Our Ease of Travel Guarantee
Flexible booking|Financially protected|Click here for more
<Home/Articles/Heavens above: the best destinations for stargazing

Heavens above: the best destinations for stargazing

|

Have you ever really looked up at the night sky and had your mind blown by the sheer twinkly vastness of it all? You’re not alone. Astro-tourism and the pursuit of quality starry skies have risen in popularity: holidaymakers are increasingly looking for something a bit different from their trips, with many quite literally in pursuit of the sun, the moon and the stars.

As winter envelops us, it’s time to embrace – and bring a little sparkle to – the long dark evenings. We’ve selected a dozen countries to see the night sky in all its celestial glory, including some of the best International Dark Sky Places – designated areas where light pollution is minimised, and you can see the stars as you’ve never seen them before.

Canada

Canada has 13 Dark-Sky Preserves, which are areas that make a special commitment to protect and preserve the night sky. These include the national parks of Fundy in New Brunswick, Point Pelee in Ontario, Banff in Alberta, and Jasper National Park – giving you just one more reason to visit the stunning Jasper region.

Special mention goes to Waterton Lakes National Park which, together with Glacier National Park in the United States, is recognised as an International Dark Sky Park. You can even stargaze here within walking distance of town, at Cameron Bay. Another urban stargazing spot is Parc du Mont-Bellevue in the heart of Sherbrooke, Quebec.

Chile

For a truly spectacular panoramic view of the Milky Way, head for Northern Chile’s Atacama Desert. With an altitude of nearly 4,000m, the world’s driest non-polar desert has one of the highest number of sunny days and therefore no clouds at night. The quaint town of San Pedro de Atacama is the most accessible town in the desert, from where you can book excursions to have dinner under the stars.

On the desert’s southern fringe, 500km north of Santiago, lies the Elqui Valley, home to the world’s first International Dark Sky Sanctuary for the unrivalled purity of its skies. Spend a night under the stars at a glamping retreat for a truly unique experience, and visit the Mamalluca Observatory, 10km from the town of Vicuña. Fewer tourists tend to find the Rio Hurtado Valley, tucked in the heart of the Coquimbo Region, which claims to have 320 clear nights per year.

Finland

Finnish Lapland isn’t just where Santa Claus spends his other 364 days. Located in the Arctic Circle, it’s a unique place for a winter trip, where the long polar nights (some over 20 hours!) present a perfect opportunity to stay up late with a cup of hot chocolate to admire a stunning night sky.

Handily, Santa’s ‘official hometown’ is Rovaniemi, from where you have one of the best chances of seeing the aurora borealis or northern lights dancing above your head, and whether you’re age six or 86, trips don’t get more magical than that.

France

The Pic du Midi, set against the stunning mountain peaks of the French Pyrenees, is where NASA scientists photograph the surface of the moon. Take a cable car from La Mongie to a mountaintop observatory, where you can watch the sunset and even spend the night.

Greece

The Greek Islands are celebrated for their historical and cultural wonders and beautiful beaches, but several are also renowned for having some of the darkest skies in Greece, with fabulous spots for stargazing experiences. Much of Kefalonia has minimal light pollution, which was recognised just this year when Aenos National Park in the south of the island became an official dark sky park.

On Crete, you can book a starry night excursion from Chania and might be lucky enough to see some of the planets, while the dark skies over Naxos mean you can often see the Milky Way and its constellations and star clusters, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Rosette Nebula, and the Bubble Nebula.

Hungary

Hortobágy National Park is a unique area of pristine native grassland formed in the Ice Age and a haven for wildlife, birdwatchers and stargazers. With strict rules about light pollution, it was recognised as a Dark Sky Park in 2011; when night falls, total darkness blankets the land, unveiling the cosmos above the 10,000ha Starry Sky Park. Join a stargazing walk and follow in the footsteps of the herdsman who lived 5,000 years ago.

