For such an ancient and historic town, Greenwich is also modernising and undergoing a massive building boom that is bring new riverside homes and developments on brown field sites.
The best-rated schools in have tight catchment areas, which push up house prices in the surrounding streets.
One-bedroom rental flats in Greenwich are particularly popular with young professionals and couples working in Canary Wharf, and there is also strong demand for shared houses for the area’s student population.
© Pictures by Graham Hussey
Anyone seeing Greenwich for the first time from the spot in Island Gardens on the Isle of Dogs where Canaletto painted the view across the Thames could be forgiven for thinking that here is a royal palace to rival Versailles. The baroque grandeur, the vistas, the classical arrangement of courtyards — surely these glorious riverside buildings are fit only for royalty?
Greenwich, made a royal borough by the Queen during 2012 for her Diamond Jubilee, has been a World Heritage Site since 1997, and the Wren and Hawksmoor buildings, together with the 17th-century Inigo Jones-designed Queen’s House, are all listed Grade I.
While Greenwich can boast history’s grandest retirement home, its links with royalty — and its location between the royal dockyards at Deptford and Woolwich — made it the site of London’s greatest collection of baroque architecture.
The 15th-century Palace of Placentia was built here, seemingly Henry VIII’s favourite residence and the birthplace of his daughters, queens Mary and Elizabeth. Less favoured by subsequent Stuart kings, the palace was finally demolished.
King William III and Queen Mary II commissioned the hospital after Mary witnessed wounded sailors returning from the Battle of La Hogue. Today, the buildings house the National Maritime Museum, the University of Greenwich, and the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.
In the 18th century, Greenwich was a popular rural retreat, which left a legacy of fine Georgian houses, terraces and smaller cottages in central west Greenwich, in the area running up the hill parallel to Greenwich Park.
Typical of the era is a fine double-fronted, eight-bedroom Georgian house with a bow-front middle section and a walled garden on Crooms Hill overlooking the park. It is being sold for a sum which is undisclosed, but estimated to be about £3.5 million.
In King George Street nearby there is a two-bedroom double-fronted Georgian cottage for £800,000. The popular Ashburnham conservation area in the triangle between Blackheath Road, Greenwich High Road and Greenwich South Street has later Victorian houses. A five-bedroom, four-storey house with a top-floor nanny flat is on the market there at £1.5 million.
The area attracts: Estate agent Doug Morris from the local Greenwich branch of John Payne says since the arrival of the Docklands Light Railway in 1999, buyers are predominantly young couples working in Canary Wharf. “Unfortunately, many of them want to buy period houses or flats in converted houses and the area being relatively small has a limited supply.”
Staying power: Doug Morris says many people trade up from a flat to a house when they start a family, although he concedes that some families move out to Kent in search of better secondary schools.
Postcode: SE10 is the Greenwich postcode. It takes in Greenwich, Maze Hill – essentially East Greenwich – and the Greenwich peninsula.
Best roads: Crooms Hill, Hyde Vale and Gloucester Circus.
Up-and-coming areas: East Greenwich, east of the park, is cheaper than the west of the royal borough and has some catching up to do. It offers a mix of two-bedroom workers’ cottages and three- and four-bedroom Victorian terrace houses. Small two-bedroom cottages are priced at about £495,000, while three- and four-bedroom houses go for about £650,000.
Travel and commuting: the Docklands Light Railway and its swift journeys to Canary Wharf from Greenwich and Cutty Sark stations — it takes just 10 minutes from Cutty Sark — changed the make-up of Greenwich residents.
North Greenwich Tube station is on the Jubilee line, while there are regular trains from Greenwich and Maze Hill stations to Cannon Street. The journey from Maze Hill, which serves East Greenwich, is 17 minutes.
The river bus goes from Greenwich and North Greenwich Piers and a cable car runs from North Greenwich to East India Dock. Greenwich and Cutty Sark are in Zone 2 (annual travel card, £1,216); Maze Hill is in Zone 3 (annual travelcard to Zone 1, £1,424).
