Sight Seen : Australian Delights - Sydney Observatory

Sydney - Sydney Observatory

Built in the 1850s, Sydney's copper-domed, Italianate sandstone observatory squats atop pretty Observatory Hill, overlooking the harbour. Inside is a collection of vintage apparatus, including Australia's oldest working telescope (1874), as well as background on Australian astronomy and transits of Venus. Also on offer are entertaining tours (adult/child $10/8), which include a planetarium show. Bookings are essential for night-time stargazing sessions (adult/child $22/17), which run Monday to Saturday, and Aboriginal sky storytelling sessions (adult/child $18/12). All tours are great for kids.

If youre feeling more earthly, Observatory Hill is great for a picnic. Studded with huge Moreton Bay fig trees, the grassy hilltop buzzes with sweaty hill-climbing joggers, lunchtime CBD escapees and travellers taking time out from the Rocks below. The hill was the site of the colony's first windmill (1796), which ground wheat until someone stole its canvas sails and the structure collapsed.

The observatory was originally built to determine the correct time via astronomical observations. On the roof, a signal ball still drops at exactly 1pm. The hill was also used to signal to ships from two high flagpoles, one of which has been reconstructed. Research at the observatory ceased in 1983.