- UK Dark Sky Reserves Map
- Snowdonia National Park Dark Sky Reserve
- Exmoor National Park Dark Sky Reserve
- Brecon Beacons National Park Dark Sky Reserve
- Cranborne Chase Dark Sky Reserve
- Yorkshire Dales National Park Dark Sky Reserve
- South Downs National Park Dark Sky Reserve
- North York Moors National Park Dark Sky Reserve
- Where are the Dark Sky Reserves in the UK?
- Frequently asked questions about Dark Sky Reserves in the United Kingdom.
Holidays are the best, right?! Whether you’ve travelled abroad or you’re exploring some of the UK’s finest staycation destinations, there really is nothing quite like it. Work emails are turned off, alarms have gone out the window, and bedtime routines are a thing of the past. And, after a day spent however you like to spend it, what better way to relax in the evening than under the stars surrounded by your loved ones?!
If this sounds up your street, you’ll be pleased to know that the UK is home to some incredible star-spotting opportunities. Known as an IDA International Dark Sky Reserve, these hotspots – which are made up of public and private land – are renowned for their starry nights and nocturnal atmosphere. Not just that, but the designated areas are recognised as having no light pollution and for their high-quality night air. You can check out the world’s light pollution map too.
It probably won’t surprise you that there’s a rigorous application and approval process for a piece of land to be registered as a Dark Sky Reserve. What’s more, they’re typically formed through a group of passionate land managers who recognise the value of the area, and who come together to ensure the environment meets specific regulatory requirements.
With Dark Sky Reserve status, the land is then protected for its natural, scientific, cultural, heritage, and educational capabilities as well as for public enjoyment. Some of the most famous sites across the globe include Central Idaho in the US, France’s Alpes Azur Mercantour and River Murray in Australia. Don’t worry, you don’t need to travel too far to experience their beauty though as there are plenty right here in the UK. Keep scrolling to discover our UK Dark Sky Map.
UK Dark Sky Reserves Map
Snowdonia National Park Dark Sky Reserve
Established in 1951, Snowdonia National Park in Wales is famous for its adventure opportunities, diverse wildlife habitats, outdoor sports and Mount Snowdon, which is 1085 metres above sea level. On a clear day, you can even see Ireland from the summit. As well as that, more than 100 lakes, craggy peaks and glacial landforms make Snowdonia National Park one of the best places to go for family holidays.
The park is also one of 18 International Dark Sky Reserves in the World, with 60% of its wildlife and plants depending on the dark skies to thrive. This includes bats and owls. A fantastic place to stargaze, you can even see the Milky Way as well as shooting stars and infamous constellations like The North Star, The Plough and Seven Sisters. The area also has several dark sky activities like camping, train rides and mountain biking – which allow tourists and locals to experience Wales like never before.
- Coverage: Across North West and Mid West Wales
- Size: 823 sqm
- Highest point: Snowdon 1085m
- Stargazing hotspot: Llyn y Dywarchen
- Best time for stargazing: September to March
Best towns to stay in near Snowdonia National Park
A pretty village favoured by Snowdon hikers, Beddgelert gets its name from a 12th century hound who was the faithful companion of mediaeval Welsh Prince Llewelyn the Great. It’s an ideal base for exploring the National Park and, amongst the stone-built dwellings, you’ll find a pub, restaurant and village shop. When you’re not stargazing or looking out for some of the wildlife that come alive after dark, there are plenty of scenic river walks which allow you to see the best of Wales’ landscape. Not just that but there are copper mines, packed with stories to bring to life.
Just a 10-minute drive from Snowdonia National Park and its Dark Sky Reserves, you’ll find the beautiful seaside town of Conwy. As well as everything you’d expect from a coastal resort, Conwy also boasts impressive mountainous views and staggering fortress walls that surround the town. There’s also a charming harbour complete with restaurants, cafes, and shops so if you fancy a slow morning after an evening of stargazing, you’ll be spoiled for choice for activities. If you’re looking for a whistle-stop tour of Wales, with adventures amidst every type of landscape, Conwy is a great base.
