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UK: Greenwich, London – National Maritime Museum

The National Maritime Museum is the largest museum in the world dedicated to all things nautical. I had been there many years ago in my youth but wanted to see how things had changed so we decided to visit as part of a day out exploring the suburb of Greenwich in London.

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.

The Museum

When it comes to exploration trade, shipping and navigation, no other country in the world has a more advanced naval history than Britain’s. As a matter of fact, Britain has such a vast and important maritime history, it’s often associated with British culture and identity. That’s why the National Maritime Museum is considered to be a treasure trove for any naval enthusiast, young or old.

The National Maritime Museum first opened in 1937, although the building was originally used as a school for children of seafarers during the 1800s, and has since been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area of Greenwich where the museum stands today was once a critical location for Britain’s maritime history, as it connected to London’s docks via the River Thames, and more recently, to the Canary Wharf.

Today the National Maritime Museum boasts being the largest museum of its kind in the world, and attracts more than 750,000 visitors each year. It’s also part of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site, which includes the nearby Royal Observatory, Cutty Sark and Queen’s House.

The museum is located on three floors (see the floor plan here). My personal favourite galleries were:

  • Polar World (2nd floor)
  • Tudor and Stuart Seafarers (2nd floor)
  • Nelson, Navy Nation (2nd floor)
Prince Frederick's Barge

The Polar World

I have long had a fascination with the extremes of exploration. The early exploration of the polar regions, in particular, Antarctica, holds so many stories of bravery and endurance. The people who set out on these journeys were amazing, if somewhat crazy.

The British explorers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were leaders in exploration, often in the name of the Queen/King and country. The likes of Shackleton and Scott are legendary.

The Polar World exhibit provides insight into the significance of the north and south Poles to the world as a whole. The exhibit also has footage, photos and artefacts from the early explorations. The explorers sometimes used dogs to pull the sledges (and also ate them when needed) but often pulled these heavy loads on foot in extreme weather conditions. Many died in the attempts to explore the region.

An example of a loaded sledge used by polar explorers
The Polar World Exbiti
The North Pole Map
The somewhat primitive sleeping bags used by Polar Explorers
Examples of equipment used by the polar explorers

Tudor and Stuart Seafarers

This gallery tells the stories of exploration, adventure, power, wealth and conflict including the Spanish Armada, Christopher Columbus, pirates and privateers. There are over 130 objects including models of the types of ships that sailed the seas, equipment used for navigating often uncharted waters and portraits of some of the important characters of the time.

The Tudors and Stuarts Seafarers Exhibits
Models of ships from the time of the Tudors and Stuarts

Nelson, Navy Nation

This gallery tells the story of the Royal Navy and the British people, from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to the defeat of Napoleon in 1815.

From bustling dockyards to ferocious sea battles, Nelson, Navy, Nation brings to life the tumultuous 18th century, exploring how the Royal Navy shaped everyday lives as it became a central part of society, and turned seafarers into national celebrities.

Discover what made men join up, how they lived and what kept them in line, and how the Navy loomed large in all areas of the popular imagination, from caricatures to keepsakes and collectables.

The gallery also includes personal items belonging to Nelson, including the uniform he was wearing when he was fatally wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar

The Nelson, navy and nation exhibit
A model of HMS Victory, Nelson's ship
The gallery tells the story of the defeat of Napoleon Bonapart's fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar
Naval uniforms from the time of Horatio Nelson

The Great Map Cafe

Located on the first floor of the National Maritime Museum, this open-plan café sits alongside the Great Map, a giant world atlas.

The Great Map Cafe

Planning your visit to Greenwich

GETTING THERE

By boat
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.

By car:
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).

TICKETS

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.

Address:Romney Rd, London SE10 9NF
Website:https://www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum
Telephone:T: +44 20 8858 4422
Hours:Open daily | 10am-5pm
Fees:

Free but we recommend booking tickets online in advance to guarantee entry.

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!

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