Stargazing holidays in the UK give you the time to observe the stars clearly across a dark sky and reconnect with nature. As the days get shorter and dusk turns to night, these longer nights give us the chance to stand back and admire the twinkling of stars, constellations and planets.
For a closer look at the cosmos, you have to be in a location where the skies are at their darkest and clearest. To find a dark sky in the UK, where there is little or no light pollution, take yourself away from the hustle and bustle of life and stay somewhere with a cloudless, dark sky.
To help you enjoy a super stargazing break, we have pinpointed everything you need to consider before booking a stargazing experience under a dark sky.
When is the weather good for stargazing?
The best thing to do is to check the Astronomy weather forecast for your chosen location to stargaze. Metcheck provides you with a comprehensive report about the cloud cover forecasts for over 5,000 locations across the UK.
Stargazing for beginners
Stargazing equipment for beginners
You can actually see a galaxy of 2½ million light-years away with your eyes unaided, without the need for stargazing equipment. However, to begin, go outside and identify Polaris (the Pole Star), which sits due north. The Pole star will help you work out other constellations and from there you can discover the joy of navigating the dark sky.
What stargazing accessories do I need?
- Pick up a sky atlas or star chart, which will illustrate all the planets, stars and constellations that are visible from the northern hemisphere.
- A pair of anti-fogging stargazing binoculars that come with glass lenses. A pair of these will make the moon and planets come alive.
- A portable and easy to use telescope to view deep-space objects.
- You might want to find a decent camera and tripod to take some dark sky photographs.
If you are keen to dedicate some time to stargazing you could go on an astronomy holiday…
Where can I go stargazing in the UK?
You can find many stargazing locations in the UK, from clear dark skies in Scotland or travelling to remote areas of the South West of England. The best places for stargazing will be dark sky places. These are areas/sites, which have been publically recognised for having low levels of light pollution and good public access.
Top dark sky places for the best stargazing in the UK:
- The Northumberland National Park, where you can find an array of visible sky phenomena. Gaze at the northern lights, airglow (atmospheric light), Milky Way, zodiacal light (sunlight scattered by space dust) and magical meteors. You will also find the darkest place in England here –Kielder Forest (home to Kielder Observatory) which covers 230 square miles of spectacular scenery.
- Galloway Forest Park in Dumfries, Scotland. Try and count the 7,000 stars and planets. For a panoramic viewing visit The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory within the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park.
- Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire. Cambridgeshire is said to have some of the largest areas of dark sky in the UK and some of the best observatories.
- The Hamsterley Forest, Durham. Hamsterley is Durham’s largest forest, which welcomes wildlife watchers and stargazers throughout the year. Just pick a sensible route beforehand.
- The Whinlatter Forest in the Lake District. England’s only True Mountain forest, which gives you an elevated position to see the stars, moon and the Milky Way.
- In the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. Visit Dalby Forest to catch a glimpse of meteor showers, super moons and even the northern lights! Book a stargazing tour and have the chance to use some telescopes and binoculars to view constellations and deep-sky objects.
You could also visit some of the top Dark Sky Reserves in the UK, which include:
- Snowdonia’s dark sky reserve in North Wales. Here, you have the opportunity to see stars from five different locations within the national park! If you are a fishing enthusiast, you could spend the day at Lake Llyn y Dywarchen before getting your binoculars out at nightfall.
- The Brecon Beacons Dark Sky Reserve and observatory in South Wales. One of the best locations for stargazing is in the Welsh valleys of Usk Reservoir. Here you can admire the Milky Way, major constellations, bright nebulas and even meteor showers.
- The Exmoor Dark Sky Reserve in Devon. This reserve became the first international dark sky reserve in November 2011 and allows you to pick out 3,000 stars, plus the Milky Way on a clear night. The reserve also holds a Dark Sky Festival from the 16th-31st October every year, for you to rediscover the skies above.
Dark sky festivals and events
Some of the best star watching locations have festivals and events that run throughout the year but most of them occur in the autumn and winter months.
Where are the dark sky festivals in the UK?
- The Dark sky festival is in Exmoor, where you can take part in photography and astrophotography competitions.
- On the North York Moors, visit Dark Skies Fringe Festival, which occurs in October and February. During the daytime, you can also take up yoga and mindfulness experiences to give your trip even more peace, and a little variety.
- Across the South Downs, find Dark Skies Festival My Dark Skies. Here, you can find areas of the South Downs where it is possible to view the Milky Way while learning about the nocturnal wildlife that lives in the South Downs National Park.
Once you have chosen your stargazing location for an event or stargazing weekend you just need to find some stargazing accommodation.
Dark Sky Accommodation in the UK
Pick from one of our favourite stargazing accommodation ideas to enhance your stargazing experience.
- Book a self-catering stargazing holiday cottage way up in the hills.
- Stay in a pub with a roaring fire, like the Jamaica Inn, on Bodmin Moor.
- Discover luxury en-suite B&B’s in Northumberland with large balconies for stargazing.
- Live in a roomy lodge and use it as your base on the Scottish borders.
- Try a historic manor house or cottage in the Brecon Beacons, near Elan Valley International Dark Sky Park.
Also, remember that if your accommodation provider suffers from financial failure before or after your departure, you will be covered for End of Supplier Failure with Free Spirit. This is one of four big improvements we made to our Super Duper policy this year.
Where are the best places to go stargazing near me?
The UK’s Dark Sky Map
It is fair to say there are plenty of dark sky national parks and events in the UK that you can visit. However, if you can’t venture far, go stargazing in a park near you or locate your own dark sky discovery site outside of town. There are a growing number of stargazing spots across the UK as more efficient controls on light pollution are put in place. You may even be able to go stargazing in some locations in Greater London!
The UK Stargazing Map
Clouds or no clouds, if you look up the stargazing night map it will help you locate the planets visible in your area.
Using this interactive stargazing map, you can track the movements of the planets and moon across the night sky. You can also see the phrases of the moon, as well as solar and lunar eclipses.
- Go stargazing before the moon is at its fullest and the night is at its darkest and driest.
- Give your eyes 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness before seeking out those stars.
- Remember that the night sky constantly changes. To spot each constellation, go stargazing during different seasons throughout the year.
- Take a compass and star spotter guide with you to find and map out the constellations. Can you find Aquarius? The Big Dipper? The Bull?
- Grab your camera to capture the dark sky and the thousands of tiny stars above.
We hope you enjoy your stargazing getaway soon! However, if you have to cut your trip short or cancel unexpectedly, don’t forget that Free Spirit UK Travel Insurance will provide you with cancellation cover and curtailment if required.