The best UK observatories and planetariums for stargazing

Make the most of a dark, clear sky by positioning your telescope at one of Britain’s finest stargazing spots. Embrace cosmology talks, photography courses, and even a cosmos-themed curry evening, too…

Claire Dopson
09 November 2019

The best time for stargazing begins in the autumn, when the dark nights close in. Yes, the nights may be colder, and there’s no guarantee of a clear sky… but that’s astronomy for you!

Located in remote areas with some of the darkest skies in the UK, these five observatories offer stargazing evenings, astronomy talks, night sky photography lessons – and even a curry night in one case – giving amateur astronomers the chance to learn about the cosmos and get their hands on some heavy-duty telescopes.

Here are the 5 best UK observatories for stargazing…

1. Scottish Dark Sky Observatory, Ayrshire

Stars above the SDSO (Steven Tsang)

Situated in one of the UK’s two International Dark Sky parks – areas with the highest level of protection from light pollution – this remote observatory is accessed down a rugged track in a UNESCO biosphere.

Essential information: The observatory runs evening experiences for small groups from Wednesday to Saturday. The 1.5 hour sessions start between 8pm and 9pm and include a presentation, a telescope tour and stargazing if skies are clear. Prices are £16 per adult, £10 per child.

2. Kielder Observatory, Northumberland

Night sky under Kielder Observatory, Northumberland (Shutterstock)

Kielder Observatory is located in the UK’s largest International Dark Sky Park, in the depths of Kielder Forest near the Scottish border.

The observatory offers guided stargazing, photography lessons, educational talks on topics such as cosmology and gravity, and themed sessions such as “Aurora Night”, where – if you’re lucky – you may see the Northern Lights.

Essential information: Sessions run nightly, starting at various times between 5.30pm and 11.45pm. Prices range from £15 to £44 for adults, £8 to £40 for children.

3. The Spaceguard Centre, Powys

A dark sky photograph taken in Wales (Shutterstock)

Located near the Welsh Marches, the Spaceguard Centre specialises in researching Near Earth Objects, such as asteroids and comets, and assessing the risk of a collision with Earth.

Essential information: The centre holds private evening tours from Wednesday to Sunday in the winter months. Starting around 7pm to 7.30 pm, sessions include a 1.5 hour tour of the centre followed by stargazing with a telescope for as long as you can withstand the cold! There’s a minimum group charge of £48.

4. Island Planetarium, Isle of Wight

The Island Planetarium at night (Ainsley Bennett Photography)

The Island Planetarium near Yarmouth offers entire stargazing weekends. Dates are planned around the new moon when the sky is darkest.

Essential information: Tours run from Friday evening to Sunday lunchtime, for groups of six to 15 people, and include two nights of stargazing, talks on stars and the sun, and observing the sun through a solar telescope. Weekend tours cost £75 per person.

5. The Observatory Science Centre, East Sussex

Sussex’s Observatory Science Centre during the day (Observatory Science Centre)

Located a half-hour drive from Hastings, the Observatory Science Centre used to be the home of the Royal Observatory. Now, it’s known for night sky photography courses and themed evenings, such as ‘Comets and Curry’ night and ‘Christmas Songs by Starlight’.

Essential information: The centre hosts bi-monthly open evenings (no booking required) from 6.30pm to 11.30pm, where you can observe the stars and – if skies aren’t clear – listen to a talk. Open evenings cost £9.65 per adult, £7.45 per child. Themed nights are priced around £35

Where else can you stargaze?

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