Starry, Starry Night
The UK hosts to some of the most spectacular, star-studded night skies all year round, offering amateur and experienced astronomers a stargazing experience that’s not to be missed.
We’ve rounded up a selection of our favourite starry hotspots to head to this year for your Milky Way fix – don’t forget your telescope!
Star spotting in West Sussex
The entire South Downs National Park is an International Dark Sky Reserve, making it ideal for stargazers of every level. Several Dark Sky Discovery Sites and Chichester Planetarium provide the perfect backdrop to admire the celestial show. At the same time, a series of guided and easy-access walks offer a cosmic fix for ramblers of all abilities.
For more information, visit: www.experiencewestsussex.com
View star studded skies in the Yorkshire Dales
With large open spaces free from light pollution, the Yorkshire Dales National Park is a fantastic place to begin your stargazing adventure. A designated Dark Sky Reserve, the National Park boasts four designated sites that are open and accessible to all abilities and provide parking and other facilities.
Enjoy a tour of the universe in London
Even with the twinkling lights of London, you can still see stars in the city, especially if you head to Greenwich Royal Observatory. Located in the depths of Greenwich Park, visitors can see out-of-this-world views at the Peter Harrison Planetarium; expect expert-guided tours of the universe and stunning views of the Milky Way.
For more information, visit: www.rmg.co.uk
Explore Exmoor’s dark skies
Exmoor’s dark skies are some of the best in the UK, and its National Park was designated Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve in 2011 by the International Dark Sky Association. Thanks to minimal light pollution, on a cloudless night spotters can see thousands of stars and astronomical sights such as the Milky Way with the naked eye.
For more information, visit: www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk
Stargaze like a Roman in Northumberland
Hadrian’s Wall was once the largest frontier in the Roman Empire and stayed that way for 300 years. One thing that has remained unchanged is its stunning night sky. Cosmic enthusiasts can enjoy an evening of spectacular stargazing at the Dark Skies Discovery Site at Cawfields. Located in the central section of Hadrian’s Wall near Haltwhistle, this spot has some of the darkest skies in England.
For more information, visit: www.visitnorthumberland.com
Search for meteor showers in the Brecon Beacons
On a clear night in the Brecon Beacons, it’s possible to see the Milky Way, major constellations and even meteor showers. It was only the fifth destination in the world to gain Dark Sky Reserve status, thanks to the quality of its dark skies and minimal light pollution. The local community is committed to safeguarding its night skies and natural beauty for future generations.
For more information, visit: www.breconbeacons.org
Study the Milky Way on the North York Moors
Famed for being one of the best places in the country to stargaze, the North York Moors boast three places that are recognised as unique stargazing sites. During the autumn and winter, it’s possible to spot the Milky Way with just the naked eye, while further north you’re in with a chance of witnessing the spectacular Northern Lights, or Aurora.
For more information, visit: www.northyorkmoors.org.uk
Experience Sark, the world’s first ‘Dark Sky Island’
If you’ve bitten the stargazing bug and fancy witnessing a spectacular night sky further afield, Sark is hard to beat. Nestled off the coast of Guernsey, this special Channel Island was the first to be awarded Dark Sky Island status and has since become a mecca for star spotters across the globe.
Famous astronomer and impersonator Jon Culshaw is a regular visitor to the island and its observatory. Beyond his illustrious comedy career, Jon is one of the judges for Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year and a frequent contributor to BBC Sky at Night.
“The dark skies of Sark are amongst the greatest I’ve ever seen. I was lucky enough to be at Sark Observatory on a crystal-clear cloudless night and the skies were extraordinary. The planets including Jupiter beamed like spotlights. The constellations we’re familiar with such as Ursa Major shine with same intensity.
“What’s most amazing is the vision of the Milky Way, which illuminates behind them. Once your eyes are dark-adapted, the Milky Way appears like a scattering of talc cast over black velvet. You can see every grain. Every grain being a star.”
Top 3 Stargazing Tips
- The best time to stargaze is before a full moon, so plan your trip accordingly. A quick online check of the lunar calendar should tell you the best times to head off.
- Use a compass to help you find constellations or stars, or you can download a handy app like Google Sky or Star Walk that will explain the stars you can see from your precise location.
- Even in the spring and summer months, it can get chilly in the evenings, so pack warm clothes and blankets for comfort, and hot drinks and snacks for energy.