LONDON // Greenwich Time

About a fortnight ago now, I hopped on a bargain flight from Aberdeen and headed down to London to spend a few days hanging out with my friend Eve. I had a great break and came home feeling satisfied that I'd fit plenty in, without ever being too rushed. I love that London always has more to discover and explore and enjoyed having my own personal tour guide to introduce me to some places I'd never been to before.

The first such location was Greenwich, an area towards the East of the city that sits along the South of the Thames. I must confess I knew nothing at all about this part of London - except that it's in some way connected with telling the time - so I wasn't at all sure what surprises it might have in store. 

Quite a few, as it turns out. 

We arrived here by DLR and one of the first sights to greet us on leaving the station was none other than the Cutty Sark! Built on the Clyde at the end of the 19th century, the Cutty Sark was one of the last sailing tea clippers to be built before steam gained dominance and is one of a small few ships from this period to be maintained in its original structure today. Transporting tea from China, shipping wool from Australia, carrying various cargoes for the Portuguese and serving as a training vessel for the Navies, Cutty Sark certainly put in the miles before arriving at Greenwich, where she rests imposingly today.

ship in bottle

Cutty Sark marks the entrance to the grounds of the Royal Naval College, with its immaculate lawns and beautiful buildings - impressive pieces of architecture designed by the likes of Sir Christopher Wren (of St Paul's Cathedral fame). The site here - much loved for its riverside location - has played host to a number of manor houses and royal palaces throughout history, before the construction of the buildings which stand there today. First used as a Royal Hospital for naval veterans, then as an education facility for naval officers, the site is now maintained by the Greenwich Foundation as a historical landmark, with parts of the property open to the public to visit for free.

As if that wasn't enough, the grounds here are also home to the National Maritime Museum (the largest in the world!) and the Queen's House - once a royal retreat but now home to a collection of artworks - both of which can be visited free of charge as well.

We didn't explore inside any of these buildings on this particular visit, instead setting our sights on the middle of the park and the climb to the top of the hill.

It's up here that the connection with "telling the time" comes in. Standing proudly at the top of the hill are the Royal Observatory and Planetarium, whose "mean solar time" provides us with GMT, on which most timezones in the world are based! I won't pretend to understand any of it, but it was apparently here that the problem of navigation at sea was solved, leading to Greenwich being named as Longitude 0ยบ.

In the courtyard of the observatory, visitors can straddle the Greenwich Meridian Line and stand with one foot in each of the eastern and western hemispheres (which is kind of cool!), while the brilliant red ball above them, atop Flamsteed House, acts as one of the world's earliest time signals by dropping daily at 1pm.

There's an entrance fee to both the observatory and planetarium and again we didn't visit either of them (just as well because they were evacuated due to a fire alarm!), but spent a fair amount of time up there, enjoying the real reason Eve brought me to Greenwich and traipsed me up a hill..

The views. Oh, the views! 

Looking back down the hill you take in the grounds in all their glory and  can fully appreciate why, with all its beauty and history, Maritime Greenwich has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Beyond them are panoramic views across London, from the O2 in the East, all the way to the Shard in the West and straight across to Canary Wharf on the other side of the Thames. It's pretty breathtaking.

The view alone makes Greenwich worth a visit and with so many other things to see and do for free it's an ideal location for the budget traveller, or for visitors looking to while away a leisurely day.

My little tour guide certainly knows how to kick-start a London trip!

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