The college is the centrepiece of Maritime Greenwich and an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Originally a manor house built in the 15th century by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, it was later bought by Queen Margaret of Anjou and extended to create the Palace of Placentia.
In the late 1490s, it was rebuilt by King Henry VII as Greenwich Palace, birthplace of Henry VIII, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. The building eventually fell into disrepair during the English Civil War in the 17th century.
After being restored to the throne in 1660, Charles II decided to replace the palace, but popular enthusiasm died out after a single wing being built, which later became the Royal Hospital for Seamen. Sir Christopher Wren produced the designs for the new hospital and work began in 1696 on the four major buildings intended to accommodate over 2,500 Royal Navy veterans.
Seamen pensioners occupied the hospital for over a century, until it was shut down in 1869 due to low numbers. It was subsequently re-opened in 1873 as the Royal Naval College, focused on the education of officers. In 1997, it became an independent charity to conserve the landmark for present and future generations.
The beautiful Painted Hall, the handiwork of Sir James Thornhill, is considered to be the greatest piece of English decorative painting and has been called ‘the Sistine Chapel of the UK’. After an extensive renovation project worth £8.5m, the Painted Hall reopened in March 2019. The proscenium arch, which was lacking its usual lustre after enduring 50 years of dirt and grime, was restored and re-gilded thanks to 272 donors who gave to the college's Art Happens crowdfunding campaign.
This historic site is the home of three attractions: the Painted Hall, the Chapel, and the Visitor Centre. Visitors can enjoy guided talks in the Painted Hall, a multimedia guide, handling objects, and a kids trail.
The Chapel of St Peter and St Paul is a neo-classical structure designed by James ‘Athenian’ Stuart and William Newton. It features a Samuel Green organ and an altarpiece by Benjamin West.
The Visitor Centre is open and free to all, and guests of the Old Royal Naval College can learn more about the site's history or discover what more there is to see in Greenwich.