There are so many places for tourists to visit in Europe that visiting an observatory does not make it to many people's lists. You can deviate from being a typical tourist by discovering observatories in Europe since the continent has some of the best in the world. You can visit observatories close to wherever you are travelling or go on a trip dedicated to discovering observatories across the continent. Whichever it is, it is sure to be a cosmic adventure. Check out some top observatories in Europe here.
European Southern Observatory (ESO)
Being one of the most famous observatories in Europe, it is unsurprising that the European Southern Observatory is at the top of this list. Officially named the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere, this intergovernmental organisation for astronomy has existed for six decades and is regarded as a centre of cosmic excellence. The observatory prides itself on being the most productive ground-based observatory in the world, having spent decades discovering mysteries and secrets of the Universe from an astronomical point of view.
The ESO holds exhibitions in different cities, but visiting the ESO Supernova Planetarium & Visitor Centre in Germany is a different level of experience. The astronomy centre is also an educational facility famed for holding the largest tilted planetarium in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. After visiting the ESO Supernova Planetarium and Visitor Centre, you can take a train from Munich to Salzburg to explore more in the neighbouring country.
The Royal Observatory, Greenwich
The only observatory that can rival the fame of the ESO is the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Also known as the Flamsteed House, this observatory was commissioned by King Charles II in 1675. The informal title is eponymous to the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, as the observatory served as a home for him and his family after his appointment.
The Royal Observatory is an important landmark in the history of astronomy as it was the basis of early experiments measuring universal time. It was also responsible for creating many star charts and early experiments in positional astronomy. The observatory was designated a historical site at some point, but that ceased when the state-of-the-art Annie Maunder Astrographic Telescope (AMAT) was installed there. It returned to being a working observatory even though all scientific work was moved to the Royal Observatory at Herstmonceux in the early 20th century.
While famous observatories often draw the most attention from tourists, they are not the only places to enjoy astronomical excellence. One of the less popular spots is the Ondrejov Observatory in the Czech Republic, which is not so far from other tourist hotspots in Eastern Europe. This observatory is remarkable as it has a 2-metre wide telescope, the largest in the country, and others, including a 0.65-metre and a radio telescope. It has discovered several asteroids and more than 700 minor planets since its establishment in 1898.
Getting to this observatory from neighbouring countries is easy, thanks to the rail systems within the region. For instance, a Berlin to Prague train will only take about four and a half hours, with several departures made daily. You can head directly to the observatory in the southeast of Prague before exploring other attractions in the capital city.
Armagh Observatory and Planetarium
Before you leave the United Kingdom, you may visit another remarkable observatory, the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium in Northern Ireland. It is the country's leading astronomical research and observation facility and was founded in 1789. It also has a long history of scientific achievement, despite being established more than a century after the Royal Observatory at Greenwich.
The planetarium was established almost two centuries after the observatory in 1968 by the then-director of the observatory, Eric Lindsay. It has operated since then, making it the longest-running planetarium in the British Isles. In addition to being a center of scientific research, the planetarium is also an educational facility. Using an advanced projection system, it teaches visitors about planets, stars, and other astronomical phenomena. It also holds exhibitions and workshops for interested visitors.
Pic Du Midi Observatory
Pic du Midi Observatory is named after the eponymous peak in French Pyrenees and is the second-oldest astronomical observatory in the world. Established in 1908, the observatory is well-known for astronomical study, with four remarkable telescopes at the top of the peak. They include Robley Dome; a 0.55-metre telescope, T60 Dome; a 0.60-metre telescope, Gentilli D; a 1.06-metre telescope; and Bernard Lyot Telescope; a 2-metre telescope.
NASA funded the installation of the 1.06-metre Gentilli D to take detailed photographs of the surface of the moon while preparing for the Apollo missions in 1963. Apart from its astronomical significance, the observatory is an International Dark Sky Reserve (the only one in France), making it one of the best places to observe the night sky in France.
The Sphinx Observatory is Europe's tallest observatory and one of the oldest astronomical observatories in the world. Established in 1937, it sits 3,571 metres (11,716 feet) above sea level. Only parts of the observatory are open to the public, but it remains a major tourist attraction. The reason is not far-fetched. The observatory is located deep in the famous Swiss Alps and is only accessible by railway and lift.
The efforts that go into visiting the Sphinx Observatory are well worth it. The view from the observation deck is like few you can ever see anywhere in the world. The surrounding mountains and valleys will steal your breath away, but that is until you realise that you can see as far away as Germany and Italy. The observatory has multiple laboratories, a weather observation station, a 76-cm telescope, and astronomical and meteorological domes. These facilities serve scientists using the observatory as a location for research.
Discovering observatories is not an adventure for just astronomy enthusiasts. Any adventurous tourist will enjoy visiting these observatories as they give memorable experiences you won't forget for a long time. Some are open only during some parts of the year, while others require booking before a visit. Ensure you visit their website before visiting any observatory to prevent a wasted trip.