18 Top Attractions in Greenwich & Docklands Districts, London
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The banks of the eastern section of the River Thames - both the north and the south sides - are home to many of London's most interesting areas. It's here you'll find historic Greenwich, just six miles downstream of Tower Bridge. Long the traditional London base of the Royal Navy, today it's home to the largest expanses of preserved historic architecture and parkland in England.
Across the river, on its northern banks of the Thames, is the revitalized Docklands. Easily accessible from central London by the excellent Docklands Light Railway, this revitalized area was once bustling with ships traveling to and from the far-flung corners of the British Empire. But these days, it's a very different kind of trading that goes on here now. Today, the Docklands area has been transformed into an international place of business, finance, and sightseeing, with modern business premises, hotels, recreation areas, and housing.
Part of the fun of exploring this part of London is getting from one side of the river to the other. In addition to being serviced by frequent ferries and pleasure cruises, the two banks are connected by the unique Victorian-era Greenwich Foot Tunnel, which joins the north and south banks. They're also connected by a modern scenic cable car, too.
However you intend on getting here, plan your visit to this vibrant area with our list of the top attractions in London's Greenwich and Docklands districts.
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
1. The Majestic Cutty Sark
The majestic Cutty Sark - the last of the 19th-century tea clippers that once sailed between Britain and China - was built in 1869 and was the finest and fastest ship of its day. Laid up in Greenwich in 1956, it's now part of a superb museum that includes an interesting collection of old ships' figureheads, prints and drawings, as well as mementos of its many voyages.
A new component of this tourist attraction is being able to walk underneath the vessel for a barnacle's view of its magnificent hull. If you've got the time, consider booking the great afternoon tea experience here - you can replenish your energy levels while staring up at the ship's hull.
Address: King William Walk, Greenwich Peninsula, London
Official site: www.rmg.co.uk/cutty-sark
2. Old Royal Naval College
No visit to Greenwich should omit the Painted Hall and Chapel of the Old Royal Naval College. The College stands on ground once occupied by a palace belonging to Edward I and later Henry VII and was where Henry VIII was born, married Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves, and later signed the death warrant of Anne Boleyn.
A new palace was completed by Wren in 1696 for Charles II and soon after became a hospital for disabled seamen. Notable features of the Chapel are the altarpiece, titled St. Paul's Shipwreck, by Benjamin West and the round pulpit, lectern, and font, made of wood from the old dockyard at Deptford. It's also where you'll find the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre, with its exhibits showcasing over 500 years of maritime history.
Address: King William Walk, Greenwich Peninsula, London
Official site: www.ornc.org
3. Queen's House
A Palladian mansion designed by Inigo Jones, Queen's House is a masterpiece of Classical architecture. It's perhaps most notable for its symmetrical proportions and fine marble floors, as well as its wrought-iron balustrades and carved and painted ceilings. Begun in 1617, the house had been commissioned by James I but wasn't completed until 1629.
With Greenwich Park as its garden, Queen's House epitomizes the entire art form of royal residences and is considered the first Renaissance building in England. Today, visitors can also enjoy the property's superb collection of fine art. Excellent guided tours are also available.
Address: Romney Road, Greenwich, London
Official site: www.rmg.co.uk/queens-house
4. National Maritime Museum
The impressive collection of the National Maritime Museum - the largest of its kind in the world - illustrates the history of the Royal Navy from Tudor and Stuart times to the Napoleonic Wars. Housed in the two wings of Queen's House, the museum opened in 1937 and contains superb seascapes by William Turner, as well as portraits of famous seamen by Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough.
Of special interest to kids is the huge interactive world map used to display details of some of the most famous events in naval history. Other highlights include displays related to the Arctic convoys of WWII, Lord Nelson, and the East India Company. Guided tours and educational programs are worth looking into, too.
Address: Romney Road, Greenwich, London
Official site: www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum
5. Greenwich Park
The views toward the city and the River Thames from Greenwich Park are wonderful and likely the best you'll experience in London. It's especially memorable at sunset. If visiting at dusk, don't be in a hurry to leave after the public address system announces the park's closure. Instead, take your time, and take the longest route back down to the river.
Adjacent to the park is the Ranger's House, home to the Wernher Collection with its displays of jewelry, glassware, antique silverware, and paintings. If you can linger a little longer, there's also a pleasant café on-site.
Official site: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/greenwich-park
6. Old Royal Observatory and Flamsteed House
The Royal Observatory was founded in 1675 by Charles II to promote safer navigation. It was originally housed in Flamsteed House, which was designed specifically for the purpose by Sir Christopher Wren. After the Royal Observatory moved to Herstmonceux near Hastings in Sussex in the 1950s, Flamsteed House has been used to showcase a collection of old astronomical instruments in what's now known as the Astronomy Centre.
