Best Guide to the Painted Hall Greenwich: London’s Sistine Chapel

Greenwich has everything. Royal connections, UNESCO listed architecture, fantastic museums, the Cutty Sark and, of course, the meridian. Star of the show for me is the Painted Hall Greenwich.

Baroque Painted Hall Greenwich ceiling
Painted Hall, Greenwich – The Sistine Chapel of the UK

Old Royal Naval College Painted Hall Greenwich

Some dub the Painted Hall, Greenwich as ‘The Sistine Chapel of the UK’. She is certainly jaw dropping and a lot less crowded. The hall was designed by Sir Christopher Wren as the ceremonial dining from for the new Royal Hospital for Seaman. Some dining room! You’d want to be looking up, rather than down at your roast dinner.

Painted Hall Greenwich cupola and ceiling
Look up!

Sir James Thornhill (incidentally the first British artist to ever be knighted) started painting the hall in 1707 and took 19 years before he put his brushes down. He was paid by the square yard – £1 per yard for walls and £3 for the ceilings. Just to put that in context there are over 4,000 square metres of paintings in the hall.

Baroque painted ceiling reflected in mirror Painted Hall Greenwich
Reflection perfection

The best way to view the ceiling is either to gaze into one of the handy mirrors or recline on one of the special benches.

Reclining woman looking up and taking a photo of the painted hall ceiling at Greenwich London
Looking Up!

Everything that you see is a work of propaganda, for the Protestant monarchy. In the centre of the main hall you see William of Orange and Mary II looking down at us. The whole idea of the Seaman’s hospital was Mary’s.

William and Mary Painted Hall Greenwich
William and Mary

In the next room Queen Anne and her husband, Prince George of Denmark, gaze down at us. It was during Anne’s reign the Acts of Union were passed, unifying England and Scotland to create Great Britain.

Baroque ceiling painting Queen Anne and Prince George of Denmark
Queen Anne and Prince George

On the back wall the collected Hanovarians look out at us. At the back with a building on her head is Sophie, Electress of Hanover. She was the granddaughter of James I. The Acts of Settlement declared that only a Protestant could occupy the English throne and that made her and her children the lawful heirs. Her son George I sits wearing the crown. To his left is his heir George II and between them Prince Frederick. An unbroken, harmonious protestant line of sucession. Never mind that the Hanovers come from Germany and George I spoke little English and showed even less inclination to learn more.

Hannoverians Protestant Monarchs

It was in front of the collected Hannoverians that Admiral Lord Nelson lay in state for three days. Britain’s greatest maritime hero was bought back from Cape Trafalgar, pickled in a barrel of brandy. Once here thousands of people filed by over three days to pay their respect to heroic Norfolk man.


Stunning though the Painted Hall is, it is not the only place to see within the Old Royal Naval College. Take time to wander around the grounds and discover Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece for yourself.

Victorian Skittle Alley

Turn right when you leave the Painted Hall and follow a rather inviting tunnel.

Receding white tunnel Georgian arches designed by Sir Christopher Wren
This way to the Skittle Alley

At the other end you will find a Victorian Skittle Alley, even better you can have a game of skittles. Once you rolled the balls and knocked all the skittles down, you have to walk down the alley put the pins back up and send the balls rolling down a special gully.

Victorian Skittle Alley Old Royal Naval College Greenwich

Chapel of the Royal Hospital

Just opposite the Painted Hall is the Chapel of the Royal Hospital. Make sure you look inside it is stunning. Even better the students of Trinity Laban Music School put on free concerts ever Tuesday and Friday lunchtime. If you like a church service, Evensong with the college choir takes place every Monday evening at 5.30pm.

Mould plaster and carved wood baroque church interior Royal Hospital Greenwich
Royal Hospital Chapel Greenwich

Old Royal Naval College as a Movie Set

Take a look at those colonnades, do they look familiar? You might recognise them from many films and TV appearances as the Old Royal Naval College is one of the most popular movie locations in the world. Pirates of Caribbean, Les Miserables, Skyfall and Poldark were all filmed here. Fans of Four Weddings and Funeral may recognise it as the venue for Wedding number two of Bernard and Lydia. Eagle eyed viewers of The Crown will see the exterior standing in for central London.

Collonade receding into the distance. Sir Christopher Wren architecture Greenwich
Is that Poldark behind that pillar?

Whilst you are in Greenwich take time to pop into the Queen’s House and the Cutty Sark. One of the most glamorous weddings I have been to was held at the Old Royal Naval College.


Greenwich has been home to a royal palace since the 15th century. Henry VIII was born here. He married two of his wives here and his daughters Mary and Elizabeth were also born here. James I wife, Anne of Denmark liked the spot so much she had the Queen’s House built. By the time of the Restoration the old palace had become delapidated and Charles II had it demolished to make way for a new palace. His plans came to nothing. Part of the Tudor Palace has been discovered during the restoration of the Painted Hall and are visible for the first time in four hundred years.

Tudor Brick cellars part of Greenwich Palace
Henry VIII’s bees wintered here.

