiece by Christopher Wren and definitely a must-see for any trip to London. One day is barely enough to take in everything Greenwich has to offer, and for anybody interested in history, science, and anything related to the sea, this is a fantastic and fascinating destination.

Ian Cade

UK - 01-May-05 -

Maritime Greenwich by Ian Cade

This is the third of London’s four UNESCO site’s to be added to the WHC list, and it is one of my favourite parts of the city. The Town of Greenwich (gren-itch) itself is a quaint place and has a much more relaxed atmosphere than the rest of the city. Greenwich was included for both its architecture and its role in the scientific developments. The Old Royal Naval College is the largest building in the site, and provides it’s highlight in the Painted Hall which is features the finest Baroque decorative paintings in Britain and it is breathtaking I must admit.

The highlight of the scientific side is the Royal Observatory up on the hill through which runs the Greenwich Meridian which divides the globe into an Eastern and Western hemispheres. The museum here is very interesting especially if you like clocks! And to make things better all of the museum’s here are now free, as most of the world class museums of London now are! The park is a really nice place to sit and relax and there is also the Cutty Sark ship so you should plan on spending at least half a day here to get the best out of it.

It is reasonably easy to get out to Greenwich, the Docklands Light Railway runs there from central London (one station next to the Tower of London!) or you can get a boat down the Thames if you want a more relaxed way to get there.

Site Info

Full Name
Maritime Greenwich
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United Kingdom
1 2 4 6
Urban landscape - Maritime

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1997 Inscribed


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Maritime Greenwich


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