Many look at Winter Solstice as simply the darkest day of the year, but for stargazers looking to escape the light, it brings a perfect opportunity to inspect the night sky. Whether you’re an amateur astronomer or a cosmic expert, stargazing has been a popular hobby for millions since ancient times.
Gazing up at the sky for a little bit of solace or escapism from our busy lives has continued to rise in popularity as Astro tourism sees travellers venturing to breath-taking off-the-grid destinations to experience the unparalleled beauty of our galaxy.
From Northumberland to Iceland, you can find pockets of the planet open to the clearest and darkest skies, and with the Winter Solstice coming up it’s time to make the most of the long nights.
The winter solstice is also known as the hibernal solstice, and occurs when either of Earth’s poles reaches its maximum tilt away from the Sun. In the Northern Hemisphere the Winter solstice marks the 24 hour period with the fewest hours of daylight. The solstice also marks the first day of winter in the astronomical calendar, whilst in the meteorological calendar, we are already three weeks into winter.
The travel experts at Scott Dunn have rounded up the best European destinations for unforgettable astral adventures this winter. So, where are the best places to stargaze this winter solstice? Here’s a breakdown of the best places to catch the magic of the night sky.
When is the Winter Solstice?
Winter Solstice will take place on December 21.
Where are the best places in the world to stargaze?
1. Brandenburg, Germany – Westhavelland
Westhavelland Nature Park in Brandenburg, is around a two hour drive from Germany’s capital city, Berlin. The spot is known as a dark sky region, and officially recognised for its low levels of pollution. According to Scott Dunn, the best time to go is in early spring and late autumn, especially the days before and after each new Moon, as that’s when the sky is darkest and it can help see the stars clearly.
2. Northumberland, UK – Kielder Forest Park
Kielder Forest Park was awarded Dark Sky status by the Dark Sky Association. Kielder Forest Park is the largest Dark Sky Park in the whole of the UK and the second largest in Europe. According to Scott Dunn, the best time to go is in autumn and winter when the skies are darker for longer and you are more than likely to see an array of stars, the Milky Way, and the Andromeda Galaxy.
3. County Kerry, Ireland – Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve
The Kerry Dark Sky Reserve is one of only three Gold Tier Reserves in the world. This is the highest tier that can be awarded by the International Dark-Sky Association. The best time to visit is around the time of meteor showers and when the moonlight is least likely to affect your view.
4. East of Reykjavik, Iceland – Thingvellir National Park
One of the most famous tourist destinations in Iceland, Thingvellir National Park gets extremely dark at night, making it a popular spot to see the Northern Lights. September to March is the best time to see the northern lights and stargazing due to shorter days.
5. La Palma, Spain - Mirador Llano del Jable
La Palma is one of the Spanish Canary Islands and Mirador Llano del Jable is said to be one of the best places in the world to see the Milky Way. With streetlights specifically designed to avoid light pollution and the island being protected by law, La Palma is recognised as a starlight reserve due to the quality of its skies and is extremely well-placed for stargazing. January is the ideal time to go, turning your eyes to the skies just after nightfall.