London Itinerary Day 4 – Greenwich and The Prime Meridian

a view of Greenwich and Canary Wharf London

Greenwich is an often missed location when planning a trip to London. While it is still considered part of the city of London, it lies south of the River Thames and a bit to the east. I love Greenwich for its quaint, small town feeling. So let’s explore this overlooked area of London!

Start Your Day In Beautiful Canary Wharf!

To get down to this neck of the woods, catch a Jubilee Line train toward Stratford. Before heading down to Greenwich, exit at Canary Wharf and enjoy some great shopping at the Canary Wharf Shopping Center, yet another superb indoor mall with a good selection of high-end stores.

If you are looking for a place to eat, Canary Wharf is loaded with great options of upscale dining. If this is your fourth or fifth day of touring, you may be craving some decent American fare. I highly suggest checking out The Big Easy up on the north side of Canary Wharf. The ambiance is great, the food is delicious, and the wait staff is super fun and friendly!

If you are looking for some great al fresco dining, I highly recommend Mercato Metropolitano at Wood Wharf. This place is frequently packed with young, urban professionals taking in some of the most amazing Italian cuisine you’ll find in London! Maybe just stop in and enjoy a pint (or two) from The Italian Job, located right inside the dining area.

Of course if you just want to grab a quick Pret a Manger, there are six of locations on the Isle of Dogs to choose from. 

Getting To Know The Isle Of Dogs

Canary Wharf is set on the Isle of Dogs, which is a peninsula sitting the inside of the horseshoe in the River Thames. It’s an easy landmark to see when looking at a map. The Isle of Dogs is home to one of the five financial districts in London. With loads of skyscrapers and high-rise living, it looks and feels a lot like Manhattan, only smaller. There is absolutely nothing touristy on the Isle of Dogs, it’s all business.

A photo from a plane overlooking the Isle of Dogs Canary Wharf London

A photo from Ellen Phillips travel archive

The photo above shows the peninsula of the Isle with the Canary Wharf financial district at the top. Across the river at the bottom, (at about 5:00), is the University of Greenwich / Old Royal Naval College, and on the right is the O2 Arena at the tip of the Greenwich Peninsula. All are wonderful places to explore!

While there is no bridge to cross the river here, the tube does get you to North Greenwich, on the peninsula by the O2. There is also a foot tunnel that you can take from Island Gardens on the Isle of Dogs side, that terminates at Cutty Sark. Finally, you can journey via the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) to cross under the river by train into the lovely, remote town of Greenwich.

Cutty Sark

The name Cutty Sark is something that I had always known, but I wasn’t sure why. I went to Greenwich, and there she was! 

Resting in the middle of town and overlooking the Thames, this 19th century clipper ship is a remarkable landmark and one of the few tourist attractions in this otherwise quiet town. 

a photo of the Cutty Sark

photo by Jeff Wallis via Pixabay

She is one of three surviving wooden hull ships from the 19th century and as such, she has been subject to fires and extensive repair. Seeing this enormous vessel sitting on a bustling street in town is quite an image! Cutty Sark is the only wooden hull clipper ship from that era in the United Kingdom, as the others reside in Australia and Chile. So, if you have the chance, do check her out!

There is a fascinating interactive tour with plenty of tickets available on site and you can complete the whole thing within an hour. Access all around the ship is open, so you can really explore everything about her.

Royal Naval College at Greenwich

I fell in love with Greenwich when we first visited well over a decade ago. Greenwich is known for the Prime Meridian, (more on that in a sec), and is the locale of the Royal Naval College, now the University of Greenwich.

The University of Greenwich is one of the most culturally diverse campuses in the UK. One in five students comes from outside of the UK to study at this stunning campus – my kid was one of them!

photo via Pixabay

You may recognize the scenery from several popular movies. Les Misérables, Thor -The Dark World, Skyfall, The King’s Speech, and many others were all filmed here. If you are a Bridgerton fan, well guess what? That is filmed here as well. 

Designed by Christopher Wren in the late 1600s, the construction of these buildings started at the beginning of the 18th century. Naturally, the buildings are all named for the Stuart monarchs of that time; King William III, Queen Mary II, and Queen Anne.

