Heavens Above: Top 10 UK Dark Skies Festivals and Stargazing Destinations | To travel

Hebrides Dark Sky Festival

A busy schedule of astronomy lectures, stargazing, film, music, visual art and theater combine to create the Dark Skies Festival on the Isle of Lewis, which runs from 11 to February 25. The Dark Skies exhibition will feature newly commissioned works by a group of Hebridean artists, stargazing events will take place inside the Cosmos Planetarium and outside with Highland Astronomy, and the festival will kick off with a night of comedy and astronomy. Stay at the Royal, a harbor hotel, with a restaurant specializing in local meat and fish (doubles from £131, B&B, royalstornoway.co.uk).
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“Some of the Best Places to See the Stars”: Exmoor. Photograph: Peter Hendrie/Exmoor National Park

The Exmoor Festival takes place in autumn, but if you can’t wait that long, Dark Skies events are held regularly during school holidays (a Night Sky Stargazing & Bushcraft Adventure party takes place on February 21), while the Dark Sky Discovery Trail is a two-mile route through open moorland that includes some of the best places to see the stars (exmoorwalks.org/darksky). Stay at the Exmoor White Horse Inn, a 16th century coaching inn (doubles from £119, B&B, exmoor-whitehorse.co.uk).

Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors

“Family Experiences”: Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors.
“Family Experiences”: Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors. Photography: Rob Maynard/Getty Images

Experience the night sky on a hike through open moorland, soak in a hot tub, paddle a canoe or listen to expert stargazers – all across the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Park. The festival runs from February 18 to March 6 and includes a rocket-making workshop and a planetary pizza-making party. Stay at the 16th century White Hart Inn (doubles from £120, B&B; whiteharthawes.co.uk).


One of the least populated parts of the UK, it’s a great place for stargazing with little light pollution. Its festival runs from February 12 to 28, with events such as aurora hunts at Battlesteads Observatory, astronomy workshops, moon walks and stargazing experiences on the wall. Hadrian. Stay at the Battlesteads Hotel, directly opposite the observatory, with a lively dining room and stylish bedrooms (doubles from £115, B&B, battlesteads.com). northumberland national park.org.uk

South Downs National Park

'February Festival': South Downs National Park.
“February Festival”: South Downs National Park

The South Downs hold their festival in February, with star and moon gazing events at Queen Elizabeth Country Park in Hampshire, Seven Sisters Country Park in East Sussex and Brighton Seafront. Local astronomy groups along the coast will hold talks, with tours of the planets at the South Downs Planetarium in Chichester. Stay at the White Horse Inn in Sutton, an inn with a popular restaurant (doubles from £133, B&B, whitehorseinn-sutton.co.uk).

Peak District National Park

Three locations across the park have been designated Dark Sky Sites, offering the chance to see spectacular starry skies. The car parks at Parsley Hay, near Hartington, Surprise View near Hathersage and Minninglow in Pikehall have astronomy panels to help visitors explore the constellations, and private stargazing experiences in Hathersage can be arranged through Dark Sky Telescope Hire (darkskytelescopehire.co.uk). Stay at The George, a historic inn (doubles from £150, B&B, thegeorgehathersage.com).

Brecon Beacons National Park

Keen stargazers should put September 23-25 ​​on their calendars for the second annual Beacons Dark Skies Festival, with events for astrophotographers, families and keen stargazers. Alongside hands-on workshops, there are lectures on the history and folklore surrounding the constellations and the nocturnal fauna that depend on them. New this year is a mobile and inflatable planetarium that will be installed at different locations in the park. Stay at Gliffaes, a country hotel just outside Crickhowell (doubles from £155, B&B, gliffaeshotel.com).


Art workshops, wood carving lessons and guided night swims are on offer at the Cumbria Dark Skies Festival (February 12-26), along with woodland walks under starry skies, moon gazing and listening to nocturnal wildlife. Stay at the Wordsworth Hotel & Spa in Grasmere – a short drive from the Dark Sky Discovery Center at Allan Bank (doubles from £118, B&B, thewordsworthhotel.co.uk).

Bowland Forest

“Spectacular at all times”: Forest of Bowland.
“Spectacular at all times”: Forest of Bowland

The Forest’s Dark Skies Festival takes place mid-term (February 12-20), and while the live events are sold out, you can join some online. However, the sky above the forest is spectacular at all times, and independent stargazing is easy, with the public dark-sky discovery sites around the forest – at Beacon Fell Country Park, Gisburn Forest Hub, Slaidburn Village Car Park and the Crook o’ Lune picnic site. Stay at the Inn at Whitewell, an elegant 17th century hotel (doubles from £140, B&B, innatwhitewell.com).

Cairngorms National Park

The northernmost dark sky park in the world, the Cairngorms are bursting with stars – and there’s a chance of seeing the Northern Lights. The sky is so dark that it is possible to see the nebula simply with binoculars, the ‘snowy roads’ between Braemar and the Spittal of Glenshee and Glen Muick being two of the best places for stargazing. Stay at Culdearn House, a classic Victorian country hotel (doubles from £220, B&B, culdearn.com).

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