The immensity of the universe is never more apparent than when looking at the night sky. Glance up on a clear night anywhere in the world and you'll usually be able to make out a few pinpricks of light in a galaxy far, far away. But sadly in the modern world, light pollution can get in the way of the thousands upon thousands of twinkling bulbs that should otherwise be visible to the naked eye. So attention budding astronomers and night-dreamers: these are the best places in the world for a spot of stargazing.
Exmoor National Park, UK
The International Dark Sky Reserve in Exmoor is the first of its kind in the UK © Exmoor National Park
Exmoor is rightly proud of being Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve. It has taken a combined effort to achieve this, with the two county councils and Exmoor land owners working together to reduce light pollution. 2017 sees the park's first Dark Skies Festival, running from 19 to 29 October, with events such as stargazing evenings, guided night walks, specialist talks and even a family astro party.
Covering about 2,100km2, an area equivalent to about half the size of Belgium, the NamibRand Nature Reserve is one of the largest private reserves in Africa, not just Namibia. Lying south of Sesriem, it borders on to the main Namib-Naukluft National Park in the west, a boundary of about 100km, and in the east its extent is generally defined by the Nubib Mountains. It was the first such reserve to be granted 'Gold Tier' status by the International Dark-Sky Association when they formed in 1988.
Nova Scotia, Canada
Kejimkujik National Park is a Dark Sky Preserve © Canadian Tourism Commission
Kejimkujik National Park is an official Dark Sky Preserve, but countless parts of the province have minimal light pollution. Incidentally, you may remember that the protagonist in Carly Simon’s 1972 hit You’re So Vain flew to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun (there were such eclipses in 1970 and 1972, and the most recent was in August 2017). Get an astronomy book or just look up and enjoy.
Kielder Water Forest Park, UK
Kielder Water Forest Park is one of the best places in Northumberland for stargazing © Charlie Marshall, Flickr
Come nightfall, much of Northumberland is bathed in pitch-black skies owing to the remoteness of the region and large expanses of uninhabited forests, hills and moorland – something that was recognised by the International Dark Skies Association who awarded ‘Gold Tier’ status to Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water Forest Park in 2013. The county shares the accolade with the likes of Death Valley in North America and is the only Dark Sky Park to do so in England. Within the new zone, which covers 572 square miles of Northumberland, the Cheviot valleys and hills offer some of the best spots for star gazing.
Galloway Forest Park, UK
Established in 1947, at 300 square miles Galloway Forest Park in Dumfries & Galloway is Britain’s largest. The park has a particular reputation as the first Dark Sky Park in the UK. Galloway has some of the darkest skies in Europe with a resident population so small that light pollution is minimal. Over 7,000 stars and planets are visible with the naked eye from here and the nightly show changes constantly as the seasons pass. On the Sky Quality Meter scale, the night sky of the park scores between 21 and 23.6.
Start planning a night-time adventure with our guides: