The National Maritime Museum

Britain prides itself on a vast collection of naval history memorabilia housed in historically significant buildings and venues such as the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

The maritime museum is part of a network of museums under the Royal Museums Greenwich. It houses a rich collection of sea, ship, and astronomy artifacts, some dating as far back as the 18th century. Exploring the National Maritime Museum is one of the best things to do for free in East London, after getting a tattoo in Shoreditch. Check out its history, interesting facts, and things to know before you go.

The History of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich wasn’t always a museum.  The main building, commonly known as The Queen’s House is actually a queen house built in the 16th century for the wife of Charles 1. It was converted into a school for sailors’ kids in the 18th century, and later expanded, to house the Royal Naval College. It formally opened its doors as the National Maritime Museum in 1937 and opened four years later to the public after launching by King George VI.

It is today the largest maritime museum in the UK with a collection of over 2 million maritime memorabilia. It has nearly endless exhibits and displays with ships, ship models, portraits, navigational instruments, figureheads, uniforms, and naval weapons dating back to the UK’s reign over the naval world, to modern-day maritime artifacts. The National Maritime Museum also holds naval artifacts obtained from a German Naval Academy in World War II. Some notable exhibits include:

Battle of Trafalgar

The Battle of Trafalgar is a huge canvas painting by JMW Turner, an English Romantic painter and watercolorist. Turner is famous for his expressive art works which included colorisations, imaginative landscapes, and turbulent marine paintings. The Battle of Trafalgar painting is considered his largest ever art piece and even has its own gallery at the National Maritime Museum.

The Trafalgar Coat

The Trafalgar Coat is part of the uniform that Admiral Nelson, one of Britain’s greatest naval heroes, was wearing when he was wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar. The coat has a visible bullet hole on the left shoulder and blood stains on the left sleeve. Despite succumbing to his bullet wound, Admiral Nelson lived long enough to see the English navy defeat the enemies.

Prince Frederick’s Barge

Long before the industrial revolution, royals sailed the Thames in luxury barges.Prince Frederick’s barge at the National Maritime Museum is your best shot at experiencing the luxury.

The barge is about 20m long,  gilded by a 24-carat gold leaf  and back then it would be oared by up to 21 men. It was first launched in the 17th century during the Prince’s first voyage and today sits at the museum where everyone can experience it firsthand.

Besides the three notable artifacts above, The National Maritime Museum also has a series of interesting exhibitions and whole galleries devoted to Britain’s sea history such as the Voyagers gallery. Four new galeries were opened in 2018 to showcase Tudor, Pacific, Polar and Sea encounters.

Know before You Go

The Museum opens daily from 10am to 5pm and although admission is free, pre booking is a necessity.

Address: Romney Road, Greenwich, London