The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich is the world’s largest maritime museum. It is home to a large collection of exhibits on maritime history including displays on naval history, pirates, maritime exploration and shipping and its role in world trade.
The National Maritime Museum’s collection includes over two million objects and its portrait collection is second only to the National Portrait Gallery. Its artefacts relating to Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson and Captain James Cook are unrivalled.
This is the main museum operated by Royal Museums Greenwich, whose other museums include Cutty Sark, Queen’s House and the Royal Observatory.
What to see at the National Maritime Museum
The museum chronicles Britain’s maritime history, which encompasses everything from its naval history to world exploration, the expansion of the British Empire and international trade.
One of the first things that visitors to the museum see is Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, this scale model of Admiral Nelson’s ship HMS Victory in an oversized bottle is a popular artwork that is displayed outside the museum. The work was produced by Yinka Shonibare MBE and it is one of London’s most photographed artworks.
The ground floor has the museum’s main entrance as well as Turners Battle of Trafalgar, a collection of figureheads and exhibits about maritime London.
The Voyagers gallery is a good introduction to the museum’s collections. This gallery has displays showing the significance of Britain’s maritime history and its impact on the nation.
Miss Britain III
Miss Britain III is the aluminium speedboat designed by Hubert Scott-Paine in 1933 to compete in the International Harmsworth Trophy in the United States. Although Miss Britain III was narrowly beaten, she later set a record for the single-engine boat to travel over 160 km/h (100 mph) and the following year won both the Prince of Piedmont’s Cup and the Count Volpi Trophy in Venice where it set a world record.
Turner’s Battle of Trafalgar
Turner’s Battle of Trafalgar warrants its own gallery. Joseph Mallord William Turner’s largest painting has pride of place in this gallery alongside displays showing how this painting was controversial in its day. Some of the controversy relates to inaccuracies in the painting, for instance, the painting shows the French ship Redoubtable sinking while HMS Victory is still upright, but what actually happened is that Victory was sunk by Redoubtable and Redoubtable didn’t sink until encountering a storm after the battle.
The Ahoy! Gallery has interactive displays that cater to children aged under eight.
Figureheads is a collection of over 230 figureheads dating from the 17th century to the early 20th century.
The museum’s first floor has exhibits about international trade, including the slave trade as well as the Baltic Exchange memorial
The Traders gallery on the first floor has exhibits about the history of the East India Company. Highlights of this gallery include a miniature Chinese garden purchased in China by Commodore Anson while circumnavigating the world in 1742–1743, a 19th-century flag of the Chinese Imperial Navy and a tea chest that the East India Company used to transport black tea from Fujian Province in China. The Traders gallery also has displays about how British traders would cultivate opium in India to trade for tea in China.
The Atlantic gallery on the first floor focuses on trans-Atlantic trade with an emphasis on the slave trade. It includes an exhibit about Sir John Hawkins, the first English slave trader who captured slaves in Sierra Leone to sell to Spanish settlers in Hispaniola in the Caribbean and displays about the campaign mounted in England to abolish the international slave trade.
Baltic Memorial gallery
The Baltic Memorial gallery, on the first floor, is a memorial to members of the Baltic Exchange who lost their lives in the First World War. The memorial is comprised of a half-dome of stained glass panels. The Baltic Exchange was a meeting place in the City of London where merchant and naval officers would plan trade missions. The memorial was built at the Baltic Exchange Building after the First World War, but this building was destroyed by a Provisional Irish Republican Army terrorist attack in 1992 and the surviving panels were used to create this memorial. The site of the original Baltic Exchange is now home to 30 St Mary Axe, more commonly known as the Gherkin.
The Great Map is an interactive exhibit aimed at children.
Nelson, Navy, Nation gallery
The Nelson, Navy, Nation gallery on the second floor focuses on Horatio Nelson and the Royal Navy under his command. Highlights of this gallery include a cannonball from the Battle of Trafalgar, the Union Jack that flew on the HMS Minotaur at the Battle of Trafalgar and the uniform that Admiral Nelson wore when he was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar.
Forgotten Fighters gallery
The Forgotten Fighters gallery focuses on the naval battles fought during the First World War including personal accounts and exhibits about new technology deployed by the Royal Navy during the war. Highlights of this gallery include binoculars from the HMS Invincible that was sunk at the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of the First World War.
All Hands and Ship Simulator
The All Hands and Ship Simulator galleries are both aimed at children. All Hands has displays for six to 12-year-old children and the Ship Simulator lets you try your hand at steering a ship into port.
Visiting the National Maritime Museum
The National Maritime Museum is in Greenwich at the northern end of Greenwich Park and is close to the centre of Greenwich. It is about halfway between Greenwich and Maze Hill railway stations, both a 10-minute walk from the museum with trains every 10 minutes from London Cannon Street or London Bridge railway stations. The train journey to Greenwich takes 13 minutes from Cannon Street and eight minutes from London Bridge.
There is no charge to visit the National Maritime Museum, although there is a charge for temporary exhibitions and also a charge to visit some other museums operated by Royal Museums Greenwich.
The National Maritime Museum is a great family attraction. While most of the serious galleries are aimed mostly at adults, each of the museum’s floors has several galleries aimed at children including the Ahoy! gallery on the ground floor, the Great Map on the first floor and All Hands and the Ship Simulator on the second floor.
All floors of the museum have lift and wheelchair access.
You should allow 2–3 hours for a visit to the museum.