If you're looking at the reviews of the Planetarium, watch out! The London Planetarium was moved from Madame Tussauds to the Royal Greenwich Observatory in 2007, so all pre-2007 reviews are totally irrelevant now. I have yet to go so this is not strictly a review. However, from looking at the website and the 2010 review below, I am looking forward to taking my almost-4 year old son there next week. Although the shows are recommended for age 5 and over, under 5s will be admitted. I have given it 4 stars in anticipation...
The Royal Observatory and the Planetarium
A few weeks ago now I went to Greenwich for afternoon and wandered over to the Royal Observatory which I would recommend as it is well worth a visit. The Observatory is actually part of the National Maritime Museum which also encompasses the Maritime Galleries and the Queen's House.
The Royal Observatory was commissioned in 1675 by Charles II and is situated on a hill in Greenwich Park overlooking the River Thames. It is a really beautiful building and even if you are not interested in the outside it is worth a look just at the architectural beauty on the outside. The original part of the Observatory was designed by Sir Christopher Wren so you get an idea of how wonderful it is just from that. It was commissioned to house scientific instruments and was the first purpose built scientific research facility in Britain.
The Observatory is extremely easy to find and fairly easy to get to if you don't mind using public transport. You have to take the DLR (DocklandsLight Railway) which is easily accessible from various tube stops and get off at the Cutty Sark stop. This probably takes about 20 minutes fromCentral London, so not very long. Once you get off the train there are very good signposts pointing you in various directions and the Observatory is prominently written on the signs to help you get there. You walk through the park and then make sure your leg muscles are working properly! As it is at the top of a very large hill you have to walk up a very steep path in order to reach the building, boy were the back of my calves stinging after that work but there is a railing you can hold onto to help you. Once you're up though it is well worth the walk, the views over London are beautiful. You can see the Thames, the city and the Gherkin one way and the 02 stadium the other.
The great thing about the Observatory is that entrance is free so you can spend 10 minutes in there if you want to without feeling like you should stay longer to get your money's worth. It is open from 10am to 5pm, Monday to Sundays. They do say that the busiest times are around lunchtime on Saturdays and Sundays so maybe avoid it at that time. We went on a Wednesday afternoon and it was pretty empty which was nice.
They have some amazing galleries at the Observatory. The Weller astronomy gallery is an interactive gallery where you can learn about stars, see how the universe was formed and even play at being an astronomer. This is such a brilliant museum for kids as there is so much for them to do and touch and learn by doing that I definitely recommend it if you have families. At the entrance to the Observatory they have a meteorite on display that you can touch and that they say is over 4.5 billion years old, really incredible stuff.
My favourite part of this museum though is the Planetarium. The Planetarium underwent redevelopment recently and was newly unveiled on May 25th 2007. It is called the Peter Harris Planetarium. This is now the only Planetarium in London. The outside of the building is absolutely stunning. It is covered in bronze and is one of the largest uses of bronze in the world. It looks like just one big chunk but it's actually made up of 250 sheets. It's actually a really interesting, intellectual piece of sculpture because it actually has meaning in its field. The actual shape of the cone relates to the stars and according to an article I read:
* The north side of the cone is aligned with the point in the sky perpendicular to the Greenwich local horizon (zenith)
* The sloping southern side points towards the north celestial pole (Pole star). The angle of the slope is 51º28'44", equal to the latitude of the Royal Observatory
* The top of the cone is sliced at an angle parallel to the celestial equator
* The planetarium is aligned with the local meridian (north-south line)
There are various different shows on at the Planetarium during the day and these you do actually have to pay for but it is well worth it. An adult ticket costs £6 and children are £4. They do offer a family ticket which is think is cheaper if there are four of you. The inside of the Planetarium has 120 seats which are extremely comfortable. Then angle you in such a way that you are looking up and it does not strain your neck (I was so comfortable that I actually nodded off for a few minutes during the show but that was not because it was boring, I was just very very tired). Up above you is the big dome which illuminates once the lights go off and turns into the sky. We saw the Sky Tonight Live show. An astronomer from the Observatory talks you through what you can see in the sky the actual night of the day you go, pointing out the famous constellations, stars, planets etc. The gentleman that gave our talk was extremely knowledgeable and made the presentation very interesting. I think it only lasted for about 15/20 minutes but was definitely a very good introduction if you have never really learnt about the stars etc. Other presentation they offer include a show about black holes, star gazing for beginners and Invaders from Mars. As each show is different you can go to the Planetarium a number of different times and see different things every time.
AS a day out I would 100% recommend the Royal Observatory as there are some many things to do and see which are fun and interesting.
