Greenwich, London: A Pocket-Sized Neighbourhood Guide
Updated: Feb 10
I have called this leafy royal borough home for six years now, yet it has only been over the course of the last few months that I've truly appreciated how fortunate I am to be here. Which is ironic, considering Mr B and I are now in the process of selling our flat and moving to more rural, commuter-belt territory next year! But living through a pandemic has, if nothing else, been a teacher. It has opened all of our eyes to the beauty in our own backyards and reminded us that even exploring domestically is an adventure. So whether you're a London local looking to fall in love with a new corner of the city, a day-tripper searching for inspiration or a restless wanderer planning some post-pandemic travels - this little neighbourhood guide to Greenwich is for you!
When people think of Greenwich, they often only envisage its nautical centre - comprised of the Maritime Museum, Cutty Sark, Old Royal Naval College and the Observatory. But the borough of Greenwich takes up a whole sprawling mass of Southeast London, covering areas such as the green open spaces of Charlton, Eltham with its Tudor trimmings, and the adorable village of Blackheath, packed with a patchwork of boutiques and eateries. There is no other district in London quite like it, and I'm so excited to share some of its most fascinating parts with you...
Please note that, due to growing cases of coronavirus, some of the venues and attractions mentioned in this post may be operating differently for the foreseeable future. Always check their websites before visiting and stick to the HANDS - FACE - SPACE principles. Thank you, x.
GREENWICH, LONDON: A POCKET-SIZED NEIGHBOURHOOD GUIDE
Pictured: Panorama from the top of Observatory Hill, Greenwich Park.
MARITIME HISTORY, MUSEUMS & MARKETS
Let's start where everybody does - in Maritime Greenwich! This UNESCO World Heritage Site is where the east literally meets the west, with the Prime Meridian line slicing through it just as the Equator does with the northern and southern hemispheres. At the Royal Observatory, visitors are able to walk the line itself and straddle both halves of the world at once, making it an ever-popular tourist site. There are also daily planetarium shows on offer, as well as a whole menagerie of astrological artefacts to learn about - from telescopes to timepieces.
Pictured: The Royal Observatory, Greenwich.
In keeping with this theme, why not descend down the hill on which the Observatory stands to discover the Old Royal Naval College and National Maritime Museum? The former, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, being where eager recruits of the Royal Navy (like my very own dad) used to train and the latter a shrine to Britain's sea-faring legacy.
Pictured: The Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich.
The Old Royal Naval College has worn many different hats in its history, having served as a hospital and now a great cultural monument - even a recognisable filming location! It is currently closed to the public due to national restrictions in England, but you can still walk around the grounds. And should you need to satisfy your curiosity in the interim, a virtual tour of the Painted Hall is also available. When the College reopens again, make sure not to miss the Black Greenwich Pensioners exhibition, running until 7th March 2021.
Pictured: Nelson's Ship in a Bottle and the Ghost Meridian installation, National Maritime Museum.
Since opening in 1937, the National Maritime Museum's collection has grown to become one of the most impressive of its kind in the world, holding such treasures as Admiral Nelson's coat from the Battle of Trafalgar (complete with fatal bullet-hole) and Turner's painted interpretation of the same conflict. In the courtyard outside the institution's Sammy Ofer Wing, is the eye-catching Ship in a Bottle, a replica of HMS Victory. You can also currently view the partially open-air art installation, Ghost Meridian. Created by the BLKBRD Collective, this project explores humanitarian themes closely linked to Britain's maritime heritage: migration, slavery and colonialism.
Pictured: Cutty Sark, Greenwich.
No trip to Maritime Greenwich would be complete without feasting your eyes upon the famous ship that gives the nearby Docklands Light Railway station its name. The Cutty Sark was the fastest vessel of its time, originally built to transport tea from China but having also carried coal, wool and alcohol in its cargo. It is the last surviving model of its design - the tea-clipper - and has lived through storms, war and many other hardships to still be here today.
Pictured: Entrance to Greenwich Market | The Fan Museum, Greenwich.
If all this talk of ships and sailing has left you feeling all at sea (sorry!) then maybe it's time for something a little different... starting with the Fan Museum! Housed within a pair of smart Georgian terraces, the Fan Museum exhibits a variety of fans from numerous cultures dating back as far as the 12th century. On first impressions, the premise may seem a little eccentric, but closer inspection shows an immense level of artistry to these little accessories - proving that the fan is not simply for just wafting on a sweaty summer's day!
