A Taste of Victoriana: The Cutty Sark

It is common knowledge that the Brits love their tea, but it is less common knowledge how this love affair began. If you are looking for a fun way to explore that history, you should try visiting the good ship Cutty Sark near the waterfront in Greenwich.

The ship wasn’t built until 1869, but tea first came to the UK two centuries earlier. Below is a timeline from the Cutty Sark‘s exhibits.

In its heyday, the Cutty Sark was one of the most impressive vessels on the sea, and especially well-suited for transporting tea. The copper hull was not only beautiful, but was especially good at keeping sea water out of the cargo hold compared to other shipbuilding techniques of the time. It also had an amazing carrying capacity and was one of the fastest ships on the water.

In fact, it engaged in a historic race in 1872 against another transport called Thermopylae. Both ships left Shanghai at the same time, and the Cutty Sark took an early lead. Unfortunately, she lost her rudder and had to stop for repairs. The Thermopylae ended up making it to England a full week before The Cutty Sark. This was the only time that both ships left from the same port at the same time, but the Cutty Sark later set a record for reaching Sydney in just 73 days.

I loved visiting the exhibits on the inside, especially the first floor where the interior and the displays were made out of tea crates. There is another gallery the next floor up that has interactive features and videos to help you get into the mindset of a sailor on the ship over its long history. I was also lucky enough to have the perfect weather to explore the deck, which has been restored to its former, shiny glory.

Tips for Visiting the Museum:

  • The ship is situated in a large courtyard next to the waterfront. The wide stairs and a low wall make it a nice place to have a little picnic. The grounds of the University of Greenwich are on the other side of the courtyard and are also a nice respite from the bustle of the city.
  • If you are looking for the cafe, it is in the basement where you can see the amazing copper belly of the ship. There is also a fun display of wooden figureheads from different ships on the far end.
  • If you are claustrophobic (or just very tall) you will probably be uncomfortable in at least half of the museum. The ceilings inside the belly of the ship and in the crew’s quarters on deck are very low.
  • When you are on the side of the ship, make sure you get all the way from end to end. It is easy to miss some of the displays.
  • The museum is only a short jaunt from the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory, so you may consider combining visits in a single day. If you intend to visit at least two of these attractions, make sure to look at the combined rates offered. Discounted tickets are sold at all three locations and are valid for a month after purchase.

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