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 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
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.
Enjoy afternoon tea under Cutty Sark
Explore space close-up at London's only Planetarium
Explore the farther reaches of Greenwich 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? There's a beautiful rose garden by the Ranger's House, a Georgian villa originally the residence of the Park Ranger, and the historic Queen’s Orchard with fruit trees, pathways and ponds.
Don't forget to climb to the top of the hill in Greenwich Park and outside the Royal Observatory enjoy the best view of London.
View Greenwich through a 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
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.