The Old City Observatory

In addition to the famous monuments on Calton Hill, the old City Observatory can be found here. Inspired by a Greek temple of the Four Winds, the building was designed by William Henry Playfair in 1818. The first Astronomer Royal to work in this building was Professor Thomas Henderson, appointed 1834, who had discovered how to measure parallax and the distance to a star while in his previous job in South Africa

Edinburgh's City Observatory, also known as the Playfair Observatory, is a fascinating place, where the optimism and excitement of early scientific advances can still be felt.

Old Observatory House is not currently available to rent. Further information on the new arrangements will be posted here when confirmed, but that will not be until the completion of the City Observatory complex works (see below) and the conclusion of the letting tender process, which may take us into the second half of 2017.

Images of the Old City Observatory and Calton Hill can be found on Capital Collections.


Working with The City of Edinburgh Council, Collective is redeveloping the City Observatory complex as the gallery’s new home, conserving and reinstating the original Playfair designs and creating a new-build gallery space and restaurant.  The site will open fully to the public for the first time in its history early in 2018. While work continues, Collective are continuing to show work by emerging artists in a temporary gallery space next to the Old Observatory.

Temporary gallery opening hours:

October through March: Tuesday to Sunday 10am - 4pm
April through September: Tuesday to Sunday 10am - 5pm
August only: Monday to Sunday 10am - 6pm

Read our newsletters on the project to bring the City Observatory site back into use.

October 2014 (PDF, 915 KB);  June 2014 (PDF, 621 KB); February 2014 (PDF, 670 KB); October 2013 (PDF, 459 KB); September 2013 (PDF, 141 KB)


A view of the observatory dome looking north towards Fife


Find out more about the City Observatory and its fascinating history.

Exterior of the Observatory

Visitor Information

Where to find us.

Transit telescope in the Old City Observatory


Read about the telescopes and other artefacts in the Observatory.

Old Observatory House

Old Observatory House

Old Observatory House was built by James Craig between 1776 and 1793. Usually called the “architect of the New Town”, James Craig built few actual buildings and most of those have now been demolished. Old Observatory House is the most outstanding example of the very few extant buildings by Craig.

The City Dome

The City Dome

The City Dome was built in 1896 at the time the Observatory proper was being moved to Blackford Hill.