Situated on the site of the former Greenwich Palace, birthplace of Henry VIII and his daughters, Queens Mary, and Elizabeth, the building that is today the Old Royal Naval College was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, on the orders of Mary II, as the Royal Hospital for Seamen, effectively a retirement home for Navy sailors, along the lines of the similar institution for soldiers at Chelsea. The buildings served this purpose for around 150 years until closure in 1869, shortly after which they were repurposed as the home for the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, a naval officer training facility. In 1998, much of the Royal Navy training was relocated to Dartmouth, and the site, re-christened as the Old Royal Naval College was opened to the public. The four main buildings which make up the site were arranged either side of a central open area, in such a way as not to obscure the view of the river from the nearby Queen’s House.
While visits to the grounds, various exhibits and the chapel are free, the highlight of a visit here is to see the (chargeable) Painted Hall, an 18th century Baroque-style masterpiece sometimes called ‘Britain’s Sistine Chapel’.
There is a café beneath the Painted Hall serving salads, sandwiches and other hot and cold items, and there is also an on-site dog-friendly pub, the Old Brewery, (https://www.oldbrewerygreenwich.com/), with indoor and outdoor seating, which opens until 10.30pm daily (till 10pm on Sundays) and, as well as drinks, serves brunch, sandwiches, lunch, or dinner until 90 minutes before closing.
Visiting With Children? Here’s a Nearby Playground.
Greenwich Park Playground, a few minutes’ walk away from the college in the northeast corner of Greenwich Park, had a major renovation in 2019, and has been reinvented as inclusive play space with a maritime theme. It features a large sandpit and water play area set with stepping-stones, a pump to provide running water, and some suspended small boats for children to climb into. Alongside wooden climbing equipment, there are also the usual favourites of slide, roundabout, see-saw and of course swings. Refreshments and toilets are close by, and there is a reasonably priced children’s boating lake just outside the playground gate.
Playground Entry: Free