Interested in astrotourism? Discover some of the best locations for a night under the stars, alongside advice from the experts on how to plan your trip
For city dwellers, ‘a starry night’ often looks less Van Gogh than one might hope. Light pollution means that many of us rarely see more than a blurry glimpse of the complex light patterns above. But for those willing to plunge themselves into the darkness, The Milky Way is far more accessible than you may think.
British astronomers Jo Richardson and Dr Edward Bloomer share their favourite spots around the world for stargazing alongside their advice for planning your trip at the right time. But first…
What are the varying factors for catching a great view of a starry night sky?
Needless to say, the most important factor is darkness. So along with escaping the city lights, “you should plan your trip to coincide with the new moon,” says Jo. “It also needs to be a clear sky, so weather checking is all important,” she explains.
It’s an important condition that the Earth’s atmosphere is stable. “Normally, we find cold winter months are better for this stability, as opposed to warm humid summer months.”
“My advice is to always remember the human element: clear skies are important, but so is appropriate clothing and patience,” says Dr Edward. “You’re going to be outside for a while if you want to get the most out of your stargazing. Your eyesight needs half an hour to adjust fully to the dark environment, so don’t try to rush things.”
So before you rush into the night, take a look over the professional astronomers’ favourite spots for stargazing.
6 of the best starry nights around the world
Exmoor National Park, England
Exmoor is one of 15 National Parks in the United Kingdom. It is a protected and varied landscape with a unique mosaic of expansive moorlands, woodland valleys, rolling hills and a dramatic coastline. With its endless footpaths and sheer variety of views, England‘s Exmoor National Park is a firm favourite amongst walkers and wildlife lovers. It has some of the darkest skies in the UK. Once a year the park hosts the Dark Skies Festival which includes expert astronomy talks, stargazing suppers and well-being retreats under the stars.
French Pyrenees, France
This famous mountain range spans over 430km, bridging the land between France and Spain. There are a number of professional research-grade observatories that accommodate day trips, overnight stays, and the use of equipment here. The Pic du Midi observatory is high enough up, that as well as seeing a multitude of stars, you’ll also be looking down on the clouds.
Wadi Rum, Jordan
Acting as the filming location for Mars many times, this otherworldly valley has lunar-like terrain that makes stargazing here even more exciting. Through the canyons, you are able to spot vibrant views of the Milky Way as you sit on the sand. If you want to sleep beneath the stars in comfort, the Wadi Rum Bubble Luxhotel (pictured) in Jordan provides a clear roofed tent with a proper bed beneath it so you can watch the night turn into day as you drift off.
Chile, South America
Enjoying around 300 clear skies a year, Chile is one of the world’s most popular astronomy destinations. Its particularly clear skies are the reason it is home to some of the most influential scientific observatories that use technology to discover truths about the universe. For some of the best interstellar gazing, visit Antofagasta – the old mining town that offers spectacular views over the Atacama Desert.
Brecon Beacon, Wales
This mountainous national park in Wales has several vantage spots from which to gaze up at the Milky Way, with the added bonus of viewing the Earthly beauties the park has to offer beneath you, too. Hay Bluff is a hill that overlooks the Wye valley offering you great views over Powys and Shropshire. Whereas Pen Rhiw Dhu gives you dark night views of Mid and West Wales. The National Park also puts on various star-themed events throughout the year.
La Palma, Canary Islands
One of the Canary Islands, this volcanic origin landscape is one of the steepest on Earth. Their skies guarantee minimal light pollution as they’re protected by a “Sky Law” which limits the amount of light allowed to be produced. Along with the Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory, there are several tours and experiences that you can take here, such as Tapas and Stars which combines gastronomy with astronomy.
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