The best places in the UK to go stargazing

Our guide to the 10 best places to see the night skies right now – and why we should all be looking at the stars

Stargazing is more popular than ever, with many of us standing outside at night watching meteor showers and hoping to see the northern lights (aurora borealis).

Celebrities such as Tom Hanks are declaring themselves ‘space geeks’ and there’s a new race for the Moon between the super powers – we could see astronauts touching down in just three years time.

With so much interest in what is right above our heads, there’s no better time to get outside and look at the night skies. We’ve pulled together everything you need to know about how to start stargazing, what you can see and 10 of the best places in the UK to see stars.

A meteor shower over the coastlineCredit: Shutterstock / Jasmine K

Chris Lintott, from BBC’s Sky at Night, said that more people than ever are looking at the stars.
He says:  “I think people are more aware now of the natural world around them – and that includes looking up at the night sky.

“Even amongst the bright lights of a city, you can see the dance of the planets, pick out the constellations, or spot the International Space Station flying overhead. It’s a great time to be thinking about the cosmos.”


How to start looking at the stars

Expert advice on stargazing

Dr Greg Brown, Planetarium Astronomer from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, has this advice for anyone getting out stargazing for the first time.

He says: “Pick a night with clear skies and try and find what’s available in the sky. Apps on your phone such as Stellarium can be great for planning stargazing sessions and even for finding the objects themselves when you are outside.”

You don’t need a telescope, even a pair of good 10 x 50 binoculars will let you see the moons of Jupiter and the Andromeda galaxy.

10 best places in the UK to go stargazing

The best places to see the night skies in the UK

We’ve picked out 10 of the best places in the UK for stargazing.

1. Exmoor

The national park on the north Devon moors became one of Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserves in 2011. It remains one of the best areas in England for stargazing – on the clearest nights a human eye can detect about 3,000 stars.

By day it’s great for walks across open moorland, nature reserves, wild valleys and rugged coastal paths.

At night, the national park has stargazing events, or you can head out to some of the top spots for seeing stars and meteor showers, including Brendon Two Gates, Webbers Post, Anstey Gate, Haddon Hill, Wimbleball Lake and County Gate.

A starry sky above Exmoor National ParkCredit: Shutterstock / Arthur Cauty
The stars above Exmoor can be breathtaking

2. Kielder Water and Forest Park

Deep in the Northumberland National Park, this 580sq mile (150,000 hectare) area has been awarded gold status by the International Dark Sky Committee. On a clear night you’ll be able to see the Milky Way, meteors and even the Andromeda galaxy, which is 2.5 million light years away.

You can see those with the naked eye, and you can also visit Kielder Observatory year-round to get an even better view. The national park also arranges regular stargazing evenings where you can talk to experienced astronomers.

Kielder observatory with a star-filled sky at nightCredit: Kielder Observatory
Kielder Observatory boasts some of the best stargazing in the UK

3. The South Downs

It might be just 90 minutes from London, but the South Downs National Park doesn’t just boast great daytime walks across rolling hills and coastal walks, but it’s also great for stargazing.

The park became an International Dark Skies Reserve in 2016 and you could get some great views of the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy.

Great stargazing spots include Devil’s Dyke, Old Winchester Hill, Iping Common, Butser Hill, Birling Gap and Ditchling Beacon. When the weather isn’t great you can visit the Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium.

A starry sky over the Seven Sisters cliffs in the UKCredit: Shutterstock / Matt Gibson
You can see the Milky Way on clear nights over the Seven Sisters

4. The North York Moors

With low levels of pollution, the North York Moors is another great option for stargazing.

This national park became a Dark Sky Reserve in December 2020 and there are three dark sky discovery sites where the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye and up to 2,000 stars can be seen – the two national park centres at Danby Lodge and Sutton Bank and Dalby Forest.

Other great sites for stargazing are Rievaulx Terrace, Old Saltburn, Boulby Cliff, Kettleness and Ravenscar. The village of Hawnby has recently swapped 100 normal streetlights for special dark-skies-friendly lights to help cut light pollution.

A starry sky above a memorial stoneCredit: Shutterstock / amsleepy
A starry sky above the moors at Rosedale, North York Moors

5. Yorkshire Dales National Park

Another great Yorkshire destination, known for its walking, and the park achieved International Dark Sky Reserve Status in 2020. On a clear night you could see as many as 2,000 stars. In most places it is possible to see the Milky Way as well as the planets and meteors.

There are four Dark Sky Discovery Sites at Tan Hill Inn, Buckden National Park car park and Hawes and Malham National Park Centres.

A starry sky behind a hillsideCredit: Shutterstock / Matt Gibson
If you are lucky you may be able to see the Milky Way – seen here at Norber Ridge

6. Galloway Forest

Just a couple of hours from Glasgow, the Galloway Forest boasts skies so dark that it became the UK’s first Dark Sky Park in 2009 and is one of Scotland’s top astronomy destinations. It is Britain’s biggest forest park.

