After the Navy moved out in 1998, The Greenwich Foundation, a registered charity, signed a 150-year lease and took responsibility for looking after the buildings and their grounds for the benefit of the nation. Three of the main courts, Queen Anne, Queen Mary and King William are occupied by the University of Greenwich and the Trinity School of Music is based in King Charles court. The Foundation manages the Painted Hall and the Chapel, the related undercrofts, the Visitor Centre and the grounds.
The buildings were originally constructed to serve as the Greenwich Hospital, designed by Christopher Wren, and built between 1696 and 1712. The hospital closed in 1869. The site was formerly occupied by the pre-Tudor "Palace at Greenwich" – also known as the Palace of Placentia – built by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester in 1428.
From 1962 to 1996 the Naval College housed JASON, an operational nuclear reactor for naval training. It was fully dismantled in 1999.
The compound is regularly used for filming television programmes, television advertisements, and feature films. Productions have included Patriot Games, where an attack on a fictional royal family member, Lord Holmes, was filmed, as well as Shanghai Knights, and a 2006 television advertisement campaign for the British food and clothing retailer Marks & Spencer. Recent filming has included BBC television's spy-drama Spooks, David Cronenberg's film Eastern Promises, The Golden Compass, the film adaptation of Philip Pullman's Northern Lights novel and The Wolf Man, a remake of the 1941 film of the same name.
The buildings are Grade I listed.