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Beyond London

How to Plan the Perfect Greenwich Day Trip

If you’re spending long enough in London, it’s worth considering a day trip to see more of England and the countryside. Generally, I advise adding a day trip to your London itinerary if you have six days or longer. But where should you go if you want to do a London day trip? There are lots of choices – but one of my favorite options is to Greenwich. A Greenwich day trip takes you “out” of London – but not really. It feels like a small community within stone’s throw of London that still gives you a different perspective on the city.

In fact, on my first (very) short trip to London, I took a day trip to Greenwich. It was also the first activity I organized for my new group of friends when we moved to London. Based on my experiences then, plus visiting a few times since, it remains one of my favorite places to plan a day trip from London.

In this post I’ll cover everything you need to know to plan your own Greenwich day trip. You’ll learn how to get there (you’ve got options!) plus all the best things to do in Greenwich. Lastly, I wrap it up with a simple itinerary of how I’d fit it all together into a single jam-packed fascinating day in Greenwich.

How to Get to Greenwich

Docklands Light Railway

The best way to get to Greenwich is on the London tube system, of course! (It’s one of the best way to get almost anywhere in London.)

Specifically, you’ll need to take the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to get to Greenwich. The two terminus points in Central London are at Bank Station (Central/Northern) and Tower Hill (Central/District); make sure you board a train heading to Lewisham. You’ll disembark at the Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich to arrive right in the heart of Greenwich for your day trip.

For another option, you can actually catch a Thames river cruise to Greenwich. City Cruises offers cruises from the piers at Westminster, London Eye, and the Tower of London to Greenwich pier (and vice versa). You could choose to do this either coming or going from Greenwich for your day trip.

Either way you get to Greenwich, it only takes about 30 minutes to travel to Greenwich from Central London. Greenwich is also located in Zone 2 so you should be able to visit it easily on your Oyster Card without spending too much.

Things to Do for One Day in Greenwich

Though you only have one day in Greenwich, don’t worry – there’s plenty to do. Below, I’ve listed 12 of the best things to do in Greenwich, but you’ll need to choose only a few for your Greenwich day trip. Read on to decide which ones will make your Greenwich itinerary.

1. Royal Greenwich Observatory

The biggest attraction by far in Greenwich is the Royal Greenwich Observatory. King Charles II commissioned the Royal Observatory in Greenwich in 1675. Sir Christopher Wren originally chose the site, and the Royal Observatory in Greenwich began operations in 1676. In the nearly 350 years since, the Royal Observatory Greenwich has been one of the foundational observatories in the world. Today you can explore the grounds, learning about the astronomy research conducted here.

There is a fee to visit the main parts of the observatory and museum – but you can also visit the telescope dome for free by going in through the gift shop. (Just let them know at the ticket counter that’s all you want to do.)

Pro-tip: Admission to the Royal Observatory is included in the London Pass, saving you £18.

2. Peter Harrison Planetarium

Located on the Royal Observatory grounds, the Peter Harrison Planetarium offers planetarium shows, science lessons for kids, and even concerts and astronomy courses. During a typical Greenwich day trip, you can check the schedule to see which shows will be on during your visit and decide if you want to attend one.

3. Prime Meridian

If you plan to visit (and pay for admission to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich), be sure not to miss the Prime Meridian marker in the main plaza. You’ve likely heard of the Prime Meridian (in geography class) and Greenwich Mean Time (when checking what time it is in London while planning your trip). This is the marker around which all that is based – the actual prime meridian which divides the East and West hemisphere cuts right through Greenwich here!

Trying to visit London on a budget and don’t want to pay? There are several markers on the wall just below the marker (outside the paid area) as well as on the hillside path that leads up to the Royal Observatory past the slopes of Greenwich Park.

4. Cutty Sark

As I mentioned above, you disembark the DLR at “Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich” – but what exactly does that mean? Once you step out of the DLR station and make your way into town, you’ll see: the masts of the Cutty Sark tower over Greenwich.

The Cutty Sark is a British clipper ship that was built in Dumbarton in 1869. She sailed as a trade vessel until 1922 and was one of the fastest ships in the world during her time. Today she stands dry-docked in Greenwich with a gorgeous glass museum that allows you to explore the ship from above and ‘below’ sea level. Fans of maritime history won’t want to skip a trip to the Cutty Sark.

Pro-tip: Admission to the Cutty Sark is included in the London Pass, saving you £17.

5. National Maritime Museum

The National Maritime Museum is another must-see for fans of the high seas; I visited this with my husband on his first Greenwich day trip and was surprised how interesting it was to me – even as a land-lubber!

Inside the museum, you’ll learn all about Britain’s maritime history, including through fascinating displays of maritime engineering and artifacts. This includes a fascinating display of ship figureheads that are beautiful enough to be worthy of London’s other art museums.

6. Old Royal Naval College & The Painted Hall

The Old Royal Naval College might look familiar – the exteriors of these buildings have been used in many movies and TV shows over the years. (When I first visited Greenwich in 2011, they were filming Sherlock Holmes: Book of Shadows there, and I wandered through one of the sets one morning! It was also prominent in Thor: The Dark World.)

