From Westminster pier, jump aboard a City Cruises boat (round-trip under £ 20 or $30) to the place where time begins, Greenwich. This hour long trip is fun regardless of sunshine or rain since a member of the boat’s crew will serenade you with a humorous blow-by-blow rendition of famous places along the River Thames. Before you realize an hour has passed, you will be docking at Greenwich.
The first thing you’ll see when you disembark is the white sheeting around Cutty Sark, the last tea clipper in existence.
She is currently being renovated after vandals set her on-fire in 2007 and severally damaged the ship. Completion will be 2012 in time for visitors to the Olympics. And this is only the beginning of English history recorded here.
Besides being the home of Greenwich Mean Time, here is the cradle for the Royal Navy which was the dynamo for the creation of the British Empire. There are two main areas of interest at the Royal Naval College: the Painted Hall and the chapel. If you stand between these buildings and look toward the hill you will see two other important sites, the Queen’s House (Inigo Jones architect) and the Royal Observatory. Christopher Wren, the architect, was commissioned to build the naval hospital, he didn’t want to block the Queen’s view of the River Thames, so he split the buildings, leaving the view unobstructed.
The Painted Hall: Sir James Thornhill worked 19 years to complete the painting of the allegorical Baroque murals that adorn the ceiling and far wall. William and Mary are the central figures with symbols of Virtue surrounding them. At Williams’ foot is Louis XIV groveling, holding a French flag. In the Upper Hall is George I with his family. Look at the bottom right hand corner to see where Thornhill drew himself (a Hitchcock moment for sure). Here is where Admiral Nelson lay in state after he was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar before he was taken for burial at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The Queen’s Chapel: Walking into the chapel, the first thing you see is Benjamin West’s painting, The Preservation of St. Paul after Shipwreck at Malta. Two things outstanding about the chapel are the acoustics (great for concerts) and the organ manufactured by Samuel Green. Free concerts are given the first Sunday of every month and Eucharist is sung every Sunday 11:00. If this chapel looks incredibly familiar it’s because scenes from the movie, Four Weddings and a Funeral, filmed here.
The Royal Observatory: Built in 1675, this is the home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian of the World. The original purpose was to find longitude at sea. The red time ball at the top of the tower is raised at 12:55 and dropped at 1:00 p.m. A line running through the observatory marks the Prime Meridian. You can straddle the line and simultaneously be east and west.
Additional “Don’t Miss” places: