The same water lapping Galveston beaches also supported one of the most successful war and trading Navies ever. Great Britain once ruled the seas. This historical dominance, flair and power are explored in the United Kingdom’s National Maritime Museum, located in shoreline Greenwich, about an hour day trip outside London. It is the world’s biggest naval history archive.
The DLR (Docklands Light Rail) is the quickest way there, with a bonus of elevated sightseeing of the once commercial docklands area transformed into beautiful condos and fancy restaurants along the Thames River.
Greenwich is the birthplace of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, two of Great Britain’s most vivid, larger-than-life monarchs.
It is an ideal family destination because of the variety of attractions. If it is a rainy day, as it often is in the UK, many attractions are indoors. Further, if you’ve been to London multiple times, Greenwich has a tranquil off-the-beaten path ambience.
Speaking of paths, a shocking lack of adequate signage to all the attractions is a significant barrier. There might be one small directional sign. Then tourists are abandoned to find their own way.
We began by huffing up the hill through the magnificent Royal Park to the Royal Observatory founded in 1675 by Charles II. It is the basis for the Greenwich Mean Line and Prime Meridian Line, ancient time and navigation aids at Longitude Zero. I stood astride Longitude zero line with one foot in the Eastern Hemisphere and one foot in the Western Hemisphere. Having stood many times on the equator line dividing northern and southern hemispheres, I felt I completed a journey. Taking an almost hidden path behind, I chanced upon one of the most beautiful English gardens I have ever seen. There is a delightful tea-lunch room inside a sort of huge glass greenhouse and an observatory and museum for family learning.
Back down the hill, we ducked into the National Maritime Museum lunch room for a delicious chicken-filled puff pastry.
The museum itself was knock-your-socks-off — an unexpected wow — easily worth half a day of exploring — and super family friendly.
For me, the most spectacular exhibit is the 20-meter-long 24 carat gold-leafed barge of Frederick II, the Rolls-Royce of 1732. It is wonderful to imagine, as in period drama films, velvet- and jewel-clad occupants dining on delicacies, lounging to musical accompaniment as 21 oarsmen in unison, lifted their oars in Royal salute.
There is a colorful exhibit of ships’ figureheads, a whole room on Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson’s career and more. Log on to the website to view other fabulous material.
Other Greenwich stops can include the 1869 Cutty Sark ship, the world’s only surviving Sea Clipper (fast), displayed above ground. The Old Royal Naval College Painted Hall is hidden but worth seeing. The Greenwich market has produce, food and a few shops.
In my many trips to London over almost 50 years, I had never actually been on the Thames River. On our Thames shuttle boat back to the Westminster dock, I was lost in thought of the monumental historical personages who traveled on this river. They weren’t just in books. They were really here.