In most towns and cities, we have got so used to light pollution that we don’t realise the magical spectacle of twinkling stars that we are missing out on when day turns to night. Luckily though, there are still places around the UK that are perfect for stargazing, including a selection of spots in Yorkshire.
Both the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors were named International Dark Sky Reserves in 2020 due to their lack of light pollution, so North Yorkshire is a great place to head to if you fancy seeing stars.
To help you make the most of Yorkshire’s dark skies, this handy guide highlights the best places to go stargazing and tells you some of the things you can see in the skies above.
What to look out for in the dark skies of Yorkshire
On a clear night, you can see around 2,000 individual stars in the dark skies of the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks with other spectacles such as the Milky Way and meteor showers all visible to stargazers at different times of the year. The darkest skies are always during the new moon phase which lasts for two weeks after a full moon.
There are various times of year when you can see the glowing streaks of a meteor shower in the skies above Yorkshire. One of the most spectacular is the Perseids during April where, at its peak, you can see hundreds of meteors shooting through the sky. Other showers include the Orionids in October, the Leonids in November and the Geminids in December.
The best place to see the northern lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, is in the North York Moors National Park with sightings more common towards the coast. According to the Met Office, the best times of year to see the spectacular colours of the northern lights are March to April and September to October.
The brightest star in the sky is Polaris or the Pole Star which is always seen in the north of the sky close to Ursa Major, which is also known as The Great Bear. This is the constellation that contains The Plough, one of the most recognisable groups of stars. Looking to the south of the sky, you can see Gemini containing the bright twin stars of Castor and Pollux in spring, and Pegasus during autumn and winter.
Look up to the sky to see the Milky Way above Yorkshire during autumn and early winter. It appears as a hazy band of light between the constellations of Cassiopeia and Cygnus and is formed by billions of stars clustered together in a spiral.
Other things to see while stargazing in Yorkshire:
- The planets of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are all visible in the dark skies of Yorkshire; you can tell planets from stars as stars twinkle and planets don’t.
- The International Space Station circles the earth every 90 minutes and appears as a bright white dot in the sky.
- Andromeda Galaxy is the furthest point you can see with the naked eye and looks like a streak of light below Cassiopeia. Using binoculars you’ll see it’s actually shaped like a rugby ball.
- Shooting stars, which are not really stars at all but small pieces of rock and dust that are burning in the sky!
Where to go stargazing in the Yorkshire Dales National Park
There are a quartet of official Dark Sky Discovery sites in the Yorkshire Dales National Park but, as the whole area has been designated an International Dark Sky Reserve, there are vast swathes of the national park that have no light pollution.
The four Dark Sky Discovery sites are Hawes, Buckden and Malham National Park Centres, plus the Tan Hill Inn, which are accessible to all with parking and other on-site facilities.
Hawes National Park Centre
Hawes National Park Centre is part of the Dales Countryside Museum and has a large car park where you can set up your telescope, and the Firebox Cafe close by where you can get refreshments. You can also explore the market town of Hawes with attractions such as the Wensleydale Creamery before day turns to night.
Buckden National Park Car Park
Located close to the Buck Inn pub and at the bottom of Buckden Pike, Buckden National Park Car Park is a Dark Sky Discovery site and another great choice for stargazing. There are several more lovely villages close by like Kettlewell and Starbotton so lots of options for a scenic walk before settling down to watch some stars.
Malham National Park Centre
Malham National Park Centre is located in a characterful stone building that’s surrounded by some of the most dramatic scenery in the Yorkshire Dales National Park Centre. Things to see around Malham include Janet’s Foss waterfall and the limestone pavements of Malham Cove before making the most of dark skies in the Malham National Park Car Park.
Tan Hill Inn
Nestled in a remote part of Swaledale, the Tan Hill Inn is the highest pub in Britain at 528 metres above sea level with dramatically dark skies that are just right for stargazing. The characterful country inn dates back to the 17th century and you can combine spotting stars with enjoying some hearty pub grub during an evening visit to the Tan Hill Inn.
Yorke’s Folly Car Park
Located on the edge of Pateley Bridge lies a pair of 18th-century stone pillars called Yorke’s Folly. The hillside location of this Georgian folly looks out over the rolling hills of Nidderdale and, when night falls, you can look up to the sky and see a kaleidoscope of twinkling stars above you.
Where to go stargazing in the North York Moors National Park
The North York Moors have long been a popular spot for stargazers thanks to regular sightings of the Milky Way and northern lights in the national park. The entire North York Moors National Park was made an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2020 and there are three special Dark Sky Discovery sites to visit: Sutton Bank, Dalby Forest and Danby.
The middle of Dalby Forest is officially the darkest place in the North York Moors National Park and there are a couple of dedicated observatories here and a special planetarium where you can enjoy the night sky at its best. Not only is Dalby Forest a Dark Sky Discovery site, but it also has Milky Way Status and there’s a brilliant on-site visitor centre where you can pick up lots of useful information. Dalby Forest is also jam-packed with family-friendly activities making it a great destination for day or evening.
