The UK’s Top Stargazing Spots
While we may have polluted skies hanging above us when we stand in our gardens, in many areas in the UK, there are perfectly pitched black skies that allow you to see the lots of the stars above. These places spotted all over the UK are hailed as the perfect place to glimpse the Milky Way, The Great Orion Cluster, meteor showers, and much more.
What makes the locations we’ve chosen below so perfect is the low-level of pollution, and protection of the night skies above them. This is equally recognised by the UK Dark Skies Association, which many of the locations below have been acknowledged by. When nominated, it shows that the sites work to reduce low light pollution, protect the night sky and ensure sites are accessible by the public, including wheelchair users. This association works with the wider International Dark Skies Association, and as of August 2021, over 180 locations around the world meet the association’s requirements.
With so many places in the UK perfect with darkened skies and low light pollution made for stargazing, we wanted to list the top ten ones you should visit. Some are even recognised by The International Dark Skies Association we mentioned above.
What makes Exmoor National Park so brilliant for stargazing isn’t just how it offers one of the clearest skies and possible views of the Milky Way but the number of locations within the park to view the sky from. The best possible viewing points are Brendon Two Gates, Webbers Post, Ansley Gate, Haddon Hill, Wimbleball Lake and County Gate. In 2011, Exmoor also became the designated International Dark Sky Reserve and has since run a Dark Skies Festival from late October to November.
Having been awarded its Dark Sky Reserve in December 2015, the Snowdonia National Park is a must-visit in Wales to get a glimpse of the Milky Way. While the north of Wales is naturally one of the darkest places in Britain, it is further helped by local dedication, allowing visiting the possibility of seeing star clusters and meteor showers, all with the naked eye. When visiting, you’ll be spoilt for choice with five top spots perfect for stargazes: Llyn y Dywarchen, Llyn Geirionydd, Llynnau Cregennen, Tŷ Cipar, and Bwlch y Groes, a mountain pass.
Recently Coll Bunkhouse hosts stargazing weekends at points throughout the year. Unlike the others on this list, Coll is the world’s second dark sky island (one of two in the UK) and has three epic stargazing spots: Arinagour, RSPB Totronold and Cliad football pitch. When in Coll, there are no street lights, making it even more impressive, allowing you a chance to view star clusters such as the Beehive and Double Cluster and the Great Orion Nebula. This beautiful picture is direct from the Isle of Coll Dark-Sky community.
Having been assessed as having bronze-level skies, South Downs National Park offers the chance to see sightings of the Milky Way, and the Andromeda galaxy can be seen from here. It’s a perfect place to visit with at least seven stargazing hotspots, including Winchester Science Centre, Planetarium, and the Iping Common. South Downs National Park also became an International Dark Sky Reserve in May 2016 and hosts a South Downs Dark Skies Festival in February.
Located in South Wales, Brecon Beacons National Park has the ruins of Llanthony Priory, Carreg Cennen Castle and even has the Stargazers Retreat, a converted stable with its own observatory. It joined the International Dark Sky Reserve in February 2013 and boasts views of the Milky Way and bright nebulas.
North York Moors National Park is a must-visit for stargazers with not one but three Dark Sky Discovery Sites in the park. Having joined the Dark Sky Reserve in December 2020, it offers the chance to see the Milky Way with the naked eye at the three discovery sites, Sutton Bank National Park Centre, The Moors National Park Centre and Dalby Forest. If you head north, the sky is even darker, and you may even get the chance to view the Northern Lights if you’re lucky.
While many may jump to thinking about the Giant’s Causeway or the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge when they think of Antrim Coast, it’s also a classified Dark Sky discovery site since 2014. Owned by the National Trust, it is one of only two Dark Sky Sites in Northern Island. If you’re after a stargazing session while you’re visiting, some are held locally by the Astronomy Society, who work in tandem with the National Trust.
Although the Isle of Wight doesn’t have Dark Skies Association approval, due to the brightness and pollution to the island’s north, it does have perfect places ideal for stargazing more to the west and south. The two best places to visit to see the stars are clifftop locations at Atherfield and Compton. More perfect, however, is the Vectis Astronomical Society in Newchurch who host stargazing nights at the observatory, and the Isle of Man also hosts an annual star party in Brighstone in March.
Just a few hours from Glasgow, Galloway Forest became the first Dark Sky Park in 2009 and is one of the most frequently visited astronomy destinations in Scotland. With popular locations within it being The Queen’s Way and Loch Doon, offering a view of over 7,000 stars and some planets even being visible. On the edge of the Forest, on a hilltop overlooking the Craigengillan Estate and Dalmellington, you can find the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory, where the public is welcome to peer through their research-grade telescope.
Having been awarded the gold tier status as a Dark Sky Park by the National Association, Northumberland National Park is the best place for people in England to visit stargaze. Covering 1,483 square kilometres of the protected night sky. While visiting Northumberland National Park, you may get the chance to see the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy with the naked eye. Also, here is the Kielder Observatory, where stargazing sessions, talks, and workshops are held throughout the year and introductory tutorials for adults and children.
If going stargazing is at the top of your bucket list, choosing any one of these spots in the UK will guarantee you the best seat in the sky. Best of all, you don’t have to be a space enthusiast or astronomy expert to appreciate it, with many of the locations offering practical talks and stargazing sessions to get you on the right path. Where will you head off to for a night of admiring the stars? Let us know on Insta or tweet us @justhooit!