Nice Cote d’Azur Observatory – Guided Tour

A guided tour of Nice Observatory. The cupola was designed by Gustave Eiffel.

A Guided Tour of Nice Observatory (Côte d’Azur Observatory)

The official name of the Nice Observatory is the Côte d’Azur Observatory.  Reasons to visit Côte d’Azur Observatory are;

  • You’re interested in astronomy
  • View important historic observatories
  • See a piece of Gustave Eiffel’s work
  • See a piece of Charles Garnier’s work
  • Enjoy a panorama of Nice and the French Riviera
  • Practice your French

You can buy a ticket for the Nice Observatory tour from the Nice tourist office.  This is located outside the Nice-Ville train station.

Meeting Point

Nice Observatory - meeting point

How to get to Nice Observatory is very easy.  When you arrive by bus you must exit at the Observatoire stop.  At this stop you’ll see a large gate and a house (above).  This is where the Nice Observatory tour starts.  The tour is given in French and most of the visitors will be French.  When the guide is not talking to the group as a whole they will be happy to explain things in English to you.  I was lucky as other French visitors were keen to explain things to me in English.  Most visitors were visiting to learn about the historic observatories whereas I was there to see the cupola designed by Gustave Eiffel.

Panoramic view of Nice

Nice Observatory - panoramic view of Nice and the French Riviera

As you walk up to the observatories you’ll see a wonderful panoramic of Nice.  I would recommend taking a tour late afternoon as you’ll witness the Nice sunset.  There will be plenty of opportunities to photograph the panoramic as you pass it when walking between observatories.

Charlois Cupola

Nice Observatory

On the tour there are 2 observatories which you’ll visit.  One of them is the lesser known and smaller Charlois cupola.  This cupola is not visible from Nice.  Inside the Charlois cupola you can view the working observatory.  The French have since built more modern astronomical observatories all over the world.  However, the ones in Nice are still used today.  They are used for what are now basic tasks.  Tasks such as viewing asteroids or comets which may be passing through the solar system.

There is another smaller cupola on the site called the Schaumasse Cupola.  You will not go inside this one but you can photograph it.

Côte d’Azur Observatory

Nice Observatory and Bischoffsheim Cupola

The main observatory was completed in 1878 on the summit of Mount Gros.  At this time it was the highest observatory in the world.  The telescope inside was the largest telescope in the world at 76 meters in length.  Many of the stars we know today were discovered for the first time at this observatory.  In fact, around 2000 stars were discovered here.  Two famous French architects designed the Nice Observatory.  Charles Garnier designed the building and the cupola is a piece of work by Gustave Eiffel.  Charles Garnier is famous for the Paris Opera and Gustave Eiffel for the Eiffel Tower.  This observatory is visible from downtown Nice.

Equatorial Curved Telescope

Nice Observatory

Another impressive telescope located at the Nice Observatory is an equatorial curved telescope.  When they move the cover it looks like something from an old James Bond movie.  It looks very simple to operate the telescopes.  The guide explains that the stars and earth are both moving and that there is a lot more work going on with the telescope than you would first imagine.

The Contribution of Gustave Eiffel

Nice Observatory - Bischoffsheim Cupola, Gustave Eiffel

The reason I went to the Nice Observatory is to see the Gustave Eiffel Cupola.  I have seen his work in Bordeaux, Porto, Monaco and Maputo.  His work in Nice is unique as it’s a rotatable cupola.  One of the problems they had to overcome back in 1878 was how to make such a heavy cupola rotate.  The cupola weighs over 100 tons.  This problem was resolved by floating the cupola on water mixed with magnesium chloride.  If you were to have visited this in 1880 you would be seeing the largest astronomical telescope in the world.  You would also be visiting the highest observatory in the world.

How to get to Nice Observatory

how to get to Nice Observatory. Bus number 84 from Nice Riquier

To get to Nice Observatory you must take bus 84.  This leaves from outside the Nice Riquier train station.  You can view the exact location of the bus stop on Google maps.  The Nice Riquier train station is quite a long walk from the center.  If you take the tram to Palais des Expositions stop it’s a couple of blocks away and you can use the same ticket for the bus.  Make sure you have a ticket to get back as they don’t sell them from the Observatoire stop.

How to watch a football match in Nice or Monaco.  What to see in Nice and Monte Carlo.

2018-03-27T09:19:53+00:00December 16th, 2017|France, Western Europe|10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Brendan December 17, 2017 at 6:24 pm - Reply

    One of the most famous structures in the world is the Eiffel Tower – so it would be interesting to see another piece of his work. The stroke of genius they had to make his heavy cupola rotatable and all those years ago! I will definitely take this tour when I visit Nice, I will try see the observatory from the center of Nice too!

    • James Smith December 18, 2017 at 9:16 am - Reply

      Hi Brendan, enjoy the tour when you visit Nice, you will be impressed!

  2. Toby December 18, 2017 at 4:58 am - Reply

    I didn’t know Nice had a piece of work by Gustave Eiffel. I was in Porto recently and read about his bridge, it seems he has pieces of work all over the world. It’s interesting that you visited his work in Maputo, Mozambique! As this was once one of the most important observatories in the world – that’s another reason to visit!

    • James Smith December 18, 2017 at 9:16 am - Reply

      Hi Toby, be careful, you’ll start visiting his work all over the world like me!

  3. Kathy VA December 19, 2017 at 6:44 am - Reply

    You seem to be traveling with a purpose, and I like that idea. Many post out there don’t cover historical places like this and I don’t even knew this placesl existed though I’ve read a lot about Nice. The paranomic of Nice is so dreamy. The observatories too are works of genius. I’d love to visit someday.

  4. Indrani December 19, 2017 at 9:39 am - Reply

    You post on most unusual things, last time I remember reading on a stadium. 🙂
    Love how they have maintained the old observatory and it is still in use for basic study. Definitely a good educational tour.
    I would like to see in teal some day through those telescopes.

  5. Shaily December 20, 2017 at 3:02 am - Reply

    This is a very interesting and informative post on observatories! It’s quite fascinating to explore the places where genius minds once laboured to produce a masterpiece of science. I would love to visit the Gustave Eiffel Cupola. A rotatable cupola weighing 100 tons in an observatory that was once the highest observatory in the world is definitely a worth visit. The magnificent view from the top as well as the interesting architecture of these observatories add to the interest. 🙂

  6. Savannah December 20, 2017 at 9:55 am - Reply

    Awesome! I would visit just for that view. I had no idea that the French were so into astronomy… with French observatories all over the world! It’s also so cool that Gustave Eiffel made that cupola back in 1878 and figured out how to rotate it ON WATER!

  7. FS Page December 20, 2017 at 4:08 pm - Reply

    Côte d’Azur Observatory is a beautiful viewpoint. Charlois Cupola seems like a cute inverted cup to me. I am sure it provides outstanding views. It must be certainly a task to rotate such a heavy cupola. Hats off to such amazing inventions. I would love to visit these observatories sometime soon.

  8. Chesca December 21, 2017 at 5:26 pm - Reply

    I absolutely loved this post! A mixture of history and astronomy – I can’t think of much better. The Gustave Eiffell cuppola is amazing, I’d love to see that in person. I can only imagine what it must be like to wander around this observatory and think back to what it must have looked like when they were making all those new discoveries. Amazing.

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