An Afternoon at London's Greenwich Observatory

Royal Observatory Greenwich

It was a sunny autumn day in early October when I drove through to Heathrow to pick up my friend Patrick visiting from South Africa.  After settling in at home, we drove off to one of my favourite places in London, the place where I take all of my visitors without fail: Greenwich Park and the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

The View From Greenwich Park

   National Maritime Museum with Canary Wharf in the background  National Maritime Museum with Canary Wharf in the background

The Old Greenwich Power Station with The O2 in the background
The Old Greenwich Power Station with The O2 in the background

I believe that Greenwich Park has some of the best views in London and so we sat for a while taking in the sights.

The Meridian Route

Once inside the Royal Observatory, you have a choice of taking the Meridian or Astronomy routes.  We took the Meridian route first which is all to do with the recording of time, navigation around the world and of course, the Greenwich Meridian where time begins!

Armillary dial William Herschel's telescope
Armillary dial // William Herschel's telescope

The grounds of the Royal Observatory are exquisite, as are most parks and attractions in England.  The Armillary is a sundial in the shape of a globe and it was constructed in 1968.  You may have to be an astronomy geek like me to find the last remaining part of William Herschel’s telescope as exciting as I did.  William Herschel had discovered Uranus in 1781 and this telescope was paid for by King George III and completed in 1789.  Sadly, it was rarely used as it was difficult to set up and maintain.

Gardens in Royal ObservatoryThe Greenwich Meridian
The Gardens in the Royal Observatory // The Greenwich Meridian

Most people step right over the Greenwich Meridian before they realise what it is.  This is the Prime Meridian of the World with a longitude of 0° 0' 0".  I am facing due south there with one foot in the eastern hemisphere and one foot in the western one.  

Camera Obscura 28 inch telescope dome 
Camera Obscura // The 28 Inch Telescope Dome

I would have walked right past the Camera Obscura if Patrick hadn’t dragged me back to look at it.  I have no idea how it works but the Camera Obscura uses a lens to project a real-time moving panorama of Greenwich onto a disk inside a darkened room.  It took my eyes some time to adjust but you could see buses moving and everything!  I was glad to get out though as I am (at the grand old age of 36) still petrified of the dark and felt very suffocated inside there!

The telescope in that dome is over 100 years old and is the largest of its kind in the UK.

The Octagon Room - Royal Observatory
The Octagon Room

We spent quite a long time in the Octagon Room at the top of Flamsteed House.  This is one of the few surviving interiors by Sir Christopher Wren, the architect of St Paul’s Cathedral.  The Octagon room was designed to observe celestial events including eclipses, comets and planetary movements.

Ceiling detail of Sir Christopher Wren's Octagon RoomReplica telescope tube used in Octagon Room, Royal Observatory until 1765 

Astronomical quadrant, Octagon Room, Royal ObservatoryThe Tompion Clock, Octagon Room, Royal Observatory
Ceiling detail // Replica telescope tube // Astronomical quadrant // The Tompion Clock

The Astronomy Route

We then took the Astronomy route where sadly, less photographs were allowed.

Altazimuth, Royal Observatory The bookshop, Royal Observatory

We walked all around the Astronomy Centre as well as the interactive Weller Astronomy Galleries.  I wasn’t too concerned about the ban on photography though as there was so much to do!  I would have loved to have visited the planetarium but as it was Patrick’s first day in the UK, I think we decided to not spend all of his pounds and to let him get some rest!  I took a photo of the books in the bookshop, by the way, because many of the authors featured there were speaking at the TAM Conference Patrick was attending.

19 comments on "An Afternoon at London's Greenwich Observatory"
  1. Hello
    Sorry but my English isn´t very well because i am german.But in March i will visit London and your blog about london is very nice. :)
    So, when you want to you can visit my blog .. it´s from me and my friend ;)

  2. Looks like a great place to visit! Definitely somewhere I'd like to go! I learned all about camera cbscuras last summer in my art class, they're so interesting. I think it's Latin for dark room or something similar (if I remember correctly).

