The Royal Observatory at Greenwich, designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1675 by order of King Charles II, is home to the Prime Meridian Line, the official center of Greenwich Mean Time. Poised atop a hill in Greenwich Park, it features London’s only planetarium and the UK’s largest refracting telescope, in addition to the city’s most stunning views across Greenwich and Canary Wharf.
The Observatory, which sits adjacent to the Queen’s House and the National Maritime Museum, houses an extensive collection of astronomical and navigational tools, telescopes and clocks from the last 400 some-odd years. Here you’ll find some excellent displays on how to navigate using both the stars and some of the museum’s antique equipment.
These antiques include an array of British inventor John Harrison’s 18th-century clocks, the products of a 50 year-long struggle to give ship’s navigators an accurate “home time” to calculate their longitude. (Harrison’s story is told in thrilling, almost heartbreaking detail in Longitude, a book by American writer Dava Sobel.) He was eventually successful, and his historic H4 marine timekeeper is given a place of honor at the Observatory.
The centerpiece os the Observatory’s Time and Space Project is the 120- seat Peter Harrison Planetarium, which stands alongside the interactive Weller Astronomy Galleries. The planetarium gives an exhilarating virtual tour of the solar system and beyond, and is entered with a timed ticket for a variety of daily themed shows. Open weekdays 1-4pm on the hour, and weekends 11am-4pm on the hour.
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The Weller Astronomy Galleries help explain the mysteries of the universe, how it was formed, and how stars and planets are born, and the interactive exhibits let you try different techniques used to explore the Universe as well as question leading experts. The Galleries are open daily from 10am-5pm.
Hours, admission and location
The Royal Observatory is (almost always) open seven days a week, year-round from 10am-5pm; it’s closed only from 24-26 December. While the bulk of the Observatory is free to enter, admission to the Planetarium is £4.50 (child) -6.50 (adult).
To get here, take the Docklands Light Railway to Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich station or take a river boat to Greenwich, then just follow the signs from either; it’s a five-minute walk to the park and a ten-minute walk to the top of the hill. Visit my post on Public Transport in London for more details.
Photo credit: (Observatory photo) ferkel