On a mast topping one of the building's towers is a red time ball that drops at 1pm every day, a device originally intended to enable vessels in the river to regulate their chronometers. The zero meridian of longitude, dividing the world into eastern and western halves, runs through the Meridian Building, and is marked by a steel rod in the floor.
A huge dome dominates the Equatorial Building, which houses Britain's largest telescope and the excellent Peter Harrison Planetarium.
Address: Blackheath Ave, London
Official site: www.rmg.co.uk/royal-observatory
7. Greenwich Market
Greenwich Market is a vibrant arts and crafts market dating to the 1830s. While once just a produce market, it now also houses over 120 stalls selling a range of goods, including antiques, arts and crafts, collectibles, as well as food stalls.
This pleasant covered market also hosts an occasional farmers market, and many cafés and restaurants can be found close by. Open seven days a week, it's a fun way to spend a little time (and money).
Address: 5B Greenwich Market, East Greenwich, London
Official site: www.greenwichmarketlondon.com
8. The Greenwich Foot Tunnel
Both sides of the Thames in East London are well worth exploring. In fact, one of the best ways to do so is on foot, taking time to enjoy the many parks and green spaces you'll encounter while exploring the area's numerous excellent art galleries and museums. In fact, if walking is your thing, one of the top free things to do in London is take the historic Greenwich Foot Tunnel.
Connecting the Isle of Dogs area on the north bank of the Thames to Greenwich, this remarkable feat of engineering was built in 1902 and is a fun and fascinating way to cross (under!) the river. The Greenwich entrance to the tunnel is impossible to miss. Looking not unlike a mini-version of London's famous Albert Hall, it's located right next to the Cutty Sark.
If you have the time (and energy!), you can in fact make a pleasant loop tour by heading back to the north bank of the Thames via the Woolwich Foot Tunnel located east of Greenwich.
9. Emirates Air Line Experience
Another way to complete your Thames crossing "loop" is aboard the Emirates Air Line Experience. This fun cable car attraction has been providing visitors with spectacular London views since it opened in 2012.
Connecting Greenwich to Royal Victoria Dock in the Docklands area, the one-kilometer journey only takes a few minutes, but offers incredible selfie and memorable photo opportunities along the way. The cable cars operate until 11am each night, and offer equally spectacular evening views of London's skyline when it's lit up after dark.
Address: Unit 1, 2, 3 & 4 Emirates Cable Car Terminal, Edmund Halley Way, London
10. Thames Flood Barrier
The Thames Barrier was constructed across the river near Woolwich, eight miles east of Tower Bridge in 1984 to prevent flooding upstream. This technical masterpiece, 569 yards wide, is the world's second largest movable flood barrier and sits atop huge piers supporting the steel gates that keep floodwaters out.
While visits to the actual barrier aren't permitted, there are good views from a riverside walk, and the visitor center has interesting displays concerning the construction and functioning of the barrier.
Official site: www.gov.uk/guidance/the-thames-barrier
11. The O2
Formerly known as the Millennium Dome and constructed as a celebration of the year 2000, the O2 has since evolved into one of London's top entertainment and concert venues. Today, the massive dome-shaped structure incorporates a music club (indigO2), the world's busiest concert hall (the O2 Arena), 11 movie screens, exhibition space (the O2 bubble), cafés and restaurants, as well as excellent views of Greenwich and both banks of the Thames.
The best views are from the superb Up at The O2 attraction, a thrilling 624-foot walkway stretching across the building's roof and with a spectacular viewing platform halfway along.
Location: Peninsula Square, London
Official site: www.theo2.co.uk
12. St. Katharine's Dock
St. Katharine's Dock, once considered a slum, is now one of the hippest areas of London's revitalized East End and has managed to keep much of its original character. Many of the old warehouses have been converted to dwellings, while important buildings, including the Dock Master's residence, the Dickens' Inn (1800), and the Ivory House (originally a store for ivory constructed in an Italian style) have all been carefully renovated.
While a number of new buildings were also added, these were cleverly concealed behind old facades, and a newer addition, a food market, has also proven popular. St. Katharine's Dock is located handily beside Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, and Tobacco Dock, and makes a perfect place to get away from the crowds as you explore this historic riverside attraction.
Official site: www.skdocks.co.uk
13. Museum of London Docklands
The Museum of London Docklands is located in the old Georgian warehouses on the north wharf of West India Docks, the Isle of Dog's last surviving multi-story warehouses from that period.