A short walk from here lies Greenwich Market, a haven of delight for the senses which sells everything from street food to fashion, art and antiques. This is one of my favourite spots in the area for eating and exploring, so make sure you add it to your list! There's also a trend for farmers' markets in the borough, showcasing the very best fresh products and local artisans. For instance, Blackheath Farmers' Market runs every Sunday in the train station's car park, and Woolwich's Royal Arsenal Farmers' Market opens for business on the second and last Saturday of each month.
PARKS & PALACES
What I love most about Greenwich is (no pun intended) how green it is. Breathing in the perfumed air of Greenwich Park, it's easy to forget you're in London - until the concrete jungle of Canary Wharf rises up through the trees, and then you know exactly where you are! Even so, it is an absolute joy to meander round and full of interesting details which include the Ranger's House (aka Bridgerton House), a rose garden, an orchard and a deer park. The most baffling of its features is Queen Caroline's Bath - the last remnant of Montague House, where the estranged wife of King George IV once lived. The marriage was turbulent to say the least, culminating in the demolition of Queen Caroline's former home after she was exiled to mainland Europe.
Pictured: Details in Greenwich Park.
But it's not all about you, Greenwich Park! There are so many gorgeous green spaces all across the borough - over 50 in fact, ranging from Blackheath in the west to Oxleas Woods in the east:
Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park. Part of a new housing development in North Greenwich, this urban park is a wetland retreat and wildlife reserve. Perfect for families and nature lovers.
Sutcliffe Park. My local - lush with trees, rushes and reeds! There's a resident swan family, secluded boardwalks and peaceful meadows. Perfect for picnics and morning runs.
Woolwich Common. Overlooking the Royal Artillery Barracks, Woolwich Common is a vast, open space combining wild landscapes and sweeping lawns. Perfect for long strolls.
Blackheath. A wide stretch of grassy field with a duck pond, bandstand and Bonfire Night fireworks every November. Perfect for kite-flyers and dog-walkers.
Oxleas Woods. Forming a cluster of ancient forestland along with Castle Wood and Jack Wood, Oxleas Woods are 8,000 years old and reminiscent of a Tolkien novel. Perfect for adventurers.
Pictured: The common at Blackheath.
Elsewhere in the neighbourhood, are elaborate reminders of a regal past. Greenwich actually used to have its own palace, The Palace of Placentia, where Henry VIII and Elizabeth I both were born. Nowadays the Old Royal Naval College stands in its place, with its name all but forgotten. But worry ye not, for we still possess the beguiling jewel in the borough's crown that is Eltham Palace! After beginning life as a medieval mansion, Eltham has evolved out of a tapestry of influences and eras, predominantly Tudor and Art-Deco. It is currently owned by a millionaire couple, who have certainly put their own stamp on the décor, but it played host to a number of British monarchs in its heyday. Aside from its eclectic interiors, the Eltham Palace estate encompasses beautifully manicured gardens and a striking moat.
Back over in Greenwich Park, the exquisitely symmetrical Queen's House dominates the view from the foot of Observatory Hill. Not exactly a palace per se, its royal credentials hinge on the fact that it was commissioned to be a private retreat for Anne of Denmark, wife of James I. Sadly, Anne passed away before construction was completed and wasn't able to sample the curves of its staircases or the echoes of its grand halls. But you can, given it's now in use as a public art gallery.
Pictured; Front and rear elevations of The Queen's House, Greenwich.
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The appeal of Greenwich doesn't exclusively lie in its historic monuments and acres of parkland; it has a modern, up-and-coming side just bursting with colour, sound and spectacle!
The O2. Having started out as The Millennium Dome, the O2 has since flourished into a dazzling arena for live performance, welcoming a truckload of celebrities through its doors across two decades' worth of concerts and events. It also houses a diverse selection of restaurants, shopping outlets, a bowling alley, cinema and the immersive dining experience, Mamma Mia! The Party. You can even climb up onto its roof to survey the Southeast London skyline!
The Line. An art-walk extending from the O2 Arena all the way to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, following the Prime Meridian and the area's characteristic waterways.
Greenwich Picturehouse. I think Picturehouse cinemas always have an air of classical coolness about them that larger movie theatres lack; an aura of understated elegance that feels a little like you've travelled back in time. Greenwich Picturehouse is no exception, and under normal circumstances would be showing several films a day on each of its five screens.