At the foot of Mount Snowdon, the village of Llanberis is great for exploring the National Park and its Dark Sky Reserves as well as the many outdoor activities that the area is known for. Llanberis itself also has a couple of pubs, as well as a few cafes, which make it the perfect place to unwind after a long day. If you’re in search of something to keep you occupied however, closeby, you’ll find Zip World and Rope Works which are guaranteed to be a big hit with all ages.
Exmoor National Park Dark Sky Reserve
Regularly described as a beautiful landscape shaped by people and nature, Exmoor National Park, which was established in 1954 is another area home to incredible dark skies in the UK and minimal light pollution. In 2011, it was officially designated as Europe’s First International Dark Sky Reserve. Nestled in Somerset and North Devon, it’s believed that poet William Wordsworth used to come to the park to wander around. Much of his work is even believed to have been inspired by the moorland, woodland, coast and rivers that Exmoor is known for.
As a Dark Sky Reserve, Exmoor National Park promises lots of stargazing opportunities. On a clear night, you can expect to see thousands of stars and even the Milky Way – all with the naked eye! There’s even a Dark Sky Discovery Trail, a 2-mile route which offers the best views, and a Dark Sky Festival which takes place every year. You don’t need to worry about having all the gear either as the Exmoor National Park team have everything you could need and you can hire it all out. If that wasn’t enough, they regularly put on expert talks and workshops, afterdark wildlife events and nighttime adventures.
- Coverage: Somerset and Devon
- Size: 267 sqm
- Highest point: Dunkery Beacon 519m
- Stargazing hotspot: Simonsbath
- Best time for stargazing: All-year-round but particularly March and April, late summer, and autumn.
Best towns to stay in Exmoor National Park
Thought to be the highest village in the region, Wheddon Cross offers easy access to the National Park as well as beautiful views and plenty to explore. It’s not too far from Dunkery Beacon, the highest point in Exmoor, and the moorlands are a great place to spot wildlife and nature. In spring, the famous Snowdrop Valley comes alive with snowdrops – which is definitely worth a picture or two. The village itself might be small but there is a pub, a few shops and a couple of tea rooms close by.
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay that offers slightly more to do then the market town of Dulverton won’t disappoint. It’s nestled towards the southern edge of Exmoor National Park and boasts award-winning restaurants and pubs, cafes and several shops. The town sits between two rivers – River Barle and River Exe – and there is also thick woodland that’s great for adventures. This, coupled with the national park, means there’s lots of nature-spotting opportunities. Plus, in the market town, you’ll find the National Park Visitor Information Centre to help you to get the most out of your trip.
Lynton and Lynmouth
These two pretty twin towns have been popular since Victorian times and it’s not hard to see why. For starters, they’re beautiful and have been dubbed the ‘mini-Switzerland’ of England. They sit on a dramatic cliff and boast lots of shops, cafes, pubs and tea rooms. To get to either town from the other, you have to take the cliff railway which is an activity in its own right. Located on the rugged coastline of Exmoor, the pretty harbour provides an alternative backdrop to Exmoor’s dense countryside and rolling hills. Put simply, if you want to see everything that Exmoor and its National Park has to offer, this is the place to stay.
Brecon Beacons National Park Dark Sky Reserve
A mountainous range in South Wales, the Brecon Beacons National Park has attracted families, couples and solo explorers for many years. Its name is said to come from the Old Red Sandstone peaks which can be seen at the south of Brecon and the park is also home to South Wales’ highest mountain, Pen y Fan. Home to dense landscapes including countryside, woodland and rivers, the Brecon Beacons offers so much to see and do including water sports, hiking, and even the likes of mountain gliding.
In 2013, after a two-year project, the National Park was awarded the status of the world’s 5th International Dark Sky Reserve. The community behind it has even been praised for its efforts at reducing light pollution. On a clear night, you can see the Milky Way, meteor showers, bright nebulas and major constellations. The area’s wildlife, including bats, hedgehogs and moths are also benefiting from the incredible dark skies and low light pollution and you’ll often see animals coming out after dark.
