The Royal Observatory and the Planetarium

When one thinks of the town Greenwich, one can immediately relate the town to GMT, the Greenwich Mean Time, the Prime Meridian of the world, where zero- degree longitude is marked – Yes! it is the home where time begins and ends, where east meets west! Time, the most precious commodity in life, is the Only commodity that we own according to Baltasar Gracian who once said:

“All that really belong to us is time; even he who has nothing else has that.”

So, where better a place is there than Greenwich itself for a day visit to discover the practicality of accurate time and time distribution in everyday life with my young children many years ago. Thus, a visit in the present to the Royal Observatory brings me back to my early ‘Mum’ days when I took my little ones to teach them about Time and where it all began! Greenwich is important to me because of the simple memories I have treasured during my visits there with my children. As you already know, the Royal Observatory at Greenwich Park is the Home of Astronomy and the Greenwich Mean Time, and it sits on a hill overlooking the Thames River. At the gates of the Royal Observatory, you will find the famous clock, Shepherd Clock.

The Royal Observatory
The Shepherd Clock

Although the concept of time and time-scale was conceived throughout many centuries, the practicality and technical ability to distribute accurate time into everyday life did not become possible until 1847 when this famous clock, became the first clock to ever to show GMT to the public. The unique feature of this famous Shepherd Clock is in the original slave dial. You will note that while the minute and seconds hand are conventional, the hour hand goes around the dial once in 24-hours, so at midday, the minute hand points to the top but the hour hand points to the bottom! Ha ha, confused yet?

Besides the Shepherd Clock, the Prime Meridian of the World passes through here, marking the divide between the Eastern and the Western hemisphere. You can find this in the Meridian Courtyard. The Meridian Line is one of my kids favourite. I have watched their little theatrics as they competed in trying to find the locations of Cities and discover how far exactly in distance they stood! They have stood astride the Prime Meridian, as if playing hopscotch, with one foot in the eastern hemisphere and the other foot in the western hemisphere. It was fun watching them 😊

The Prime Meridian
The Prime Meridian – shows the exact distance to a destination.

More importantly, of course, the Royal Observatory was created in the 1670s spurred on by King Charles II who wanted better navigation system for seamen and traders. He asked Sir Christopher Wren, who was also an architect, to design the building which is called Flamsteed House. It is here, at Flamsteed House, that you will find the Royal Observatory’s Time and Longitude galleries, home to the celebrated John Harrison’s “sea clocks”, H4. This is an interesting gallery especially for those with a scientific mind who wish to explore the history behind the various solutions developed by mathematicians and clockmakers in the 18th century. Also, on display here is the GPS receiver which Sir Robin Knox used on his round-the-world record breaking voyage in 1994.

The Royal Observatory
Flamsteed House – Why time and longitude?

Another attraction in Flamsteed House which, I think, you should simply witness at least once in your lifetime is the “function” of the bright red Time Ball which sits on top of Flamsteed House.

The Royal Observatory
The Red Time Ball sits on top of Flamsteed House

Historically, this red ball distributed time to ships on the Thames River and many Londoners. What does it exactly do? And how does it do it? Well, since 1833 till today, each day at 12:55, the time ball rises half-way up its mast. At 12:58 exactly, the ball is raised all the way to the top. Then, at 13:00 exactly, the ball falls, thus providing a signal to anyone who is looking. When it was first used in 1833, the ship’s chronometer was accurately set before it set sail.

The Royal Observatory
The Time Ball at 1 p.m. NB: The time on the Shepherd Clock
The Royal Observatory
The Time Ball being dropped at 1 p.m.

While here, you could also take a journey through space by visiting the Planetarium where a Royal Observatory astronomer presents you with a journey to explore the night sky by flying to the heart of the Sun, takes you to the distant galaxies and see the birth of a star or land on Mars. This is an exciting ‘adventure’ for both young and old and definitely worth the experience. It is a ticketed event and it costs £8.00

The Royal Observatory and the Planetarium
The Planetarium at the Royal Observatory

From the top of Greenwich Park at the Royal Observatory, you will have stunning views across the Royal Park towards the Queens House.

The Royal Observatory
Stunning views of the Queen’s House, River Thames and London ’s Skyline from the top of the hill at the Royal Observatory.

It is a pleasant stroll downhill, across the Park to the Queen’s House. When strolling through the park, be sure to keep a look out for the Royal Deer! Yeap! Deer – they are said to be the direct descendants of King Henry VIII’s hunting stock.


Summary of Experiences at the Royal Observatory & The Planetarium

  1. The Shepherd’s Clock
  2. Greenwich Meridian Line
  3. Flamsteed House
  4. Time & Longitude Galleries
  5. The Red Time Ball
  6. The Planetarium
  7. The View – stunning views of the Queen’s House, River Thames and London’s Skyline
  8. The Park – the chance to see the Royal Deer! 🙂

Useful information:

Opening hours: 10:00 – 17:30

Admission:        Adult: £15.00     Child: £6.50     Day Explorer: Adult – £24.25 / Child – £11.50

Toilets and baby-change facilities are located:

    • on the Lower Ground floor;
    • after exiting the Admission area;
    • on the right-hand side after exiting the Admissions area;
  • at the base of the external staircases in front of Flamsteed House.



  1. What a fabulous read Georgina. I’d love to visit The Royal Observatory & Planetarium . And I’d be like your kids – one foot on Meridan Line & checking out how far it is to certain cities.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.