Maps, charts & globes

Where would we be in the world without a map to guide us? Discover why there was a need to map the globe and find out how you can explore the National Maritime Museum's collection of around 100,000 historical sea charts and maps. Start plotting your journey now... 

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This guide outlines the Atlas Collection of bound volumes of charts, maps and sailing directions held by the Hydrography Section of the Museum.

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This guide is a brief introduction to the museum's collection of manuscript and printed hydrography (charts), cartography (maps), written sailing directions, originally known as 'portolans', and pilot books. 

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How to access source material on famous explorers, navigators and hydrographers including polar explorers.


John Dee (1527–1608/9) was a brilliant mathematician, antiquary and astrologer, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

The British Empire was at its largest in 1919. At this point, there was truth in the saying that the Sun never set on the British Empire. 


Discover the  Great Map at the centre of the National Maritime Museum, a giant atlas from which you can explore the world and our collections, join in with events and play interactive games - no matter what age you are. And it's all free!


Find out what longitude is and what makes it so hard to measure.

In March 2015 Against Captain’s Orders opened to the public. A groundbreaking collaboration between the National Maritime Museum (NMM) and immersive theatre makers Punchdrunk Enrichment (PD), Against Captain’s Orders invites younger museum visitors on an adventure that will challenge their understanding of history. Now in a series of blogs the NMM and PD come together again to discuss how the exhibition developed from initial concept stage to the first visitors through the door.


The ‘standard’ nautical mile is taken as 6080 feet (1.151 statute miles or 1853 metres) and is the unit of length used in sea and air navigation.


Our item of the month looks at one of the most fascinating collections in the NMM Manuscript archives: portolan charts. Consisting of fifty-eight manuscript atlases and around fifty larger charts, the collection spans three centuries of navigational practice before mass-produced printed charts displaced them during the eighteenth century.