- Coverage: Mid and South Wales
- Size: 520 sqm
- Highest point: Pen Y Fan 886m
- Stargazing hotspot: Usk Reservoir
- Best time for stargazing: Autumn
Best towns to stay in Brecon Beacons National Park
Readers and writers flock to Hay-on-Wye every year as the town is well-known for its bookshops and has even been dubbed The Town of Books. But that’s not all it offers. It’s ideally located near the National Park, and its stargazing hotspots, and also offers several activities of its own. Adventure along the waters in a canoe or kayak, keep your eyes peeled for some of the area’s most unusual nature, and why not enjoy a picnic meadowside at The Warren? There’s also Hay Castle, which dates back to Norman times, and every year a literary festival brings the area to life.
One of the largest towns in the National Park, Abergavveny is favoured by those looking to explore the area and enjoy a lively atmosphere and additional amenities. There are several food and drink options, many of which have won awards, and every year a huge food festival also takes place and many say it’s the best in the whole of Wales. The town itself sits towards the eastern side of the park, in the shadow of the Sugar Loaf Mountain. After a day in the park, or an evening spent stargazing, Abergavveny is a great place to unwind or even meander around with friends, family or your better half.
Head north of Brecon Beacons National Park and you’ll find Talgarth, which is also around seven miles from Hay-on-Wye. Talgarth is a lively town which offers a few shops and pubs as well as plenty of history to bring to life and some natural attractions. One of the most popular being Pwll-yr-Wrach Reserve. It’s known as ‘Witches Pool’ as an incredible waterfall tumbles into a deep and dark pool. Talgarth is great for sitting back and resting after a day in the park, or an evening stargazing, and equally there is plenty of exploration to be had if you don’t want to sit still.
Cranborne Chase Dark Sky Reserve
Officially designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Cranborne Chase offers miles of unrivalled countryside overlapping Wiltshire, Dorset, Hampshire and Somerset. It was made famous in the 1891 novel ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ and is also known for its 6000-year-old historic sites that are known as long barrows. As well as walking holidays and laidback adventures, Cranborne Chase is a top spot for wildlife. Many enthusiasts head to Hamldeon to see hares and glowworms.
As well as this, the AONB was the 14th International Dark Sky Reserve in 2019 – the only AONB in the UK to be awarded with this status. It’s believed that more than 50% of the area has some of the lowest light pollution levels in the whole of England. Those heading to Cranborne Chase for its stargazing can expect to see the Milky Way too. Plus, stargazing events are hosted regularly throughout the year and the annual Dark Skies Festival takes place in February.
- Coverage: Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Somerset
- Size: 380 sqm
- Highest point: Win Green 277m
- Stargazing hotspot: Dinton Park
- Best time for stargazing: February to October
Best towns to stay in near Cranborne Chase
Shaftesbury dates back to the Saxon times and is a small market town in Dorset which acts as the perfect base for exploring Cranborne Chase. It was made famous by the Hovis advert which centres on the area’s Gold Hill and, once here, the views really are something special. Namely, those of Blackmore Vale. While Cranborne Chase is just a few miles away, Shaftesbury is also ideally located for Stonehenge, Bath and Bristol, and the Jurassic Coast. We say, book a weekend trip and get ready to explore some of the best of the UK’s most diverse landscapes.
A small village, which is also the highest in Dorset, Ashmore is a great place to stay if you want to explore Cranborne Chase. It’s quiet and secluded, and houses a church, 83 stone cottages and farms, but it’s the perfect area for unwinding after a busy few days spent adventuring. You won’t go hungry though as there are a few pubs nearby as well as a village shop. Ashmore is also built on a chalk rock, making it very dry, and it’s nestled around a dew pond meaning wildlife is in abundance.