There is a tremendous sense of history right here that probably goes unnoticed by most of the young student body. Even if they may be unaware of the profound architecture and significant nod to the monarchy, most will agree that this is one of the most beautiful campuses in all of England.

King William IV - The Under-Appreciated Monarch

You may see a lovely granite statue of King William IV located just outside Greenwich Park as you make your way to the Prime Meridian. There is a fun story about that.

An image of King William IV Statue at Greenwich

A photo from Ellen Phillips travel archive

Having been third in line to throne behind his two elder brothers, William never suspected that he would ascend the throne. He was a naval man, albeit not a very good one. When he became king, a statue needed to be erected. So it was and this is it. Way down here in Greenwich.

If it seems a bit out of place, it is. Originally the statue was located by the London Bridge off of King William Street, (which makes sense). However, with the improvements of the roads and increased traffic flow, by the early 20th century, the statue became a traffic hazard.

Because of his naval career, William was known as the “Sailor King.” Thus, relocating his statue at the old Royal Naval College seemed logical. The thing is, he didn’t really have any connection to the college, contrary to how it may seem. Just the naval thing, that’s it. 

It’s also a bit sad, because he was the king whose planned statue was scrapped at the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar

William IV was a well-loved king and worked hard to make amends for the gluttony and over expenditures of his elder brother, The Prince Regent, King George IV. 

Of course, George is remembered in glory all over the city with the beautiful Regent’s Park and the fabulous Regent Street, Regency furniture,…and poor old William gets relegated to a park on the south side.

Although he was a good king, he is largely forgotten in favor of his young niece, Victoria, with whom we are all so well acquainted. Pushed aside in history, and now in locale, his statue remains on the outskirts of the city in the quaint surroundings of Greenwich.

The Prime Meridian

Once you locate the statue of William, head into Greenwich Park, which is one of the most scenic in all of London. The hike up to the hilltop observatory is quite a trek, but the views make it worthwhile. If you have the time, follow the paths to the back of the park for some spectacular scenery, towering pine trees, and even a glimpse of some old timbers left from the Elizabethan era! 

Do take the tour of the museum at the hilltop to learn a bit about the idea of longitude and the “founding” of the Prime Meridian. It is fascinating.

a photo of the Prime Meridian Museum

A photo from Ellen Phillips travel archive

The museum goes into depth about primitive methods of tracking longitude over the sea. Something we all take for granted in the 21st century, the concept of longitude had a dark and fateful history. Sailors simply did not know where they were once they lost sight of land. 

There is a great book by Dava Sobel going into detail on the subject, available on Amazon

Don't Miss The O2 Arena

A fantastic way to end your busy day is at the O2 Arena and it’s right here! The O2 Arena is easy to get to by walking, a short taxi ride, or bus. I always prefer public transport, so hop on a double decker #188 bus and you are there in minutes!

The O2 in Greenwich is always bustling.

Originally constructed as the “Millennium Dome,” this easily identifiable landmark was the brainchild that was to become the Millennial Experience, a project of exhibitions backed by then Prime Minister Tony Blair. The exhibitions ran throughout the entirety of the 2000 year but the whole thing was poorly received. It is widely considered a colossal failure. 

an image inside of the O2 shopping center

A photo from Ellen Phillips travel archive

The structure has gone through a couple of incarnations since that time. The possibility of it being a soccer stadium, a monument to Diana, Princess of Wales in the form of a hospital,… but nothing really stuck. 

Today it has finally found success as the 2nd largest indoor concert venue in the UK and home to yet another great shopping mall. (can you tell I love to shop?)

Like the Westfield, the O2 hosts a vibrant outdoor surrounding area with restaurants, activities, and shopping. I always enjoy stopping in at the O2 to see what’s going on over on this side of town.

The End Of This Itinerary

When I travel abroad, I love to mix with the locals and really get a feeling for the places I visit. The areas south of the river are perfect for that! So if there is a takeaway from this blog post it is that if you only have a day or two in London, stay up north of the river and hang out closer to the Embankment area. That’s where the touristy things are located. 

London can be exhausting because there is simply so much to see. I have packed these itineraries with a mix of touristy things as well as simple ways to experience the lifestyle of Londoners. I hope you enjoyed! Let me know if you have questions or comments. I have much more to come with other itineraries!

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Ellen Phillips

Living a Beautiful Life