What are the best stargazing locations in Dorset?

11 June 2024

When the sky cloaks itself in its dark night-time shroud, it reveals a canvas littered with an incredible tapestry of stars. For those of you who cherish the beauty of these celestial bodies, stargazing becomes an activity of supreme joy. However, the light pollution in urban areas often spoils this experience. That's where the idyllic and pristine countryside of Dorset comes into play. Nestled along the English Channel to the south of England, Dorset offers some of the best stargazing locations in the country.

In this article, we have collated comprehensive info on the best sites to chase the stars, far away from the bright city lights. Dorset, with its sprawling national parks and reserves, provides a perfect backdrop for such an astronomical pursuit.

Cranborne Chase - An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

The Cranborne Chase, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), spans parts of Dorset, Hampshire, and Wiltshire. This extensive rural landscape, a haven of tranquillity, encompasses a large part of the ancient forest areas, providing a perfect stage for stargazing.

The expansive coastlines, open farmlands, and ancient woodlands offer unparalleled views of the night skies. In 2019, Cranborne Chase achieved the prestigious status of International Dark Sky Reserve (IDSR), becoming the 14th such place in the world to earn this title.

The lack of light pollution in this reserve ensures that the night sky retains its original beauty. During a clear night, you can easily spot celestial bodies such as the Milky Way, Andromeda galaxy, various nebulae, and a multitude of stars and planets. The site also offers various stargazing events and dark skies celebrations throughout the year, making it an excellent hub for both seasoned and novice astronomers.

The Forest of Dean and Wye Valley

This enchanting forest area, although not entirely in Dorset, is easily accessible to its residents and visitors. The Forest of Dean and Wye Valley is an AONB that stretches across the borders of England and Wales, offering some of the best stargazing spots in the region.

With minimal light pollution, the area provides an opportunity to gaze at the stars from various viewpoints and clearings. The forest also hosts several stargazing events throughout the year, often managed by local astronomy clubs. One of the most popular events is the annual Forest of Dean Star Party, a gathering of astronomy enthusiasts who spend a few nights observing the night sky's wonders.

Notably, the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley is attempting to attain the esteemed status of an International Dark Sky Park, which would further cement its position as a prime stargazing location.

Durlston Country Park and National Nature Reserve

Durlston Country Park and National Nature Reserve offers an unparalleled stargazing experience, with its vast open spaces and panoramic views of the night sky. Located on the Jurassic Coast in Swanage, Dorset, Durlston's location by the sea adds another dimension to the stargazing experience, with the twinkling stars reflected on the water's surface.

The reserve, which spans over 320 acres, also houses the Durlston Astronomy Centre, a well-equipped facility that regularly hosts star parties, workshops, and talks. Here, you can not only learn about the science behind the stars but also get hands-on experience with telescopes and other astronomical equipment.

Dorset's Dark Skies Festivals

The dark skies of Dorset are celebrated annually during the Dorset's Dark Skies Festivals. These events, typically held in October and February, offer an array of activities such as stargazing walks, night sky photography workshops, and talks from renowned astronomers.

These festivals allow you to explore Dorset's best stargazing locations, with guides leading the way to the best spots for celestial viewing. You can also get hands-on experience with telescopes, learn to identify constellations, and even track satellites. The festivals are an excellent opportunity for budding astronomers to learn more about the night sky.


Dorset's natural beauty, coupled with its clear, dark skies, makes it a stargazer's paradise. Whether you're an experienced astronomer with a high-powered telescope or a novice just beginning to explore the cosmos, Dorset's landscapes offer an unparalleled stargazing experience. So, whether you plan to visit Cranborne Chase, explore the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley, or participate in Dorset's Dark Skies Festivals, remember to keep your eyes on the stars.

Exmoor National Park - A Dark Sky Reserve

Spanning across the counties of Somerset and Devon, a portion of the Exmoor National Park falls within the boundaries of Dorset. This national park is not only known for its remarkable landscapes but also for being internationally recognized as the first Dark Sky Reserve in Europe.

The park's commitment to reducing light pollution and promoting the importance of dark skies for wildlife and our health makes it a sought-after destination for astronomy enthusiasts. The vast open moorlands and deep river valleys provide unobstructed views of the night sky, allowing stargazers to observe celestial bodies with unrivalled clarity.

Additionally, the park authorities often collaborate with the National Trust and local astronomy clubs to organise a series of stargazing events. These events range from star parties to night hikes, guided tours, and even astrophotography workshops. The park's car parks are specially designed to offer perfect stargazing spots, with minimal light interference.

Whether you're an established astronomer or a stargazing beginner, the sweeping views of the milky way and other celestial wonders from Exmoor National Park are not to be missed.

North York Moors - A Starlit Wilderness

A bit farther afield but worth the journey, the North York Moors National Park is another stargazing gem. Although located in North Yorkshire, it is accessible to Dorset residents and visitors seeking a unique stargazing experience.

The park, recognised by the International Dark Sky Association, is one of England's largest expanses of heather moorland. Its low levels of light pollution and wide, open landscapes make it an ideal location for observing the night skies. Like the South Downs and Yorkshire Dales, it offers spectacular views of the Milky Way, shooting stars, and various constellations.

The park also provides numerous stargazing sites, including car parks, public rights of way, and open access land. The Sutton Bank National Park Centre, in particular, is a popular location for organised stargazing events, as it offers superior views of the night sky.


In the pursuit of celestial wonders, Dorset and its surroundings stand as unrivalled destinations. Its beautiful landscapes, coupled with dedicated efforts to mitigate light pollution, provide the perfect canvas to the night sky's artistry. From the Cranborne Chase to the North York Moors, each site offers a unique perspective of the sky above us. As you look towards the stars, remember that each of these locations offers more than just stargazing. They are part of our commitment to preserving the beauty of our night skies and our connection with the universe. So pack your telescope, choose your site, and prepare to marvel at the wonders of the cosmos in Dorset.

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