Sitting on the borders of Cranborne Chase lies Farnham, a rural village with lots of appeal. Life here is laid back but it’s a great place to base yourself if you’re exploring the rest of the AONB. The village was first recorded in 1086 in the Domesday Book so you can bet there’s plenty of stories to bring to life and it was also the home of the Pitt-Rivers Museum which houses a huge collection of antiquities. It’s often described as being as pretty as a postcard, and there’s an award-winning pub in the village which is sure to please you after a day in Cranborne Chase.
Yorkshire Dales National Park Dark Sky Reserve
Established in 1954, the Yorkshire Dales National Park boasts incredible scenery, historic sites and many moods. Fans of the Dales believe each has its own characteristics – some are wild and windy, others are secluded and tranquil. Either way, you won’t get bored. Explore some of the UK’s finest limestone scenery, adventure through heather moorland tops, stop off at stone-built villages, and seek out incredible waterfalls and ancient woodland.
Of course, if you’re in search of afterdark activities and stargazing hotspots, the Yorkshire Dales won’t disappoint. The National Park is one of the most recent additions to the International Dark Sky Reserve Map. You can expect to see 2,000 stars and many visitors have ticked off the Milky Way too. Not just that, but planets, meteors, the moon and even the International Space Station have all been seen – as well as the Northern Lights.
- Coverage: North Yorkshire and Cumbria
- Size: 841 sqm
- Highest point: Whernside 736m
- Stargazing hotspot: Hawes and Malham
- Best time for stargazing: Autumn and spring
Best towns to stay in near Yorkshire Dales National Park
A small village in the Pennines, and situated south of the Yorkshire Dales, Malham is a popular place for those exploring the region. It’s pretty to look at, has a stream running through the village and is surrounded by dry-stone walls. It was first mentioned in the Domesday Book and has historic sites dotted around including traces of Iron Age boundaries. Other local attractions include Malham Cove and Gordale Scar. The village itself has a few cafes, tea rooms and pubs, and many are dog-friendly too.
Another popular village in Yorkshire is Grassington, although it’s slightly more vibrant compared to its sleepy neighbours. In the past, it’s been described as the ‘beating heart of the Dales’ and it’s not hard to see why. There’s a beautiful cobbled market square, surrounded by independent shops, art galleries, cafes, restaurants and hotels. If that wasn’t pretty enough, the whole area has a backdrop of the National Park. On a nice day, the streets are filled with tables and people enjoy award-winning food and drink. For a proper Yorkshire experience, you need look no further.
Head to Nidderdale, one of Yorkshire’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and you’ll find Pateley Bridge – a charming village which boasts rural life and several attractions. It’s popular with those enjoying a holiday in the Dales and is also the starting and ending point of a 53-mile circular walk – Nidderdale Way. Don’t worry if you want to take it slow as Pateley Bridge is great for this. There’s pubs, cafes, restaurants and lots of accommodation choices as well as independent shops including England’s oldest sweet shop. We say that’s definitely worth a visit!
South Downs National Park Dark Sky Reserve
South Downs National Park was only officially established in 2010, making it one of the UK’s newest national parks. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to do though. The Park stretches from Hampshire down to the Sussex coast and consists of rolling countryside, incredible wildlife and nature including wild horses, and beautiful market towns and cities. It’s also just an hour from London which makes it a popular respite destination for city dwellers.
In 2016, the area was officially recognised as an International Dark Sky Reserve. The air quality is so good here that from most stargazing hotspots, you can see the Milky Way with your naked eye. A group of locals have also been working hard to reduce any light pollution and average darkness in the park is now regarded at bronze level. Moore’s Reserve which is named after Sir Patrick Moore is where most of the stargazing is done.
- Coverage: Hampshire and Sussex
- Size: 628 sqm
- Highest point: Black Down 280m
- Stargazing hotspot: Old Winchester Hill
- Best time for stargazing: Late summer and mid-winter
Best towns to stay in near South Downs National Park
Described as the Gateway to the South Downs National Park, the ancient market town of Petersfield is charming and characterful. There’s a lively town square with shops, pubs, cafes, and restaurants, a regular market and even a jam-packed events calendar throughout the year. Local attractions include the Petersfield Museum, the Physic Garden and St Peter’s Church which dates back to Norman times. As well as this, the town is great for walking and cycling holidays and you can access the nearby countryside from pretty much any path you take.
