Old Royal Naval College
2, Cutty Sark Gardens Greenwich SE10 9LW
If you're anything like a regular cinema-goer, the Old Royal Naval College complex in Greenwich, designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1696 and completed in 1712 as hospital for sick and retired seamen, may seem eerily familiar. Indeed its buildings and quadrangles are used so regularly in movies these days that it would be a surprise if you didn't recognise it – whether it's from Les Miserables, Pirates of the Caribbean, or even the latest Thor movie. And no wonder: Wren wanted to create a Versailles-like royal suburb and he placed the naval college at the heart of his vision, its grand courtyards and pillared arcades looking out to the river. It mutated from hospital to college in the late 18th century, and the navy vacated the premises a couple of decades ago. Most of the complex is these days in use by the University of Greenwich and the Trinity School of Music, but a couple of stand-out buildings can be visited, including the Chapel, which was the last part of the complex to be completed, which, despite a fire in 1779, still has its original Benjamin West altarpiece and late-18th-century organ. Across the college's central avenue, the Painted Hall is still more impressive, designed by two architectural heavyweights – Nicholas Hawksmoor and Christopher Wren as the 'finest dining room in Europe' for the naval veterans who lived here. It was here that Nelson lay in state after his death in battle in 1805, and its walls and ceiling paintings document the glory days of British naval power. Guided tours also take in another room full of Nelson memorabilia, a skittle alley and the crypt. Finally, there's the Discover Greenwich Village Centre, over by the Cutty Sark, which is both a source of information and has a permanent exhibition devoted to the seaman's hospital, the history of the naval college and of Greenwich in general, including Henry VIII's palace, the remains of which lie underneath your feet.