Sails of the centuries

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich is the world’s largest maritime museum. Samantha Mayling set sail to explore.

With almost two-and-a-half million objects in its collections, you can bet the National Maritime Museum has something for everyone.

When I visited, there were plenty of youngsters on educational trips – ranging from primary school children to teenagers taking selfies – and they all seemed to be enjoying themselves.

There is a dedicated ‘Ahoy’ play zone for kids under the age of seven, and the ‘All Hands’ for those aged six to 12 – plus a Great Map which can be explored as children walk across the surface (and it’s next to the Great Map Café for weary parents to take a breather).

However, the sheer size of the museum meant that it didn’t feel crowded and there were plenty of galleries to explore, which offered havens of peace with plenty to discover.

I found out about the Battle of Jutland in 1916 – dubbed the greatest sea battle of the First World War – and the role that the Atlantic played in the slave trade and expansion of empires.

More exhibits tell the stories of the East India Company in Asia, and how coffee, tobacco, spices and sugar first came to our shores.

Nelson gallery

Hailing from Norfolk – birthplace of Horatio Nelson – I was particularly interested in the ‘Nelson Navy Nation’ gallery, which explores his life and the history of the Royal Navy from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to the defeat of Napoleon in 1815.

Personal items belonging to Nelson are on display, including the uniform he wore when he was fatally wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar – with a bullet hole from the French sharpshooter in the left shoulder of the coat.

Sadly, my visit was too early to see the new photographic exhibition, The Great British Seaside: photography from 1960 to present, or the Exploration Wing, opening later in 2018.

This new wing will have four permanent galleries – Pacific Encounters, Polar Worlds, Tudor and Stuart Seafarers and Sea Things – with 1,000 more objects and access to areas of the museum previously closed to visitors.

Meridian Line

There’s also plenty more to see at the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site, including the Queen’s House; the Royal Observatory with the famous world Meridian Line; and the Cutty Sark, the world’s oldest surviving tea clipper.

If that’s not enough, there’s even more to enjoy in the area, including ‘Dinosaurs in the Wild’ on the Greenwich Peninsula (until July 31) or Greenwich Market.

The nearby O2 Arena is the biggest events venue in the world, while The Old Royal Naval College hosts the Greenwich Music Time concert series.

This year, the concerts will feature Emeli Sandé, Tom Jones, Noel Gallagher, Steps and Il Divo (July 3-8).

A further highlight for tourism professionals will be the Tourism Society’s annual Tourism Symposium (June 4-5) in Greenwich– and keep an eye out later in the year as a new outlet shopping mall called Icon is to open at the O2.

Group options

The National Maritime Museum is free to enter, although some exhibitions may charge. The RMG travel trade team can help group organisers, coach companies and tour operators.

Bookings for groups of 10 or more, email: or call 020 8312 6608. A groups and travel trade guide can be downloaded from the website with ready-made half-day or full-day group itineraries.

Pictured at the National Maritime Museum: Nelson’s Ship In a Bottle by Yinka Shonibare. Credit: Prettyawesome/