Another one of the UK’s famous market towns close to South Downs is Arundel. It has a traditional market town feel with lots of history and contemporary additions popping up. The mediaeval castle and cathedral have got to be on the list. There’s also a family-friendly nature reserve, WWT Arundel, and there’s even an outdoor heated lido. Of course, you’re not too far from the national park either which makes it a fantastic stopping point for your staycation.
Lewes is not only a market town but also the county town of Sussex and combines a proper town feel with beautiful rural landscapes and, of course, easy access to the National Park. Its ancient streets house mediaeval buildings and historic alleyways. Not to mention, its Norman castle and the house of Anne Cleves – former wife of Henry VIII. But what makes this town so special is that it’s surrounded by chalk cliffs. There are also lots of modern art galleries, breweries and boutiques to spend your days at. With a real focus on local produce and businesses, you won’t forget Lewes and its community feel in a hurry.
North York Moors National Park Dark Sky Reserve
Officially designated as a National Park in 1952, the North York Moors National Park has been forged by nature and shaped by people for many generations. The landscapes are some of the most varied around and it houses one of the biggest areas of heather moorland in the whole of the UK. The Yorkshire park even inspired the infamous Dracula.
In 2020, the North York Moors were given International Dark Sky Reserve status – making it one of the newest International Dark Sky Reserves. In the past, stargazers have even been able to see the Milky Way, Northern Lights, various stars and planets, the moon, meteor showers and the Andromeda Galaxy which is 2.5 million light years away. The International Space Station passes by throughout the year too and can be seen during specific months.
- Coverage: North Yorkshire
- Size: 554 sqm
- Highest point: Urra Moor 454m
- Stargazing hotspot: Sutton Bank
- Best time for stargazing: Autumn and spring
Best towns to stay in near North York Moors National Park
Picture the perfect English market town and you’ll have a fantastic image of Helmsley. There’s a charming market square, cute tea rooms, and historic castle ruins – all surrounded by the North York Moors. Take it slow and indulge in quintessentially British afternoon tea or head out on one of the nearby walking routes and get up close and personal to some of the UK’s most beautiful countryside. With plenty of accommodation options, and lots of pubs and restaurants serving up delicious Yorkshire produce, it’s no wonder visitors come back time and time again.
Dubbed Yorkshire’s food capital, Malton is a town of markets and makers – and we guarantee your tastebuds will be tantalised. From farm shops selling local produce to festivals showcasing artisan makers – not to mention, the town itself and all of its shops, markets, and award-winning pubs, cafes and restaurants – Malton is deservedly one of the best towns in Yorkshire. When you’re not stargazing and exploring the Moors, there’s even family cooking classes and events that get all ages involved. Free parking in the town means you can really make the most of the area too.
One of the best things about Yorkshire is the variety of landscapes so why not combine your holiday in the national park with a stay at the seaside? Whitby resort has everything you’d expect from a British coastal town but it also has connections to Dracula and Captain Cook – and there’s plenty of tales to hear. Spend your days on the golden sands, hire out a beach hut, or take the 199 steps up to the Church of St Mary. Of course, when it’s time for food, you can take your pick from the fish and chips and ice cream on offer.
Ready to start planning your very own dark sky reserve holiday? Perhaps you’ve been searching for dark sky reserves near me? Either way, our UK dark sky map has hopefully inspired your travels and highlighted some of the most interesting staycation destinations we have right on our doorstep. Remember, if you’re looking for accommodation for your dark sky reserve trip, we’ve got you covered for that too. Browse our selection of hot tub breaks and, if you have any questions, we’re only a message away.
Where are the Dark Sky Reserves in the UK?
