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Stokksnes, Iceland; © swen_stroop, AdobeStock

Starry night: These European countries offer the best stargazing experience

Stargazing is a delightful activity that many travellers enjoy while exploring Europe. However, to fully appreciate the beauty of the night sky, certain conditions need to be met. Factors such as light pollution, weather conditions, and the likelihood of seeing northern lights all contribute to making some countries the best stargazing destinations in Europe.

To help travellers find the perfect stargazing location, Holidu's travel experts have analysed data to identify the best spots in Europe. Stargazing and astro-tourism are currently popular travel trends, attracting travellers seeking unique and nature-based experiences. These trends lead adventurers to the darkest corners of the earth to observe celestial events like meteor showers, the Milky Way, and the Aurora Borealis.

For stargazing, optimal conditions include a moonless night and clear visibility. These allow observers to appreciate millions of stars with the naked eye. Therefore, the ranking of stargazing locations considered current data on light pollution, cloud-free visibility, and the probability of observing the Aurora Borealis.

The top-ranking spots in Europe also provide seclusion, tranquillity, and darkness, making them ideal for nature lovers.

VERMISCHTES best places northern lights Europe

Top 5 destinations for stargazing

1. Iceland

Based on data analysis, Iceland emerges as the prime location for those seeking to witness the breath-taking natural phenomenon of the Northern Lights and admire the starry night sky. The aurora borealis, a mesmerizing display of dancing lights in the night sky, is particularly visible in Iceland due to its optimal location in the centre of the Arctic Circle. The winter months offer many clear nights with excellent viewing conditions. Iceland boasts exceptional tourist facilities for stargazing and those wishing to experience the Northern Lights, with many accommodations providing specialized services, such as extra-large windows for stargazing or an exclusive aurora alarm service. The best stargazing locations in Iceland include Thingvellir National Park and Asbyrgi Gorge.

2. Ireland

Ireland's rural regions provide an idyllic setting for stargazing due to the absence of artificial light, which is the primary source of light pollution. With an average surface brightness of 21.89 mag/arcsec2, a measurement of sky luminance, Ireland's stargazing spots are among the darkest in the world. In contrast, cities like Berlin or Cologne have a luminance of approximately 18 mag/arcsec2. This natural darkness enables unobstructed views of the vast expanse of our galaxy, making Ireland a sought-after destination for stargazing, observatory visits, and other related experiences. On certain nights, there is even a possibility of witnessing the Northern Lights. The Mayo Dark Sky Park and County Kerry are among the best places to stargaze in Ireland.

3 Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

Seasoned astronomy enthusiasts suggest that Northern Ireland is the ultimate hidden gem if you're seeking an intimate encounter with the cosmos and constellations. With the right timing, you may even catch a glimpse of the awe-inspiring aurora borealis. The ideal timeframe is from September through March, when the nights are significantly lengthier and the likelihood of an unobstructed sky, based on weather statistics, is quite high. The most optimal location for stargazing in Northern Ireland is Davagh Forest.

4. Germany

Even in this country, there are areas that are sufficiently dark at night to offer a breathtaking view of the night sky and stars. The Rhön Star Park, Westhavelland in Brandenburg, and Pellworm and Spiekeroog islands in the North Sea are exceptional for recreational astronomy. These German stargazing spots are particularly accessible and score well during the Perseids or other astronomical events. However, it's impossible to see the northern lights in Germany as this luminous phenomenon, triggered by solar winds and Earth's magnetic field, is visible only in Europe north of the Arctic Circle. The top stargazing locations in Germany are the Sternenpark Rhön, Westhavelland, Pellworm Island, and Spiekeroog Island.

5 Finland

Finnish long and dark winters are ideal for amateur stargazers. Nights are often particularly clear and cloud-free, which allows for particularly magnificent views of the starry sky. In addition, Finland is located in a region with particularly high auroral activity, which makes it the place to be for stargazers from all over Europe. A special highlight for your travel are the special aurora cabins that can be rented. They are usually located in remote and rural areas with very few light emissions. They offer an unparalleled and private view of what are probably the most beautiful light displays in the northern night sky. The best stargazing spots in Finland: Saariselkä region, Ylläs town.

VERMISCHTES AdobeStock 341258330Dartmoor National Park, Great Britain; © Arthur Cauty, AdobeStock

This article is from the 1/2023 issue of the magazine "Life Abroad".

The magazine is published four times a year free of charge with many informative articles on foreign topics.

It is published by the BDAE, the expert for protection abroad.