UK

Dark Sky Reserves in the UK

Dark Sky Reserves in the UK

The wonder of the night sky is as infinite and magical as the celestial realm itself. A beautiful, untouchable ceiling imprinted with the light of thousands of stars and planets and streaked with comets and meteor showers, it inspires fascination in all those who turn their gaze skyward for a while. 

If you are a starry-eyed observer of the night sky, visiting some of the designated destinations for stargazing in the UK is a must for your wanderlist. Graced with six recognised International Dark Sky Reserves and Gold Tier International Dark Sky Parks, our seabound isle has an array of places to go to absorb the beauty of all that glimmers above. Bundle up in layers, strap a telescope over your shoulder, and set off to one of the dark sky reserves in the UK to be captivated and enthralled.

Dark Sky Reserves

The UK is home to six designated International Dark Sky Reserves, including the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia in Wales, and Exmoor, Moore’s Reserve, the North York Moors, and the Yorkshire Dales in England. Officially recognised for their natural darkness and clear visibility, these reserves consist of dark ‘core’ zones which are protected from light pollution and offer the best conditions to stargaze.

Brecon Beacons

Star gazing from Pen y Fan in the Bannau (Brecon Beacons) | Dark Sky Reserves in the UK

The Brecon Beacons, or Bannau Brycheiniog (‘The Bannau’ for short), covers an area of more than five hundred square miles on the border of Mid and South Wales. Home to four mountain ranges that beckon for daytime adventures, this sprawling national park is also an International Dark Sky Reserve renowned for the quality of its stargazing opportunities at night. Among the best places within the park to see the cosmos, the peaceful shores around the Usk and Crai reservoirs and the dramatic settings of Llanthony Priory and Carreg Cennen Castle are particularly enchanting. Topped with some of the clearest skies in the UK, these magical destinations in the Brecons afford the chance to see the Milky Way, constellations and bright nebulas glowing in the glittering night sky.

Exmoor

The Milky Way over Exmoor National Park

One of the South West’s beautiful moors, Exmoor National Park covers a sprawling region across North Devon and West Somerset. Dubbed by Oxford Professor and Astrophysicist Roger Davies as one of the best places for “stargazing and contemplating the universe”, it features a core zone of more than thirty square miles at its centre and promises some of the darkest skies in the country. Hosting an annual Dark Skies Festival and benefitting from a two-mile Exmoor Dark Sky Discovery Trail, this protected park encourages active participation in dark sky observation. For ethereal gazing, the central zone is home to ancient stone settings and burial mounds, Dunkery and Horner Wood National Nature Reserve SSSI, and the Dark Sky Discovery Hub at Exford.

Moore’s Reserve, the South Downs

The Milky Way over the Seven Sisters in the South Downs

By day, wanderers and wonderers are called to the South Downs National Park for its sun-soaked vineyards and winding long-distance trails, including the hundred-mile South Downs Way. By night, the setting sun gives way to some of the darkest skies in the country, perfect for humbling moments in nature. Wrap up in cosy layers and venture outside for the chance to see some of the northern hemisphere’s famous constellations, such as Ursa Major, The Big Dipper and The Plough and feel the healing effects of skychology wash over in waves. With a number of Dark Sky Discovery Sites, you can choose from Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium, Butser Hill, Harting Down, Iping Common, Devil’s Dyke and more for guided and solo explorations.

North York Moors

Starlit skies over the North York Moors

If you are looking for somewhere enchanting to capture night skies through the lens or are simply seeking somewhere tranquil to lay back and look at the stars, the North York Moors should pique your attention. Topped by a star-studded celestial canopy, this national park features some of the best places to stargaze in the UK. With lots of amazing things to do in Yorkshire, this nighttime pastime is undoubtedly one of the most magical, revealing the chance to see up to two thousand stars on clear nights and even, with a touch of serendipity, the elusive Northern Lights. Held each February, the North York Moors Reserve, along with the Yorkshire Dales, also hosts an annual Dark Skies Festival which showcases the majesty of the night sky. Take part in guided night runs, canoeing trips, astrophotography workshops, night sky safaris and more for an incredible foray into time and space.

