This is a guest post by Karola Woods of London thru Cafes City Guide iPhone App.
First things first: the Cafes
The Maritime Museum Café does the best cup of coffee in Greenwich while Red Door Cafe inside Greenwich Market does a lovely cream tea and has a charming, local feel. For a retro, classic cafe experience, there’s Gambardella’s further towards Westcombe Park doing fry-ups and traditional British puddings.
Drink and Food
A firm bet for good food is the Old Brewery within the Old Royal Naval College – this is a modern day brewery, cafe, bar and restaurant combined and it does great roasts. Greenwich Market has food stalls and restaurants and nearby Heap’s Sausages in Nevada Street does mouth-watering hot sausage sandwiches in all kinds of flavours to eat in or take-away. For a pub with a view, head for the eighteenth century Cutty Sark Tavern along the river; for a pub on Royal Hill there’s the Greenwich Union which does a very wide selection of top quality beers.
Maritime Greenwich is the key area to visit. It was given Unesco World Heritage status in 1997. Start with the Cutty Sark tea clipper boat by the river. The boat was built in Scotland in 1869 and is the only tea clipper left in the world. The vessel was nearly destroyed in a fire in 2007, but is being renovated for a re-opening in spring 2012. The boat is more than a historical oddity, it is also a memorial to sailors who died in World Wars I and II.
Near the Cutty Sark, is the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre. Housed within a beautiful baroque complex called The Old Royal Naval College where the Navy trained for over a hundred years until 1998. The complex itself dates back to the 1690s. At the time, Queen Mary II wanted a hospital to be built for injured and retired sailors, similar to the hospital for soldiers in Chelsea. Some of Britain’s finest architects and artists, including Sir Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor, Sir John Vanbrugh and Sir James Thornhill worked on the project. The Painted Hall with its remarkable trompe l’oeil paintings was meant to be a dining hall, but was kept mainly as an art gallery. Admiral Nelson lay in state here in 1806 after the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It was only used for dining from 1939 until the navy left. The Chapel of St Peter and St Paul opposite the Painted Hall is reminiscent of a Wedgewood design and boasts unique carved plasterwork. Today, the University of Greenwich and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance are based in the Old Royal Naval College.
A royal past and present
Greenwich has strong royal connections. There was once a Tudor Palace where the Old Royal Naval College now stands, built during the reign of Henry VI in 1447 by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. It was called the Palace of Placentia, then Greenwich Palace. Henry VIII adored it and it’s also where Queen Elizabeth I and Mary I, Henry VIII’s daughters, were born. In 2005, an archaeological dig revealed some Tudor palace remnants including some brickwork of Henry VII’s Royal Chapel.
Queen’s House nearby is a beautiful example of Italian classical architecture and was designed by Inigo Jones between 1614-17. James I had the house commissioned to appease his wife Anne after he scolded her in public for accidentally shooting one of his favourite dogs. Near Queen’s House there’s Maritime Museum, whose prize exhibit is the uniform Admiral Nelson wore when he was fatally shot. Greenwich is being made a Royal Borough in 2012, the year of the Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. There are currently only three other Royal Boroughs, Kensington and Chelsea, Kingston upon Thames, and Windsor and Maidenhead.
And a fascinating story that impacted the world
On the hill in Greenwich Park is the Royal Observatory, home to Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian. The museum here tells the fascinating and perilous story of sea navigation. Charles II had the Observatory built in 1675 so the Astronomer Royal could chart the skies. Today the red ball you see drops daily from its mast at 1pm, a sign to vessels on the Thames. Just next to the Observatory is the Planetarium, which runs films about astronomy.
Greenwich is hosting equestrian events in the Olympics and an arena is being built in Greenwich Park. It’s quite apt, considering the jousting and hunting that went on here in Tudor times. Modern pentathlon events and paralympic events are taking place here too. The O2 Arena – now an entertainment venue but formerly the Millennium Dome – will host basketball and trampolining. During the games the O2 will be referred to as the North Greenwich Area.
Flea market, theatres, comedy and cinema
As well as the Greenwich Market (right near Cutty Sark DLR station), the weekend Clocktower Market is a unique flea market on Greenwich High Road. The flea market is very near the Greenwich Picture House, which has special reclining seats and shows a selection of mainstream and arthouse films. There are also two theatres – the Greenwich Playhouse and the Greenwich Theatre – and a famous comedy club on Creek Road called Up the Creek.
Getting to Greenwich
There are different ways to get to Greenwich – take
- the DLR from Bank, Canary Wharf or Tower Hill to Cutty Sark/Maritime Greenwich;
- a train to Greenwich railway station from Charing Cross;
- a Thames Clipper boat from Westminster or Tower Bridge.
Or there’s the quirky option. Take the DLR to the Isle of Dogs, descend into the Greenwich Foot Tunnel built in 1902 and walk. It’s a foot tunnel that passes right under the River.
If you enjoyed this write-up of how to enjoy Greenwich, you might be interested in the London thru Cafes City Guide iPhone App. 90 independent cafes, 350+ places to visit, with maps, access details, a survival and area guide and regular updates. The App also works offline, helping you avoid roaming charges.