Mills Observatory

The beautiful Mills Observatory is situated in the heart of Dundee, Scotland, and holds the title of Britain’s first purpose-built public observatory. The Mills Observatory offers the chance to learn about fascinating space exploration and see the city from a magnificent woodland setting.

Mills Observatory sits atop Balday Hill, Dundee, granting stunning city views. This attraction is a no-brainer for astronomy fans, and we’ll be covering everything you need to know about it – from its history, what highlights to look out for, and nearby things to do and accommodation.

Let’s dive right into it.

History of the Mills Observatory

The Mills Observatory was a gift to the people of Dundee in 1935, spurred on by an inspired amateur astronomer named John Mills, whom the observatory is named after. John Mills had their private observatory on the Dundee Law (where you can find Adelaide Place today). John Mills’ love of astronomy led to him requesting that a public observatory be built atop the hill for everyone.

Unfortunately, while the public was interested, there was no budget for the project from the local council. John Mills passed away with a stipulation in his will that had left money to build the observatory. The money was elected to go to the University College in Dundee, which unfortunately found it infeasible to build it. In response, the town made a public trust with all proceeds intended for an observatory on the summit.

Events such as World War 1 pushed back the plans, but during the Great Depression, the observatory was built to bring work to the working class. The John Mills Observatory was constructed on Balgay Park in Dundee and soon became a public-facing observatory that is beloved but locals and visitors alike.

Highlights of the Mills Observatory

Now that you know a little about this beautiful observatory, let’s cover the highlights that anyone visiting Dundee should remember when they see the Mills Observatory. We highly recommend you visit this beautiful attraction – it’s one of the best for stargazers passing through Dundee.

Enjoy Night Sky Viewing

Night Sky Viewing

Walking up to the Mills Observatory (Glamis Road) in the early evening is a transcendent experience. The stars and planets are at your fingertips when the weather is good.

The Mills Observatory holds Night Sky Viewings every weekday night as long as the weather conditions are amicable for the event. You can watch stars and planets above using telescopes; the friendly stargazing guides will help you work. The night sky is filled with beautiful stars and other jewels of the night sky.

The Night Sky Viewing shows occur between October and September.

Book one of the Planetarium Shows

Planetarium Shows

The Planetarium Shows are the Mills Observatories are one of the best ways to become familiar with the night skies above. The Mills Observatory holds these enlightening shows on the first and third Friday of each month, and booking is essential to snag yourself a place.

As for what you can expect, the shows take you through a solar journey, covering topics like the Moon, the stars, planets, and the solar system with authentic images from the fully computerised telescope that the observatory owns. These public planetarium shows are the pinnacle for any stargazer who wants an in-depth look into how workings of the cosmos.

These shows occur during the Winter opening hours from October until March and can be booked through the Mills Observatory website.

Take a tour of the Observatory’s displays

Observatory's Displays

In addition to the planetarium shows and the Night Sky Viewings, the Observatory also has a wealth of astronomical displays that adults and children alike will find fascinating. If you can’t make it to the shows that the Mills Observatory puts on or are planning to stop by – then a tour of the displays is the perfect bit-sized attraction.

Not only can you see the reflecting telescope that John Mills used during his lifetime as an amateur astronomer during the late 1800s, but you can get a clearer picture of the accurate scale of the solar system, the distance between the Earth and the Moon, and many more amazing fun facts. It’s a great place to stop by with the kids.

Grab a souvenir from the Gift Shop

Gift Shop

The Mills Observatory is truly a magical experience, so if you want something to remember, we recommend stopping by the Mills Observatory Gift Shop to pick up a souvenir or two for your mantlepiece!

The gift shop is stocked and filled with fantastic items to take home, and we’re talking space-themed books, little astronauts, NASA-branded goods, and even a telescope or two to do your stargazing with! These are souvenirs and make unique gifts to take back home and give to friends and family.

The proceeds from the gift shop go to maintaining the Mills Observatory and paying the friendly staff and volunteers who do an excellent job informing guests about the heavens.

See Dundee from atop Balgay Hill

Balgay Hill

If the museums and shows are closed when visiting Dundee, don’t worry! The view from the top of Balgay Hill is enough reason to make a pit stop at this historic observatory.

Although the trek up may be a little rough for those who’ve yet to exercise regularly, the spectacular treetop vistas that look over Dundee are more than enough to drop your jaw. This is the perfect spot to take pictures and create lasting memories of your vacation.

The Mills Observatory is a beautiful building with a white dome that houses the main telescope and an iconic landmark on the Dundee skyline.

Take a tour of Balgay Park

Balgay Park

Balgay Park, Dundee, where the Mills Observatory is based, is another major attraction within the city, and there’s no better way to experience a summer’s day than with a picnic overlooking this picturesque town.

Entrance into Balgay Park is free, so feel free to park and take a hike around the Balgay Park loop once you’ve taken a good long look at the scenery. If you arrive in the late afternoon, you can savour the sunset and then attend a booked show right after – the perfect evening plan!

Accommodation Options

The bustling city of Dundee is full of accommodation options, so there’s no doubt that you’ll be able to find a wonderful place to stay in the town. Visitors can expect Dundee hotels and bed and breakfasts to offer comfort and luxury, with self-catering options throughout the city if you want more privacy.

Nearby Things to Do

Dundee sits exceptionally close to Edinburgh, but if you don’t want to make that trip, then you’ll be happy to know that the city has plenty of other attractions to pair with the Dundee Observatory, such as taking a boat trip along the River Tay, visiting the Museum of Transport, appreciating art at the McManus Art and Gallery Centre.

We’ve written a whole article for things to do in Dundee, so feel free to check it out if you need some inspiration.


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