Stargazing is increasingly popular with travellers and tourists looking to reconnect with the natural world and the incredible universe that we live in. As our towns and cities become brighter, it is increasingly difficult to find even the brightest stars in the sky. An estimated 70% of the world’s population can’t see the Milky Way from where they live – a sad situation! That’s why many of us love to combine travel with stargazing.
Although the dark night sky is somewhat endangered, there are lots of places all over the world where it is still possible to see the stars in all their glory. Organisations such as the International Dark Sky Association and the Starlight Foundation ensure that some places remain free from light pollution.
There are more than 100 designated International Dark Sky Parks (IDSP) and 15 International Dark Sky Sanctuaries (IDSS) around the world (most are in the US), each open to the public and with exceptional views of the night sky. There are also 20 International Dark Sky Reserves (IDSR) which are more remote, with even darker skies. Each of these spots offers spectacular stargazing!
Here, we’ve gathered together some of our favourite options for stargazing around the world. This is by no means an exhaustive list! Everyone has their favourites when it comes to stargazing spots – some of us are looking for remote wilderness, whereas others want a place that’s easy to take the kids. Hopefully, our list offers something for everyone and will inspire you to get out there and get star-spotting – wherever you can.
We’ve marked which sites are designated International Dark Sky Places, and you’ll also find some options for local accommodation. We’ve chosen places that are reasonably accessible, although by nature these places tend to be quite rugged, remote and undeveloped – so do plenty of research before you book a trip!
Deep in the heart of the world’s oldest desert – the Namib Desert of Namibia – Namibrand Nature Reserve has some of the darkest, least polluted night skies that can be found anywhere on earth. A private reserve of over 200,000 hectares with various activities to take part in and several places to stay, conservation is at the heart of NamibRand – both of the surroundings and of the night sky.
From any part of the park, at night you can see all the wonders of the night sky including the Milky Way, Magellanic Clouds, and whichever planets are in the vicinity. Any time of year is good to visit, although there is more rain (and therefore clouds) from January to April.
Namibia is one of the least populated countries in the world with only eight people per square mile, and the country is full of amazing things to see and do besides stargazing. Bordering NamibRand is the Namib-Naukluft National Park, where you can find many incredible sights including the Nubib Mountain range, vast savanna and the most famous sand dunes in the world that tower up to 400 metres tall. Also in the area are the unearthly Sossusvlei clay and salt pans.
NamibRand Family Hideout, NamibRand Nature Reserve
Offers camping, a farmhouse with several rooms, and plenty of amenities and activities.
Prices vary depending on group size, accommodation, time of year and a few other factors, but are very reasonable.
Kwessi Dunes Lodge, NamibRand Nature Reserve
This luxurious lodge houses 12 chalets, each with its own stargazing room. There is a swimming pool and WiFI on site, and the whole place is solar-powered.
Chalets from NAD 7,250 per night.
The capital of Australian astronomy and the southern hemisphere’s first (and Australia’s only) Dark Sky Park, Warrumbungle National Park is one of the best stargazing spots on the planet. The vast expanse offers exceptionally dark skies, and an incredibly rugged and beautiful volcanic landscape to explore in the daytime too. It’s pretty remote – a six-hour drive from Sydney or seven hours from Brisbane.
Stargazing is at the heart of the Warrumbungles. One of the resident astronomers, Donna Burton, even discovered two comets (C/2006 R1 Siding Spring and C/2007 Q3 Siding Spring)! There are three observatories in the park – Siding Spring Observatory, Milroy Observatory and the Skywatch Observatory. Milroy Observatory is open to visitors at night and Skywatch Observatory offers overnight visits. Siding Spring Observatory is open to visitors in the daytime until 3 pm, and also hosts Star Fest on the Labour Day Weekend every October when the site is open to visitors.
The Warrumbungles is perfect for stargazing any time of year, but if you want to see the Magellanic Clouds you should visit in summer. In the daytime, you can hike the Breadknife and Grand High Tops circuit, and there are plenty of places to camp within the park.
Camp Blackman, Warrumbungle National Park
The largest campground in the park, Camp Blackman is one of only three accessible by car and the only site with power. Other facilities include showers, toilets, public phone and a barbecue area.
6 AUD per person per night, plus park entry fee. Booking required.
Country Gardens Motel, Coonabarabran
A comfortable hotel in the closest town to the Warrumbungles. Amenities include an on-site restaurant, swimming pool, parking, and WiFi.
Prices from 125 to 250 AUD per night.
Mount Teide is the second-highest volcano in the world, and the highest mountain in Spain. Towering over the island, it is the heart of the otherworldly Teide National Park. In the daytime, visitors can explore the ever-changing landscape of the park – with its solidified lava flows, sulphurous vents and Mars-like rocky outcrops – before taking a cable car up the volcano. In spring, the area is covered with a staggering variety of flowers.