A couple of months ago I went to the London Planetarium as part of a 'two for one' Time Out splurge around London. You can buy tickets for the Planetarium for around £7.00 or so or buy them as a joint ticket with the Madame Toussards Exhibition next door. This works out a bit cheaper but you still need to remember to remortgage your house before setting out. At half price, the family ticket for both was still around £30 - if you see what I mean. Anyway, I digress. Having cost around a third of the joint ticket price, I was not expecting hours of fun but perhaps just two hours, maybe. The entrance lobby had a few interesting gadgets and interactive displays, but I remember thinking it wasn't anything special. For this reason, I was keen to move on into the main section. Through to the next part, there were a couple of posters and a poor attempt at some interactive displays. A queue indicated that this was the waiting area for a show. We sat tight waiting for the doors to open to the auditorium. We sat in total for about 45 minutes. The children were bored to tears and so were we! At last we were led into the show. The seats were in a semi-circle and the film was shown projected into the ceiling - an impressive dome. The almost 3D effects were very good and the 20 minute or so film was excellent. It may have been longer but time went quickly and I didn't check my watch. The lights came on at the end and my faith in the Planetarium was restored - after the long wait and boring displays, I had really enjoyed the brief film. I was enlightened, and quite ready to explore the rest of the attraction. The exit from the auditorium led us to the next room... THE SOUVENIR SHOP! Yes, that's right there was nothing more to see! I was quite amazed. We had got the tickets at half price and slightly reduced for buying in conjunction with Madame
Toussards, but it was still a huge rip off! Imagine if we'd paid full price for the Planetarium alone - it's certainly not a full day out! My advice is leave well alone. If you have to go - wait for an offer and make sure you've got more things planned for that day - or you'll be sorely dissapointed!
If you've read my opinion on Madame Tussauds, then you will know that I visited the Planetarium in part to avoid the long queue to get into Madame Tussauds. The Planetarium is part of the Tussauds group, and located next door to Madame T's, with a connecting door between the two - thus once you're inside the Planetarium you bypass the queue to get into Madame T's – nice one! Unfortunately however there is a downside - it is a little pricey to say the least. A single ticket to the Planetarium is £6.50, and a combined ticket to both Madame T's and the Planetarium is £13.95. I think the combined ticket is definitely the best option, as it is only a couple of pounds more than the regular admission price just to Madame T's. Personally, I found the Planetarium to be the much more interesting of the two attractions. Even though I am not a science fan at all (history is much more my thing as you’ll probably have gathered if you’ve read any of my earlier ops), I still enjoyed it, which is certainly saying something, as normally I will avoid anything scientific like the plague! You start off by going into an exhibition which is about the planets - it is well presented, informative, and interactive. There are many fascinating facts throughout - such as the fact that on the moon everything feels six times lighter than on earth. It’s these little facts which help to draw in the ordinary visitor with no previous knowledge, encouraging them to explore further. The interactive element is also good, as it has computer touch screens, the occasional game, and my particular favourite, a model of a black hole which you put 1p and 2p pieces in, so that you can see how a black hole sucks in all matter. Things such as this help to break up the absorption of information and so you learn without realising it. It is also explained in a way which is accessible to all, so I would recommend it for children, from abo
ut the age of 7 upwards I would think. The main part of the Planetarium is of course the dome, where you sit in a theatre, which takes you on a fantastic audio-visual trip through the universe, using the walls and ceiling of the dome. This is done by Digistar II, the world's most advanced star projector. It is dark inside, so maybe small children would feel a little scared. The seats are comfortable, and it is also quite relaxing as well as being educational. The graphics and special effects of the tour are superb, you simply sit back and watch the universe unfolding in front of your eyes, as if you are on a space mission yourself. Whilst the seats remain static throughout, the effect is such that you really do believe that you are travelling. In fact, at times, you can feel a little dizzy! You learn about types of stars, galaxies, black holes, worm holes, the planets, the sun and much more. There is not a vast amount of detail, so it is suitable for everyone with no prior knowledge. It also works well in conjunction with the earlier exhibition. Are there any disadvantages? Well, I personally found it a bit too crowded for my liking, even though I went out of season, in the depths of midwinter, which means you might not get as much time as you want with some of the interactive exhibits. It was also quite warm in there - would have liked some better air conditioning! I also wish that the main planetarium experience in the domed theatre had been longer - I was really getting into it and then it ended! Overall though, a great trip for the whole family, educational but fun – always the best way to learn anything, and suitable for all but the youngest children. No previous knowledge is necessary, and as I discovered, even people who are not of a scientific bent will enjoy it. Whilst it might be a little basic for science students, everyone will appreciate the trip through space! To get there: Nearest tube statio