  3. I know where I'm gonna visit, when I do end up going to your neck of the woods!

  4. We visited there in 1989 and! You have just brought back some fun memories. My son and daughter were in 3rd grade and 7th grade at the time. We have a wonderuful photo of our family standing on the Prime Meridian with a foot on each side. Love this post!

  5. Emm this is not somewhere I have visited. Excellent informative post and some nice pictures to set it off.

  6. So many interesting places to visit in London. I hope I get the chance some day.

  7. Emm you're the best tour guide, and I would have certainly been just as excited to see that telescope.

  8. Sad to say, 20 years near London and I have never been. Must fix that.

  9. Great props for this neat site, that I don't think enough people visiting London take the time to see. We went our first weekend there and the students (and I really enjoyed it). Such a rush to be a the "center of the universe," time-wise!

  10. I have been to Greenwich Park a number of times and I personally feel that you probably get the best and most impressive views of London there. The Royal Observatory is a great place to visit as is the Maritime Museum.

    Tourists that come to London and don't spend a day in Greenwich are truly missing out on some of the best of what this city has to offer.

  11. I had been here towards the end of my London stay :-) It had been a fun visit alright!
    I have the pics of all these places .
    I also visited Cutty's Ark (is still undergoing renovation??) and also that undersea tunnel (forgot the name). Still have all the pics which I look through from time to time :-)

    I loved that real-time panorama transferred to the table... awesome to look at, once ur eyes get adjusted to the darkness, that is!

  12. Emm thanks for the tour and the history behind it all. I never realized the place had so many interesting things from years gone by. I know how frustrating it is when these kind of places put a block on photographs, I've had a couple of those incidences myself in Thailand when visiting museums. Very frustrating.

  13. I've been wanting to visit Greenwich for a long time now. One day it will happen. But I'm disappointed about no photography on the Astronomy Route. Why is that? Even without using flash?

  14. What a wonderful post! I grew up close to the edge of Greenwich Park, next to Blackheath, and my mother still walks her dogs there every day. It's a wonderful place.

    I've added this post to digg and stumble.

  15. Love to visit there...
    May be just my dream..

  16. Thanks for the primer on the Greenwich Observatory, just one other fascinating part of Great Britain that I need to know more about. Very interesting. Nice pictures.

  17. Oh my... I must have done something peculiar because this post and comments seemed to disappear down the rabbit hole! So no excuses this time and I apologise for neglecting all of you!

    @ AnJa: Your english is just fine! I hope you enjoy the UK. Unfortunately, I understand no german and so can't understand your blog. :(

    @ Meg: Yes, I think you are right that it means that.

    @ Phoenix: Of course, because I will be your tour guide (hopefully) and I take all my visitors there.

    @ Carolyn: It is just an amazing place for kids, isn't it?

    @ Mike: Oh, you'll have to visit one day! The views of London and the beautiful park alone are enough to make oyu go.

    @ AVCr8teur: I would recommend visiting London and I'd recommend doing so in summer!

    @ Lauren: Well, if you ever require a real life tour guide, let me know.

    @ John: Well, let me know if you ever want to meet up and tour together!

    @ SA Expats: Thanks!

    @ Kathy: It is quite a rush, isn't it?

    @ William: I agree and I just loved your photos from there too.

    @ Ash: Ha! I think it is called "Cutty Sark" but I have no idea why!! Last I heard it caught fire!

    @ Martyn: When I went to the fashion museum in York where flash photography can actually lead to degradation of items, I understood it to some extent but some places are just being silly. I find the best exhibitions in the world often do let people take photos and I guess they are the most popular.

    @ Sheila: They did not give us a reason in this case but I should have asked. I had actually not gotten into trouble on this occasion and had asked before shooting so I should have asked.

    @ Amanda: Thank you! I'm going to add your blog to my blogroll.

    @ VisaLittleBoy: And I in turn would love to visit Cambodia.

    @ William Torpey: It is a lovely place. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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