I was just in England and all over the land there were celebrations for Queen Elizabeth’s 60th Anniversary, her Diamond Jubilee.
Only one other monarch has ever had sixty years on the throne, so this is a special event. To mark her Diamond Jubilee, the Queen has made Greenwich a Royal Borough, in honor of the close links between the town and the Royal Family since the Middle Ages, and because of its global significance as the home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian. It’s the first borough to be granted royal status in more than 80 years and only one of four in the country
The opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games draws closer, and Greenwich will be hosting all the equestrian events, as well as the combined running and shooting events of the modern pentathalon.
So, if you fancy experiencing the Games somewhere slightly off the beaten track, Maritime Greenwich (comprising the historic town centre, Royal Park and related institutional buildings) is a World Heritage Site and well worth a detour.
Tucked away down the river, it has an almost rural feel, yet it’s packed with world famous attractions, including the Royal Observatory, the Old Royal Naval College and the National Maritime Museum. I always tell clients, it’s a wonderful day’s outing to take a River Thames Cruise down to Greenwich. Also take one to Kew Gardens, the wonderful Royal Horticultural Botanical Gardens—two very relaxing day trips along the river.
Over the last few years, the London skyline has changed dramatically, with Canary Wharf and Docklands now dwarfing Sir Christopher Wren’s inspired Old Royal Naval College. I can only speculate what Henry VIII, one of Greenwich’s former residents would have made of such progress but the view from the top of Greenwich Park—which dates back to 1433—is still one of the most spectacular in London.
Up on the hill is the most famous building in Greenwich, the Royal Observatory, a scientific site founded by Charles II in 1675 to improve navigation at sea and find the longitude of places, one’s exact position east and west while at sea and out of sight of land. The home of Greenwich Mean Time is the centre of world time and space, the starting point for each new day at the stroke of midnight.
Every place on earth is measured in terms of its distance from Greenwich’s Prime Meridian line—Longitude 0, which divided the earth into eastern and western hemispheres.
Longitude was finally resolved by Yorkshire carpenter-turned-clockmaker, John Harrison. His 18th century marine chronometers are in full working order, and on display in the Harrison Gallery.
London’s only planetarium is also sited here.
The chapel and the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College are a must see.
To fully appreciate what the writer Daniel Defoe of Robinson Crusoe fame described as “the most delightful spot of ground in Great Britain” I recommend you join one of the special interest walks organized by the Greenwich Tour Guide Association. They offer leisurely, yet informative, strolls highlighting all Greenwich has to offer.
Greenwich is just twenty minutes from central London and is easily reached via Docklands Light Railway, or the Southeastern rail service. I like going by river from piers along the River Thames.
If you are planning to visit other London must sees, buy a London Sightseeing Pass which gives you a deal to see over 55 top attractions.
For the budget-conscious visitors, my top tip for a coffee or lunch break goes to the University Café located in the Queen Mary court (under the Chapel) at the Old Royal Naval College. It’s open to both University of Greenwich students and visitors alike with daily specials which won't break the bank or give you a heart attack. It’s always closed on weekends.
If you fancy something a little stronger, the award-winning microbrewery in the grounds of the Old Royal Naval college is worth visiting. This is on the site of the old brew house that supplied pensioners at the Naval Hospital with daily rations of two quarts of beer.
Enjoy learning about British naval history. My father always told me “we have the best Navy in the world.”
Maureen Jones is president of All Horizons Travel at 160 Main Street in Los Altos. Members of her staff are experts in business travel, cruises, and all types of leisure.