Over the summer last year, we found ourselves in London and decided to explore somewhere that neither Dave or I could remember ever going to before aside from school visits so many years ago. It’s always nice to explore somewhere new as a family so we planned our day out in Greenwich. There are so many things to do in London – and Greenwich specifically – that we decided to visit the world famous Cutty Sark, the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory. We decided to visit all three as a discounted ticket is available if you visit the Cutty Sark and Royal Observatory, and entrance to the National Maritime Museum is free. You can buy these either online or at any of the sites.
We parked up close to Greenwich Park and found that the area was very well sign posted for all the major attractions in the area. You’re also able to visit Greenwich by public transport, walking through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, jumping on one of the MBNA Thames Clippers down the River Thames or even have a trip on the Emirates Cable Car.
We knew the general direction we wanted to head in to get towards the river, and soon picked up signs for the Cutty Sark.
The Cutty Sark
The Cutty Sark launched in November 1869 and was at one time the world’s fastest sailboat. It was most famously used for shipping great quantities of tea all over the globe at record speeds. She now resides in a drydock on the south side of the Thames and is part of a fantastic visitor centre.
We started our visit with a journey through the cargo section of the hull, with authentic crates of tea and other goods stacked up as they would have been when the ship was sailing the globe. There were plenty of interactive screens and videos to watch to enhance our experience and really delve into the history of the ship. The children loved seeing if there were any hiding spaces in the hold to jump out at each other, pretending to be sailors!
As we followed the exhibitions around we soon found ourselves in what was once a crew area and the Captains quarters. This was great fun to explore and we even got to meet authentically costumed members of the crew. We got to stroll out on the main deck in the sunshine for great views of the masts, rigging and sails and even move the ships wheel. The children were loving the experience and were excited to see that below deck, there were even more interactive exhibits, such as an massive electronic map racing game, where the aim is to try and beat the ship’s time using trade winds and a bit of cunning navigation. There was also a bench that didn’t stop moving, simulating being at sea. We got to read some diaries of sailors on board and get a taste of life at sea.
When we were ready to move on, we made our way down a few flights of stairs and found ourselves actually underneath the ship with it’s copper hull literally within touching distance. At least 90% of it is original and It was amazing to think that 150 years ago, it was in the ocean, setting speed records! We also found a huge collection of ships figureheads on display at one end of the area with a reasonably priced café at the other end. The toilet facilities were well kept and clean, and after a quick break for tea and cake, we perused the gift shop to pick up a souvenir magnet of our visit – a bit of a tradition on a day out.
National Maritime Museum
Situated on the edge of Greenwich park, and part of the University of Greenwich is the National Maritime Museum. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, free to enter and home to all manner of artefacts and incredible works of art from around the world. It is mainly dedicated to all things naval and seafaring.
A kids play area is on the ground floor amongst some of the exhibits but we decided to skip past it otherwise we would’ve been there all day! There are hands on exhibits to keep children occupied and the Augmented Reality map on the mezzanine level was really fun, with staff issuing tablets to families so that we could point it to certain points on a massive globe that was on the floor and watch it come to life on the screens. The aim was to collect treasure from around the world before returning to our home port with the loot. It was great fun and we all learned something along the way.
Each wing of the Greenwich museum is home to a different gallery. We were drawn to the Battle of Trafalgar gallery, where we were able to see the actual uniform that Lord Nelson was wearing on that day in 1805, complete with the gruesome bullet hole from the shot that sadly killed him. A Union Flag, flown by HMS Minotaur at the Battle of Trafalgar, is also on display. Artefacts from both sides involved are on display and make a fascinating insight into an event that had global consequences.
The Royal Observatory
The Royal Observatory is world famous as being the home of the Prime Meridian of the world, the London Planetarium and of course, Greenwich Mean Time. It is obviously very popular with tourists and gets busier as the day goes on. We decided to see a tour of the solar system in the Planetarium (at an extra cost) so we booked into a showing later in the day so we could explore the rest of the Royal Observatory first and grab some lunch. The children were looking forward to the show and were keen to see the rest of the site first.
We decided to start our visit to the Greenwich Observatory with the prime Meridian Line experience, which is marked by an actual metal line in the ground, where you can stand in both the eastern and western hemispheres. The kids loved this, and were thrilled to be ‘stood exactly where time begins!’ They had a great time ‘jumping’ around the world and read all about the significance of GMT. They loved visiting the Greenwich line and were fascinated by the different clocks and timepieces on display and learning how to navigate the seas using the stars.
After lunch in the café, it was time for our Planetarium show. We chose the ‘Meet the Neighbours’ which is all about the Solar System. This was an interactive experience hosted by one of the astronomers from the Royal Observatory. He was very knowledgeable and got the whole audience involved, encouraging younger visitors to speak up and really setting their imaginations on fire.
We spent the whole day exploring Greenwich and only really scratched the surface. There is so much more that we could have done in the Greenwich area if we’d had enough time. Things like visiting the Old Royal Naval College and the last of the Royal Museums Greenwich – the Queen’s House. There’s also the famous Greenwich Market and Eltham Palace not too far away as well.
On top of everything else, Greenwich Park is a massive, beautiful green space just moments from central London and with fantastic views of the London City skyline and Canary Wharf it is a great place to spend some quality time with family and friends.