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Northumberland dark skies

The 13 best places to go stargazing in the UK

Time to get bright-eyed on a trip to one of the best stargazing spots in the UK

Written by
Stephanie Hartman
,
Ellie Walker-Arnott
,
Grace Allen
&
Lucy Lovell
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Whether you’re a Coldplay fan or not, you have to agree that they were onto something with ‘a sky full of stars’. Losing yourself in the chaos of the cosmos every once in a while can do wonders for your soul – it’s one of the most grounding things out there, after all.

And while it’s easy to forget just how spectacular the night sky can be if you live in a light-polluted city like London or Manchester, the UK actually has an abundance of top stargazing destinations – and many aren’t too far away from the metropolis.

From the rolling hills of Kent and the majestic beaches of Cornwall, to the furthest stretches of Scotland, we’ve handpicked the absolute best places to go stargazing in the UK. Hey, if you’re lucky, you might even get a glimpse of the fabled Northern Lights.

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Best places for stargazing in the UK

South Downs National Park
Photograph: Gary Sanders

1. South Downs National Park

Who would have thought that one of the world’s top stargazing spots would be but 90 minutes from London? The South Downs National Park was officially appointed a Dark Sky Reserve in 2016, and ever since would-be astronomers have come a-calling to gawk at those big skies. Plan your own trip before a full moon to ensure you get cosmic views.

Wake up here: Withywood Shepherd’s Hut
Bordering the South Downs and occupying a scenic position on a working dairy farm, this isn’t your standard shepherd’s hut – it has been kitted out with a woodburning stove, double bed and (albeit miniature) kitchen. But it’s really just a place to sleep – outside is where you’ll want to be, mountain biking, hitting the beach or just sitting, slack-jawed, as you admire Mother Nature. Just outside the hut is a cute campfire area, so you can even rustle up some s’mores while constellation-spotting. Dreamy.

Brecon Beacons
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Neil Howard

2. Brecon Beacons

The first location in Wales to be declared an International Dark Sky Reserve, Brecon Beacons has gone to considerable lengths to minimise light pollution and conserve its starry views. As a result, stargazers can spot a huge variety of sights, including the Milky Way, major constellations, bright nebulas and meteor showers. Stunning landscapes are the icing on the cake, and make for some amazing astrophotography. 

Wake up: Duck Cottage
Perfectly suited to gazing up at the night sky, this cosy cottage even includes a telescope for keen star-spotters. Complete with an open fireplace and water from its own spring, the romantic one-bed retreat is set in a secluded smallholding with ponies, ducks and sheep to keep you company.

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Exmoor National Park

3. Exmoor National Park

Straddling Somerset and North Devon, Exmoor boasts some of the darkest skies in England, making it a cracking spot to look up into the blue. Classed as an International Dark Sky Reserve, the landscape is made up of moorland with nature reserves, ancient burial grounds, wild valleys and rugged sea cliffs peppering its surface. It’s a lush place to explore by daylight, but at night head to Holdstone Hill, County Gate, Brendon Two Gates, Webbers Post, Anstey Gate, Haddon Hill or Wimbleball Lake for impressive astral views.

Wake up here: Longlands Lodges
Tucked snuggly into a secret valley, the Longlands safari lodges offer a slice of rustic luxury. Each dwelling comes complete with a fully stocked trunk of board games if you need a night off from star-spotting, a wood-burning stove to keep you toasty and sleeps up to six people so you can bring the whole gang along. Did we mention there’s a hot tub and spa on site? Perfect for soothing your muscles after a long day strutting across the moors.

Dartmoor National Park
© Guy Harrop

4. Dartmoor National Park

Far from any big towns or cities, Dartmoor National Park in Devon is blessed with having very little light pollution, meaning you’ll have stellar views if you set up your telescope here. The 368 square mile stretch of natural beauty is packed with granite tors, heather-covered, misty moorland and hidden villages meaning you can head out on your own Sherlock Holmes-style adventure before night falls. Keep an eye out for terrifying hounds.

Wake up here: Stargazer Treehouse
Wolf Wood’s Stargazer Treehouse is perfect for those who like the idea of camping, but don’t want to sacrifice the small luxuries and comfort-factor of a boutique hotel. With an open-air spa-bath to enjoy under twinkling skies, a well-equipped kitchen for knocking up a feast and a woodburner to keep you toasty, this is stargazing in style.

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Snowdonia

5. Snowdonia

With wild landscapes and Wales' highest mountain, Snowdonia National Park is a popular destination for hiking, but it's starry skies are hard to beat too - hence why it was awarded the prestigious Dark Sky Reserve status. One of the best locations is Llyn y Dywarchen - a fishing lake by day and stargazing spot by night. The area is also surrounded by myths and local legends, adding a little more magic to your stargazing. 

Wake up: Nant Peris Cottage
It's hard not to fall in love with this picturesque cottage snuggled at the foot of a dramatic mountainous backdrop. From here it's just a three-hour trek to the summit of Snowdon, and there's a cute garden surrounded by woodlands to enjoy the nighttime views. Indoors there's a cosy log fireplace and three bedrooms that are surprisingly spacious. 

Northumberland
Photograph: Mark Pinder

6. Northumberland

Northumberland International Dark Sky Park is Europe’s largest area of protected night sky, being awarded gold tier designation by the International Dark Sky Association back in 2013. Gaze up to the heavens here and you’ll see up to 2,000 stars twinkling away at a time. Don’t forget your binoculars and blanket.