- Coll, Scotland – PA78 6TB
- Exmoor, England – EX35 6JD
- Galloway Forest Park, Scotland – DG8 7BE
- Kerry, Ireland – V93 XKR7
- Isle of Coll, Scotland – PA78 6TB
- Isle of Sark, Channel Islands – GY10 1SF
- Lake District National Park, England – LA22 9JX
- Mayo Dark Sky Park, Ireland – F28 C2X7
- Moore’s Reserve, Northern Ireland – BT82 0HD
- Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water and Forest Park, England – NE48 1ER
- Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales – CF44 8AA
- Snowdonia National Park, Wales – LL55 4TY
- South Downs National Park, England – GU31 5SN
- Yorkshire Dales National Park, England – BD24 9JN
- North York Moors National Park, England – YO21 2NB
Frequently asked questions about Dark Sky Reserves in the United Kingdom.
How many dark sky reserves are there in the UK?
There are currently 16 designated dark sky reserves in the UK.
How many dark sky reserves are there in the World?
As of September 2021, there are 130 designated dark sky reserves in the world, according to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). These reserves are located in various countries across the globe. The number of dark sky reserves may continue to grow as more areas work towards reducing light pollution and preserving their natural night skies.
Where is the largest dark sky reserve located?
The largest dark sky reserve in the world is the “NambiRand Nature Reserve” in Namibia. This reserve covers an area of approximately 22,000 square kilometers (8,494 square miles) and was designated as a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Reserve by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) in 2012. The NambiRand Nature Reserve is located in the Namib Desert, which is one of the driest regions in the world, and has exceptionally clear skies, making it an ideal location for stargazing and astronomical observations.
Where is the largest dark sky reserve located in the UK?
The largest dark sky reserve in the UK is the “Northumberland International Dark Sky Park”, which covers an area of 572 square miles (1,483 square kilometers) in the northernmost part of England.
It was designated as a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) in 2013, making it the largest protected Dark Sky Park area in Europe. The Northumberland International Dark Sky Park is located in Northumberland County and includes Kielder Water & Forest Park, which is home to the Kielder Observatory, a popular destination for stargazing and astronomy enthusiasts.
What location has the lowest light pollution in the UK?
The location with the lowest light pollution in the UK is generally considered to be the Kielder Forest in Northumberland, England.
What is a Dark Sky reserve?
A Dark Sky reserve is an area recognized for its exceptional starry skies.
Where are the Dark Sky reserves located in the UK?
The UK has 16 Dark Sky reserves, including areas in Scotland, Wales, and England.
Why are Dark Sky reserves important?
Dark Sky reserves are important to help protect the environment and preserve natural heritage.
Can I visit a Dark Sky reserve at any time?
Yes, but it’s recommended to visit during the night hours for optimal stargazing.
Are there any restrictions on visiting a Dark Sky reserve?
Yes, there are guidelines to minimize light pollution and protect the natural environment.
What should I bring with me when visiting a Dark Sky reserve?
When visiting a Dark Sky Reserve you should take a red flashlight, warm clothing, and a star chart or guide are recommended.
Are there any guided tours available in Dark Sky reserves?
Yes, many Dark Sky reserves offer guided tours and events.
How do I find the best spots to stargaze in a Dark Sky reserve?
To find the best spots to stargaze look for areas with low light pollution, high elevation, and open views of the sky.
Are there any accommodations available within or near Dark Sky reserves?
Yes, there are camping and lodging options available within or near some Dark Sky reserves.
How do I get to a Dark Sky reserve?
To get to a Star Sky Reserve depends on the location, but driving is the most common way to get there.
What is the best time of year to visit a Dark Sky reserve?
The best time of year to visit a Dark Sky Reserve late autumn to early spring is typically the best time for stargazing.
Can I bring my own telescope to a Dark Sky reserve?
Yes, but be mindful of the reserve’s rules and regulations.
Is it necessary to have previous stargazing experience to visit a Dark Sky reserve?
No, stargazing is an enjoyable activity for anyone, regardless of experience.
Are there any activities other than stargazing to do in a Dark Sky reserve?
Yes, you can enjoy wildlife watching, hiking, and other outdoor activities in some Dark Sky reserves.