Christmas and New Year are times for contemplation, when we take stock of the important things and perhaps even consider our place in the universe.
National Grid’s tens of thousands of grantors are never far from a perfect site to wrap up warm and take a wander through the clear night sky to stare at the stars… or maybe even Santa.
Britain has scores of sites that are perfect for stargazing, including four of the world’s 11 International Dark Sky Reserves. So there’s no better time to see the Milky Way and other planets.
Here are some of the best places around Britain for an out-of-this-world experience.
- Stargaze at Northumberland International Dark Sky Park
For pristine views of the Milky Way and skies full of endless stars, head to Northumberland International Dark Sky Park, Europe’s largest area of protected night sky. It’s an ideal location to see the Andromeda Galaxy and shooting stars, and is home to the Kielder Observatory, a public astronomical observatory hosting events throughout the year. Enjoy a magical drive up to the Observatory through the national park, before discovering other worlds as you perch 1,200 feet above the forest and moorland.
Getting there: located in the north of England, near the Scottish border, the Kielder Observatory is a 90-minute drive from Newcastle upon Tyne.
- Reach for the sky at Exmoor Dark Sky Reserve, south-west England
See the views once loved by our ancestors, before electricity lit up the night skies, at Exmoor National Park. Located near the coast in the counties of Somerset and Devon, the park is an ideal spot for stargazers, with spots such as Holdstone Hill, County Gate, Webbers Post, Haddon Hill and Wimbleball Lake boasting some of the best astronomical views.
Getting there: located in the south-west of England, Exmoor National Park is less than two hours by car from Bristol.
- The moons of Jupiter at Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park, west Scotland
Spanning 777 km2 of forested glens, lochs and the highest hills in southern Scotland, Galloway Forest Park has very few buildings and low levels of light pollution, so was the first national park awarded Dark Sky Park status. Grab your coat and binoculars, wrap up warm, and head to the Galloway Forest Park to experience some of the finest views off the planet, including the moons of Jupiter and the cliffs on our own moon.
Getting there: located in the west of Scotland, Galloway Forest is a 75-minute drive from Glasgow.
- Pack a picnic and star-spot by reservoirs in Brecon Beacons, Wales
Granted International Dark Sky Reserve status in 2013, the Brecon Beacons in Wales – home to many grantors – offer a plethora of dark sky spots to get your astronomer juices flowing. From the beauty of Usk Reservoir, protected from the light pollution of the industrial South Wales Valleys, to the serene Pontsticill Reservoir, accessed from Merthyr Tydfil and boasting idyllic viewing-spots along the banks of the water, there are plenty of opportunities to gaze at the stars in Wales.
Getting there: the Brecon Beacons are a 75-minute drive from Cardiff in Wales.
- Tour the universe at Greenwich Royal Observatory
Even with the twinkling lights of London you can still see stars in the city, especially if you head to Greenwich Royal Observatory. Located in the depths of Greenwich Park, visitors can see out-of-this-world views at their Peter Harrison Planetarium; expect expert-guided tours of the universe and stunning views of the Milky Way and beyond.
Getting there: The Royal Observatory is located in Greenwich Park, and is best reached by the Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich London underground station.
- Discover other worlds in the Lake District, England
Nestled within the beauty of the Lake District National Park, Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre is an official Dark Sky Discovery Site that runs special stargazing events throughout the year. If an evening of stargazing isn’t enough, visitors can also stay over in their on-site accommodation, transformed from 17th-century farm buildings.
Getting there: located in the Lake District National Park, the Lower Gillerthwaite Field Centre is a three-hour drive from Harrogate near Leeds.