Top eight stargazing destinations in Wales

Two International Dark Sky Reserves, a trail of Dark Sky Discovery Sites and the possibility of Wales becoming a Dark Sky Nation in the future have put Wales firmly on the celestial map.

On crystal-clear nights, the Milky Way shines in all its glory in the Brecon Beacons, and self-guided stargazing tours are facilitated by mapped Dark Sky Discovery Sites, which are real hotspots for setting up telescopes and cameras for astrophotography.

Photograph by Crown Copyright
By Visit Wales
Published 17 Dec 2021, 11:00 GMT

There’s plenty of space in Wales — where single-track roads whip their way to remote moors, mountains, lonely valleys and cliff-rimmed coastlines, with some of the best stargazing on Earth. These night skies are bola buwch — or as dark as the belly of a cow, as the Welsh say. Here, you’ll often be alone with the rustles and hoots of nocturnal creatures, your telescope or camera, thermos flask and the universe. Dusted with the glitter of stars, meteors and comets on clear, moonless nights, these skies don’t just look pretty, they give us the headspace to see the bigger picture. These are eight of our favourite stargazing spots across the country.

1. Brecon Beacons National Park

In the country’s southeast, where great fin-shaped peaks swoop down to glacier-carved valleys, the Brecon Beacons National Park was awarded Wales’ first International Dark Sky Reserve status in 2013. On crystal-clear nights, the Milky Way shines in all its glory here, and self-guided stargazing tours are facilitated by mapped Dark Sky Discovery Sites, which are real hotspots for setting up telescopes and cameras for astrophotography. There are many terrific places for observing the night skies, but among the most easily accessible are Llanthony Priory, the Usk and Crai reservoirs, Hay Bluff, castle-topped Carreg Cennen, Sugar Loaf Mountain and Llangorse Lake. 

2. Gower Coast

Just a whisper away from Swansea’s bright lights, but a galaxy away in spirit and dark sky potential, the Gower Peninsula AONB twinkles with some of Wales’ starriest skies. By night, the coast’s dunes, cliff-rimmed coves and vast wave-lashed sands take on a quiet, unexpected beauty, especially if you’re lucky enough to also glimpse the electric-blue flash of bioluminescent plankton. On beaches like Three Cliffs and Rhossili, your gaze is lifted across the Bristol Channel and up to vaulted, star-spangled skies. One of the darkest spots is Port Eynon, where with patience and good timing, you can sight meteors and the silvery swirl of the Milky Way. 

3. Berwyn Mountains

The Berwyn Mountains? Where’s that? Everyone’s eyes light up when you mention Snowdonia, but this off-the-beaten-track, sparsely populated region of silent moors and waterfall-splashed mountains in northeast Wales often draws blank looks. A trip here is a worthy leap into the unknown. With such minimal light pollution, you can stargaze from any given bluff or valley, but top dark sky billing goes to forest-rimmed, fjord-like Lake Vyrnwy, a moody, mysterious spot for peering up at the glow of distant galaxies and planets like Venus and Jupiter. 

The Milky Way is visible from the Three Cliffs Bay in the Gower Peninsula. 

Photograph by Alyn Wallace

4. Anglesey

Tacked onto Wales’ northwest coast and peering out across the tempestuous Irish Sea, Anglesey feels all the remoter, wilder and darker for the fact it’s an island. And it’s a beauty at that, with dunes, gentle coves, razor-edge cliffs and views across to the purple-bruised mountains of Snowdonia. In winter, you might be fortunate enough to see the Northern Lights flash away after dark, but on any given clear night, the stars and meteor showers can be wondrous. Wrap up warm and make for one of the lighthouses or headlands: east coast Penmon Point is an astrophotography favourite. 

5. Pembrokeshire

In Wales’ southwestern crook, Pembrokeshire wows with some of the country’s most rugged coastlines and darkest night skies. Much of the county is secluded enough to keep light pollution to a minimum. And there’s nothing more thrilling than tiptoeing down to a wild, cliff-backed bay just before nightfall and waiting in quiet anticipation for the stars to pop out one by one. On cloudless nights, you’re treated to fine sightings of the Milky Way and constellations like Orion and the Plough — at the Dark Sky Discovery Site at Broad Haven South, for instance. The word is that International Dark Sky Reserve status is in the offing. 

6. Llŷn Peninsula

Flicking out into the Irish Sea like a dragon’s backbone, the Llŷn Peninsula is a bracingly wild stretch of the Welsh coast, with great curving bays, ragged cliffs battered by winds and waves and the gnarly mountains of Snowdonia puckering up to the east. It’s a dramatic spot for some phenomenal stargazing, especially on the lesser-known west coast. Make for Porthor (Whistling Sands), where grassy cliffs tumble down to a gorgeous sweep of pale sand that squeaks or ‘whistles’ underfoot. In night skies here, there’s the chance of spotting globular clusters, nebulae and the neighbouring Andromeda Galaxy. 

The Snowdon Horseshoe, on the shores of Llyn Llydaw, is located inside Snowdonia National Park. 

Photograph by Alyn Wallace

7. Snowdonia

It’s not only the forbidding mountains that force you to gaze up in wide-eyed wonder in Snowdonia National Park. This International Dark Sky Reserve’s night skies are something else. Crest a rise, climb a ridge or stomp through bracken and bog at dusk and wait for the stars to show. With so much space and potential, this is one of the wildest places in the country to stargaze: peaks fling up to the heavens and the Milky Way reflects in inky lakes. In terms of where to go, the sky is the limit, but astronomers rave about the likes of glacier-gouged Llynnau Cregennen at the base of 2,930ft Cader Idris and Capel Garmon, a neolithic burial chamber above the Conwy Valley. 

8. Cambrian Mountains & Elan Valley

In the dark heart of Mid Wales, where narrow roads are patrolled by unruly sheep and moors give way to forgotten mountains, ancient woodlands, fast-flowing streams and the piercing blue lakes of the Elan Valley, the night skies are some of the world’s brightest. Known as the ‘desert of Wales’, this under-the-radar region is home to the 50-mile, self-guided Cambrian Mountains Astro Trail, stitching together nine Dark Sky Discovery Sites where the Milky Way is visible with the naked eye, among them the Llyn Brianne reservoir (Carmarthenshire), the Arch near Devil’s Bridge (Ceredigion) and the car park of the fittingly named Y Star Inn (Powys). 

For more information, head to visitwales.com

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