I love a great view when travelling and the view from Greenwich Observatory in London, England, is pretty spectacular! From the top of the hill in Greenwich Park just outside the Royal Greenwich Observatory, you will find a fantastic viewpoint of the London skyline. From here you’ll be able to see notable landmarks such as the Shard, the Tower of London, and the O2 Arena.
Once you walk up the hill, take a moment to sit on the steps in front of General Wolfe’s statue and admire the view and take that perfect Instagram photo! And the best part? The view from the Greenwich Observatory is free for all visitors.
After you have taken some time to admire the view, be sure to visit the Royal Observatory Museum, where you can stand on either side of the Prime Meridian and take in even more breathtaking views from the outdoor balcony!
What is the Royal Greenwich Observatory?
The Royal Greenwich Observatory is a historic astronomical observatory that played a significant role in the development of astronomy and navigation and is home to Greenwich Mean Time.
Today, the observatory is part of the Royal Museums Greenwich and is open to the public. For a small admission fee, visitors can see the historic telescopes, visit the museum, and enjoy the best panoramic view of London from the hilltop location.
The observatory continues to play a vital role in modern astronomy and timekeeping, and the prime meridian that runs through it is still used as the reference point for determining longitude and setting world time zones.
Built in 1676, its elevated location was chosen because it was close to London but far enough away to enjoy clear skies. This location makes the view from Greenwich Observatory one of the best views in London in my opinion!
Five Highlights Worth Seeing at the Royal Greenwich Observatory
The observatory houses a collection of historical telescopes, clocks, and other scientific instruments, as well as a museum that tells the story of the observatory and its contributions to science and navigation. These include:
1. The Octagon Room
The Octagon Room is the oldest part of the Royal Observatory Greenwich and was completed in 1676. The room’s eight-sided shape, high windows, and south-facing views gave astronomers panoramic views of the night skies.
2. Flamsteed House and the Time-Ball
The Royal Observatory is famous for supplying Greenwich Mean Time. From 1833, astronomers made a daily signal to mariners in the Thames at 1 p.m. by raising and dropping the time-ball on Flamsteed House. In 1852, electrical technology enabled the astronomers to send the time to the nation by telegraph.
3. Shepherd Gate Clock
The Shepherd Gate Clock was the first clock in the world to show Greenwich Mean Time to the public. It originally received electrical impulses from the master clock within Flamsteed House, and visitors to Greenwich Park could get the time by reading the clock without bothering the astronomers.
4. Meridian Courtyard and the Prime Meridian
In the Meridian courtyard, you can stand astride the Prime Meridian Line, which marks zero degrees longitude, and place one foot in the Eastern Hemisphere and one foot in the Western Hemisphere. In the museum you can learn how the meridian has moved over time.
5. Greenwich Observatory Telescope
Climb up a narrow spiral staircase and then cross over a narrow balcony to enter a dome holding the Great Equatorial Telescope. This 28-inch refracting telescope was the largest of its kind in the world when it was introduced in 1893.
Greenwich Observatory View and the Camera Obscura
While you can enjoy a beautiful view from outside the Observatory, it’s definitely worth entering the Observatory to see an elevated, unobstructed panoramic view of London from the balcony or Meridian Courtyard. This location again offers dramatic views from the Greenwich Observatory of London across Greenwich Royal Park, the City of London, and the River Thames.
Here you can also experience the very cool Camera Obscura. John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, used the Camera Obscura to observe the sun as it projected an image onto a circular table. Today, you can use the camera to view the Queen’s House and River Thames. It’s quite a unique experience.
How much time is needed for a visit to the Royal Greenwich Observatory?
I would suggest you plan for about an hour and a half to two hours for your visit to the Royal Greenwich Observatory. The museum itself is not a large museum, but there are many exhibitions and artifacts worth exploring. There is also an audio guide that you can download to your phone to find out even more about the observatory.
It is also important to note that the Observatory is at the top of the hill in Greenwich Park, and it will take some time for you to walk through the park and up the hill to reach the museum (and the view) at the top, so you will want to add that to your planning considerations.
Is it free to visit the Royal Observatory?
While the view from outside the Royal Observatory is free, there is an admission fee to enter the museum. You can see some of the items outside the museum from a distance, but you won’t be able to truly appreciate the history or the exhibitions without entering and paying an admission to the museum.
If you have the time and an interest in learning more about this historical observatory (and you want even more awesome views), I would highly recommend building in some time to tour the museum.
How do you get to the Royal Greenwich Observatory?
Once you are in Greenwich, London, you will need to walk through Greenwich Park and up the hill to get to the Royal Greenwich Observatory. It is quite a hike up the hill, so visitors should be prepared for the walk.
The best options for getting to Greenwich from the City of London are by train, DLR or by riverboat. Greenwich Park is also accessible by several bus routes.
Getting to the Royal Observatory by National Railway, Thameslink
Thameslink is a part of the National Railway System, and it runs through Central London, connecting one side of the Thames to the other. The closest train station to the Royal Observatory is Greenwich. From the Greenwich train station, it is about a 20 minute walk to the Observatory through Greenwich Park.
Getting to the Royal Observatory by Docklands Light Railway (DLR)
The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is a driverless train line connected to the London Tube, and it runs mostly above ground. You can use your Oyster Card to ride the DLR, and the closest station to the Greenwich Observatory is Cutty Sark. From the Cutty Sark station, it is about a 15 minute walk to the Observatory through Greenwich Park. The cost of the DLR is the same as the Tube.
