Cincinnati is full of hidden gems that make it truly special and unique. The Cincinnati Observatory is one of them – and arguably, the most impressive.
Located on the top of a hill in Hyde Park/Mt. Lookout, at the end of a street full of classic, Victorian houses, the Cincinnati Observatory is iconic. Comprised of two buildings with immediately recognizable dome-shaped roofs, the Cincinnati Observatory isn’t just a place where Cincinnatians can learn about space — it’s a space for kids and adults to dream big and be inspired… and get a great history lesson, too.
Known as “The Birthplace of American Astronomy,” the Cincinnati Observatory Center houses the oldest working telescope in the United States, the Mitchel Scope — purchased in 1842. You’ll get to see this telescope in the education building, where it’s used daily. The telescope is 16 feet long and manually operated — but don’t let its age fool you: this beauty can show you Mars, the Big Red Spot on Jupiter and the Rings of Saturn, no problem.
In the main building, there’s a newer model: the 22-foot Alvan Clark and Sons refractor from 1904. The telescope takes up most of the room, and is truly a sight to behold. It’s pretty awesome to stand in the presence of something that can literally let you view our neighboring galaxy. Despite their great history, both telescopes are used regularly as part of the Observatory’s public programs. Both buildings are designated as a National Historic Landmark — but the Observatory Center is not a museum. Rather, the Cincinnati Observatory is a place for hands-on learning, for astronomy experts, ameteurs and even families.
The Observatory Center offers loads of family-friendly programs: monthly Cosmic Kids classes
(geared towards students in grades K-7); Intro to Astronomy classes
(led by renowned astronomer and Cincinnatian Dean Regas) for adults and special events
. (Looking for a special Valentine’s Day date? Call about the Observatory’s Valentine’s Night
The Observatory hosts daily tours
at 1, 2 and 3 pm on Mondays-Fridays, where you’ll get to explore both buildings, and even take a look through the telescopes if the weather cooperates. (Definitely dress for the weather – the telescope rooms are not heated or cooled!) These tours are just $5/person (all proceeds to to fund programming at the Observatory), and are very family friendly. I took my three kids (6, 5 and 3), who got to touch real meteors, work the ropes to turn the telescope and open the dome-shaped ceiling. My oldest brought his sketchbook and asked tons of questions, and really got a kick out of talking planets with our guide.
With its emphasis on education and public programming, our solar system is made accessible and close at the Cincinnati Observatory Center. One look through the telescope and the neighboring planets become as close as a next-door neighbor; the entire galaxy is within reach. And this is something truly inspiring for kids – and grown ups!
The Cincinnati Observatory is located at 3489 Observatory Place, Cincinnati, OH 45208. It’s open Monday-Friday from 12-4 pm, with special hours and events held on weekends. For more information or to schedule a tour, call 513-321-5186.