Review of 'Painted Hall Ceiling Tours'

First off, a confession: I have never actually visited the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich nor have I ever visited the nearby Cutty Sark or the even closer National Maritime Museum. It is often so difficult to get out to Greenwich by public transport (DLR, a bus, or a river boat are the main options) it seems it is often neglected in our time in the city. So when I read about the Painted Hall Ceiling Tours I was initially a bit reluctant but then I read more and realized this was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The Painted Hall is a magnificent hall in the Old Royal Naval College that features an incredible ceiling “The Triumph of Peace and Liberty over Tyranny” by British artist Sir James Thornhill, painted over the course of 19 years (1707 to 1726). They are currently performing conservation on the ceiling so have offered tickets to the general public to view the work at extremely close range. In the tour you are literally within touching distance of the ceiling walking on the false floor that has been built on top of a massive amount of scaffolding (£400,000 worth) that has been erected in the hall.

Purchasing tickets in advance is an absolute must as this is a very popular event. They are available online at £10 (£11 with donation) for adults, £5 for children/National Art Pass holders (£5.50 with donation).

Entering the Painted Hall with it's massive amount of scaffolding you check in at a small kiosk in the middle of the room then are shown to a small area where you are given an audio receiver to listen to your guide (with headphones) and a high visibility jacket that must be worn during your visit. You are then taken to the eastern west of the hall where you are given a brief introduction to the hall, the work in front of us (a large family portrait of George I including a cheeky picture of the artist) and the work being done as well as given the opportunity to put bulky items in the (free) lockers provided.


There are 60 some-odd stairs up to the ceiling but are easy enough and on our walk up we were given more information on what we were about to see.

Lots of Stairs

Once at the top their is a large open floor area with your guide highlighting certain sections of the painting using a torch. The top of the steps was our first highlight: The painting of Tycho Brahe (astronomer) which features the signatures of the artist and others who have done work on the hall that would never be visible from the ground.

The guide's talk was amazingly informative but he did also stop several times for us to just wander around and look for ourselves for a few minutes which really allowed us to appreciate more what we were seeing. There were other tour groups up there when we visited on the last tour of the day but they left after a short time so we had the entire area to ourselves.

All Alone...ish

Of course, the paintings were never meant to be seen this close up with many of the painting stroke details clearly visible at this proximity but blend perfectly into the painting on the ground. It was amazing to hear of the amount of detail here and the story that the picture actually conveys.

William III and Mary II

It was also interesting to hear of the history of the ceiling itself, the work involved in creating, maintaining and restoring it over the years. The work being undertaken is truly extraordinarily meticulous but is anticipated to last for centuries to come. They are being careful with this conservation work to ensure that everything is documented and that what work they do can be easily un-done in the future if required.

Conservation Materials

Even simply removing the dust has be done with the utmost of care. Interestingly, we were told that a small sample of the paint used in earlier work was left behind in a small glass jar which is being analysed.


To be fair, it is hard to appreciate the entirety of the work from this close up and frequently I had to resort to looking at displays set up throughout the space showing the sections in the whole (and the brochure we were given after check-in showing the entire ceiling, highlighting key elements). So much of the time was spent looking up and walking around at the same time attempting to figure out what you were seeing with the shine of the paint not helping.

The walk back down was slightly anti-climactic as we handed over our headsets and jackets…But it was truly an experience we will never forget and, at 50 minutes, the perfect amount of time to not get too bored but enough time to feel we had appreciated and begun to understood what we were seeing.

For what was originally meant to be a dining hall for sailors, this is a magnificent piece of British history and well worth the effort to see close up in this unique and unusual event. If you want to do it, do it soon as the work finishes at the end of September, 2018.


Rating: “I have absolutely no complaints”

Review Date: 2018-09-15

Old Royal Naval College

Location: London (England)

Address: Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London SE10 9NN ENGLAND

Public Transport: DLRLOGO Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich NRLOGO Greenwich

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 8269 4799


Free to visit the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich is often the poorer cousin the nearby Cutty Sark, massive National Maritime Museum, and the Greenwich Observatory but is certainly worth your time even if to walk amongst the wonderful architecture. The small museum here consists mostly of hands-on children activities but has some good general information about the college. Worth a visit is the ornate “Chapel of St. Peter & St. Paul” and the magnificent Painted Hall (also both free).