Royal Observatory Edinburgh

Royal Observatory Edinburgh

Star-gazers and fans of astronomy should make a point to stop by the Royal Observatory Edinburgh and learn about the amazing astronomical research conducted here.

While the Royal Observatory Edinburgh isn’t open to visitors because of the busy work being conducted by UK scientific establishments like Edinburgh University, guests to the Observatory can look forward to the ROE Visitor Centre if they want to see what the skies above have to offer.

Read more to learn about the history of the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, the highlights you should take advantage of, and the events to look out for. Let’s dive right into it!

History of the Royal Observatory Edinburgh

The Royal Observatory Edinburgh was established in 1786 when Edinburgh University elected its first Chair of Astronomy – a subject that had been taught since the University’s founding in 1583. Astronomical research was completed atop Calton Hill at the Playfair Observatory, which became the Royal Observatory after a visit from George IV in 1822.

This Observatory has been a centre of discovery, boasting astronomers like Professor Thomas Henderson (the first Astronomer Royal for Scotland). With the rate of technology, the Royal Observatory on Calton Hill became outdated by 1888, and a new one was built atop Blackford Hill, Edinburgh, in 1896. And ever since, this new Royal Observatory has consistently been at the forefront of astronomical discovery and a world leader. The Story of Astronomy in Edinburgh (written by the Edinburgh University Press) was an excellent article written in 1983 that covers this observatory’s journey.

Today, the site combines three organisations, the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC), the Science and Technologies Facilities Council, and the Institute of Astronomy (IFA)

Highlights at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh

If you’re in Edinburgh and are curious about what you can look forward to with a visit to the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, you’ve come to the right place! The Royal Observatory Edinburgh is in a unique place that houses the University Astronomy Research Group, the UK Research Council, and a Visitor Centre all in one! Each group aims to develop projects connected to the public interest, which means tons for you to do!

Let’s chat about all the highlights of what you can expect when you arrive and why this observatory should top your to-do list.

Royal Observatory Visitor Centre

Royal Observatory Visitor Centre

While the main door of the Royal Observatory Edinburgh isn’t open to the public, the Royal Observatory Visitor Centre is the best place to stop by and enjoy any upcoming events that the ROE is hosting. They’re both at a single site so you don’t have to walk far to reach the Visitor Centre.

The Visitor Centre is filled with fascinating things to see and do and is the perfect activity for the afternoon. It’s not uncommon to see primary and secondary schools taking a school trip to the Visitor Centre and learning about the cosmos above them. Here’s what you can expect to be on the agenda.

Astronomy Talks

Between December and March, visitors to the Visitor Centre will be pleased to know about the Astronomy Talks that the talk place and help guests gain a more exhaustive knowledge about space and the universe.

There are two talks that guests can book and attend: The Astronomy Talks for All and the In-Depth Astronomy Talks.

Astronomy Talks for All takes place between November and March and is perfect for those who are new to astronomy and are interested to know more. Topics vary between talks, but you’ll gain a basic foundation of space, how telescopes are necessary to study the stars, and technology’s role in shaping Scottish observatories.

The In-Depth Astronomy Talks cover a deeper look into the work being done by Royal Observatory Edinburgh and the scientists and engineers there. This talk is intended for those with more of a foundation in present-day astronomy, but we highly recommend you attend if it interests you!

Virtual Sky Night Tours

Virtual Sky Night Tours are a fantastic resource for those interested in astronomy but aren’t planning to visit the Royal Observatory. Hop onto a virtual call and have one of the specialised researchers of the establishment take you on a virtual tour, teaching you about the skies of Scotland without the need for a telescope.

Catch up on the latest news and events with local astronomers worldwide. It’s a great place to find like-minded individuals and has a chat about star-gazing without the need to book a ticket to Scotland.

Winter Nights Royal Observatory Edinburgh

The Winter months are the busiest for the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, and the Visitor Centre holds many public interest talks between October and February. Each session lasts about an hour and takes you on a tour of the observatory, including the stunning Victorian telescope dome.

If the weather conditions are right, visitors are also treated to star-gazing on the flat roof – so pack your warm clothes. The guide members for the Winter Nights are always happy to take an astronomy question you may have. The skies are the limit!

See Edinburgh from Blackford Hill

Blackford Hill View

The hike up Blackford Hill may seem daunting to some, but rest assured, the panoramic views from this location are worth it! You can take the 1 hour, 30-minute loop around the hill to see a beautifully kept trail with lots to see.

The route up to the Observatory is more straightforward, and its location on top of the hill truly gives you a stunning look at Edinburgh’s surrounding houses and attractions. The domes of the Royal Observatory Edinburgh building are especially eye-catching, and we bet you’ll see this attraction from a mile away.

Purchase an out-of-this-world gift

Gift Shop

There’s no better place to commemorate your time at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh than with one of the out-of-this-world (yes, pun intended) gifts from the Visitor Centre’s gift shop.

Pick from several unique astronomically related gifts, including mini telescopes, books about astronomy, and space diagrams that will perfectly decorate your mantlepiece or child’s bedroom. Proceeds from these gifts support the refurbishment of the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, so know your purchase is going to a worthy cause!


The bustling city of Edinburgh has plenty of accommodation options to choose from. The second most populous city in Scotland means you have your pick of the litter for hotels, self-catering hostels, cottages in the suburbs, and even homely bed and breakfasts that offer delicious full English breakfast when you wake up.

If you want to pick accommodation near the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, we recommend picking South Edinburgh accommodation options. Most hotels and B&Bs in the surrounding area are less than 10 minutes away from the Royal Observatory Edinburgh and the public events they hold.

Nearby Things to Do

The Royal Observatory Edinburgh is a fascinating attraction to fit into a day of sightseeing while visiting Edinburgh, but here are some other suggestions for things to do in this beautiful city:

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh lets visitors pair their love of space with biology. After you’ve spent your afternoon learning at one of the world-leading centres for horticulture and biology, there’s no better way to spend an evening than at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh.

Holyrood Palace is another stunning attraction to visit nearby, with Holyrood Park being a splendid place to sit down and enjoy a picnic.


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