The Royal Observatory in Greenwich, positioned atop the park’s highest point, is a scientifically and historically significant site that offers insights into astronomy and timekeeping history. Established by King Charles II in 1675, it was once the working centre of British astronomy and remains an essential symbol of scientific advancement. The observatory is best known for the Prime Meridian Line, which divides the eastern and western hemispheres and is the designated centre of world time and space, marking Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
The Observatory was founded by Charles II in 1675, mainly to improve naval navigation, as determining longitude at sea was a major challenge. He appointed John Flamsteed as the first Astronomer Royal. Many important scientific discoveries have been made at the observatory. It helped develop accurate timekeeping devices, leading to the definition of GMT time.
One of the main tasks of the astronomers was to catalogue the stars to help calculate distances and time. One of Flamsteed’s successors was Edmond Halley, who studied comets and orbits and now has a comet named after him (Halley’s Comet).
Tips for Visiting the Royal Observatory
The observatory has interesting items and exhibits inside, and visitors can explore a wealth of exhibits covering various aspects of time and space. You’ll find the Prime Meridian line outside the building on the Meridian Courtyard.
Flamsteed House, a beautiful building architected by Sir Christopher Wren, is the original observatory building. The house has several interesting things to see. The Octagon Room was built for observing the skies, but as the positioning of the room was not optimal, many of the most important observations were actually made in an outhouse in the garden. In the same building, you’ll find Camera Obscura, a pinhole camera that was used, for example, for observing solar eclipses. Now, you can see a panoramic view of Greenwich from the room.
The observatory, of course, needs to have telescopes. You can see the Great Equatorial Telescope, which was installed in 1893 and is one of the largest refracting telescopes in the world. The telescope still works, and the Royal Observatory hosts regular astronomy sessions for the public during winter. The schedules for the sessions can be found on the observatory website.
The observatory also has the Annie Maunder Astrographic Telescope, which is available to see at special times during the year.
The Peter Harrison Planetarium, built in 2007, is also located in the observatory area. There, you can catch captivating shows about space. There are several shows available daily. The planetarium shows are ticketed separately from the entry tickets.
The museum is located at the highest point of Greenwich Park, which offers one of the best views of London, especially of Canary Wharf. Adjacent to the observatory stands the statue of General James Wolfe. From his vantage point, visitors can enjoy panoramic vistas of London, making the Royal Observatory a must-see location within Greenwich Park. In addition to the observatory, Royal Greenwich has several important museums and places to see.