The Astronomy Centre, Greenwich (or: the sun exploded)
This was not one of my better-planned days out, but now I’ve done it all wrong I can tell you what you *should* do if you want to visit the Planetarium and Astronomy Centre with a small person. I went with my two littleys (2 years 3 months & 3 months) and a friend with two of similar ages, without so much as checking their website in advance.
So here are my tips:
1. The Astronomy Centre is for babies, not toddlers.
The exhibits are mainly visual, with a lot of detailed text, and much of the ‘interaction’ consists of pressing buttons to get a head to appear on a screen and talk (inaudibly, because the toddlers are talking at the same time). The rooms are dark, because stuff to look at is on lit up screens, so my toddler was a bit scared and wanted to go home…
There’s nowhere to leave buggies (we were told by the man on the desk, even though there was quite a lot of space in the entrance hall if he’d been willing) and buggies are a bit of a liability in the galleries.
There were some good bits. It’s free. The astronomy photographer of the year competition show is just breathtakingly beautiful and was (briefly) enjoyed by everyone including the toddlers, though it involved lifting them up to see. Little B was wide-eyed with delight at glowing images of planets and moons.
The highlight for my toddler Finn was a room with a looped video about the universe and the solar system on a huge cinema screen. I say the highlight, because he insisted on watching it three times. Sadly the fact he took away was that the Sun is going to explode and destroy Earth: trying to explain that this won’t happen for billions of years doesn’t work for someone with no sense of time. In fact he seemed to think it had already happened.
Following this, he asked to sit in the buggy and lay back with a depressed look, refusing to do anything else until we gave up and went to the cafe.
To be fair, although he repeated ‘the sun exploded’ for days afterwards, the video did spark Finn’s interest in space, stars and planets – I can see we’re going to be looking for more space/rocket books in the library this summer.
However, it turns out the Astronomy Centre is a weirdly good place to bring very young babies, who are happily hypnotised by glowing stars and don’t care about hands-on play. In fact I’d recommend it if you’ve got one of these and no toddler, as you can probably spend as long as you like looking at stuff, maybe even reading about what the stuff is, while baby enjoys the light show snuggled in the baby carrier. Then you can have a coffee on the terrace while you feed baby, maybe even simultaneously having a conversation in full sentences with a friend, while nobody steals your cake, or covers you in squashed banana and toy cars. Those were the days (only joking, I do realise my first maternity leave memories are rose-tinted at the moment).
2. The Planetarium shows are at specific times (and not weekday mornings in term time)
You can see various different live, ‘interactive’ shows in the Planetarium, but we didn’t get to go to one because we were there at the wrong time. Like I said, I didn’t plan. This was silly because they look really cool. There are a couple specifically aimed at families that recommend age 5+ but one specially for under 7s called Space Safari. Shows are £7.50 for adults full price, £6.50 concessions, £5.50 children but there are family rates and it’s free if you’re a Royal Museums member. Check times on their website because it’s complicated with the different shows and term/holiday timings.
3. Greenwich Park is brilliant
Greenwich Park is wonderful and quickly made up for the lack of hands-on fun and the news that we are all doomed. We headed down the other side of the hill (great view, lots of long grass to lose toy cars in) to the brilliant playground in the north-east corner. A huge choice of climbing/sliding stuff for toddlers and bigger kids too. There’s a boating lake next to it which I’d have tried if I wasn’t outnumbered by children.
I was too busy simultaneously breastfeeding Little B and stopping Finn fall backwards off ladders to get a pic of the playground, so here’s one from London with a toddler, which looks like a really useful blog…
What? The Planetarium and Astronomy Centre
Where? On top of the worldl! We did the uphill walk through Greenwich Park from Cutty Sark DLR. See here for travel options.
When? The Astronomy Centre is open 10-5, daily. The Planetarium shows are at specific times.
How much? Astronomy Centre is free. Planetarium shows are £7.50 adult full price, £6.50 concessions, £5.50 children,
Facilities and access The Astronomy Centre is wheelchair accessible so it’s okay-ish with a buggy, but there’s no buggy park. There’s baby changing. There’s a cafe with a nice big terrace and highchairs. Climbing up the hill to the Royal Observatory is an adventure in itself for toddlers… with a dramatic view over London to reward you at the top. There is a level access route for wheelchairs and buggies but it’s further to walk with less of a view, so we went for the direct one. There are shallow steps towards the top of the hill and it’s definitely a workout with a double buggy, even if you convince the toddler to walk.