Few views are more stunning than a star-lit sky. You can see the wonders of the night sky wherever you are, but for the clearest views find a spot with low levels of light pollution. Luckily, there are plenty of places in the UK that boast wonderfully dark skies, perfect for astronomy. We’ve rounded up five incredible locations to get you started. Read on to find tips for beginner astronomers too!

Isle of Coll, Argyll and Bute, Scotland

Coll is one of only a handful of Dark Sky Islands worldwide and one of only two in Scotland (the other being North Ronaldsay). With its Atlantic isolation and small population, it boasts incredibly dark skies. “Coll delivers on all counts. Great people, fantastic food, incredible nature and inky black skies,” says James Green, who helps run stargazing events, Coll & The Cosmos, on the island. Those living on the Hebridean island are committed to keeping their skies pristine, with no streetlights installed there. Visit Coll notes that you’ll see millions of stars, the Milky Way, and possibly the elusive Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) in autumn, winter and spring. Come summer you might spot somewhat rare night shining clouds. These illuminated wisps form high up in the atmosphere and appear, like magic, around sunrise and sunset.

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Exmoor National Park International Dark Sky Reserve, Somerset and North Devon, England

Dunkery Beacon Exmoor Credit Richard Presley
Dunkery Beacon Exmoor Credit Richard Presley

Exmoor is the oldest International Dark Sky Reserve in Europe, with its starry skies awarded the accolade over a decade ago. The achievement may be longstanding, but the Park is always looking to the future and ways to enhance astrotourism in the area. It’s now home to an exciting Dark Sky Discovery Trail that opened last year. This gentle two-mile path follows open moorland and offers incredible 360-degree views of the heavens. The trail even has glow-in-the-dark markers to guide you. “Exmoor’s dark night skies are an incredible treasure, and this new trail is another way that people can get outside and explore the amazing sights they have to offer,” says Astronomer Will Gater. Why not borrow a telescope to see the Park’s incredible sights too? They can be hired at three National Park Centres for an even clearer view of the cosmos.

Plan your visit with an Ordnance Survey (OS) map

Brecon Beacons International Dark Sky Reserve, Carmarthenshire, Powys, Monmouthshire, Rhondda and Merthyr Tydfil, Wales

It’s been called “a secluded utopia for stargazing” by the International Dark-Sky Association, and they’re not wrong. The rural site was named an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2012 – the first in Wales. According to the official website, it’s an excellent place to view the constellations and to marvel at the Milky Way. You may even see a meteor shower! Have a listen to these podcasts to discover what you might encounter in different months of the year. Visit Wales recommends the Usk Reservoir Dark Sky Discovery Site for stargazing, as it’s dark, quiet and you can venture onto the dam for a memorable viewing spot. Why not sleep under the stars too? There are plenty of places to stay in the Brecon Beacons with views up to its starry skies.

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Northumberland International Dark Sky Park, Northumberland, England

Dan Pye - Obsy Startrails
Dan Pye – Obsy Startrails

You’re sure to have an out of this world experience on a visit to this northern star. It’s famed for being Europe’s largest Gold Tier Dark Sky Park, the highest accolade for the quality of an area’s starry skies. Head to the Park’s Kielder Observatory for a guided astronomical adventure, with many events to choose from. “The Milky Way is easily visible on dark nights, and we can observe galaxies and star clusters,” says Finn Burridge, Astronomer and Science Communicator at the Observatory. “Often, we can spot the ghosts of recently dead stars or the veils of creation we call nebula, where new stars are in the process of formation,” he adds. There are plenty of other stargazing sites dotted across the Park too, with lots to see wherever you go.

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Galloway International Dark Sky Park, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland

Credit Visit Scotland David N Anderson
Credit Visit Scotland David N Anderson

By day it’s known for its forest trails, wealth of wildlife and mountain views. By night it’s famed for its stunning celestial shows. In 2009, it was named the first Dark Sky Park in the UK, and it holds acclaimed Gold Tier accreditation. Head to one of the Park’s three visitor centres – Kirroughtree, Clatteringshaws or Glentrool – where you can look out across the dark sky. Each centre has information panels to help you understand the wonders of the universe. According to Forestry and Land Scotland, more than 7,000 planets and stars can be observed with the naked eye, and the Milky Way can usually be seen curving across the sky.

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Top tips for beginner astronomers

Finn Burridge, Astronomer and Science Communicator at Kielder Observatory

Finn Burridge, Astronomer and Science Communicator at Kielder Observatory, shares some useful advice for beginner astronomers.

  • Most objects you’re going to be observing in the beginning won’t require a huge telescope. Even a set of decent binoculars will reveal more of the sky than you could imagine. I recommend Celestron Skymasters.
  • Don’t be put off by urban lights. Dark skies yield the best stargazing experience but many objects in the sky are bright enough to be seen from towns and cities. The moon, the planets and the bright constellations will be visible from almost anywhere.
  • If you have one, take a red torch stargazing to protect your ‘dark-adapted vision’. We’ve got a chemical called Rhodopsin in our eyes that’s very light sensitive. When our eyes are exposed to white lights (like torch lights) the Rhodopsin is temporarily removed, making it harder to see in the dark.
  • Keep your phone screen on night mode too. A bright screen will remove all the Rhodopsin in your eyes even with just a quick look!
  • Make sure you are going to a safe location to stargaze. Either go with another person or let someone know where you are going.
  • Use an App like Stellarium or SkyGuide to help you learn about the night sky and assist you with finding objects while out.

Date for your diary

International Dark Sky Week takes place from 22nd-30th April this year. It’s a prompt to discover the sky where you are and find out more about the dark sky movement – a campaign to reduce light pollution for the benefit of all. Keep up to date with events by following #IDSW2022 and #DarkSkyWeek on social media.

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