When I first moved to London, a local friend suggested that I take a cruise along the River Thames for a day trip to Greenwich—a district of London and home to the Greenwich Meridian line marking 0° longitude, a beautiful park, museums, markets, and more. He said it is one of his favorite things to do with out-of-town guests.
This fun London itinerary idea stayed in the back of my mind until one day in the spring I decided it was time. My husband and I boarded a boat right next to Big Ben at the Westminster Pier on the River Thames. But this is not the only option for boarding. There are several hop-on locations along the river including at the London Eye Pier, the Tower Pier, and of course, the Greenwich Pier.
Boats depart at regular intervals throughout the day, which makes this trip particularly easy to fit into an itinerary whether we wanted to sleep in first, get back early for an afternoon tea or indulge in a long day of exploring Greenwich.
The ride from London to Greenwich, depending on where we departed from, would take between 30 to 45 minutes. Along the way we got to see London from a whole new perspective. From the river, we passed by the London Eye, The Tower Bridge, the mayor’s office, The Gherkin, The Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and more as we sailed through town. I found it was a rather unique way understand the layout of the city.
Viewfinder Tip: If short on time when visiting Greenwich from London by river cruise you can always consider returning to town by Tube.
The on-board guide chatted over the microphone, telling entertaining stories and detailing fascinating history of the city and the River Thames. And before I knew it, we were pulling up to the Greenwich Pier for a day of discovery on foot.
Stepping off the boat, we followed our noses wandering inland to see what we would find. We stumbled into the Greenwich Market, a World Heritage Site, and established in 1700 AD. It includes 40 antique stalls, a variety of food stands, art galleries, independent designer shops and a handful of spas where you can indulge in an aromatherapy massage or take home some handmade organic bath products.
There over the weekend, we were about to also experience the Clocktower Market right nearby—a small and manageable market in a picturesque square with lots of retro and vintage goodies. The market is renowned for the friendliness of its sellers and a peaceful, easy-going vibe. As I admired the flowery 70’s rompers, old leather suitcases, and gramophones, my husband grabbed an espresso at an outdoor booth.
Then we meandered back to Greenwich Market’s impressive food stalls known for their quality and variability. We were tempted by everything from dim sum, to Ethiopian cuisine, Argentinean empanadas, Brazilian churros and handmade chocolates! There were also plenty of homey pubs and sleek bars nearby where we could have whet our whistles, too. Ultimately, we chose a pair of delicious Mediterranean wraps with lamb and halloumi cheese.
After fueling up, it was on to Greenwich Park, home to the most fascinating bits of British history and the beginning of time itself. In fact, the complex of Greenwich that includes the Royal Observatory, the Maritime Museum and the Old Royal Naval College are listed as yet another World Heritage Site in Greenwich.
Sitting on a hill inside Greenwich Park, overlooking the River Thames is the Royal Observatory, which was the center of Britain’s research in astronomy and navigation right up to the 20th century.
The Meridian Line passes through the park, dividing the world in two. I waited my turn to stand with one foot in the Western Hemisphere, and the other firmly planted in the Eastern. This line, the Prime meridian, serves as the base point from which all time zones worldwide are calculated. This attraction alone makes the whole trip worth it to me!
Next, we sat on the grass in the park along side many of the other park goers taking in the views. After a rest, we meandered down the expansive green lawns, back to town to the Old Royal Naval College. This structure is considered one of the finest architectural feats of Britain. And the exhibits inside take visitors through Britain’s history.
At this point it was getting close to the last cruise back to London. Had we started our day earlier we may have stuck around to catch a few of the remaining attractions. One of which, the Cutty Sark is the sole surviving tea clipper sailing ship. You can jump aboard the 19th century vessel and explore what life was like for the sailors who made tea runs to China.
There is also the National Maritime Museum with more than 2 million objects in the collection, from figureheads, opium pipes, and other “souvenirs” brought back by sailors. There is also the quirky Fan Museum which has more than 4,000 antique and unusual fans from all over the world. And inside this museum, there is an orangery with painted murals where you can have afternoon tea looking out onto a Japanese garden. As you can see there is so much to do in Greenwich it really warrants a full day for exploring. And I’m sure glad I took my friend’s advice on this dynamic London day trip.
What’s your favorite rivers to cruise?
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