By day you can walk or cycle the trails through 300 square miles of woods, lakes and hills, and at night, more than 7,000 stars and planets can be visible with the naked eye.

The lowest levels of light pollution are at The Queen’s Way.

There are also regular events at the Clatteringshaws Visitor Centre, the Clatteringshaws and Kirroughtree visitor centres.

7. The Brecon Beacons

This national park in south Wales (which changed its name earlier this year) became the fifth destination in the world to get dark skies status in 2012.

It’s a popular area for walking and is home to Pen y Fan, the highest mountain in the south of the UK.

At night the skies can light up with stars, constellations and meteor showers.

The best spots include the Usk Reservoir, the haunting ruins of Llanthony Priory and the park’s visitor centre. There are also stargazing events throughout the year.

Starry skies over a ruined abbeyCredit: Shutterstock / Arthur Cauty
The ruin of Llanthony Priory is an atmospheric spot for stargazing

8. OM Dark Sky Park, Co Tyrone

Head deep into Davagh Forest, near Cookstown, for your chance to pair astronomy with archaeology. This sky park in Omagh is home to the Beaghmore neolithic stone circles, thought to have been constructed as markers of lunar, solar and stellar events. By day you can explore the hills and forests on a network of walking and mountain biking trails that cater for all abilities.

There are stargazing events throughout the year.

Om Dark Sky Park observatory exteriorCredit: Hannah McShane
Om Dark Sky Park and Observatory, in Northern Ireland

9. Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli)

This island, off the Llyn Peninsula in north Wales, has just become the first site in Europe to be awarded International Dark Sky Sanctuary certification. This is the rarest category of all (with just 16 sites world-wide) and is recognition that the island is one of the darkest places in the world.

Visitors are allowed onto Bardsey Island between March and October, so it will take a bit of pre-planning to visit.

10. The Isle of Coll

A small Hebridean island off the Isle of Mull, the Isle of Coll was the first Dark Sky Island in Scotland and one of only two in the UK (the Sark in the Channel Islands is the other). The 200-strong community worked hard to get their designation and there are no streets lights on the island.

Star gazing is great anywhere here, but the Cliad football pitch, Arinagour and RSPB Totronold are the dark sky discovery sites.

By day the island has gorgeous beaches and wildlife (including whales, sharks and some of Britain’s rarest birds) to keep you busy.

When to see the Geminid meteor show

What to see in our night skies this winter

Dr Affelia Wibisono, astronomer at the Royal Greenwich Observatory gave us two highlights of our night skies this autumn and winter.

The Orion Constellation

This will make a return to our night skies towards the end of October and will remain until spring.  Look out for the two brightest stars in Orion, Rigel and Betelgeuse.  Rigel is a blue supergiant star with a surface temperature of around 12,000°C, while Betelgeuse is a red supergiant that is at a relatively chilly 3000°C (The surface of our Sun measures around 5500°C). Following Orion’s belt towards the horizon will take observers to Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.

Geminid meteor shower

This is a highlight of the astronomical calendar and falls on 14-15 December this year. The Geminids are often cited to have a rate of more than 100 meteors per hour, but this will depend on several factors, such as cloud cover, the severity of light pollution in your area and how open your horizon is. We are hopeful that the Geminids will put on a great show this year as the Moon sets before nightfall during the peak and won’t drown out the dimmer meteors.

What are dark skies?

Why dark skies are so important for star gazing

Research has shown that artificial light is a pollutant that can disrupt wildlife and impact on our health. In recognition of this, campaigners and communities have worked together to create dark skies areas and many parts of the UK have been awarded a special status by the International Dark Sky Association. These are the best places to go for stargazing.

The designations start with Dark Sky Discovery Sites, which are away from the worst of light pollution, have good sightlines of the sky and good public access.

Internationally recognised Dark Sky Places are much larger areas of land that have been awarded special status due to the quality of their dark skies – these range from communities to the rarest and darkest reserves.

There is a searchable database of all the dark sky sites so you can find the closest ones to you.

The new space race has begun

Space is about to get a lot more interesting

Astropolitical expert Tim Marshall is the author of the top-selling book The Future of Geography, about the new space race between the global superpowers.

He told Saga Exceptional that our night skies are about to become very important to us all, with the USA planning to have men and women walking on the moon before 2026 and China touching down before 2030.

“We can expect bases to be built on the moon by the early 2030s,” he said. “This is because of the huge potential for mining the metals that we need for renewable energy technology on Earth, which are now thought to be at the lunar south pole.

“But,” adds Marshall. “Leave aside the politics, the science, the military aspect, and we are still, as we have always been, captivated by the sheer beauty and majesty of a clear night sky. We always will be.”

“We are made of the very stuff which made the Universe.”

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her


Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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