n to the Planetarium is Baker Street. (Metropolitan, Circle, Jubilee, Bakerloo and Hammersmith & City Lines) Buses: 13, 18, 27, 30, 74, 82, 113, 139, 159, 274 Address: London Planetarium Marylebone Road London NW1 5LR Website: http://www.madame-tussauds.co.uk/site/planet/f_pl.htm
My boyfriend and I visited the planetarium as part of a joint ticket with Madame Tussauds included. It is easy to get to right beside the Baker St tube station. I must say while there were some redeeming features I was not overly impressed by it, and it is just as well it is on the other side of Madame Tussauds because it really does not stand out as a major attraction all by itself. This is because firstly the main show is far too short, and secondly there is not a sufficient variety of “displays” you look at before you enter the main arena. Displays included weight machines that gave peoples weight on Venus, Mars and simultaneously on earth, which was indeed quite interesting, depending on the gravity of the planet, you were either much lighter or much heavier. It was however my weight on the planet Earth that worried me the most after scoffing a particularly big lunch! Other displays are hard to recall as they are not very memorable but I think I remember seeing a big sun with information on how hot it is there, and there was a curious contraption to the side of the room which was shaped like a bowl and you can throw a ball down it and this represents debris being sucked into a black hole. Quite. Everywhere there is electronic screens displaying more information on space although these screens were not of much interest to me as you have no control over the speed of information and it seemed to be quite a few minutes before the screen changed. The information was not scintillating enough for me to stand staring at it for so long, I’m not sure why there were buttons on these screens though as it gives people the false impression that they can change the screen. Anyway after that not overly awe inspiring section we came to the queue for the show. Shows start every hour on the hour and luckily we were just in time for the main show, thank God! We were shown into a dark circular arena, which looked just like a cinema
but with the screen over our heads. A voice comes on as the light dims and basically tells us we are in a rocket and we about to set off on a journey (exact words evade me) so the roof opens up and space reveals itself gradually to us. This bit is impressive, very visually stunning and it does look like you are in space with twinkly stars everywhere. The voice goes on about stars, how they are born and when they die and explode they turn into supernovas, which is a mixture of elements. Life itself is believed to have arisen from a supernova. Gold is also formed in these supernovas and that is why gold is so valuable, the voice told us. This was something I didn’t know and made a mental note to stock up on gold as soon as I went home! We also heard about the sun and how hot it is there, very hot I think they said, so we put on our solar shield. The dark spots we could see on the sun are the “cooler” spots and these are all much bigger than the planet Earth which gives one an idea about the magnitude of the entire sun compared to Earth – Massive! Also about Black Holes we could not go into it (in the imaginary rocket) as it would have been too dangerous (understatement) but a probe was launched into it, we got no info on this sad to say as the probe disappeared, just as well we didn’t go in then. Disappointing but not unexpected, the voice said this was one area that scientists were still trying to check out and it was still a big mystery inside there. Oh well, maybe next time. The point of no return at the edge of the Black Hole is called the event horizon and we were careful not to wander too close to this, as we did not want to get sucked in forever. Then came the wormholes, which was slightly more exploratory, a shortcut through space. This was a very twisty route, which made me feel slightly queasy, lots of squiggles and meandering later we are back where we started. Not much more happens after this, we are headin
g back to Mars and this is where it ends. I mistakenly think we are going here to explore but no this is where we started our journey from at the beginning and this is where we are stopping. I am quite disappointed about this as I feel we have really only started our journey and there is a lot more to explore. But this is the end of the show are after only 15 to 20 minutes and my boyfriend and I are quite disappointed that it was so short. The show could have been so much more informative and comprehensive by encompassing all the planets and by increasing the show time by at least another 10 minutes. It is not fair to give the public such a short show when there is such potential here to really thrill and inform an audience. In my opinion it was only half a show, a good half all right but there’s a lot missing. It is very educational and probably more entertaining for children especially those who have not heard much about space or planets before. So, it’s a tricky question but I do recommend seeing it if you know little about the planets or you have kids, but there are better things to see in London and this is not really a must see, but worth a look if you have time.