The Museum explores the story of London's river, port, and people from Roman times to the recent regeneration of the Docklands, and its many galleries feature fun hands-on displays targeted to children.
Address: No1 Warehouse, West India Quay, London
Official site: www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands
14. Canary Wharf
The highlight of Isle of Dogs is Canary Wharf, the most ambitious development in the Docklands. This self-contained mini-city covers 69 acres and consists of a multitude of towers housing international financial institutions, with Canary Wharf Tower being the tallest.
The area is interesting to stroll around and contains many cafés and restaurants, as well as Island Gardens Park, a pleasant three-acre waterfront green space. The views of the Cutty Sark, the National Maritime Museum, along with Greenwich Park are phenomenal, and from here, you can walk the Greenwich Foot Tunnel under the Thames to Greenwich and its many attractions on the south bank of the Thames.
Official site: http://canarywharf.com/
15. St. Anne's Limehouse
St. Anne's Limehouse, built between 1712 and 1724, is the principal church of the Docks of London. The creation of Nicholas Hawksmoor, a student of Christopher Wren, it was restored in the mid 1800s and remains one of the landmark attractions in Limehouse, thanks largely to its clocktower, the highest church clock in London.
Address: Commercial Rd E14, London
Official site: www.stanneslimehouse.org
16. Museum of the Home
The Museum of the Home presents furniture and household objects from the 17th to 20th centuries in the former poorhouses of the Ironmongers' Company. Each room is furnished to represent different English styles from middle class homes, complete with furniture, textiles, paintings, decorative arts, and other household items. There are also period gardens and an excellent walled herb garden.
The museum's Learning and Education Centre contains a library on relevant subject matters and also presents a variety of programs and workshops.
Address: Kingsland Road, London
Official site: www.museumofthehome.org.uk
17. Eltham Palace
Eltham Palace is one of England's most stylish 1930s country houses and is built on the site of a former 14th-century palace inhabited by Edward IV and Henry VIII. Along with its superb Art Deco interior are the extraordinary gardens around the palace, as well as a moat planted with water lilies.
Nearby Sutton House is also worth a visit and is a rare example of a Tudor red brick house. Built in 1535, its many early details are on display in rooms like the Linenfold Parlour, with its Tudor oak-paneled walls carved to mimic cloth. There's also a fun adventure playground for kids, as well as a café and shop.
Address: Court Yard, Eltham, Greenwich, London
18. Whitechapel Art Gallery
A great selection of modern and contemporary art is on display at the Whitechapel Art Gallery. Designed by Charles Harrison Townsend and opened in 1901, it has since developed an international reputation as one of the key galleries of modern art and is famous for having premiered world-class artists such as Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock.
In addition to its stunning art exhibits, it also hosts many lectures and films. For a fun experience, check into one of the regular late night "after hours" gallery openings.
Address: 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London
Official site: www.whitechapelgallery.org
Where to Stay in London's Greenwich and Docklands Districts for Sightseeing
We recommend these conveniently located hotels with easy access to top attractions like Canary Wharf and the O2 Arena:
- InterContinental London - The O2: This riverside luxury hotel in Canary Wharf features floor-to-ceiling windows, multiple restaurants, and a wonderful spa.
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel London ExCel: Featuring mid-range pricing and great water views, this hotel offers warm cookies at check-in, and a well-equipped fitness center.
- Novotel London Greenwich: This Greenwich hotel offers affordable rates, modern rooms, a hammam, and a fitness center.
- Point A Hotel, London Canary Wharf: This popular budget hotel is set in a great location with a friendly staff and compact rooms with comfy beds.
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Take the Tube: The city's fantastic Underground system, or "the Tube" as it's more commonly referred to, makes exploring London's top attractions and things to do extremely easy and affordable. Easy-to-get-to-by-Tube points of interest include magnificent Buckingham Palace (nearest Tube: Westminster or Hyde Park), the historic Tower of London (nearest Tube: Tower Hill), and iconic Trafalgar Square (nearest tube: Charing Cross), to name but a few.
Fun Day Trips from London: Britain's rail network is also extremely efficient and can whisk you away to explorations of London's surrounding attractions. Popular choices include Hampton Court and Windsor Castle, fun-to-visit royal palaces on London's outskirts, and the university towns of Oxford and Cambridge, each an easy rail ride away.
UK Vacation Ideas: Few places to visit on the planet exude the same romantic charm as the Somerset town of Bath, famous for its Roman baths and exquisite Georgian architecture, and widely considered one of the country's most attractive urban vacation destinations. Other great vacation ideas include Canterbury in Kent, famous for its medieval cathedral and old city center, and attractive Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace and one of the country's best-preserved Elizabethan market towns.