Collective - City Observatory

Explore the City Observatory on Calton Hill, the birthplace of astronomy and timekeeping in Edinburgh

Look to the stars for inspiration

Visit the home of Collective, a contemporary art organisation that presents a year-round programme of exhibitions, walks, and events.

Initially built in the 1770s, it took four decades before the observatory was complete, ultimately realised by William Henry Playfair in 1818. The original rounded gothic tower from the late 18th century is still visible on-site as part of the newly renovated Observatory House.

The house, now available to rent as unique accommodation, features original artwork commissioned from artists including Rachel Adams, Thomas Aitchison, Rabiya Choudhry, and Christian Newby – and all proceeds go towards supporting Collective’s charitable mission to bring people together around art.

On the west of the site stands Transit House, a small predecessor of Playfair’s observatory from 1812, which once housed an instrument for observing the transit of stars across the meridian. A larger version of this transit telescope was installed in the new observatory in 1831 and survives to this day, alongside a 6-inch refracting telescope housed in the McEwan Dome on the observatory’s top floor.

Re-designated as the City Observatory in 1896, after losing its royal title to the observatory on Blackford Hill, the site was run by the amateur Astronomical Society of Edinburgh from the late 1930s until its closure in 2009.

In 2013, Collective began fundraising to restore and develop the site in partnership with City of Edinburgh Council as a new centre for contemporary art, with the site opening to the public in November 2018. Their programme of exhibitions walks, and events present contemporary art in all its diversity.

Usually closed to the public, both Observatory House and the McEwan Dome will be open to visitors through Doors Open Days via pre-booked tours.

Booking information:

  • Tours have sold out for this venue

Booking Link:


24th and 25th September 

Opening times:



City Observatory

38 Calton Hill



  • Accessible parking
  • Step free access
  • Routes free from trip hazards
  • Accessible bathroom
  • Gender neutral toilets
  • Seating
  • Baby feeding and changing area
  • Information and signposting available in large print