Getting to the Royal Observatory by Riverboat (RB) / Uber Boat by Thames Clippers
Another option is to arrive in Greenwich by boat. The Uber Boat by Thames Clippers stops at 24 piers along the Thames, including the Greenwich Pier. If you are coming from anywhere along the Thames River, the Uber Boat may be a great option for you to take to arrive in Greenwich.
From the pier, it is about a 15 minute walk through the spectacular Royal Naval College and Greenwich Park to the Observatory.
Getting to the Royal Observatory by Bus
Depending on where you are travelling from, the bus may be another option to consider. There are several bus routes into the centre of Greenwich. You can read more on the Royal Parks website.
What is the Greenwich Observatory’s nearest Tube station?
Essentially, Cutty Sark would be considered the nearest “Tube station”, although technically, it is not part of the London Underground but instead a route on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR). The tube and the DLR are interchangeable, and you can use your Oyster Card to ride both.
The other Tube option would be to take the Jubilee Line to North Greenwich and then take the 188 or 129 bus to Greenwich Park. The bus ride is about 20-25 minutes.
Is there parking at the Royal Greenwich Observatory?
Yes. There are pay and display parking options very close to the Royal Greenwich Observatory. When I was there, there were plenty of spots in the pay and display parking lot directly behind General Wolfe’s statue. No coaches are allowed to park in this lot.
What are Some Other Popular Greenwich attractions?
If you are coming to Greenwich to enjoy the view, I would highly recommend visiting some of these other excellent attractions, all within walking distance of the Observatory.
Old Royal Naval College
The Royal Naval College was established in 1873, and its buildings were constructed between 1696 and 1751. It was originally a training facility for naval officers of the British Royal Navy. The College is known for its incredible architecture, which includes the Painted Hall and the Chapel.
Today, the College is open to the public, and visitors can explore the historic buildings, admire the architecture, and learn about the history of the British Navy and its role in shaping the world. There is no cost to walk around the Royal Naval College.
The Painted Hall
The Painted Hall is a spectacular dining hall located in the Old Royal Naval College. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1707 and 1726.
The hall is known for its magnificent ceiling and features a large mural painted by Sir James Thornhill. The painting covers over 40,000 square feet and depicts various scenes from British history.
Visitors can explore the hall and its breathtaking artwork, learn about the history of the British Navy and the Royal Naval College, and enjoy various exhibitions and events throughout the year. There is a small admission cost to view the Painted Hall.
Tip: In the same building as the Painted Hall, there is a Painted Hall Gift Shop and Tea Room. I had the most delicious (and hot!) pot of tea and a lemon loaf. This bright, welcoming Tea Room is worth stopping in for a treat.
National Maritime Museum
The National Maritime Museum is one of the largest maritime museums in the world. The Museum was established in 1934, and its purpose is to tell the story of Britain’s relationship with the sea and its maritime history.
The Museum’s collection includes over two million objects, including paintings, maps, charts, ship models, scientific instruments, and personal items of famous naval figures.
The Museum is housed in several buildings, including the Queen’s House, the Royal Observatory Greenwich, and the historic National Maritime Museum building. The buildings themselves are also significant, with many of them dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries and featuring stunning architecture.
The Queen’s House
The Queen’s house was built in the early 17th century and is considered to be one of the most important examples of classical architecture in Britain.
Today, the Queen’s House is open to the public as part of the National Maritime Museum, and visitors can explore the house and its collection of art and furnishings, including the stunning Tulip Stairs and the Great Hall, which features a magnificent ceiling painting.
The Historic Cutty Sark Ship
The Cutty Sark is a historic clipper ship built in 1869 for the tea trade between China and Britain and is considered to be one of the fastest sailing ships of its time.
Today, the Cutty Sark is a museum, and visitors can explore the ship and learn about its history and significance. The ship’s deck and interior have been carefully restored and offer a fascinating glimpse into life aboard a 19th-century sailing vessel.
Greenwich Foot Tunnel
The Greenwich Foot Tunnel is a pedestrian tunnel that runs beneath the River Thames, connecting the south bank and the north bank. It was opened in 1902 and is one of several tunnels that were built in London in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to provide a safer way for pedestrians to cross the river.
The tunnel is approximately 370 meters long and is accessed via a series of spiral staircases on either side of the river. The Greenwich Foot Tunnel is open 24 hours a day and is free to use for pedestrians and cyclists.
Greenwich Park is a large 180 acre public park and one of the oldest enclosed royal parks in London, dating back to the 15th century. The park features a number of historic buildings and monuments, including the Royal Observatory, the Queen’s House, and the Ranger’s House.
Other notable features of Greenwich Park include the stunning Flower Garden, the boating lake, a modern playground, and lots of wildlife.
Final Thoughts on the View from Greenwich Observatory
Even though I’ve been to London, England, a number of times, this was my first time seeing Greenwich. I can’t believe I hadn’t been here before and I wish I had planned to spend more time in this location as there was a lot more to see and do than I had anticipated.
I love discovering stunning views while travelling, and the Greenwich Observatory view is, in my opinion, the best view of the London skyline. The view is free to enjoy and there is no need for tickets or lines. (To be honest, I liked it even more than the view from the SkyGarden).
Visiting Greenwich and the Royal Greenwich Observatory is truly an excellent experience that mixes historical significance with beautiful views of London. I would highly recommend including a visit to Greenwich and the Royal Greenwich Observatory on your list of “must see” attractions in London.