There are a couple of things to consider when deciding where to go stargazing and this mainly depends on what you are hoping to see. If you are hoping to see our Milky Way galaxy arching overhead or wanting to observe dim and distant objects through a telescope in any great detail you’ll need to travel to a location that is reasonably dark, free from the worst light pollution and on a Moonless night outside of Summer time (bright Moonlight spoils the view of starry skies and it barely gets dark during mid-Summer!).
If however you’d rather not travel too far, or if the weather is looking promising however there is going to be Moonlight illuminating the sky, the opportunity still exists from urban or suburban areas to observe the moon, planets and even some of the brighter deep-sky objects, all of which look fantastic through a telescope!
Determining where to go therefore depends what you are hoping to see, how far you are willing to travel and what time of the year and lunar cycle it is.
To see the skies at their very best you need to get away from our light polluted towns and cities, driving just a few miles out of town to semi-rural areas can make a huge difference. All of the locations we feature on our website have an estimate of the local light pollution levels and give an example of how the skies might look from that venue. To get the best views of our star-filled Milky Way galaxy requires finding a really dark sky site and for most people that means travelling some distance.
Dark Sky Discovery Sites
These are officially recognised and designated dark sky locations that are accessible to the public, often without charge. Some sites have facilities such as 24 hour access toilets, most have free overnight parking, all of them do not allow overnight camping. We feature the vast majority of such sites on our stargazing location map.
There are a surprising number of observatories across the UK that open their doors to the public, some do so free of charge or with minimal cost, others take advantage of the boom in ‘astro-tourism’. Many observatories are run on a volunteer basis by local astronomers with regular open evenings accessible to the public often for a small fee or donation if not free of charge. Some observatories are quite remote and benefit from a really dark sky location however most are located within reasonable travel distance from towns and cities. It’s possible to get good views through telescopes of some of the brighter objects in the sky even from light polluted areas, so don’t dismiss your local observatory if you have one on your doorstep!
These locations tend to be meeting places or favourite observing spots for local astronomical societies all of which are very welcoming to members of the public. Attending a meeting is often free or for a negligible donation and almost always involve an observing session should the weather be favourable. We always recommend contacting the respective organisation confirming your attendance before you go along.
Finally, there are many stargazing venues which organise ad-hoc stargazing events and are accessible only during these events — these locations appear on the events map only when they have an event scheduled.
How about looking up your nearest dark sky location on our location map?