Built in 1858 and perfectly positioned on top of Observatory Hill overlooking the harbour, Sydney Observatory is the oldest observatory in Australia. Its iconic sandstone building is one of the most significant listed heritage sites in New South Wales.
Today the Observatory is also a museum as well as a public observatory. It contains an 1874 29cm lens telescope, a 42cm computer-controlled telescope and a hydrogen-alpha solar telescope. It is also home to a 3D Space Theatre and the Sydney Planetarium.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Observatory played an essential role in meteorology, navigation and timekeeping, besides studying the Southern Hemisphere stars.
Sydney didn’t have an accurate time standard before the Observatory was built. Once it was operational, every day at 1pm, a “time ball” on top of the tower dropped to signal the correct time, accompanied by a cannon blast. The time ball is still dropped each day at 1pm but it uses an electric motor.
Sydney Observatory also showcases a great collection of photos, instruments and artefacts that encourage the visitor to discover the science behind weather forecasting and the history of astronomy in Australia.
Due to Covid-19, day and night tours, name a star sessions, birthday parties and school holidays daily programs have been suspended in accordance with NSW Health guidelines. However, the Observatory building and gardens are open.
This means that you can still visit the Observatory, have a look at the new Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House displays, enjoy the panoramic views of Sydney Harbour and witness the time ball at 1pm each day.
In order to access the building, pre-bookings are essential as tickets are limited per session and may sell out. Click here to book free tickets that will allow you access for a timed session.
1003 Upper Fort Street Millers Point NSW 2000
Opening hours: Open daily 10am – 5pm
Closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Good Friday and New Years Eve
General admission prices: Free due to Covid-19. However, you need to book a timed-entry ticket.
By Mireia Garriga Seguranyes
My husband and I wanted to celebrate our middle daughter’s birthday and to make her feel special. After thinking for a long time, we made up our minds and booked a night tour in the Sydney Observatory.
We arrived 20 minutes before the tour, so it allowed us time to watch the displays about the solar system and the stars of the southern sky. The guide was very informative, patient and kind. We each had a look through two of the telescopes where we managed to see several constellations and planets. We were very lucky as we had clear skies. It was amazing!
The viewing of the Planetarium and the 3D Theatre was also very interesting, although the experience with the telescopes was our favourite, maybe because of the unique sound of the dome rotating.
Although the tour is a bit long for school-aged kids, my daughter enjoyed every single moment.
Sydney Observatory Details
Toilets / Baby change / Accessible toilet: Yes
Cafe: No. A cold drinks machine with water and soft drinks is located outside the Observatory in the rear courtyard. There is also a water bubbler in the grounds of the Observatory.
The National Trust café at the S.H. Ervin Gallery also on Observatory Hill is the closest café.
Pram/wheelchair friendly: Gardens, ground floor exhibitions and the East Dome telescope. The North and South telescopes are not accessible because of the narrow and steep staircases in the heritage-listed buildings. By prior arrangement, the Observatory can install an outdoor telescope.
Sydney Observatory is well served by public transport although it is not on its doorstep.
Circular Quay Train Station, Light Rail Stop and Ferry Wharfs are a short walk away.
Bus route nearby: 311 – Millers Point to Central Railway Square via Darlinghurst & Potts Point.
Note: please, always check the latest updates before catching public transport.
Parking: Visitors can either park in Watson Road or Argyle Street both of which are metered. The Observatory is then only a short walk up Watson Road and through the Observatory Hill Park.
Mum’s report: If you are looking for a special activity that won’t break the bank, Sydney Observatory night tour is a great activity to do with children between the ages 7 and 17. Before choosing it, consider if your child has an interest in science to make the experience more enjoyable. A night date to look at the stars with your child is something that he/she will always remember, especially, if you plan to have dinner together before the tour. Also, to make the date with your child’s even more memorable, you might like to play a meaningful song on the way back home. I like Yellow by Coldplay but there are lots of other great choices!
You might like to check our kid friendly cafes and restaurants in Sydney City Centre guide to find a good place to eat.
If you have teenagers, we recommend The Rocks Walking Tour to discover the historic Rocks area, which is only a ten minute walk from the Sydney Observatory.
For a special treat, read about Seana’s visit to celebrate her son’s 16th birthday here.
Do you need more ideas? Click on the list of top things to do in Sydney.
The Sydney Observatory night tour worked very well for our family. Our middle child felt really special on that day. It was the perfect place to tell our daughter that we love her to the moon and back.
Have you ever done something similar for your children? If so, share your stories with us, please.