Forty years later Queen Mary II decided the site would be perfect for the new Hospital for Seamen. Christopher Wren was called in and UNESCO Maritime Greenwich site that we know today was created. Forty years later the old sailors moved elsewhere I Greenwich and the site became the Royal Naval College. When I lived in the area, that’s what it still was, open to view but hidden to access. In 1997 the Navy moved out and the site became open to all. Some buildings are occupied by the University of Greenwich and the Trinity School of Music.

UNESCO Maritime Greenwich looking up through Wren colonnades to the Queens House
Old Royal Naval College and Queen’s House


As regular readers will know, no cultural experience is complete without a cafe. Rest assured that the £8.5m restoration project has seen some funds devoted to restoring the undercroft to its former glory and installing a cafe. I can vouch for quality of the coffee, cakes and a rather fine pot of bircher muesli.

White arched undercroft Painted Hall Greenwich
Coffee time!


  • Old Royal Naval College, King William Walk, SE10 9NN
  • Grounds open: Daily 8am – 11pm
  • Painted Hall Open: Daily 10am – 5pm
  • Admission: Painted Hall Adults £15, ticket lasts all year. Pay as you wish on first Wednesday of the month. Entry to the grounds and the chapel is free.
  • Getting to Greenwich: Mainline trains stop at Greenwich leaving from Kent, Charing Cross and London Bridge. The DLR stops at Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich (the longest name for a stop on the entire Transport for London network). Arrive as Henry VIII would have done, and catch the river boat.
Visit the Painted Hall Greenwich London.  Centre piece of Sir Christopher Wren's UNESCO listed Maritime Greenwich.  Dubbed the Sistine Chapel of the UK


  1. March 28, 2019 / 7:27 am

    How amazing – and I’d never heard of Thornhill – a real gem of a post, Catherine. Lots of information about I place I’d never normally consider seeing.

    • March 28, 2019 / 8:12 am

      You need to go, Greenwich has so much too see

  2. March 28, 2019 / 12:47 pm

    I like the idea of viewing art horizontally, very relaxing. Although the mirrors are a brilliant idea too! So much history to explore there, I’ll have to have a wander through next time I’m in Greenwich. #farawayfiles

    • March 28, 2019 / 2:39 pm

      Well worth the journey to Greenwich all on its own!

  3. March 29, 2019 / 6:24 am

    Fascinating. I love a trip to Greenwich, its amongst our top place to take visitors to. Can’t wait to see the painted hall. What a fantastic idea to put benches that you can lay back on to take in the view. #farawayfiles

  4. March 29, 2019 / 7:46 pm

    Goodness, it all looks stunning. I think I need another day in London (I already want to go back for next Wednesday’s free lunchtime lecture at the V&A).

    • March 29, 2019 / 9:55 pm

      You need that Cultural Wednesday!

  5. March 30, 2019 / 12:59 pm

    You are great at sharing newly renovated places Catherine, I love this one!

  6. Alma
    March 30, 2019 / 1:26 pm

    Beautifully restored. I’m sorry we never went there when we went to Greenwich many years ago.

  7. March 30, 2019 / 3:38 pm

    The Painted Hall looks so stunning. I haven’t yet had a chance to visit, but it will for sure be on my to do list for the weeks coming.

  8. Bright Lights of America
    March 30, 2019 / 4:27 pm

    How does London just have so many stunning buildings with gorgeous architecture and frescos? I’ll never get sick of it. The Painted Hall is breathtaking!

    • March 30, 2019 / 9:04 pm

      I know, I walk into jaw dropping buildings every week and just as you think London can have no more another one hoves into view!

  9. March 30, 2019 / 9:47 pm

    Wow, I’ve never even heard of the Painted Hall Greenwich (probably because London has so much spectacular architecture!). The Painted Hall looks stunning. I’ll definitely put this on my list for my next London trip.

    • March 30, 2019 / 9:49 pm

      It is stunning …. Greenwich well worth a day on any London itinerary

  10. April 1, 2019 / 2:03 am

    I’ve never been to Greenwich (though am from a town called Greenwich!) but love the idea of visiting the Painted Hall – especially viewing the ceiling from one of those red benches. Sounds like it could get quite comfortable! Thanks for linking up with #farawayfiles

  11. April 1, 2019 / 11:27 am

    This is beautiful, but I can’t quite figure out where that mirror is. Is it on the floor or somewhere else?

    • April 1, 2019 / 3:21 pm

      The mirror is on a table, parallel to the floor

  12. April 10, 2019 / 5:17 pm

    Some FABULOUS photos Catherine. But you didn’t post the one of you in your royal gear….

    • April 12, 2019 / 2:13 pm

      Some things are best kept private!

  13. April 18, 2019 / 8:49 am

    This is such a well-researched post, Catherine, and I love the pictures too. Paid by the square yard, wow, and he still took 19 years, that speaks for his character (I’d have finished two football fields within a month, most likely sth monochrome haha). Ms B & I are definitely going to visit again soon. We both have very fond memories of the beautiful ceiling.

    • April 18, 2019 / 8:52 am

      Thank you! There is so much to see in Greenwich

  14. May 2, 2019 / 5:44 pm

    We went to Greenwich for the first time two week ago and we didn’t have time to visit everything (with two little children). So much to see in this lovely borough! We have to come back, this ceiling is just marvelous!

    • May 2, 2019 / 5:51 pm

      So much to see and do in Greenwich, I keep on thinking we should stay over even though it is so close!

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