Best places for stargazing in the UK

Activity, Nature

Posted by Ruth on 11th October 2023

Stargazing in the UK

The skies are painted with unnumbered sparks. They are all fire and every one doth shine.” - Shakespeare

There are few activities more mesmerising than gazing up at the night’s sky. As you look at the stars sparkling overhead you can transcend time itself, staring up at the same stars our ancestors also spotted millions of years ago, and some of which our descendants will still gaze upon millions of years from now.

An evening’s stargazing offers you some perspective on life and your place on this planet, at this very moment in time, as well as being a great way to immerse yourself in nature during long winter nights.

Stargazing in the UK with a telescope

With some of the clearest skies in Europe, there are many amazing places for stargazing in the UK. Free from or low in light pollution, these places offer great opportunities for truly unspoilt views of the endless night sky above us.

Designated as Dark Sky Parks or Reserves, these are truly the best places across the UK to see the stars, perfect for exploring the constellations, galaxies and the Milky Way on a clear night in the British Isles.

To inspire you to begin a lifelong love affair with the stars, we’ve put together a guide to stargazing for beginners, including what to look for, where to go and what to bring. Read on to discover all the information that’ll leave you seeing stars!

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Constellation spotting

Constellations to look out for

There are 88 officially designated constellations in total, with many of them first recognised by Ptolemy almost 2,000 years ago!

If you’re planning an evening of stargazing and thinking “what can I see?”, we’ve picked 10 of the most recognisable constellations for you to find in the night’s sky.

Not all are visible all year round, but we’ve detailed the best time to see these constellations, and a bit about the fascinating myths and legends surrounding them too.

Grab a warm jacket and head out into the night – how many of these constellations can you spot?

Stargazing FAQs

Stargazing FAQs

We’ve asked Dr Robert Massey, Deputy Executive Director of the Royal Astronomical Society, to help answer some FAQs and inspire you to get out and explore the night’s sky.

It’s a really amazing way to be inspired by the environment that’s around us,” answered Dr Massey. “As long as you have a clear sky and there’s no moon you might see a couple of thousand stars, the Milky Way, comets and meteor showers, and all of it is really accessible. If you want to go out, it’s quite an easy thing to do.”

Dr Massey advises starting your stargazing adventure with very little and then adding equipment as time goes on.

You can sit and look at the night sky,” he suggests. “That’s a good starting point. Learn the star names and learn which planets are which.”

He adds: “You can see lots of stars with binoculars – they are easy to carry and use. They will show you quite a lot, like the rings of Saturn. Red light torches don’t hurt either, and there are apps like Stellarium which are very easy to use with a smart phone.

One thing’s for certain – you don’t need a telescope to stargaze. According to Dr Massey: “It is completely possible to stargaze without a telescope and you can have a really good experience. Have a nice drink in your hand and look up at the stars. 

It pays to start small – the first thing is to learn the constellations and planets; learn the night’s sky; do that for a bit and then use a telescope.”

If you’re wondering “can I stargaze tonight?”, Dr Massey has the answer.

You need a cloudless sky, but you can stargaze any time of year,” he confirms.

In the north of Scotland, it doesn’t get dark in June around the summer solstice, and you would also want to avoid the nights around the full moon as the light washes out across the sky – you can look up the full moon dates. But, within reason any time of year, except the middle of the summer.

We’ve already rounded up 10 of the easiest constellations to spot in the night’s sky, so we asked Dr Massey his favourite too.

Most astronomers would say Saturn, as the rings are amazing,” he says, but adds: “Orion in the winter sky is dazzling bright. In the south, the Summer Triangle in the summer sky is a nice big grouping.

There are so many places across the UK where, when night falls, the lack of light pollution means the stars dazzle overhead seemingly in their millions – you just need to know where to look.

But according to Dr Massey, it’s quite simple.

You need it to be somewhere that is dark,” he advises. “For example, if you are on holiday in a rural area, or next to the sea and facing south, like the South Wales coast and looking out to sea. Anywhere away from light pollution. 

If you are flexible and you can travel, and the weather is good, then seek out Dark Sky Reserves – they are places that are darker, and they are supposed to be places where public lights are dimmed.”

Whether you’re staying close to home or on holiday, why not soak up the remarkable beauty of the night sky? Discover where to find the darkest skies in the UK for prime stargazing locations.

Stargazing in National Parks

Best national parks for stargazing

The UK is blessed with some of the best locations for stargazing in the world, with mile upon mile of landscape untouched by light pollution offering a myriad of places for gazing up into the sparkling firmament.

Some of the best stargazing locations in the UK are our fantastic national parks – boasting breathtaking scenery by day, they turn even more spectacular at night as the stars twinkle overhead. A total of six national parks are accredited International Dark Sky Reserves, and one – Northumberland – being designated an International Dark Sky Park (Gold Tier).

These designated dark sky areas are the best places in the UK without light pollution, giving you a glimpse of up to 2,000 stars on a clear night. Which one of these dark sky sites will you try first?

Northumberland National Park

Northumberland National Park

At 572 square miles, Northumberland National Park is Europe’s largest area of protected night sky. Having achieved International Dark Sky Park status in December 2013, the park offers spectacular displays of the Andromeda Galaxy and the Milky Way.

To learn even more about the stars that lie out there, head to Battlesteads Dark Sky Observatory near Hexham, open to the public with a variety of activities and sessions, or Kielder Observatory, set in the neighbouring Kielder Water and Forest Park, under one of the darkest skies in Europe.


