The Old Royal Naval College is the centerpiece of Maritime Greenwich, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has become one of London’s most popular venues and visitor attractions (including the Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory), attracting over 1.2 million visitors every year. Originally a Tudor palace (known as Greenwich Palace at the time), this was the favoured Royal residence of Henry VIII. A small part of the excavated palace, revealed during recent conservation works, can be viewed in The Sackler Gallery in the King William Undercroft.
The classical buildings that adorn the site today were built as the Royal Hospital for Seamen between 1696 and 1751. Designed by England’s greatest architects, including Sir Christopher Wren, the buildings are considered amongst the finest in Europe, featuring the sumptuous Painted Hall and the neo-classical Chapel. The Royal Hospital moved in the 1860s but the rich maritime history of the site prevailed and from 1873 to 1997, the buildings housed the Royal Naval College, one of the world’s foremost naval training establishments. After the departure of the Naval College an independent charity was established in 1997 to conserve the magnificent baroque buildings and grounds for present and future generations and to provide opportunities for wide and diverse audiences to enjoy and share their significance.
The Painted Hall, built as a ceremonial dining room, has the greatest grand-scale decorative painting in England and has been described as “Britain’s Sistine Chapel”. The abundant and complex painting scheme covers some 4,000 square metres and was designed and executed by Sir James Thornhill between 1707 and 1726. An extensive National Lottery Funded renovation project was completed in 2019. The Chapel of St Peter and St Paul is a neo-classical masterpiece by James “Athenian” Stuart. Featuring a Samuel Green organ and an altarpiece painted by Benjamin West, it is one of the country’s finest 18th century interiors.
Designed by England’s greatest architects…
This stunning London landmark is once again offering public access to its buildings and expansive grounds with visitor and staff safety measures in place. The magnificent Painted Hall, King William Undercroft and interpretation gallery are reopening for visitors with limited tickets each day – so advanced booking is highly recommended. The Old Royal Naval College is also launching new smartphone tours for visitors to enjoy. The first of these, available for free using the Smartify app, will be a family tour for those visiting with children aged 5 – 12 years. The exciting Building Detectives tour takes families on a treasure trail around the beautiful outdoor spaces of the Old Royal Naval College. Following clues dotted around the site, the mission is to find out whom the grand buildings were created for.
The grounds, with sweeping views of London’s skyline and the River Thames, open daily from 7am – 7pm, while the Painted Hall, King William Undercroft, Visitor Centre Shop and Ticket Desk open from 10am – 5pm. The Chapel opens on the reduced hours of 10am – 2pm. The Victorian Skittle Alley will unfortunately remain closed until further notice. There are plenty of events to look forward to coming up at the Old Royal Naval College. Greenwich+Docklands International Festival has reimagined its 2020 festival to bring exciting outdoor arts to Greenwich and East London, from 28th August to 12th September. This year’s festival will celebrate the strength of community spirit, the NHS and the environment, encouraging audiences to relax after a season of isolation. The Luna Cinema returns with their open-air cinema to the riverside grounds this August with exciting films to sing and dance along to for long summer evenings.
Amber Markets will be back on site later this year to take visitors around the world with a selection of mouth-watering cuisine. This Black History Month, the Old Royal Naval College will launch a timely exhibition aimed at understanding the diverse and intricate history of Greenwich and the Royal Hospital for Seamen. Curated by renowned Black British historian S. I. Martin, the exhibition will shine a light on Greenwich’s 18th and 19th Century history with stories of Black sailors in the British Navy.
Spaces must be booked in advance for tours and the Old Royal Naval College recommends that visitors bring their own headphones for the multimedia guides. Guided tours will be limited to groups of five people. Groups who wish to visit the site are welcome, with numbers limited to 25. Visitor-facing staff and volunteers will wear protective visors to ensure safety.
While the Painted Hall café will be remaining close for a little while longer there will be food and drinks available to enjoy al fresco on the grounds. The Painted Hall toilets are fully accessible and include baby-changing facilities. Card and mobile device payments are accepted, but no cash payments are allowed. For those unable to visit, learn more about the Old Royal Naval College from home with a stunning free virtual tour narrated by Tara Fitzgerald (Game of Thrones; Belgravia) and with an audio-described introduction to the site for blind and partially-sighted visitors, read by former Head of Conservation Will Palin.