TOP Stargazing Spots In the UK: Scotland Edition

19th Jun 2024
TOP  Stargazing Spots In the UK: Scotland Edition

Welcome to the first instalment of our four-part series exploring the top stargazing spots in the UK, beginning with the breathtaking landscapes of Scotland. Renowned among seasoned astronomers, Scotland is a stargazer’s paradise, offering some of the darkest skies in Europe once you venture beyond the major cities. Its pristine night skies provide the perfect backdrop for your celestial explorations. So, let’s uncover the best locations for stargazing in this stunning country and tips on how to get the most out of such a fantastic experience.

What Can You See In Scotland’s Sky?

Scotland’s dark skies offer a truly immersive experience: countless stars, nebulae, and galaxies. Did you know that this country shares the same latitude as popular Northern Lights spotting hotspots such as Norway and Alaska? Nevertheless, one of the most important factors to consider is where you’re stargazing. For example, if you’re in a town or city, you may only be able to see a couple of hundred stars. But out in the countryside, you can witness thousands of them.


There are other things up in the night sky that look like stars but don’t behave like ones. For instance, you might see something that looks like a bright star but isn’t twinkling. The chances are, you’ve found a planet. There are five planets visible just to your eyes without using binoculars or a telescope: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. If the star you see is moving slowly, you may have seen a satellite. If it’s streaking quickly across the sky, you might have seen a shooting star or a meteor. But if you’re lucky enough to be out somewhere dark, perhaps one of Scotland’s international dark-sky places, then you might see the arc of the Milky Way stretching overhead. So, let’s get to the best places where you can witness all of these wonders.

TOP 5 Best Places in Scotland for Stargazing

Scotland boasts an abundance of locations offering stunning views of the stars. We’ve highlighted five of the best spots to help you plan your perfect stargazing trip. How do we choose the locations?

When it comes to finding the best places in Scotland for stargazing, researchers often rely on scientific data and specialised instruments to identify the darkest skies with minimal light pollution. One of the most widely used tools is the Bortle scale, a classification system that measures light pollution levels based on astronomical observations. This scale ranges from 1 (excellent dark-sky conditions) to 10 (inner-city sky glow), providing a standardised way to assess the quality of a location for stargazing.

1. Galloway Forest Park, Dumfries and Galloway


Bortle scale: 3/10

According to TimeOut, this place is crowned the top stargazing spot in the entire world. Look up at night in Galloway, and you’re likely to see a lot more stars than usual. With one of the darkest skies in Europe, this region is a stargazer’s dream. The sparse population in southwest Scotland means minimal light pollution, allowing for stunning celestial views.

    From Galloway Forest Park, where few people reside, you can see over 7,000 stars and planets on a clear night, with the bright band of the Milky Way arcing across the sky. Designated as Britain’s first Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association in 2009, Galloway Forest Park is recognised for its exceptional stargazing conditions.

    2. Cairngorms National Park

    Bortle scale: 2 to 5/10

    The Cairngorms National Park is a top stargazing destination in the UK, thanks to its low levels of light pollution from streetlights and residential areas. Communities within the park, like Tomintoul & Glenlivet, have made significant efforts to reduce light pollution and have been awarded the prestigious “International Dark Sky” status.

    The Aurora from Cairngorm Mountain
    The Aurora from Cairngorm Mountain. Credits: Gordon Mackie.

    What can you spot in the Cairngorms? First and foremost, meteor showers like “The Geminid” and the “Quadrantids.” Also, nebulas and other galaxies. The skies in the Cairngorms are so dark that you can see nebulae with just binoculars. Brighter nebulae, such as Orion’s Nebula (M42) and the Andromeda Galaxy (M33), are easily visible under these pristine conditions. For amateur stargazers, the Milky Way is an obvious highlight. Stretching from horizon to horizon, it appears as a blurred band of light composed of star clusters. 

    3. Moffat, Dumfries & Galloway

    Bortle scale: 2 to 4/10

    Moffat in Dumfries & Galloway holds the title of Europe’s first Dark Sky Town, thanks to its special street lighting designed to minimise light pollution and preserve the starry skies above. Just a mile outside of town, you’ll find a designated car park ideal for stargazing.

    In October 2021, the Moffat Community Observatory opened, offering regular public stargazing sessions and bookable Introduction to Astronomy classes.

    This observatory is a fantastic resource for both visitors and the local community. It consists of two log cabins and a three-meter diameter dome, housing a professional telescope that provides stunning views of various night sky objects.

    4. Isle of Coll, Inner Hebrides

    Bortle scale: 1 to 2/10

    The small church at Arinagour
    The small church at Arinagour at night. Credit:

    The remote Hebridean island of Coll is one of Scotland’s premier stargazing destinations. Officially designated a Dark Sky area in 2013, Coll offers an unparalleled celestial experience. With no streetlights (the nearest being 32 miles away), Coll’s skies remain naturally unpolluted. It is also a prime location for witnessing the Northern Lights, particularly in autumn and winter. 

    There are three official night sky viewing sites: Totronald RSPB Reserve, Cliad football pitch, and a spot overlooking Ariangour village. However, almost anywhere on Coll offers exceptional stargazing. For an immersive experience, you join “Coll & The Cosmos,” a weekend break in March and November designed for stargazers of all levels. 

    5. Glen Nevis Visitor Centre, Fort William

    Bortle scale: 3 to 4/10

    Glen Nevis Visitor Centre
    Glen Nevis Visitor Centre. Credit:

    Situated just a few miles outside Fort William, nestled below Ben Nevis, the UK’’’s highest mountain, the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre was the first place to be designated a Dark Sky Discovery Site in 2009. This makes it an excellent base for both stargazers and hikers aiming to reach the summit of Ben Nevis. However, it’s important to avoid attempting to climb this unforgiving mountain under the exceptionally dark night skies. The entire glen boasts a Milky Way Class rating, offering unparalleled stargazing opportunities.

    Scotland’s Best Stargazing Locations & Honourable Mentions

    Our list of the best places to view stars, nebulas, and the Milky Way in all its glory is not exhaustive. Here are some additional notable locations where you can gaze at the stars under Scotland’s dark skies.

    Stargazing map of Scotland

    1. Galloway Forest Park, Dumfries and Galloway
    2. Isle of Coll, Inner Hebrides
    3. Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides
    4. Melrose, Scottish Borders
    5. Taransay, Outer Hebrides
    6. Glen Nevis Visitor Centre, Fort William
    7. Eriska, Argyll and Bute
    8. Royal Observatory, Edinburgh
    9. Isle of Skye, Inner Hebrides
    10. Caithness, North Highlands

    This is just the beginning of our celestial journey through the United Kingdom, so stay tuned as we explore the starry realms of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland in the upcoming editions of this series. Let the stars be your guide, and may the night sky ignite your sense of wonder and curiosity for the mysteries beyond our world.

    Leave a Reply Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


    Related Articles

    Explore Orbital Today