~ ~ Ever since I was a teenager in the 1960’s, I have had a fascination with space and the planets. This was the golden age of space travel, with the Americans and Russians competing against each other in their bid to be the first to send a man to the Moon. The Americans were to win this race when Neil Armstrong uttered those immortal words, “One small step for Man, one giant leap for Mankind” when he became the first human to set foot on the lunar surface in July of 1969. Many have travelled there since, but as a young man of eighteen, sitting watching this moment of history being enacted on an old 20-inch black and white TV, it was like the dawning of a new era. I’ll never forget the now famous words as the shuttle touched down, “The Eagle has landed, Houston.” I had visions of booking package holidays at a Moon base in ten years time, and of interplanetary travel becoming as common place as air travel is today. Since then the impetus would appear to have gone out of manned space flight, so at the age of 49, I am beginning to accept (reluctantly) that my dream of one day gazing down at this wonderful Earth of ours from space may never actually be realised. ~ ~ So when I found myself in London in February, 2000, for the first time in many years, a visit to the famous Planetarium at Madame Tussauds was very high on my list of things to do. We went as a family, myself and my wife, and our nine year old daughter, (actually she was eight then!) and enjoyed the experience immensely. We bought the combined ticket that entitles you to visit both Madame Tussauds and the Planetarium, and in fairness it wasn’t that cheap, at a cost of about £14 per head, or £42 for the three of us, but was worth every penny. Tussauds is an experience in itself, and I’ll return to that in a later opinion, but for the moment let me tell you about the wonders that await you in the Planetarium, which is the
nearest most people will ever get to actual space travel. ~ ~ The highlight of the experience is off course the huge copper dome itself, where you watch the majesty of the Universe unfold in all its glory before your very eyes, but before you even get this far, there is a small exhibition area that is also enormously interesting. Here there are wax portraits of many of the world’s most famous astronomers, that helps to put a human face to such famous names as Sir Isaac Newton, Galileo, and Edmond Halley. (he discovered the famous comet!) The heroes of today are also represented, with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first “moon men”, on prominent display. There is also a mass of information about the planets themselves, enough to satisfy anyone’s curiosity, and many of the displays are interactive, which helps to attract and hold the attention of the children in particular. Take plenty one and two pence coins, as there is a very popular display that shows the way in which a “black hole” in space sucks in all before it. The objects that it swallows in this case are the aforementioned coins, and I quite literally had to drag my little one away before she bankrupted the remainder of the holiday. This exhibition is fascinating fare, and well worth taking a little time over to digest fully, before entering the main dome itself. ~ ~ The main dome is laid out in much the same way as your average cinema, with rows of chairs, but here the similarity ends. Instead of looking at a flat screen, you instead take your gaze upwards towards the heavens. As the lights dim, the whole roof of the dome gradually becomes a multicoloured and mind boggling vista of the heavens, that grabs both your attention and imagination, leaving you nearly believing that you are actually sitting in the pilot’s seat of a spacecraft, navigating your way around the Universe. There is a fabulous commentary to l
et you know what it is exactly you are looking at, and it is done in such a way as to be understandable to all, and not just to the rocket scientists and geniuses amongst us. You learn about the various planets and their moons, about different types of stars and galaxies, about sun spots, black holes, worm holes, and just about anything else your imagination can possibly envisage. ~ ~ I had visited this exhibit once before in my life, in the early 1970’s, but since then it has improved immensely. In 1995, the old projector they had used for decades was finally retired, and replaced with the most modern type available for this type of exhibit, a state of the art projection system called the "Digistar 2”. This weighs in at more than half a ton, and is the most advanced of its kind in the whole of Europe, being the only system that can project more than 9,000 stars, as well as giving the viewer the effect of actual space travel. NASA in fact developed the original Digistar as a training tool for astronauts, so realistic is its display. ~ ~ I think you’ve probably gathered by now that the whole family enjoyed this experience thoroughly. In fact, if my wee lass had had her way, we would have been paying the place a daily visit during our week’s stay in the Capital! If you fancy this yourself, the Planetarium is only a minute’s walk from the Baker Street tube station, on the Marylebone Road. You can even book your tickets online, to save you having to queue. An experience not to be missed.
I went to London about 2 years ago so you may think why am I reviewing this now. Well quite simply it has stuck in my mind more than anything else in the city. Much more so than more well known attractions like Tower Bridge. You are seated in a circular room in rows of seats and the show is projected onto the dome like roof. This may sound uncomfy but I can assure you everything is designed brilliantly. The show obviously is all about the solar system, space exploration, star formations etc. and as a complete newcomer to the topic I left with a vast ammount of knowledge from the trip. If you are very much into astronomy you may be left wanting more detailed information but it has to be said that the basics are all here in for people who don't know and the lighting effects are just breathtaking. Ok so you may not be a fan of astronomy, you may not have heard much about the London planetarium but give it a go and I promise you are in for a pleasent surprise.
Smack bang next to Tussauds, just outside Baker St station, the location of this attraction immediately brings forth images of all the worst aspects of the main tourist drag. But the planetarium is a surprisingly pleasant and genuinely stimulating experience, without the crush and the crowds at other top sites. The displays are good, and the central attraction, the star show really quite fun. Neither patronising nor excluisve, the presentation of information is done in an extremely accessible way, and I would recommend this for adults and children who have any interest in the cosmos. It is considerably better informed and more up-to-date than the Science Museum, as well (amazingly).