National Maritime Museum, the world's largest museum dedicated to things nautical, tells the long and complicated history of Britain's relationship to the sea. The museum houses a huge collection of maritime exhibits including maritime art (both British and 17th-century Dutch), cartography, manuscripts including official public records, ship models and plans, scientific and navigational instruments.
It had been many years since I had last been to see the Cutty Sark, so I decided we should revisit and see what had changed over the years.
The Cutty Sark is located in a dry dock in the London district of Greenwich which is a few kilometres east of the city of London along the river Thames.
Greenwich is a vibrant community worth a visit in its own right. There are plenty of interesting shops, traditional British pubs and restaurants to enjoy.
Getting to Greenwich is easy, either by car or using public transport. If the weather is good, as it was when we visited, then the most pleasant way of getting there is by boat. As Greenwich has a strong link to British Naval history then this is almost certainly the most fitting way to arrive.
We took a sightseeing boat by Thames River Sightseeing from Westminster pier, close to the Houses of Parliament. This way you’ll get to see many of the historic sights of London along the way and get a commentary to boot. The journey takes about 45 minutes.
You can literally make a whole day out visiting Greenwich, as there are plenty of other sites to see – associated with Greenwich’s rich maritime history including:
The historical importance of these sights has resulted in them being entered into the registry of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Things had changed quite a lot with the Cutty Sark since we last visited. Now this large tea clipper is suspended in a massive drive dock, held seemingly by magic, above the ground so you can walk beneath its hull. The area is covered so there is no danger of getting wet!
History of the Cutty Sark
The Cutty Sark became a symbol of the China Tea Races in the late 1800s: built for strength and speed she was one of the most impressive ships of her day. The Cutty Sark was a Victorian-era Tea Clipper, and over the course of her seafaring career she successfully navigated eight return voyages from London to China with a cargo of tea.
She was built in Dumbarton, on the banks of the Clyde in Scotland by Willis and Sons ship owners, but she was designed by Hercules Linton. This provenance perhaps explains her name ‘Cutty Sark’ which means ‘short skirt’ in Scots.
Alas for The Cutty Sark, her tea racing days were over in 1877, after eight successful round trips to China. That year she sailed her last cargo of tea back to London, and on her return to Shanghai in 1878 there was no more tea for the famous clipper. Steamships had taken over the tea trade and clippers were no longer the masters of the ocean.
Instead, she traded in many different goods; coal, jute, oil and even mail, all over the world. Ironically it was during her teenage years that The Cutty Sark reached her peak, a ship almost without equal anywhere on the seas. In July 1883 she picked up a cargo of wool in Newcastle, New South Wales and then raced it back to London in a stunning 83 days! This was an amazing 25 days faster than any other ship at the time. She even famously overtook the P&O steamship ‘Britannia’ on the 25th of July 1889, going 17 knots to the Britannia’s 15/16.
Sadly, her condition deteriorated due to passing through some bad storms. In 1923, she was rescued by Wilfred Dowman, who already trained cadets on another ship, and she was restored to her previous British glory. She was then used as a training ship until the 1950s. After several years though her fate was once again in question. Some folks recognised the importance of saving her and the Cutty Sark Society was born, and painstaking restoration work began that would take years to complete.
In 1957, the Queen opened her as an exhibition in Greenwich where she has remained in dry-dock ever since. Luckily, when a fire tore through the vessel during restoration work in 2007, severe damage was repaired thanks to overwhelming global donations. By 2012 she was back to her glorious self, and there she remains to this day.
The Cutty Sark is now an award-winning museum. Below the decks (tall people like me need to mind their heads) you get to see the story of the Cutty Sark and the development of Britain’s sea trading history through a combination of captivating multimedia display and historical artifacts.
The bit I always enjoy the most about visiting a historical ship like the Cutty Sark is going up onto the main deck.
The Cutty Sark has been wonderfully restored and the craftsmanship of the construction is beautiful. I love to see the rigging and the ropes and the patterns they create – functional and aesthetically beautiful.
From the main deck, you can also visit the ship’s officers’ quarters and the more cramped areas where the crew lived.
After visiting above and below decks of the Cutty Sark, we headed down to walk underneath its hull, where there is a nice little cafe (there are better places to eat and drink in the streets a few metres away) and some more exhibits – including a stunning exhibit of ship figureheads.
Planning your visit to Greenwich
Why not get into the maritime spirit and take a boat trip down the River Thames to Greenwich Pier?