Blackheath Halls. An intimate arts centre showcasing a range of theatre, comedy, music, dance and community-led projects. Part of the prestigious Trinity Laban School Conservatoire of Music and Drama, the rooms at Blackheath Halls are often filled with student activity and song.
Greenwich Theatre. A leading off-West End venue, Greenwich Theatre attracts audiences of all ages and tastes with its vibrant programme that would typically incorporate seasonal pantomime, retellings of well-loved stories and new work by emerging artists.
Festivals. Greenwich Borough - like many neighbourhoods all over the world - comes alive with festival vibes every summer (except 2020, obvs!) with a schedule that usually includes popular favourites such as Greenwich Music Time, Greenwich Book Festival and Greenwich & Docklands International Festival.
QUAINT & QUIRKY VILLAGES
Another endearing attribute to this area of the Big Smoke is its cosy villages. Coming to London from a sleepy parish in the Midlands countryside means I often long for that signature community spirit and olde-worlde charm - so what a treat I don't have to wander far to find it!
Blackheath is the best example of this. From its quiet lanes lined with wisteria-clad villas to a picturesque high-street dotted with chic clothing stores, bakeries, bookshops and wine bars, Blackheath really is something special. Splendid in any season, there are warming cafés to recline in on a chilly winter day and beer gardens a-plenty surrounding a choice of friendly pubs for sticky summer happy-hours. Why not take a scenic stroll over the rolling heath at sunset before dining at a lovely local restaurant, whether it be a French affair at Côte Brasserie, which has never disappointed, or some unpretentious Modern British flair at Copper and Ink, owned by 2015 MasterChef finalist Tony Rodd.
Pictured: All Saints Church, Blackheath | The Bookshop on the Heath, Blackheath.
On the other side of the wide open spaces of Blackheath Common and Greenwich Park, is the bustling heart of Greenwich itself. Catch the sting of salt and vinegar on the breeze as you drift past traditional haunts like pie-and-mash shops and fish-and-chip bars on your path to lively markets and unique museums. Marvel at the mixes of architecture, mash-ups of the old with the new, and divine scenery; marrying together to create an aesthetic that falls somewhere between Dickensian shabbiness and Renaissance grandeur.
Pictured: A pop-up coffee shop on Greenwich High Road | Nevada Street, Greenwich.
Full disclosure: I generally loathe the term 'hidden gem', as nothing is ever really hidden, but sometimes there are things so mysterious and inconspicuous that no better phrase will do...
Take the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, for instance. It took me the best part of five years to discover that the plump little building near the Cutty Sark - the one I always thought was a public toilet designed to resemble a shrunken lighthouse or Willy Wonka's glass elevator - is, in fact, the south entrance to Greenwich Foot Tunnel. Originally opened in 1902, the passageway snakes under the River Thames and connects Maritime Greenwich with the Isle of Dogs. It really is a mind-boggling triumph of engineering, and almost feels too good to be true that you can venture down it for free!
Pictured: The south entrance to Greenwich Foot Tunnel, next to Cutty Sark.
Towards the end of last year, I heard about the existence of Severndroog Castle; a Gothic folly in Shooter's Hill built to commemorate a man called Sir William James, at the request of his widow. Buried in thick woodland, the tower boasts a viewing platform, tearoom and small museum outlining its long history. The trust who cares for Severndroog have recently committed to interrogating its links to the colonisation of India, given James' position as commander with the Bombay Marine and director of the East India Company.
During Lockdown 1.0, I set out to find Severndroog Castle and made the steep ascent to its position within Castle Wood. Understandably it was closed, so I just studied it from the outside. It is a truly astonishing place, set within peaceful surroundings and steeped in enigma, until it's possible to return and learn more.
Pictured: Severndroog Castle, in the middle of Castle Wood in Shooter's Hill.
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EATING OUT IN GREENWICH
Greenwich's gastronomic landscape is about as rich and varied as you could imagine, offering options to appease every preference and price point. Don't know where to start? Here's a list of ten foodie highlights to consider when travelling around the Royal Borough of Greenwich, from tempting taverns and coffee stops to casual lunch spots and fine-dining restaurants:
Buenos Aires Café, Blackheath. An authentic Argentinian bodega specialising in succulent steaks cooked on the grill; washed down with good wine and lashings of chimichurri.