Iceland

Its location just two degrees south of the Arctic Circle means that Iceland is celebrated as one of the best places to see the northern lights. And while you’re waiting for the light show, the constellations will make sure your gaze doesn’t wander far. Most places away from the main centres are good for stargazing, but check weather forecasts for clear skies. Also remember that the country has almost 24 hours of daylight in the summer, so the aurora and stargazing season starts in late August and ends around late April. West Iceland is the epicentre of a total solar eclipse in 2026, so why not plan your trip now to get the best seats in the house?

Japan

The only tropical rainforest in the country might not be the obvious place for astronomy, but Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park is part of the Yaeyama Islands in Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture, and the first place in Japan to receive International Dark Sky Places accreditation. Tokashiki Island has stunning beaches where you could take a romantic picnic under the stars and see dozens of constellations. On the mainland, amateur photographers could join a professional for an evening of photographic instruction at Daisen-Oki National Park.

Norway

Still chasing the northern lights? Norway is another country people flock to in the hope of seeing the astronomical wonder. The top spot is Tromsø, where you can spend an unforgettable night under the stars in your own glass igloo with a 180- or 360-degree view of the landscape and sky. Alternatively, take the cable car up the mountainside and spend the evening dining with a heavenly view.

Romania

Exactly halfway between the equator and the North Pole at 45 degrees north, Romania offers a unique perspective on the constellations. Staying up after dark in Transylvania, you’re more likely to spot the rings of Saturn and star patterns such as the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia and Draco, over any supernatural goings-on.

The Carpathian Mountains extend over 900km, and this remote untamed wilderness offers some truly incredible landscapes, unspoiled by light pollution. Brave stargazers can embrace the dark and forget that they are in the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler.

Spain

Albanyà in Catalonia is the country’s main hub for stargazing activities, especially around Bassegoda Park, which is just 30 minutes from Figueres and 160km from Barcelona. Stay the night at a dedicated campsite and spend a magical evening sitting out under the stars. Of course, you’ll want to also discover more about distant galaxies far, far away at the Observatorio Astronómico Albanyá.

The Canary Islands offer some wonderful stargazing opportunities, with La Palma, Fuerteventura and the peaks of Tenerife all certified as Starlight Reserves. Tenerife also boasts the Teide Observatory from where you can see the Andromeda Galaxy with the naked eye.

Back on the mainland in the country’s northwest, Castilla y León is an often-overlooked area in the process of registering as a dark sky site. Visit the stunning Sierra de Gredos Regional Reserve, wild and remote enough for you to take in the stars, yet under a two-hour drive from Madrid.

The UK

Last but by no means least, the UK has some of the largest areas of dark sky in Europe, and the Northumberland Dark Sky Park has the most pristine dark sky in England. Just south of Hadrian’s Wall, here you can simply wrap up warm, step outside and gaze at the Milky Way, or visit the Kielder Observatory to learn more about our galaxy and beyond.

The entire Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales became a Dark Sky Reserve in 2012, and has some of the highest-quality dark skies in the UK. On a clear night, you can see the Milky Way, some of the major constellations, bright nebulas, and meteor showers.

The tiny island of Sark, one of the Channel Islands, is remarkable in that it has no public lighting or cars, making it a unique location for stargazing. It became the first ’dark sky island’ in the world in recognition of the exceptional blackness of the skies. Other noteworthy stargazing destinations include England’s Exmoor Dark Sky Reserve, Scotland’s Galloway Forest and Cairngorms Dark Sky Parks, and Wales’ Snowdonia Dark Sky Reserve, where you could even try night-time stand-up paddleboarding!

Make it happen

If you’re getting a little starry-eyed over this list of stargazing hotspots, speak to one of our local destination experts today – they’ll go above and beyond to offer you the moon on a stick.

Get inspired

Here's some articles to inspire you...

The best destinations for travellers who prefer ‘average’ temperatures

29 February 2024

5 splendid short-haul destinations

27 February 2024

8 immersive bucket list experiences to try this year

26 February 2024

Book with confidence
99% of reviewers recommend us