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Greenwich: Home of Time

Everywhere on earth is measured in terms of its distance east or west from the Greenwich Meridian. Visitors to Greenwich in London can stand on the Prime Meridian Line and discover the remarkable story of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

Greenwich_and_the_River_Thames_c_VisitBritain_-_Jason_Hawkes.jpgGreenwich and the River Thames © VisitBritain / Jason Hawkes

Since the late 19th century, the Greenwich Meridian has divided the eastern and western hemispheres of the earth, just as the equator divides the northern and southern hemispheres.

In 1884 the Prime Meridian was defined by British Astronomer Royal Sir George Airy using the remarkable Transit Circle telescope he developed at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, which can be seen to this day. The cross-hairs in the eyepiece of the telescope precisely defined Longitude 0° for the world.

_DSC3095-3_Alan_Layers_CMYK_edited_-_Copy.jpgLongitude 0° © National Maritime Museum

The decision to locate the Prime Meridian in Greenwich was two-fold. The first reason was that the USA had already chosen Greenwich as the basis for its own national time zone system. The second was that in the late 19th century, 72% of the world's commerce depended on sea-charts which used Greenwich as the Prime Meridian. Choosing Greenwich as Longitude 0º was therefore advantageous to the largest number of people. 

S2088-039_-_Copy.jpgStanding on the Prime Meridian Line © National Maritime Museum

The Royal Observatory in Greenwich is well worth visiting to learn all about Greenwich Mean Time and how Greenwich became the 'Home of Time'. As well as standing on the Prime Meridian, visitors can explore the stars in the London Planetarium, learn all about John Harrison’s epic race to solve the longitude problem and admire the craftsmanship of his world-famous clocks, visit Flamsteed House where the Astronomers Royal once lived and worked, and marvel at the telescopes and astronomical instruments on display. 

_38A5000_edit_BlueSky_-_Copy.jpgThe Royal Observatory © National Maritime Museum

The London Borough of Greenwich, on the banks of the River Thames, offers lots of other fascinating things for visitors to see and do.

The Old Royal Naval College is the architectural centrepiece of ‘Maritime Greenwich’, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The buildings were originally constructed as the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1696 and 1712. The hospital closed in 1869 and became the Royal Naval College between 1873 and 1998. Highlights for visitors include the fabulous Painted Hall and the Chapel.

Old_Royal_Naval_College_Greenwich_c_VisitBritain_-_Jason_Hawkes.jpgThe Old Royal Naval College © VisitBritain / Jason Hawkes

The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College is known as Britain's Sistine Chapel and is steeped in 600 years of history - a stunning masterpiece as this short film shows.

The huge National Maritime Museum is home to the world’s most important collection relating to the history of Britain at sea and holds over two million items, including maritime art, cartography, manuscripts, official public records, ship models and plans. Treasures include Nelson’s Trafalgar coat and JMW Turner’s masterpiece, the Battle of Trafalgar.

Visitors to Greenwich can explore Cutty Sark, the world’s only surviving tea clipper, which recently celebrated its 150th anniversary. This iconic ship was the fastest sailing ship of its time and is now an award-winning attraction, forming part of the Royal Museums Greenwich.

F6025-002.jpgQueen’s House © National Maritime Museum

The 400-year old Queen’s House in Greenwich is famous as the first Classical building in England, built by renowned English architect Inigo Jones. Today, the Queen’s House is also known for its world class fine art collection, which includes works by the likes of Gainsborough, Reynolds, Turner and Hogarth. Art masterpieces include the instantly recognisable Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, and visitors to the house should look out for the fabulous Tulip Stairs and Great Hall.

Some of the many other attractions in Greenwich include Eltham Palace and Gardens – the childhood home of Henry VIII, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, Greenwich Park, Greenwich Market and the O2 Arena. England’s only urban cable car offers breathtaking rides across the River Thames and indeed boats arrive and depart Greenwich regularly to and from the centre of London.

Greenwich_Park_c_VisitBritain_-_Katya_Katkova.jpgRelaxing in Greenwich Park © VisitBritain / Katya Katkova

For those interested in maritime history and the story of the modern day system of time, there is nowhere better to explore than Greenwich. There is so much to see and do that it is easy to fill a couple of days, and if the weather is good, it can be delightful to sit and enjoy the views of London or take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront.

If you or your group would like to enjoy a visit to Greenwich on a tailor-made tour of London or indeed England and the UK, please do contact our friendly team and we will put together the perfect itinerary for you. 

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