By night, the majesty of the night sky is there for all to see with 83 of the 88 officially recognised constellations visible. There is very little light pollution in the area and the air is beautifully clear. Visitors can stargaze by themselves or choose to join one of the many available stargazing excursions. The Teide Observatory is also open to visitors (with booking) during the daytime and at night.
The Canaries are blessed with year-round good weather, so you can visit Mount Teide at any time of year. Although the smaller Canary Island La Palma arguably offers slightly better stargazing, we’ve chosen Teide because of the interesting geological situation plus how easy it is to get to the park from anywhere on the island.
Parador de Las Cañadas del Teide, La Orotava
A comfortable hotel with excellent facilities including WiFI, an on-site restaurant, fitness centre and sauna, close to Teide National Park.
Rooms from €120 per night.
Casa Tajinastes del Teide, Las Cañadas del Teide
A self-catering house for up to four people in the breathtaking and peaceful Tenerife countryside. Facilities include kitchen, garden with barbecue, parking, WiFi and bike hire.
Prices vary by time of year, minimum stay of five nights.
Home to one of the oldest observatories in the world, the Pic du Midi reserve in the south of France is 3,300km² of breathtaking beauty. The area is famous for its skiing, the Tourmalet mountain pass which forms part of the Tour de France cycle race, and the nearby spa city of Bagnères-de-Bigorre, but stargazing is also very much on the itinerary of things to do in the area.
Take the cable car from La Mongie ski resort up to the summit and pay a visit to the planetarium, join a guided night sky tour or simply enjoy the view for yourself. In September, the observatory opens its doors to the public and you’ll be able to view the night sky through several powerful telescopes.
Views of the night sky are incredible all year round, but because of the mountainous terrain, conditions can be difficult in winter. Unless you’re looking to ski too, summer could be the best option.
Night at the Summit package
The Night at the Summit package includes cable car, dinner at the restaurant, a guided star tour and accommodation.
€469 single/€519 double per night.
Vanille Café Chocolat, Bagnères-de-Bigorre
Comfortable guest house 29km from Pic du Midi in the spa city of Bagnères-de-Bigorre. Facilities include spa, hot spring bath, and WiFI.
From €80 per night.
The Cosmic Campground was the first International Dark Sky Sanctuary in North America and offers some spectacular views of the night sky. The Campground is perfect for families who love stargazing, and also offers great hiking in the distinctive New Mexico landscape. Mountains, forests and rocky plains are all there to explore.
The Cosmic Campground hosts regular Star Parties where guests can experience the night sky guided by local experts. The rest of the time, guests can enjoy the stars in whatever way they like. With no built-up areas and minimal light pollution, the view is breathtaking. The park is open all year round and provides incredible stargazing at any time of year.
Camping in the park
The various campgrounds within the park are free. Tents, campers and trailers are all welcome, and amenities include toilets and parking. As there are limitations on lighting after dark, it’s vital to set up before sundown. No generator use is allowed between 10:00 pm and 6:00 am.
Los Olmos Lodge, Glenwood
Beautiful and well-equipped self-catering cabins in one of the closest towns to the park. Amenities include WiFi, swimming pool, fishing pond.
From $100 per night.
Even if you’re in a place where it’s hot in the daytime, chances are it will get pretty cold at night – especially if you’re lying on the ground looking at the stars! Make sure to take plenty of warm clothes, a blanket to lie on and maybe a flask of hot soup!
It takes about half an hour for our eyes to completely adjust to the dark, so once you’re out in the dark, don’t be tempted to use your phone as it will ruin your night vision. And if you need to use a torch, cover it with red film.
There’s no need to carry lots of equipment around, but a good telescope or pair of binoculars will improve your experience. For photography, a tripod is a must. If you don’t want to carry anything, that’s fine! At each of the places on our list, plus plenty of other amazing stargazing spots all over the world, you’ll be surprised at what you can see with your eyes alone.
Not all nights are good for stargazing. Always check the weather – cloudy nights are no good, of course! But something that many people don’t realise is the effect the moon has on star visibility. A full or even half moon will drown out many stars – so try to pick nights when the moon is out of view.
Alongside the rise in ‘astro-tourism’, astrophotography has become more and more accessible as cameras and even smartphones advance technologically. With minimal equipment, even the most amateur stargazer can capture breathtaking images of the night sky.
If you want to try your hand at astrophotography, you’ll need a good camera, a tripod, and preferably a telescope. All of our picks below feature observatories where it will be possible to try some astrophotography, but be aware that the observatories are not always open to the public.
So, there you have it! We hope that this short guide to our favourite stargazing spots throughout the world has inspired you to consider something a bit different for your next holiday. And whatever you decide, we hope we’ve reminded you to get out there and look at the night sky, wherever you are! There’s no need to be in the most remote parts of the world to try stargazing – anywhere that has minimal light will allow you to see some of the wonders of the universe.