Top hidden gems in Greenwich

Discover the lesser-known attractions that Greenwich has to offer, from Britain's first spiral staircase to the hidden corners of Greenwich Park.

Fancy escaping the crowds by taking the paths less trodden? Greenwich may be known for its world-class museums and iconic buildings but it’s also home to an abundance of lesser-known delights. From unusual views and underground paths to unique museums and green retreats, these hidden gems will provide a special extra layer to your Greenwich experience.

Climb up Britain’s first spiral staircase

The Tulip Staircase

The ornate Tulip Stairs in Inigo Jones’ beautifully designed Queen’s House is a blue wrought-iron spiral staircase that links the ground and first floors. It was the first self-supporting spiral staircase in Britain when it was built in the early 1600s, and its snail-like form is innately photogenic.

The staircase is also the location of the Reverend R. W. Hardy’s spooky, and still unexplained, ‘ghost’ photograph taken in 1966, which appears to show two or three shrouded figures on the staircase.

Cross the Thames via the Greenwich Foot Tunnel

Greenwich Foot Tunnel
Image: Poudou99/Wikimedia Commons. All rights reserved.

Did you know that the north and south banks of the Thames are connected by a century-old tunnel underneath the river? Though hundreds of people use it every day, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel remains something of a hidden (quite literally) gem. Built by manpower alone in the early 1900s for dockworkers living south of the river, the tunnel is around 1,200 feet (366m) long and 50 feet deep.

Take the ten-minute walk through it from the Isle of Dogs and you’ll emerge right next to Cutty Sark via a pleasing, Grade-II listed brick-and-glass dome exit.

Cool off (and calm down) at the Fan Museum

Fan Museum cafe

It’s easy to see how the Fan Museum could get overlooked on a trip to Greenwich, surrounded as it is by world-famous museums dedicated to such earth-moving subjects as time, astronomy and maritime exploration. But it shouldn’t be. Its focus may be niche, but its Georgian townhouse interior and landscaped grounds have wide appeal. Visit to explore the craft and history of fan-making around the world, then take time to enjoy the delightful tea room (pictured), the calming Japanese garden and the beautiful gift shop.

See a sci-fi screening at the Planetarium

Image of audience at London's planetarium in greenwich

Get your geek on at one of the regular sci-fi screenings at the Peter Harrison Planetarium. From cult classics, such as The Thing, Flash Gordon and Alien, to modern blockbusters such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Hidden Figures, you’ll get to enjoy your favourite sci-movies on the really big screen. Most screenings are followed by a short talk on the science behind the fiction by a Royal Observatory astronomer.

Explore the farther reaches of Greenwich Park

Greenwich Park rose garden
Image: Greenwich Park rose garden. The Royal Parks. All rights reserved.

The pathway that leads up to the Royal Observatory is a don’t miss on any trip to Greenwich, providing far-reaching views at the top. But don’t stop there – there’s lots more to enjoy in this breathtakingly beautiful Royal Park. Did you know that Greenwich Park is home to a herd of Red and Fallow deer? Or that London’s longest herbaceous border (at 200m) is here? Further bucolic treats include oak trees that sheltered Tudor monarchs, a pretty-as-a-picture rose garden, and the historic Queen’s Orchard, with heritage fruit trees, pathways and ponds.

View Greenwich through a camera obscura

Camera obscura

Get an alternative view of Greenwich by looking through the fascinatingly intricate camera obscura at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. Housed in a small summerhouse in the Meridian Courtyard, the camera was installed in 1994 and shows a close-up, moving panorama of the Thames, the National Maritime Museum and the Old Royal Naval College. It’s the most recent in a long line of camera obscuras to be displayed here, with the first dating back to the late 17th century.

Spot the former home of Daniel Day-Lewis

Greenwich is well-known as the birthplace of royalty – most famously Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. But did you know that it’s also the childhood home of acting royalty, in the form of Daniel Day-Lewis? The Oscar winner’s former home on Crooms Hill, where Mean Time Astronomer Royal Sir George Airy also once lived, is identifiable by a blue plaque – though not one bearing his name, but his father’s: Cecil Day-Lewis was an Anglo-Irish poet who held the post of Poet Laureate from 1968 to 1972.

Stroll around a popular film location

Chapel at ORNC
Image: The Chapel at ORNC. Roger M Stevens ARPS. All rights reserved.

The Old Royal Naval College is on the itineraries of many a Greenwich day-tripper. And rightly so. But the elegant columns and classical domes of Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece aren’t the only reason for a visit. Fans of the 2012 film Les Miserables might be interested to hear that the film, though set in Paris, was actually filmed here – as were scenes from Four Weddings and a Funeral (one of the weddings takes place in the Chapel, pictured), Pirates of the Caribbean (in which you’ll spot the magnificent Painted Hall), The Avengers and Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes.