How to spend a day in Greenwich, London

Date post added: 4th May 2023

Greenwich Old Royal Naval College in London

The Greenwich peninsula sits alongside the River Thames which explains some of its rich maritime history. It’s also the place people across the world look to for time references.

If you only have a day to visit Greenwich, you’ll want to make the most of your trip. With royal parks, historic houses, fascinating museums and bustling street markets, there’s an awful lot to fit into your visit. And Greenwich is about time, Greenwich Mean Time in particular. So time is of the essence here – literally

Greenwich is an easy place in which to potter, to relax and enjoy this South East London neighbourhood. But if you only have one day to spend in Greenwich, you need to cram a lot of sights and information into a short space of time. That’s why we recommend our Greenwich guided tour as the best way to get maximum sights, stories and insights in minimum time. We’ll lead you to the main attractions as well as the hidden gems of this UNESCO world heritage site. Here, we share some of the great gems of Greenwich.

Pillars seen in one of the many historical buildings in Greenwich


Maritime: places to explore

Old Royal Naval College

This is no ordinary old college. The buildings were created by Sir Christopher Wren (he of St Paul’s architecture fame). It’s the 300 year anniversary this year so look out for special events.

Our guides recommend you stroll in the grounds and take in the remarkable views. And you must visit the Painted Hall by James Thornhill. With simply awesome interiors, it’s known as the Sistine Chapel of Britain. Look up and admire the dramatic ceiling symbolising the naval power of the 18th century.

The Royal Naval Chapel

You may recognise this one as it featured as one of the chapels in Four Weddings and a Funeral.

National Maritime Museum

This is the British Museum of matters maritime. As our Guide Extraordinaire, David points out, “Where else are you gonna see Nelson’s uniform with the bullet hole in it?” If you need more of a reason to visit, it’s free of charge except for special exhibitions.

The Cutty Sark seen against a dramatic sky in Greenwich, London

Cutty Sark

This carefully restored 19th-century ship is the world’s only remaining tea clipper. It was the fastest ship of its time, carrying tea between England and China. You can even climb the rigging and touch some of the original planks of this fascinating Thames clipper.


Time: must-visit places

Royal Observatory Greenwich

Time was set here in 1884, so it really is the place to learn about time. You’ll understand why Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is a global reference point too.

The Royal Observatory in the heart of Greenwich park is a unique place. It’s where east meets west at Longitude 0°. You can straddle two hemispheres here and get the obligatory photo.

You’ll also find London Planetarium there. Enjoy some star-gazing. You can actually see Pluto from there.

Greenwich Time Ball is a hugely important signal on top of Flamsteed House at the Royal Observatory. It informed ship captains of the time to sail. That’s where the term, ‘take your eye off the ball’ comes from – captains wouldn’t take their eye off the time ball until it fell. We time our Greenwich walk to ensure you get to see it drop.


Art: design and architecture

Queen’s House

Inigo Jones’ architectural masterpiece was commissioned by Queen Anne. Don’t miss the tulip staircase inside. The columns outside the Queen’s House have a hidden meaning. If you’ve ever wondered how many French ships were sunk at the battle of Trafalgar, count the columns.

Recently, the Queen’s House museum has hosted exhibitions of incredible artworks including paintings by Gainsborough, Hogart and Levy. There’s also the famous Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I on display here.

St Alfege’s Church

Heritage is a key focus of this Heart of Greenwich project, aided by lottery funding. The church itself was designed by Sir Nicholas Hawksmoor. Above the altar, you can marvel at James Thornhill’s Trompe L’Oeil painting. In the Children’s Chapel, you’ll find a Coventry Cross of Nails.

Our guide, David recounts an incredible tale of rampaging Vikings capturing the Archbishop of Canterbury and bringing him to the church. They demanded a ransom, but the Archbishop convinced his friends not to pay it as he was sure he’d convert his captors. He didn’t and they beat him to death with an ox shoulder.

The Fan Museum

A peculiar and slightly random place, but isn’t that the charming thing about exploring England? If you’re a fan of the fan, this is the place to go.


Views: green space and high points

Greenwich Park

You could easily spend an entire day enjoying this gorgeous royal park. Not only is it a fabulous green space in the heart of Greenwich, there’s also so much history to discover here. For starters, there are Roman remains on the mound and a Saxon burial ground at Croom’s Hill.

This was the birthplace of Henry VIII and the site of a couple (!) of his marriages. His daughters Mary and Elizabeth (latterly Queen Elizabeth I) were also born there. Henry introduced deer to the grounds and you can still see them there today.

Queen Caroline’s Bath

(well, the remains of it) is in the southwest corner of the park. The Caroline in question was the estranged wife of King George IV. She lived in Greenwich in the late 18th century and was known for her riotous parties.

Within this must-visit London royal park, you’ll find a gorgeous rose garden to wander around. Nearby, there’s the Ranger’s House – a stylish Georgian villa that used to be the park ranger’s home. Greenwich Park also houses the Prime Meridian Line and Royal Observatory.

But you can’t visit this park without climbing to the top of the hill to be rewarded with outstanding views of London, across to Canary Wharf and the City.


It’s not technically Greenwich, but it’s the neighbouring lovely village. Another place ideal for pottering, especially in the bookshops and park.

O2 arena

Climb to the top of the O2 for panoramic views across the Thames and into central London.

The O2 arena seen from Greenwich, London


Transport: above and below the Thames

There are multiple ways to get to Greenwich – DLR, tube, bus, train, car, bike, boat or cable car.

Emirates Airline cable car

It carries passengers across the Thames from Royal Docks on the north side to the Greenwich peninsula on the south. Get a bird’s eye view of East London as you travel.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

Did you know you can walk beneath the River Thames? The tunnel is an incredible feat of Victorian engineering. It links Greenwich with the Isle of Dogs, the sites of royal docks and shipbuilding. The tunnel was created to allow workers to commute on foot.

But the best way to visit Greenwich is the way we go on our tour, by boat. The ride itself is fascinating and it’s the only way to get the most sensational view from the River Thames.


Imbibe: great food and drink

Greenwich Market

Not only is this a great place to browse antiques and collectables, arts and crafts, it’s a foodie destination too. Take the time to stop and sample global fare from the eclectic street food stalls.


This is a proper East End pie, mash and liquor shop. It dates back to 1890 and serves up traditional pies which are baked daily with locally sourced produce. Pie, mash and liquor is a rich part of London history and has been for centuries.

Trafalgar Pub

There are so many great pubs in Greenwich, but this riverside inn is where Dickens hung out with his pals.

With so much to discover in Greenwich, we highly recommend a guided tour to get the sights and the stories from the people who know them intricately. It’s definitely time well spent.

David Tucker

David Tucker

David – the Seigneur of this favoured realm – broods over words, breeds enthusiasms and is “unmanageable.”* He’s a balterer, literary historian, university lecturer, journalist, logophile and lifelong thanatophobe. For good measure, he’s the doyen of London guides.

Read all articles by David Tucker