Despite its reputation for cloudy skies, UK stargazing locations are some of the best in Europe. There are hundreds of places recommended across the UK, some of which may be close to your home.
To narrow it down for you, we have explored five potential destination types, taking in to account locations that have been awarded special status for stargazing by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).
1. National parks
The UK is home to many truly wonderful national parks, some of which are well known stargazing locations. A great example is Exmoor National Park in Devon, which won the status of the UK’s (and Europe’s) first International Dark Sky Reserve 2011.
The Brecon Beacons achieved this accolade in 2013, becoming the first of its kind in Wales. The area is described by the IDA as a “secluded utopia for stargazing” where on a clear night you can see the Milky Way, major constellations, bright nebulas and even meteor showers.
A good time to go: During the Exmoor Dark Skies Festival 2019 (14th October - 3rd November 2019), which will feature stargazing talks, guided night walks, and wild swimming.
Sark, seven miles from Guernsey and only 25 miles from the coast of France, has no public street lights or cars. This results in low levels of light pollution, making it ideal for stargazers.
Residents were willing to change their lighting to reduce pollution levels, which helped Sark become the world’s first Dark Sky Island in 2011. You can only access the Island by boat, with regular trips available from Jersey or Guernsey.
At the opposite end of the UK, the Shetland and Orkney islands provide a great chance to tick seeing the Northern Lights or aurora borealis (and also known locally as ‘merrie dancers’) off your bucket list.
Shetland lies closer to the north pole than any other part of the British Isles, making it the best UK location to enjoy this phenomenon.
A good time to go: Shetland officials suggest that visiting between October and March, and when there isn’t a full moon, might be the best period to see aurorae.
According to the Forestry Commission Scotland, more than 7,000 stars as well as the planets of the solar system are visible with the naked eye at Galloway Forest Park, as well as amazing views of the Milky Way.
The region covers 300 square miles that have been protected from light pollution. It’s also the site of the Dark Sky Observatory, situated in Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere, recognised by UNESCO for its array of landscapes, wildlife and nature.
A good time to go: Lucy Hadley from Forestry Commission Scotland recommends stargazing at Galloway Forest Park from October to March.
Moffat, in Scotland, was Europe’s first Dark Sky Town, with residents adopting special street lighting to protect their magical view of the sky. From Moffat, you can see 17 of the stars that make up the four corners of Orion – about 10 more than in a normal town.
You could also try Lacock village in Wiltshire, which offers very low light pollution and also has bags of character. It has been used as a location in TV and film productions, such as Pride and Prejudice and the Harry Potter films.
A good time to go: Any time except maybe June, July or August – the Wiltshire Astronomical Society hosts monthly stargazing evenings at Lacock Playing Fields in every other month.
5. Somewhere quirky
There are some truly unique sites that double up as wonderful stargazing spots.
Stonehenge, for example, has stood proudly in Salisbury for thousands of years as an icon of ancient astronomy, and is one of England’s most well-known stargazing spots.
Meanwhile, the National Trust hosts regular stargazing nights at Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland, the site of a 100ft high, 400-year-old rope bridge originally built by salmon fishermen. Found along the Antrim coastline made famous by TV show Game of Thrones, it’s one of only two Dark Sky spots in the country.
A good time to go: The winter solstice on December 21st, when people from around the world flock to Stonehenge to experience the sunrise. It’s the longest night of the year and one of the best nights to stargaze.
Remember to bring…
- Layered clothing and a warm blanket
- Something to sit / lie down on – perhaps a rug or chair
- Plenty of snacks to keep you going, especially warm drinks in a thermos
- A torch to find your way through some of the UK’s darkest areas
- Binoculars to help see the sky in more detail, but often they aren’t essential