Danby Lodge National Park Centre
The Danby Lodge National Park Centre is another Dark Sky Discovery site with very low levels of light pollution and regular stargazing events. It’s located in a lovely stone building on the banks of the River Esk with sweeping views of the surrounding moorland. There are also on-site exhibitions, play areas and a variety of woodland and riverside walking trails.
Sutton Bank National Park Centre
The elevated location of Sutton Bank looks out over the Vale of York and Gormire Lake, which was described by Yorkshire vet James Herriot as ‘the finest view in England’. Nestled under the big skies, at Sutton Bank National Park centre you’ll find cycling trails, adventure play areas and a special Star Hub with powerful telescopes, outdoor seating areas and regular events led by astronomers.
With an elevation of 1,325 feet, Blakey Ridge is the highest point in the North York Moors National Park. The remote location is a popular choice for walkers and stargazers because, after enjoying views over Rosedale and Farndale in the daytime and dramatically dark skies in the evening, you can warm up with a drink in The Lion Inn.
The North York Moors heritage coastline is a great place to try and see the northern lights, and one of the best coastal spots for stargazing is at Boulby Cliffs which is the highest cliff on the east coast of England with little to no light pollution. Other top coastal locations in the North York Moors National Park include Kettleness and Ravenscar.
North York Moors cottages
Observatories in Yorkshire
If you fancy seeing the sky above through powerful telescopes and learning about astronomy from the experts, a visit to an observatory is a great option for stargazing. Here are some of the best ones for making the most of Yorkshire’s dark skies:
- Lime Tree Observatory is located in the small village of Grewelthorpe which is part of the Nidderdale AONB. Regular public events take place in the stargazing dome and it is also available for private bookings.
- York Observatory is located in York Museum Gardens and dates back to 1832 making it the oldest working observatory in Yorkshire. It’s only open on limited dates throughout the year but a collection of historic telescopes is on permanent display at York Castle Museum.
- The Astronomy Centre is located high in the South Pennines moorland above Todmorden on the border of Yorkshire and Lancashire. It’s open to the public on Saturday evenings and also has a Camera Obscura projection table which is one of the largest in the UK.
- Rosse Observatory in Pontefract was opened by Sir Patrick Moore in the 1970s and it’s now the home of the West Yorkshire Astronomical Society. Meetings take place on Tuesdays and are open to anyone who wants to attend.
Dark Skies Festival in Yorkshire
The Dark Skies Festival takes place over 16 days in February and is a celebration of stargazing throughout the UK. There are special events as part of the Dark Skies Festival in both the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks so it’s a great opportunity for anyone new to stargazing to give it a try.
- The Dark Skies Festival in the Yorkshire Dales includes sessions at How Stean Gorge where you can combine stargazing with canoeing, informative workshops and self-guided trails around some of the national park.
- The Dark Skies Festival in the North York Moors has special guided walks around Goathland, Sutton Bank, Helmsley and Robin Hood’s Bay along with photography sessions and family-friendly stargazing talks at the Dalby Forest planetarium.
How to make the most of dark skies in Yorkshire
Stargazing in the dark skies of Yorkshire is an activity that’s easily accessible to everyone. Even if you’re completely new to it and have only basic equipment, you’ll be amazed at what you can see in the sky above. Here are some suggestions to help you make the most of an evening under the stars:
Smartphone apps and websites
There are lots of great smartphone apps and websites that can help you find specific stars and constellations in the dark skies of Yorkshire. We recommend Skyview Lite where you simply point your phone at a section of the sky and it will tell you what’s there and Star and Planet finder where you select what you want to find and it will tell you where to look. Go Stargazing is also a fantastic website with lots of helpful information and maps.
Although there’s a lot you can see with the naked eye, bringing along even a cheap pair of binoculars or an entry-level telescope will help you to see stars and planets more clearly. A red torch is also useful as it means you’ll be able to see your surroundings without adding light pollution. Always remember to wrap up warm and bring along a rug or folding chair to make things more comfortable.
Where to stay to stargaze in Yorkshire
You’ll find plenty of Yorkshire cottages dotted around the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Park that are just right for a stargazing holiday.
Springhill Farm Cottage
You can soak in the hot tub under the dark skies of the Yorkshire Dales at this romantic Wensleydale holiday cottage that’s surrounded by lovely countryside near Jervaulx Abbey.
This detached two-bedroom farmhouse dates back to the 17th century and comes with panoramic views of the dramatic landscape at the western edge of the Yorkshire Dales near Dent.
Vale Cottage at Wellspring Farm
This North York Moors holiday cottage sleeps eight and is just a short drive from Scarborough and the coast. The large gardens even feature a special stargazing pod for making the most of the dark night skies.
Plan your Yorkshire getaway
This is just a small selection of the properties available. Browse our full range of Yorkshire cottages to find your perfect base.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.