Wake up here: Sky Den
The handiwork of George ‘Amazing Spaces’ Clarke and William Hardie Designs, Sky Den is, well, pretty amazing. It has essentially been designed so that wherever you happen to be, there’s a downright gorgeous view to behold – including vistas of the starry heavens above. There’s a fully functioning kitchen, smart fold-away furniture, a wet room and deck, but the triangular loft is where to station yourself come nightfall. A roof that opens entirely allows guests to cop an unobstructed look at that gold-tier spectacular.

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Jersey

7. Jersey

Venture to the north-west coast of Jersey to find truly unpolluted spots in which to tilt your head skywards. Grosnez Castle, a ruined fourteenth century castle in St Ouen is the perfect place to roll out your rug and stare out at panoramic views of the neighbouring islands. Try and catch one of the spectacular sunsets before you wait it out to see the pristine sky light up with jewels.

Wake up here: Barge Aground
This quirky 1930s-built, barge-style folly was once a summer home before being requisitioned during the German occupation of the Channel Islands and used as a canteen. Consider all traces of wartime grub officially cleansed, as the building was renovated in 2005 and now operates as a classy self-catering bungal

Kent Downs and Canterbury

8. Kent Downs and Canterbury

Standing at 251 metres, Betsom’s Hill is the highest point in Kent meaning you’re already a few steps closer to reaching for the stars. Toy’s Hill in Sevenoaks isn’t far behind and also happens to be the place that inspired Octavia Hill to found the National Trust – so you’ll be surrounded by beauty. If you’re looking for a bright spark to guide you in your quest for constellations, the James Irwin Observatory in Canterbury hosts regular talks and open evenings where members of the public can peer into its huge half-metre aperture telescope.

Wake up here: Oast Farmhouse

This charasmatic mid-Victorian property is on a private Tudor Estate, perfectly positioned close to Toy’s Hill and the historic gardens of Hever Castle. It sleeps up to 11 people – ideal for a group star spotting sesh – and is less than an hour from central London. 

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Carnewas and Bedruthan Steps

9. Carnewas and Bedruthan Steps

What could beat a glorious day padding across a sunny beach, followed by a magical night gazing at the stars? Cornwall’s spectacular Carnewas and Bedruthan Steps ticks all the boxes, as it is officially credited with Dark Sky Discovery status. The area’s signature sea stacks are quite a sight when lit up beneath a sparkling blanket of stars.

Wake up here: Bedruthan Hotel and Spa 
Rest that starry-eyed head at Scandinavian-inspired Bedruthan Hotel and Spa. Set just above the beach, the hotel offers more than just colourful rooms thanks to its theatre, art and design fairs, pottery studio and in-house gallery. If you’d rather not venture outside come nightfall, sneak into the cafe to enjoy those shimmering views through its floor-to-ceiling windows.

Dumfries and Galloway

10. Dumfries and Galloway

While much of Scotland offers ideal stargazing conditions, Galloway Forest Park has the accolade of being the UK’s first Dark Sky Park, as of 2009 – it’s almost a given that you will see the bright band of the Milky Way arching across the sky here. It is also the UK’s largest forest park, with more than 300 square miles of rugged scenery waiting to be explored.

Wake up here: Brockloch Treehouse
Brockloch Treehouse benefits from a particularly pretty location in the middle of a bluebell wood on a working farm, and the owners have made sure that guests won’t leave without getting a good eyeful of those famed skies – both the sunken bath and the bed have been positioned beneath skylights. Numerous tiny windows ensure that it is gloriously light during the day, too. Magical.

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New Forest

11. New Forest

While not an official ‘dark sky’ location, the New Forest offers up some pretty tasty nighttime views. The park authority’s mission is to conserve and enhance the area’s natural beauty, meaning light pollution is kept to a minimum and the stars shine brightly overhead. Make it your mission to discover the celestial sphere from here.

Wake up: Chewton Glen Treehouse
Chewton Glen couldn’t be more different from the splintery treehouses of your youth – it is more like a hotel suite that has been suspended 35 feet above ground. Surrounded by forest, sleeping up to six people and perched in a tree canopy, Chewton Glen’s Treehouse Loft Suite features a large outside terrace, king-size bed, mini kitchenette (with a dishwasher!), woodburner, underfloor heating and luxurious marble bathroom. Heck, you can even order room service from this treehouse. The ultimate location to map of the heavens? The outdoor hot tub, of course.

The Highlands

12. The Highlands

We’re back in Scotland again, where skies come as dark as they get and are thick with constellations. The northernmost coastline is rumoured to be the best place to spot the elusive Aurora Borealis (that’s the Northern Lights to you and me).

Wake up: Waterfell

This funky eco-friendly tree house is bang next to the stunning shores of Loch Broom. Sheep and lambs graze nearby and the house’s modern, cantilever design lurches over a stream, immersing you in the landscape. But that’s just the start. The house is unusually split over two levels, within the branches of a 150-year-old sycamore tree, and its elevated terrace is the ideal spot to gaze out into the stars. 

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Sark

13. Sark

If the Jersey night sky didn't put a trip to the Channel Islands on your bucket list, then Sark will. Just three miles long and one wide, Sark is one of the few remaining places in the world where cars are banned from roads, and only tractors and horse-drawn vehicles are allowed. There are no streetlights too, and as a result, this tiny island has perfectly preserved dark skies (not to mention gorgeous coastlines), and was the first Dark Sky Island in the world. 

Wake up: Pomme de Chien
A cut above your average campsite, Pomme de Chien guests can just rock up with a sleeping bag and a toothbrush thanks to two-berth wooden camping pods, complete with solar-powered USB chargers. For bigger groups, the site also offers erected tents to hire, or - inkeeping with the trad vibes on Sark - just pitch up with your own tent the ol' fashioned way.

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