Zero Degrees, Blackheath. A micro-brewery and trendy restaurant with a laid-back atmosphere and menu revolving around freshly baked pizzas. Try the white base with roasted garlic chicken!
The Hare & Billet, Blackheath. Pub culture is massive in London, and Greenwich has its fair share of traditional taprooms. This is one of my top picks; the staff are superb, and the food is comforting and delicious. I adore their fish and chips, and the charter pie is like a tender hug!
The Ivy Café, Blackheath. This sophisticated chain has now pitched up in cosmopolitan Blackheath, peddling accessible luxury in the shape of exotic cocktails, weekend brunches and decadent dinners.
Craft London, Greenwich Peninsula. The best of both worlds, Craft London is made up of a ground-floor café selling fresh coffee and pastries, and an upper fine-dining restaurant where dishes are created around in-house smoked and cured ingredients, as well as vegetables grown nearby on the Peninsula jetty.
The InterContinental at the O2, Greenwich Peninsula. This sumptuous hotel is perfectly situated to complement a night of entertainment at the O2. Whether you're simply seeking a post-show beverage, a lavish lunch or evening a la carte, the InterContinental has it all.
Five Guys at the O2, Greenwich Peninsula. Everyone has their own favourite burger joint, and Five Guys is mine! Their patties are proper juicy, slapped between a soft seeded bun and dripping with an extensive list of topping choices. Go "all the way" with a side of Cajun fries for the full filthy experience!
The Gipsy Moth, Maritime Greenwich. This characterful pub next to the Cutty Sark is most-loved for its Sunday roasts. They don't hang around though, so book an earlier sitting to avoid disappointment.
Champagne + Fromage, Maritime Greenwich. Because what could be better than a bistro serving up zingy bubbles and oozy cheeses!? There is nothing more to say!
Crosstown Doughnuts & Coffee, Greenwich Market. So much more than just doughnuts, these sweet treats are made completely from scratch by dedicated hands. They've come a long way from humble beginnings trading at Leather Lane Market, and produce a plethora of exciting flavours that change with the seasons and come in vegan-friendly variations.
Pictured: A few of Greenwich borough's finest pubs.
GETTING HERE & AROUND
Greenwich is located south of the River Thames and can be easily reached from Central London by a number of means, depending on where you want to go...
Underground to North Greenwich (Jubilee Line): Hop on the Tube to North Greenwich and you'll have the highlights of Greenwich Peninsula at your fingertips - with the O2 Arena, the Emirates Air Line cable car and a host of urban parks all within walking distance. There's also a bus station here to connect you with other places of interest in the borough and beyond.
Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to Cutty Sark, Greenwich or Woolwich Arsenal: Riding the DLR is an experience in itself that even life-long Londoners still enjoy from time to time! Connecting suburban London with the capital's financial inner-city, this driverless railway could whisk you from Bank to Cutty Sark station in under half an hour.
National Rail: Southeastern Railway run regular trains to a number of stations in the borough including Greenwich, Blackheath, Charlton, Eltham and Woolwich from Central London hubs like Charing Cross, Waterloo East and London Bridge.
Thames Clippers / Uber Boat: Take the scenic route along the river on a Thames Clipper, a fleet of reliable boats operating from piers in Putney, West London, to Woolwich in the south-east.
Emirates Air Line: Get above it all by taking a ride on this cable car from Greenwich Peninsula to Royal Victoria. Providing a lesser-seen view of London, the Emirates Air Line is more an adventure than a mode of transport.
Buses: Jumping on an iconic red London bus is one of the best ways of getting around in Greenwich, and you can take unlimited journeys within one hour for £1.50.
Walking: The Royal Borough of Greenwich may cover over 18 square miles, but there are parts which are extremely walkable. Blackheath to the O2, for example, takes about an hour, and Eltham Palace to Severndroog Castle would roughly take 45 minutes. If you're feeling particularly intrepid, you could even follow the Thames Path from Tower Bridge to Island Gardens, and reach the Cutty Sark via the Greenwich Foot Tunnel about 5.5 miles later!
If you're not familiar with navigating yourself around London, I'd really recommend downloading the Citymapper app - even after all the time I've lived here, it's still my go-to for working out my daily routes! To keep yourself informed with live service updates, use Transport for London, and tap in and out of your journeys with a contactless bank card or Oyster.
Pictured: View from Greenwich Pier.