It’s what’s inside that will really draw you though: the Painted Hall is the most popular attraction at the Old Royal Naval College. It has been called Britain’s Sistine Chapel, and for good reason! Grab a spot and look up at the beautiful frescos that adorn the walls and ceiling. Afterward, you can stroll outside on the acres of land that the Old Royal Naval College encompasses.

Pro-tip: Admission to the Old Royal Naval College is included in the London Pass, saving you £12.

7. Queen’s House

Greenwich Day Trip - Queen's House

The Queen’s House is another famous building on the sprawling lands of Greenwich; in fact, it’s one of the few original buildings from the Greenwich Palace (also called the Palace of Placentia) that stood here from 1443 to 1660. The Queen’s House was built for Queen Anne of Denmark between 1616 and 1636. It still looks great for almost 400 years old!

The Queen’s House is actually now part of the National Maritime Museum and is displays parts of the substantial collection of maritime paintings and portraits that don’t fit in the nearby museum.

8. Greenwich Park

4 Days in London - Greenwich

I mentioned it briefly earlier, but taking a rest in Greenwich Park is a must during any Greenwich day trip. First of all, Greenwich Park has one of the best viewpoints in London, thanks to its elevation gain near the top. If you want a nice view of Canary Wharf and the Docklands, as well as toward the City of London on a clear day, this is the place.

Also, Greenwich Park is a nicely sized park, at 183 acres. There are plenty of places to stroll and sit, among the trees or out on the slopes. If you don’t love my meal suggestions in the Greenwich day trip itinerary I laid out below, grab a takeaway sandwich from Tesco and come dine al fresco in the park!

9. Greenwich Market

Greenwich Market Sign

All of London’s markets are treasures in their own way; the Greenwich Market is no exception. It combines elements of many other markets into one. Here you’ll find food stalls (like Borough), antiques (like Spitalfields), and fashion (like Petticoat Lane).

The Arts & Crafts part of the market runs Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Weekends, while the Antiques & Collectables part runs Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. (This means Friday is the best day for your Greenwich day trip if you want to visit the Greenwich Market!). Food stalls are available every day.

10. Greenwich Foot Tunnel

Greenwich Day Trip - Foot Tunnel

Perhaps one of the oddest things I did on my first trip to London was the walk from the Docklands to Greenwich through the Foot Tunnel. I don’t know how I discovered it during my research – but it’s definitely one of the most unique things to do in London!

The tunnel was built in 1902 to provide pedestrian crossing under the Thames. It spans 1,215 feet in length at pops up right along the Greenwich riverfront. You could walk to the Docklands and back using the tunnel, or choose to leave Greenwich through the tunnel, walking to nearby Island Gardens DLR station on the Docklands side.

11. Trafalgar Tavern

If you only have time for one meal during your Greenwich day trip, be sure to have it at Trafalgar Tavern. Y’all know I love a good pub, and this one definitely makes my list. Trafalgar Tavern is a riverfront tavern that dates back to 1837; it literally saw it all go by on the Thames! Today the pub is dedicated to Greenwich’s maritime and naval history. The menu features several must-have London foods like fish and chips and bangers and mash.

12. Meantime Brewing Company

Meantime Brewing - Andrew Bowden via Flickr
Photo courtesy of Andrew Bowden via Flickr

When I lived in London, craft beer was first making its appearance in London. There were two main craft breweries to choose from: Camden Town Brewing and Meantime Brewing Company. That gives them both a special place in my heart and memory as they were the only way to get a real IPA instead of a weak lager or other ales at the time.

Meantime Brewing, as you might guess from their name (remember, Greenwich Mean Time), is located in Greenwich. Their facility is located about 1.2 miles from the heart of Greenwich, so about a 20-25 minute walk. However, craft beer fans will find it worth the walk!

A Perfect Greenwich Day Trip Itinerary

Greenwich Day Trip View

Okay now you know all the things to do in Greenwich that I suggest, it’s time to put it together into a Greenwich day trip itinerary. Here’s how I would plan the perfect day in Greenwich:

  • Start early: catch the tube/DLR from your accommodation to Greenwich. (Need extra help on the tube? I’ve got a guide for mastering the London Underground.)
  • After leaving the DLR, head up the hill through Greenwich Park to the Royal Observatory and Prime Meridian. Admire the views along the way.
  • Head down the hill toward the Old Royal Naval College and stop to see the Painted Hall on your way to the river.
  • Enjoy lunch at Trafalgar Tavern.
  • Depending on your interest and time, continue on to Meantime Brewing for another pint, or skip that and head back to the National Maritime Museum and The Queen’s House.
  • End your day by either visiting the Greenwich Market or going into the museum at the Cutty Sark.
  • To depart Greenwich, either take a Thames Cruise back to Central London, or traverse the Greenwich Foot Tunnel to the Docklands and catch the DLR home from there.

And there you have it! A full but fascinating day trip to Greenwich that gets you a bit “out” of London (Greenwich did used to be a resort destination, after all!) but still close enough to see the city and learn a different chapter of its history.

Have questions about planning your own Greenwich day trip? Let me know in the comments!

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