Shops and restaurants: Greenwich Market is the place to find interesting and off-beat presents and shopping trips can be combined with a meal at one of the street food stalls. Worth seeking out in the shops around the market are: Meet Bernard, a chic womenswear and menswear boutique; Lush Designs for distinctive prints, especially on its trademark lampshades; and Sophie & Matt, an enterprise that started life on a market stall at the market, selling Cath Kidston-style bags and accessories.
Chain restaurants Café Rouge and Pizza Express are here, as is new arrival Jamie’s Italian. Paul Rhodes has a bakery and patisserie. Chef Guy Awford runs the best neighbourhood restaurant, Inside, on Greenwich South Street; he has a strong local following. He has recently taken on local pub, The Guildford Arms, in Guildford Grove. 16 Degrees West is an ambitious brasserie at the National Maritime Museum.
On Royal Hill, outside the town centre, there is Drings, a butcher that ages its own beef, and The Cheeseboard for cheese and wine, and the charmingly named The Creaky Shed for fruit and vegetables.
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Open space: Greenwich Park, which separates west and east Greenwich, is one of eight royal parks and possibly the most historic. It hosts both the meridian line and the Royal Observatory and enjoys breathtaking views over Canary Wharf, the City, St Paul’s cathedral and beyond. The Thames Path runs through Greenwich, winds round the Greenwich peninsula, finishing at the Thames barrier.
Leisure and the arts: the four great Royal Museums of Greenwich are the National Maritime Museum, the Queen’s House, the Royal Observatory — including the Peter Harrison digital laser planetarium — and the Cutty Sark, the last surviving tea clipper.
Greenwich is culturally well-served. The Millennium Dome on the peninsula has been resurrected as the O2 arena, one of Britain’s most successful entertainment venues, with concerts scheduled from singer Jessie J and rappers Will.i.am and Tinie Tempah.
The Greenwich Theatre nurtures young talent and there are three cinemas — the Greenwich Picturehouse in the town centre, the 11-screen Cineworld multiplex at the O2, and an Odeon multiplex on Bugsby Way. The Arches Leisure Centre on Trafalgar Road has the nearest council-owned swimming pool, and Waterfront Leisure Centre in nearby Woolwich has two pools and slides.
Council: Greenwich borough council is Labour controlled, and the current Band D council tax is £1,405.95.
TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE: GREENWICH
What does Greenwich share with Wotton Bassett?
They both have the right to call themselves royal. This was granted to Greenwich during 2012 to mark the Queen’s diamond jubilee. The two towns share the right with the boroughs of Kensington & Chelsea, Kingston-upon-Thames, Windsor and Maidenhead, Leamington Spa and Tunbridge Wells.
Where does a laser, a stainless steel strip and a cross hair separate east from west?
At an international conference in Washington in 1884, the Greenwich Meridian was adopted as Oo longitude and the point separating the western and eastern hemispheres. It originates from a cross hair in the eyepiece of the “Transit Circle” telescope at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park, and is also marked with a stainless steel strip and a laser beam.
Who answered the demand “Give us gold”, with the answer “The Gold I give you is the Word of God”?
St Alfege, an 11th century Archbishop of Canterbury, was captured and bludgeoned to death in Greenwich by invading Danes in 1012 after refusing to pay a ransom of £3,000. A miracle was then reported when a Danish oar dipped in his blood sprouted leaves. He was canonised in 1078 and the Nicholas Hawksmoor church of St Alfege in Greenwich is on the site of his martyrdom.
Five-year property price trends: Greenwich comparison with UK average
Average prices: Buying flats and houses in Greenwich
One-bedroom flat: £283,000
Two-bedroom flat: £494,000
Two-bedroom house: £620,000
Three-bedroom house: £708,000
Four-bedroom house: £1.23 million
Pictures by Graham Hussey