Stargaze in these 7 best European spots for astrotourism

Jul 24, 2021

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If you want to enjoy the starry night sky on your next vacation, consider visiting one of these top destinations in Europe for astrotourism. The continent is full of beautiful spots to admire the stars, included a number of Dark Sky certified spots (reserves, parks, and sanctuaries) as well as Starlight Tourism destinations that are protected spaces specifically for stargazing.

While any wide open space sans light pollution is often apt for viewing the terrestrial sky, here are some of the top TPG recommend destinations for an astrotourism vacation.

1. La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain

La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain. (Photo by AntonioSolano/Getty Images)

La Palma is known as one of Europe’s best Starlight Tourism destinations, especially apt for stargazing thanks to its dry, high-altitude climate. The island, one of Spain’s seven Canary Islands, is also considered a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. La Palma was one of the first spots in Spain to apply special laws which ensure the sky stays clear of not just light pollution, but also radio electrical and atmospheric pollution, including overuse of aviation routes.

With 16 special viewpoints, “miradores astronómicos,” stargazers have plenty of spots to admire the sky. The most famous is the Roque de Los Muchachos observatory. Sitting at 8,000 feet above sea level, this observatory offers views of the stars from more than 13 different telescopes.

2. Alqueva, Portugal

A view of the Milky Way from Alqueva, Portugal. (Photo by muunique/Getty Images)

Named the very first Starlight Tourism Destination in the world, Alqueva is located in the serene Alentejo region of Portugal, an area that should definitely be on your bucket list, especially if you’d like to escape the summer crowds of Algarve or Lisbon.

Visit the Dark Sky Observatory in the small village of Cumeada, or simply enjoy sky views from the wide-open spaces of the countryside. The region is known for its quaint rolling hills, delicious cuisine and up-and-coming wine scene.

Related: 8 reasons Portugal is the perfect place to visit this summer

3. Iceland

An Icelandic night sky. (Photo courtesy of the Hotel Ranga Facebook page)

It’s hard to pick just one spot in Iceland for stargazing. The vast, natural landscape of the country is perfect for admiring the night sky, which includes those famed Northern Lights, of course. Just remember that summer is actually not the best time to spot them. Because the days are so long, and there’s that midnight sun phenomenon where the sun barely sets around the summer solstice. September through April is the prime time to admire the aurora, and if you do head over in winter, bundle up!

For a celestial-inspired getaway, consider the Hotel Ranga in southern Iceland which has its very own observatory complete with some seriously cool telescopes. Ranga even gives guests snowsuits to stay warm while stargazing in the winter! Non-hotel guests can book observatory tours in advance.

4. Bodmin Moor, UK

Sunsets at Bodmin Moor are just as beautiful as the starry night sky. (Photo by Alison Taylor Photography/Getty Images)

With plenty of wild moorlands, the U.K.’s serene countryside areas have little light pollution where the night sky can thrive in all its glory. Bodmin Moor is one of these areas, part of the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It also happens to be a Dark Sky Landscape.

By day, you can hike, stroll, ride bikes or admire the unique rock formations and archaeological sites such as the Cheesewring that are mildly reminiscent of Stonehenge’s sarsen stones. After taking in a gorgeous sunset, the night sky is full of bright, shining stars.

5. Zselickisfalud, Hungary

Stargaze in Hungary. (Photo by Ákos Németh/ EyeEm/Getty)

Zselickisfalud is home to Hungary‘s famous Zselic Csillagpark, or the Zselic Starry Park. Ideal for all types of travelers, including families, the park features a planetarium, observatory and expansive, woodsy grounds for strolling beneath stars (or during the day, if you prefer).

The park holds Dark Sky Park status, and also offers guided tours and educational programs ideal for both adults and children. There are even special theme nights you can join in for. The park is especially inclusive to those with disabilities and is handicap-accessible.

6. Galloway, Scotland

Scotland’s night sky. (Photo by Roddy Ross / EyeEm/Getty Images)

While many of Scotland’s far-flung isles are apt for viewing the Milky Way, Galloway Forest Park (one of the largest forests in the UK) is designated as a Dark Sky Park. It’s even won the Gold Tier Park award, meaning its night sky conditions are truly special when it comes to viewing the glowing stars.

Amid the forest’s 300-square-mile territory, visitors can view over 7,000 stars, as well as planets and even the Milky Way from the Observatory, the Visitor Centre or simply out in the park. You can also book tours and group sessions if you’d prefer a guided experience.

7. Pic du Midi, France

View the stars up high from the Hautes-Pyrénées in France. Photo by Christophe Lehenaff/Getty Images)

Admire the night sky from the Pyrénées at the Dark Sky Reserve Pic Du Midi in France. The protected area covers over 65% of the Hautes-Pyrénées, meaning the sky is pure and visible without light or electrical pollution.

One of the best ways to experience the area and sky is to spend the night at the hotel atop the mountains, arriving via cable car. The experience gives visitors special access to the Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées and the Charvin Dome with its iconic 400 mm Smith-Cassegrain telescope offering views of the galaxy that are up close and personal. The Pic du Midi hotel can only host 27 guests each night (with 12 double and three single rooms), so make sure to reserve this special experience in advance.

Bottom line

Even if you don’t want to plan an entire trip dedicated to night sky viewing, you can still easily visit many of these spots during a trip filled with other activities. For example, Alqueva is just a couple hours drive away from the Algarve coast in Portugal, and there’s plenty to do in the French Pyrénées besides stargazing. A night at Iceland’s Hotel Ranga can easily be combined with a variety of other outdoor activities and exploring. Either way, make sure you take an evening to take in the night sky, too!

(Featured image courtesy of Sergi Luque/EyeEm/Getty)

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