The Nice Observatory

Magic in the Moonlight movie posterThe 140-year-old Nice Observatory is not a museum at all, but a working astronomy lab that offers tours 3 times a week.  You might recognize it if you saw the Woody Allen film Magic in the Moonlight which was shot here on the Cote d’Azur.

The Nice Observatory was designed by a collaboration of two the greatest luminaries of their day: Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame bien sur, and Charles Garnier who designed the ornate Paris Opera and Monte Carlo Casino.

Coupole Bischoffsheim.jpg

But it was Eiffel who came up with the ingenious floating system for making the giant telescope mobile: a small man-made lake was dug out and filled with water, and the coupole was then erected on a floating platform, allowing the the 92-ton dome to be easily rotated into whatever viewing position was required!   Nowadays, of course, the telescope and dome are maneuvered by hydraulics.

How to get there:  It’s tempting to go by car, but the parking is really limited. It is probably best to go by bus: From the Nice Riquier train station (a 10-minute walk from the tram stop Palais des Expositions), take bus #84 which goes roughly every 30 minutes and will take 15 minutes to reach the stop ‘Observatoire‘.  The bus #84 does run on Sundays, but on a very reduced schedule, roughly every 3 hours.  Here is the bus # 54 return schedule so you can really get your plan.

Hours:  Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 2:45pm. The group size is limited to 25 people, so it’s essential to reserve in advance here.

Tickets:  6€ for adults, but reduced to 3€ for students and children over 6.

The tour:  The 90-minute tour is in French only and the first half takes place outdoors, walking 2 kilometers (1 mile and a half) around the scientific compound, over sometimes steep hilly terrain with stupendous views (so bring tennis shoes, hat, and sunscreen).  Once inside the inner sanctum of the famous cupola, you can look through the 18-meter long telescope, then tour the underground and the new interactive Universarium.  Even if you have only a basic grasp of French, the tour is still fascinating, the views magnificent, and all-in-all a rare experience to get to go inside an observatory and peer through such a telescope. English tours can also be arranged in advance for a cost of 90€ for the group at  groupenice@oca.eu   

For some serious star-gazing, a couple of times a year there are rare opportunities for a night visit, usually around History Weekend in September or during Nice Astronomy Week in April.  Check the site for info…

See related page on the History of Nice:  21 Fascinating Facts About Nice  

Photo credits:  Cupola by Ericd, licensed under creative commons.  Poster from Magic in the Moonlight from Amazon.com.

 

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