Have you ever gazed at the night sky, wishing for a better view of the celestial scene above? Visit Dark Sky locations in the UK, and your wish upon a star might just come true.
The light pollution above the UK’s urban areas, combined with view-blocking buildings, do not make ideal conditions for seeing stars and clocking constellations. And those magnificent meteor showers and easy-to-spot planets? Not so easy to spot when your back garden is flooded with artificial light or surrounded by towering conifers.
We are fortunate, however, to have a number of Dark Sky locations in the UK, where your night-sky experience can rocket from a 2 to a 10.
What are Dark Sky locations?
Dark Sky locations are places with exceptional night-sky views due to low levels of light pollution and unobstructed sightlines.
Globally, the International Dark-Sky Association has designated more than 100 sites as Dark Sky Places, with a number in the UK, from Bodmin Moor to the Cairngorms.
In the UK, there are also dozens of Dark Sky Discovery Sites: nominated dark spots where great swathes of the night sky and its treasures can be seen with the naked eye.
Many of these designated sites hold stargazing events and other activities to promote “Dark Sky tourism”.
With the naked eye, in your urban garden, you might expect to see 100 stars on a clear night. At a Dark Sky location, around 1,000 stars – and even the Milky Way – can be seen.
How many Dark Sky locations in the UK?
The International Dark-Sky Association recognises 15 UK locations as Dark Sky Places.
The UK’s Dark Sky Discovery Sites, places with less favourable but superb night-sky conditions, number in their dozens. They are divided into two darkness ratings: Orion (where the seven main stars of the constellation can be seen) and Milky Way (where the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye). Milky Way sites are found in much more rural, darker, areas of the UK.
Where are the Dark Sky Places in the UK?
Here are the UK’s Dark Sky Places (those recognised by the International Dark-Sky Association):
Dark Sky locations in Scotland
Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park – the UK’s first Dark Sky Park and regarded internationally as one of the best.
Tomintoul and Glenlivet – Cairngorms Dark Sky Park – the world’s most northerly Dark Sky Park and a great place to catch the Nothern Lights (if you’re lucky).
Coll Dark Sky Community – this unspoiled west-coast isle was the second place to be recognised in Scotland.
Moffat Dark Sky Town – the riverside village of Moffat, in southern Scotland, was designated in 2016.
Dark Sky locations in Wales
Brecon Beacons Dark Sky Reserve – the first Dark Sky Reserve to be designated in Wales.
Elan Valley Dark Sky Park – stargazing in the Cambrian Mountains of Wales.
Snowdonia Dark Sky Reserve – head to the mountains of northwest Wales for super star-spotting opportunities.
Dark Sky locations in England
Exmoor Dark Sky Reserve – some of the darkest skies in England, in the counties of Somerset and Devon.
Northumberland Dark Sky Park – all of Northumberland National Park and most of Kielder Water and Forest Park.
Yorkshire Dales Dark Sky Reserve – encompassing the whole of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
North York Moors Dark Sky Reserve – an events-packed calendar, including night-sky festivals, makes this an extra-friendly Dark Sky location.
South Downs Dark Sky Reserve – a precious dark sky in England’s southeast; the area hosts many Dark Sky events.
Cranborne Chase AONB Dark Sky Reserve – straddling parts of Dorset, Hampshire, Wiltshire and Somerset.
Bodmin Moor Dark Sky Park – hang out with the stars amid Cornwall’s rugged landscape.
Dark Sky locations in the Channel Islands
Sark Dark Sky Island – free of both traffic and street lights, the stars over Sark are truly brilliant.
Dark Sky Discovery Sites in the UK
There are dozens of Dark Sky Discovery Sites in the UK, some in surprisingly urban areas, so don’t dismiss your home region. Check out the map on Dark Sky Discovery to look for locations with good stargazing opportunities.
When is the best time to visit Dark Sky locations in the UK?
It’s best not to book your summer holidays around visiting Dark Sky locations in the UK. The long summer days and light nights, especially in the north, do not provide good stargazing opportunities. Mid-August is the earliest you could consider taking a Dark Sky holiday in the UK, but late autumn, winter, and early spring will offer the longest, darkest nights and the best chance to see something (literally) out of this world.