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11 royal reasons to visit Greenwich

Whether it's Knights of the Realm or majestic deer, you don't have to look far to find royal links in the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Here are just 11 reasons to enjoy a regal day out in Greenwich that’s fit for a king (or queen).

1. The royals opened the skies here

The Royal Observatory Greenwich on the top of Greenwich Park was founded by King Charles II in 1676 and is today part of Royal Museums Greenwich. Britain’s first state-funded scientific institution, the observatory (and its adjoining planetarium) is a popular destination for visitors and scientists alike. Not even the Queen could resist a photo opportunity standing with one foot in each hemisphere astride the Prime Meridian of the world. 

2. You're walking in royal footsteps

When King George VI opened the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, in 1937 he didn't arrive alone. He brought along three queens – Queen Mary; Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother; and the present Queen, Elizabeth II. They travelled to Greenwich by boat along the river Thames – a journey you can still make today on one of London's riverboats. Explore the museum's fascinating exhibits (just as the royals did), including the very uniform that Nelson wore when he was fatally wounded in the Battle of Trafalgar.

3. Two domes are better than one

When famous architect Sir Christopher Wren designed what is now the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, he initially planned just one huge dome. There was a problem: it would have ruined the view from The Queen's House, Greenwich, nearby and Queen Mary II, wife of William III, wasn’t having that. Which is why the plans were changed to include two towers. Beautiful from the outside, they're even more spectacular when you step inside – especially the vestibule dome above the Painted Hall. Just make sure you look up.

4. Historic royal celebrations (and dramas) happened here

King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Mary I were all born in the Tudor palace, Placentia, built in 1443 on the banks of the river Thames, where the Old Royal Naval College now stands. It wasn't just a royal nursery. Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves in the chapel, and later signed the death warrant for Anne Boleyn in the palace. Book an Old Royal Naval College guided tour to discover more.

5. Nothing says sorry like a new house

Sometimes a bunch of flowers just isn’t enough. When King James I swore in public at his wife, Anne of Denmark, after she accidently shot his favourite hunting dog, he needed to apologise. So he had the Queen's House built for her. Built as a "house of delight", the royal villa was designed by Inigo Jones in 1616. It is Britain’s first classical building and a pioneering masterpiece of 17th-century architecture. Recently refurbished, the Queen’s House showcases more than 450 works of art by great British and European artists including Van Dyck, Gainsborough and Reynolds, as well as the iconic "Armada Portrait" of Queen Elizabeth I.

6. Its boats have the royal seal of approval

Docked by the riverside in Greenwich, Cutty Sark is the world's only surviving tea clipper. Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the ship in 1957 – and again in 2012 after its restoration, during which there was a serious fire. Explore its history and even touch its shining copper hull.

7. Not all the royals were well behaved (allegedly)


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The rolling green slopes of Greenwich Park are home to a boating lake, deer, the Royal Observatory and Planetarium, Ranger's House and the bath of Queen Caroline. The estranged wife of King George IV, she was accused of scandalous behaviour and of having an illegitimate child. She was cleared of those allegations but was warned her boisterous demeanour was open to "unfavourable interpretations". See if you can spot the bath next to Ranger's House in the south-west corner of the park.

8. The most notorious King of England grew up here


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King Henry VIII spent his childhood at Eltham Palace, an English Heritage site. Although most of the original palace was lost due to neglect, the medieval Great Hall still stands. Adjoining it now is the dazzling Art Deco house built in the 1930s by Stephen and Virginia Courtauld – a monument to the great design of the period. Save time to visit the beautiful gardens too, which stretch over 19 acres.

9. Even the wildlife was introduced by royal decree


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Greenwich Park's population of red and fallow deer – a hit with visitors of all ages – was introduced by King Henry VIII in 1510. The royal connection even extends to the surrounding trees: the park's French-style layout was commissioned in the early 1660s by King Charles II – making some of the sweet (Spanish) chestnut trees in its avenues more than 400 years old.

10. Great adventurers are rewarded here

Deptford was once renowned for its shipbuilding and dockyards. It's also where Queen Elizabeth I knighted Sir Francis Drake on board his ship, Golden Hinde, in April 1581. Years later – 384 years in fact – Queen Elizabeth II knighted another explorer in the same spot. Sir Francis Chichester, the first man to sail single-handedly around the world, was even knighted using the same sword that had been used for Sir Francis Drake.

11. The royals shop here


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The Duchess of Cornwall is a "fan", so much so that she's been a patron of the Fan Museum in Greenwich since 2008. She last visited in 2019, while on a previous visit in 2015, she left clutching three bags. The quirky museum doesn’t just have a great gift shop, though. It also has a fascinating collection of fans from around the world, displays on the art of fan-making and a beautiful orangery serving afternoon tea.

You can find these royal treasures in a matter of minutes from central London – find out how to get to Greenwich. And discover more things to do in Greenwich, from top sights, adventurous activities and hidden gems, to the best places to eat.