Snowdonia

Beautiful stars and the Milky Way over Llyn Ogwen in Snowdonia (Eryri) National Park

From astrophysicists seeking quantum solutions to awe-struck astronomers delving into the night sky for the first time, Eryri National Park (Snowdonia) is one of the most bewitching destinations. Encompassing an area of more than eight hundred square miles, it is Wales’s largest national park and home to stunning mountain ranges (including Snowdon, the country’s highest mountain), ancient forests and silky lakes that reflect huge skies. At nighttime, the park becomes even more otherworldly when countless stars take the place of a beaming sun. Hunker down ensconced in thick blankety layers and look out for the glistening greeting of Orion, the Seven Sisters and the North Star in the sky above. With fingers warmly wrapped around a hot flask and eyes turned skyward, magic is sure to follow.

Yorkshire Dales

Starlit skies over the Ribblehead Viaduct in the Yorkshire Dales

The Yorkshire Dales National Park is one of the UK’s designated Dark Sky Reserves and one of the most spellbinding places for stargazing. When the sun dips, swap the park’s walks and attractions for moonlit adventures and cosmic discovery. Head to one of the four designated Dark Sky Discovery Sites at Hawes and Malham National Park Visitor Centres, Buckden National Park car park and Tan Hill Inn and make use of the parking, access and facilities. Once settled down under toasty layers and with a soothing hot drink in hand, tilt your head towards the sky and see what the nighttime reveals. Throughout the year, an array of orbital marvels can be seen, including the International Space Station travelling at 17,000mph above earth – the largest space station to have ever been built.

International Dark Sky Park

International Dark Sky Parks are landscapes protected from light pollution. Affording the chance to see thousands of stars, as well as our own galaxy, the Milky Way, stretching across the sky, these reserves are hugely important for conserving natural landscapes and inspiring an unshakeable sense of awe.

Northumberland

The Milky Way over Dunstanburgh Castle in Northumberland

With England’s most pristine dark skies, Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park is a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park recognised by the IDA (International Dark Sky Association). The largest gold tier park in the whole of Europe, it extends across 570 square miles and enjoys dreamily low levels of light pollution. So dark are the skies here that, on a clear night, you can relish the chance to see the Milky Way and our neighbouring galaxy, Andromeda, with the naked eye. That’s to say, you can see the glow of stars more than two million lightyears away. To enjoy Northumberland’s dark skies, venture to one of its allocated sites, including the Kielder Observatory, Battlesteads Dark Sky Observatory, and Stonehaugh Astronomy hub.

Galloway 

Beautiful, star-studded night skies over Galloway Forest Park

Residing at the northernmost tip of the United Kingdom, Scotland is on the same latitude as Canada and Scandinavia and is one of the best places in Europe to stargaze. Europe’s second Dark Sky Park, Galloway Forest Park  in West Scotland is only two hours from Glasgow yet is capped by some of the darkest skies imaginable. Clatteringshaws Loch and Kirroughtree Visitor Centre are particularly enigmatic destinations and often host dedicated stargazing events and guided tours by experienced Dark Sky Rangers. Step outside under the vast blanket of the night sky, ready to discover the spectacular and rare stargazing conditions that have earned this stunning park its Gold Tier status. With breath-taking sights awaiting throughout the year and experienced guides ready to unveil the mysteries above, true wonderment awaits.

Cairngorms

The Northern Lights dancing over treetops

If you are looking for somewhere spectacular to observe the night sky, then the mighty Cairngorms in Scotland should capture your interest. A regal mountain range in the eastern Highlands, the Cairngorms National Park is home to a designated International Dark Sky Park and is renowned for its incredible stargazing. Particularly well-known, the area around Glenlivet and Tomintoul regularly measures exciting astronomical activity and presents some of the clearest skies in the UK. When the conditions align, the night skies here can even be decorated with the dancing lights of the Aurora Borealis, flickering across the sky in reds and greens. Keep track of the upcoming events for guided tours and special exhibitions hosted by the Tomintoul and Glenlivet Discovery Centre and Cairngorms Astronomy Group.

Feeling inspired? Escape to one of our luxury retreats in the UK for starlit adventures.

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