GMT plus more
Maritime Greenwich (or just Greenwich) is one of the five boroughs of London. Perhaps its most famous distinction is being the Prime Meridian of the world: it was here that Greenwich Mean Time was established. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, this beautiful town has an abundance of history stretching back over two thousand years. Located to the south-east of London on the River Thames, Greenwich is comprised of an historic town centre, a public park and a number of important buildings which represent the architectural, artistic and scientific developments in England in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Greenwich was established by Danish settlers in England at the beginning of the 11th century. Before that, a Roman villa had been built on the site, the remains of which can still be seen today; coins have also been found here, dating from the reigns of the Emperors Claudius and Honorius. There is evidence that this land was inhabited since the Bronze Age and possibly even earlier. Under the Vikings the settlement grew into a prosperous fishing town, and remained so for centuries.
From palace to planetarium
When the Normans conquered England, they noted the strategic importance of Greenwich’s hill overlooking the Thames, and built a large manor on the site. In 1427, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (brother to King Henry V) inherited this land, and in 1443 he built the Palace of Placentia. This palace became a favourite retreat of the Tudor monarchs, and Henry VIII and his daughters Mary I and Elizabeth I were all born there.
After the revolution of the 17th century the palace fell into disrepair, and was torn down in 1660 when the monarchy was restored under Charles II; the site is now occupied by the stunning Old Royal Naval College, built as the Royal Hospital for Seamen and probably the most beautiful building in Greenwich. It is a vast complex of two Baroque style buildings overlooking the Thames, with a wide avenue between them leading from the Queen’s House to the River, and lovely green lawns surrounding. It is set in Greenwich Park, which is so gorgeous that Henry VIII claimed it for himself.
Behind this is another fascinating building: the Queen’s House, the only surviving part of the old palace. This 17th century royal manor house was built as a consolation gift for Queen Anne of Denmark after her husband, King James I, raged and swore at her in public for accidentally shooting his favourite dog while they were out hunting. Created by Inigo Jones, its elegant design is inspired by the classical style and clean lines of the Italian Renaissance.
Other attractions at Greenwich include the National Maritime Museum, the Planetarium, and the thousand-year-old St. Alfege Church; the town centre is full of impressive Victorian and Georgian architecture. The Royal Observatory, established by Charles II, is the home of the Prime Meridian and the source of Greenwich Mean Time - but we're sure you'll agree there's plenty more to do here than set your watch.