Sydney Observatory and Observatory Hill

Sydney Observatory

The Sydney Observatory has been in operation since 1858

Even though I am a Sydney-sider, for many years I did not realise that you can visit the Sydney Observatory for free.

Located on Observatory Hill, The Sydney Observatory acts as both a public observatory and museum. It is a neat place to visit for a bit of history, great views and to see both modern and historic telescopic equipment.

Whilst not huge in size, it is a great spot for inquisitive kids (and adults) with some really interesting displays and some beautiful gardens to explore.

Make sure to grab a ‘Sydney Observatory Self-Guided Tour brochure’ from the front desk to help guide you around the site.

Here’s my top 5 things to do when visiting the Sydney Observatory.

1. Explore the Observatory

Sydney Observatory Solar System

Learn a bit at the Stars of Southern Sky exhibition

So of course the main reason to visit is to see the Observatory itself. Visitors can enter the Observatory for free and are welcome to wander through its various exhibits.

Visitors will love seeing some functioning telescopes including The Transit Circle Telescope (which is the actual telescope used to determine the right time).

There’s a super interesting display on how The Transit of Venus first brought Captain Cook to the coastline of Australia in 1769. Kids will love finding out about the Solar System and adults will enjoy seeing some of the equipment Matthew Flinders used to chart the Australian coast in the 1800s.

There is also some great information on how weather is recorded and observed.

Don’t forget to drop by the East Dome (which is in a separate building to the Sydney Observatory). The East Dome was purpose built to cater for people with limited mobility. The East Dome contains an impressive telescope (that can be adjusted to any position to provide easy viewing of stars and planets). Tours of the East Dome can be arranged by appointment.

2. Wander the garden

Sydney Observatory front garden


Enjoy the colour of the Observatory gardens

Take some time to wander through the beautiful Observatory gardens. The gardens were designed to recreate the layout and plant type of an 1880’s garden. It is full of lovely winding paths and includes some picnic tables.

Look out for the site of Sydney’s first windmill (which was built on the site in 1797) and also the remnants of a historic trig station.

3. Watch the Time Ball Drop

Sydney Observatory Time Ball

The Time Ball has dropped!

The Time Ball is the bright yellow ball which sits atop the Sydney Observatory. At exactly 1.00pm each day the ball will ‘drop’.

Historically the reason the Time Ball ‘dropped’ was to signal the time to passing ships and the Martin Place Post Office. The drop was also accompanied by a cannon blast (no longer though!!).

4. Visit the Fort Phillip Signal Station and see the Flag Staff

Sydney Observatory Flag Staff

Make sure to drop by the Signal Station and Flag Staff

The Signal House is not available for visitors to walk through but it is nice to drop by this historic building.

Here you will also see the Observatory Flag Staff which is a modern flag staff erected in 2008. Historically the flag staff was used to send and receive shipping signals.  Weather information was also communicated to ships and neighbouring signal stations.

5. Have a picnic on Observatory Hill

Observatory Hill Rotunda

Marvel at the views from the Observatory Hill rotunda

With million dollar views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Milsons Point and Luna Park Observatory Hill is picnic worthy!

Enjoy a picnic under the shade of the beautiful Morton Bay Figs and relax the afternoon away.

So I know it’s a bit cheeky to include things that aren’t free but the Sydney Observatory Tours are really popular. I haven’t been on one myself yet (on the To Do list!) but I think it could be worth saving up for! Day tours are $10.00 for adults and night tours are $27.00 for adults (April 2019).

Freedays summary

  • Entry: Free
  • Toilets: Yes
  • Wheelchair friendly: Yes (lower floor only)
  • Free carparking: No
  • Free BBQ facilities: No
  • Time to spend here: 1 hour (unless you are having lunch)
  • Food available: No
  • Address: 1003 Upper Fort Street, Millers Point NSW 2000
  • Further details: Visit the Sydney Observatory directory listing

More free things to do 

After exploring the Observatory why not:

  • Visit the SH Ervin Gallery
  • Wander through The Rocks
  • Walk across The Harbour Bridge



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