The pier is situated right next to Cutty Sark and is a five-minute walk from the National Maritime Museum and Queen’s House and a short walk up the hill to the Royal Observatory.
Uber Boat by Thames Clippers is the fastest and most frequent river transport service, Uber Boat by Thames Clippers departs from all major London piers every 20 minutes. Your journey time is 45 minutes from London Eye Pier, 25 minutes from London Bridge Pier or 20 minutes from Tower Pier.
City Cruises offer sightseeing cruises which enable you to explore the many sights of the River Thames. They depart to and from Greenwich every 40 minutes, every day of the week, all year round from piers near popular attractions including Westminster, the London Eye and the Tower of London.
Thames River Sightseeing operates sightseeing trips from Westminster, St Katharine’s and Greenwich all year round. Enjoy live audio commentary and beautiful views of London while travelling to Greenwich.
Trains and Underground services to Greenwich
The nearest rail stations are Greenwich and Maze Hill. Direct trains run to these stations from London Cannon Street and London Bridge.
If you are using the London Underground, the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) will take you straight to Cutty Sark station. The DLR connects with other Underground lines at Bank, Tower Gateway and Stratford stations.
Bus services to Greenwich
The following buses stop near the National Maritime Museum and the Queen’s House: 129, 177, 180, 188, 286, 386 and N1.
The following buses stop near Cutty Sark: 129, 177, 180, 188, 199 and 386.
The following buses stop near the Royal Observatory Greenwich and Peter Harrison Planetarium: 53, 54, 202 and 380.
A secure car park at the National Maritime Museum is open to visitors during weekends, bank holidays and school holidays. Limited spaces may also be available Monday-Friday. Check availability when booking online.
- Opening hours: weekends, bank holidays and school holidays from 10 am-5 pm. Limited availability during the working week
- Charge: £10 for the day
- Location: The car park is located on Park Row (postcode SE10 9NG).
Royal Museums Greenwich is made up of four sites: the National Maritime Museum, the historic ship Cutty Sark, the Royal Observatory Greenwich and the Queen’s House. You can get tickets for the individual attractions or get combo tickets.
To avoid queuing, especially during the summer and holidays, we recommend booking tickets online wherever possible to guarantee entry.
|Telephone:||T: +44 20 3166 6000|
|Hours:||Open daily | 10am-5pm|
Day pass to multiple attractions:
Best time to visit London
The best time to visit London is March through May when the temperatures are mild and the city’s parks are green and blooming. However, late spring – along with summer – is also prime tourist season, and hotel and flight prices reflect the surge.
Other places to visit while in London
1. TOWER OF LONDON
Tower of London, byname the Tower, royal fortress and London landmark. Its buildings and grounds served historically as a royal palace, a political prison, a place of execution, an arsenal, a royal mint, a menagerie, and a public records office. It is located on the north bank of the River Thames.
2. WESTMINSTER ABBEY
Westminster Abbey has been the site of coronation for all British monarchs since 1066 and is home to the ancient Coronation Chair, which is found in St George’s Chapel.
It is also the final resting place of 30 kings and queens with memorials to Edward the Confessor, Richard II, Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots and more royal tombs found within the abbey.
3. PALACE OF WESTMINSTER
The Palace of Westminster is a Victorian Gothic masterpiece designed by Sir Charles Barry and A.W. Pugin to replace the medieval parliament buildings, which burnt to the ground in 1834. The result of their work is one of the great buildings of the Victorian era and acts as home to the Houses of Parliament
4. MARITIME GREENWICH
The ensemble of buildings at Greenwich, an outlying district of London, and the park in which they are set, symbolize English artistic and scientific endeavour in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Queen’s House (by Inigo Jones) was the first Palladian building in England, while the complex that was until recently the Royal Naval College was designed by Christopher Wren. The park, laid out on the basis of an original design by André Le Nôtre, contains the Old Royal Observatory, the work of Wren and the scientist Robert Hooke.
5. LONDON EYE
At 135m, The London Eye is the world’s largest cantilevered observation wheel. It was conceived and designed by Marks Barfield Architects and was launched in 2000.
6. TOWER BRIDGE
An iconic London landmark and one of Britain’s best loved historic sites, Tower Bridge is open to the public 363 days a year. Within the Bridge’s iconic structure and magnificent Victorian Engine rooms, the Tower Bridge Exhibition is the best way of exploring the most famous bridge in the world!