Image courtesy of @jsimpson1992

Exmoor National Park

Exmoor National Park achieved International Dark Sky Reserve status back in 2011, the first in Europe to do so. The national park is home to some of the darkest skies in the country and so makes a perfect spot to gaze at the stars. Recommended spots include Holdstone Hill, County Gate, Brendon Two Gates, Webbers Post, Anstey Gate, Haddon Hill and Wimbleball Lake.

On a clear night, many sights can be enjoyed through the naked eye and even more with a telescope – some of which are available to rent. Take a walk along the Exmoor Dark Sky Discovery Trail to get 360-degree views of the flickering firmament away from any source of artificial light.

Brecon Beacons

Image courtesy of @visitbreconbeacons and @adamtattonreid 

Brecon Beacons National Park

The entire Brecon Beacons National Park is an International Dark Sky Reserve and was the first in Wales to be accredited. With large areas of the park free from light pollution, this is a great place to view the night sky. On a clear night in the Brecon Beacons, you can see many of the major constellations and you may even catch a glimpse of a meteor shower.

The best spots for stargazing in the Brecon Beacons include Sugar Loaf Mountain, Llangorse Lake and Llanthony Priory, as well as the National Park Visitor Centre which has plenty of space to set up telescopes.

South Downs National Park

South Downs National Park

Recognised as an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2016, the South Downs National Park is perhaps one of the easier to reach areas of the UK for amazing dark skies.

Climb Old Winchester Hill or Bignor Hill for far-reaching views from the top, enjoy the unspoilt tranquillity of Devil’s Dyke or, for a stretch of stars that dazzle over the sea, head to the Birling Gap in the east of the national park.

Snowdonia National Park

Snowdonia/Eryri National Park

Snowdonia National Park achieved International Dark Sky Reserve status in December 2015 and is the 10th designated site in the world – and only the second in Wales. As well as dark skies, Snowdonia boasts incredible scenery in a breathtaking setting, so it’s well worth a visit on a stargazing adventure.

Head to Llyn Geirionnydd to see the stars reflecting in the waters of a lake, stargaze at Llynnau Cregennen at the foot of the imposing Cader Idris, or admire the night skies from Bwlch y Groes, one of the highest passes in Wales.

North York Moors National Park

North York Moors National Park

The North York Moors hides many remote places perfect for stargazing on a clear night, including the two National Park Centres in Sutton Bank and Danby, as well as the observatory in Dalby Forest where you can often spy the galaxy above with the naked eye.

While you’re there, look out for numerous constellations, stars and planets as well as meteor showers. And, if you time your trip to Yorkshire right, you might even catch sight of the colourful Northern Lights.

Yorkshire Dales National Park

Yorkshire Dales National Park

Along with the North York Moors, in 2020 the Yorkshire Dales was designated an International Dark Sky Reserve, together covering over 2,000 square miles of prime star-spotting land in the North of England.

While most places in the Dales are great for spotting the stars overhead, there are four designated Dark Sky Discovery Sites which are the best places to get started on your stargazing adventure, as all are very accessible and have a wide range of facilities. You can find them at Hawes and Malham National Park Visitor Centres, Buckden National Park Car Park and Tan Hill Inn.

Cairngorms National Park

Image credit: Instagram @astro_a22 (right) 

The Cairngorms National Park

The immense mountainous landscape of the Cairngorms National Park has always been a top destination for travellers due to the snow-capped peaks ideal for skiing in winter, and the abundance of nature waiting to be spotted throughout spring and summer.

While not an International Dark Sky Reserve, this remote wilderness boasts a fantastically dark sky far away from light pollution. When the sun dips below the horizon, pack a blanket and head out into the lovely landscape to see what you can spot in the night’s sky.

Other great UK stargazing spots

Galloway Forest Park

Galloway Forest Park

Scotland has some of the darkest skies in Europe. Galloway Forest Park is renowned as one of the darkest places in Scotland, making it perfect for exploring the skies. It was the UK’s first designated Dark Sky Park. Over 7,000 stars and planets are visible with the naked eye from the park and the Milky Way can also be seen here.

Set in around 75,000 hectares of land, you’re guaranteed to find a quiet spot to enjoy the stunning display. Being this far north, you may even be able to see the Northern Lights when they're set to make a rare appearance.

Elan Valley

Elan Valley

The Elan Valley in central Wales is another hub for stargazers. Its wild, rugged landscape makes the perfect backdrop for watching the night skies and made it the first International Dark Sky Park in Wales. This 72-mile estate offers dams, reservoirs and ever-changing scenery, the perfect foreground for any starry shots you're planning on taking.

Bodmin Moor

Image credit: Instagram @karen_mc.hugh (left), @darencox (right)

Bodmin Moor

Just as atmospheric by night as it is by day, Bodmin Moor is a designated Dark Sky Park and the first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to be awarded the status. Craggy hills and sweeping moors are the perfect foregrounds for the completely unspoilt skies - among the best spots are the Colliford Lake Park and Crowdy Reservoir.

Plan a stargazing staycation

If you’re looking for a holiday underneath sparkling skies, we have a wide range of cottages close to the UK's Dark Sky Parks and Reserves so you can spend every night staring up into the cosmos. Bring your telescope and torches with you on your holiday and set off on a stargazing adventure, or bubble in a hot tub as you spot stars with your naked eye. Click the button below to view our full collection of UK holiday cottages.

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Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.