The beauty of the night sky has been something that has inspired and humbled humanity for thousands of years. Movements like the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) are dedicated to preserving the night sky and reducing light pollution for the environment and astro-tourists alike. From remote islands to national parks and deserts, here’s our pick of the world’s best places for stargazing.
This article is inspired by our Rough Guides guidebooks — your essential guides for travelling the world.
1. Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales
The Brecon Beacons is Wales’s first "Dark Sky Reserve" and has effectively minimised light pollution with the involvement of local communities. The protected night sky here creates fantastic conditions to view meteor showers, nebulas and, more rarely, the Northern Lights.
City-dwellers from nearby Cardiff and Bristol can bring their binoculars to Hay Bluff or to the atmospheric ruins of medieval Llanthony Priory to experience one of the world’s best places for stargazing.
2. Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, New Zealand
The night skies above New Zealand's mountainous Aoraki Mount Cook National Park and glacial Lake Tekapo are so clear and dark that the distant Magellanic Clouds are visible year-round. This is one of the world's largest Dark Sky discovery sites and has been awarded gold tier designation by the IDA.
Earth & Sky introduce astro-tourists to the southern hemisphere’s celestial highlights during tours of Mt John Observatory.
- For a private stay with great views: Aoraki Alpine Chalet
- For a stay with skiing and more: Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge
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3. Death Valley National Park, USA
Death Valley’s desolate canyons, salt flats and dunes are in and of themselves an inspirational site. At night, despite its proximity to the vivid city lights of Las Vegas, maintains "gold-tier" night skies.
Not for the faint-hearted, this park is known for its extremely harsh conditions and indomitable heat. Take the hassle out of planning and booking and go on the US trip of your dreams with our tailor-made trip service. Our trips are completely customisable and are created by local travel experts.
4. Pic du Midi, France - one of the best places for stargazing in Europe
Haute-Pyrénées in southern France, is home to Pyrénées National Park. Here you'll find Europe's largest area for starry skies — the International Dark Sky Reserve and the Pic du Midi Observatory.
The Pic du Midi is an extraordinary viewpoint by day and night. As sunset gradually dims the mountainous panorama, bright stars blanket the skies. Space enthusiasts can spot constellations and planets on evening or overnight trips with cable cars ascending to the summit, cocktails and guided stargazing sessions.
- For a stay with charm: Les Ruisseaux
- For a stay with mountain views: Château d'Arance
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5. Atacama Desert, Chile
International scientists use the high-tech satellites at the ALMA Observatory to "search for our cosmic origins", documenting the earliest stars and galaxies. The vast antennas clustered in the Atacama Desert are an otherworldly sight, angled expectantly towards the skies. Whether travelling in a group or alone, seeing the stars from the Atacama Desert is a site not to be missed.
- For a stay with a pool and more: Hotel Pascual Andino
- For a gorgeous and luxurious stay: Hotel Desertica
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6. Mauna Kea, Hawaii
Thirteen huge telescopes occupy the summit of 4200m-high Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the southernmost Hawaiian island. In the darkness enabled by its altitude and low light pollution, scientists can scan the limits of the observable universe, detecting light from distant galaxies.
Between sunrise and sunset, the mountaintop is open to visitors who have acclimatised to the high elevation. Hawaii is also known for other fantastic night opportunities — including night dives with manta rays.
7. Sark, Channel Islands
Designated as the world’s first "Dark Sky Island" in 2011, tiny Sark is free from cars and street lighting, keeping light pollution very low. After sunset, the skies above the smallest of the Channel Islands become an inky-black backdrop illuminated by thousands of bright stars. Planets and, occasionally, shooting stars can be spotted with the naked eye. Sark also has its own observatory for closer encounters with the solar system.
8. NamibRand Nature Reserve, Nambia
In daylight, the NamibRand Nature Reserve of Nambia is a dazzling wilderness of rust-coloured dunes and sandy plains, framed by the Nubib Mountains. Leopards, oryx and zebra roam through the desert, tracked by low-impact safari groups.
By dark, stargazing visitors are treated to magnificent sightings of the moon, planets and constellations, justifying NamibRand’s status as Africa’s first Dark Sky Reserve. A trip to Nambia is not complete without taking some time to bask in the glow of the stars.
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9. Teide Observatory, Tenerife
If your idea of the Canary Islands is limited to package holidays and karaoke bars, think again. Since 1964, the high-altitude Teide Observatory, perched on a volcano in Tenerife, has been an international hub for solar astronomy, with teams from around the world using its sophisticated telescopes to make new discoveries about the sun.
Volcano Teide offers fledgling astronomers guided tours of the observatory, while their "starlight guides" can point out constellations from both hemispheres, meteor showers and, in season, the Summer Triangle.
10. Kerry, Ireland
Star clusters, nebula and the Andromeda Galaxy are all visible to the naked eye in the unpolluted skies above the lush Kerry peninsula, which is flanked by the Kerry Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean.
Although its "Dark Sky Reserve" title is a 21st-century acquisition, inscriptions found on the region’s prehistoric monuments suggest that its inhabitants have been observing the planets for thousands of years. Today, guides use laser beams and telescopes to further enhance visitors’ views of the heavens. Stargazing is one of the best things to do in Ireland.
- For a bed and breakfast: Seagull Cottage B&B
- For a farm-side stay: Valentia View
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11. Exmoor National Park, England
Exmoor, a region situated in the South West of England, is characterized by its rolling open moorland terrain, spanning across West Somerset and North Devon. At the end of October each year, this is the home of the Exmoor Dark Skies Festival which hosts a bounty of events for stargazers.
Throughout the year, however, Exmoor National Park is one of the best places for stargazing in the world. This park with dark sky status has many ideal spots to explore. Our picks are Holdstone Hill, County Gate or Haddon Hill.
Taking the perfect trip to see the stars
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