If you happen to be an urbanite like me, you know that catching a glimpse of the starry sky is rare. Even without clouds and smog, the metropolitan glow outshines nature’s glittering extravaganza. Only once the city’s halo has faded in your rearview mirror and the night’s canopy begins to quiet the white noise, do the stars come out to play. The following five European destinations possess unrivalled backdrops for stargazers.
Canary Islands | La Palma
The “Land of Eternal Spring,” otherwise known as the Canary Islands, is a paradise within itself. Breathtaking volcanic mountains jut up from the Atlantic just west of Morocco and form the Spanish nationality archipelago. La Palma Island is home of the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos (one of Europe‚Äôs most prestigious astronomical observatories), but you don’t have to be an astrophysicist to enjoy a spectacular view of the galaxy. Llano del Jable and Llano de La Venta provide astonishing lookout points for constellation admirers of any level.
Scotland | Galloway Forest Park
Galloway Forest Park was the first Dark Sky Park created in the UK. The nature reserve’s goal is to conserve energy, leave a minimal impact on the environment, and educate the public about light pollution. By day, bike or stroll along the wooded trails and by night, appreciate the cosmic vista. The 300 square mile preserve boasts a Sky Quality Meter (SQM) scale reading of 21 to 23.6, of a possible 24; this places visitors of this southwestern Scotland haven in almost complete darkness.
Italy | Tuscany
Walk in the footsteps of Galileo Galilei, and appreciate “La Dulce Vida” (The Good Life) at the same time. Begin in Florence atop Arcetri Hill where Galileo recorded his astronomy observations through a refracting telescope; today the Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory rests upon this bluff. About a half hour trip north of the city center is Villa Demidoff Park, which hosts stargazing and cosmic themed events. Remember to bring a flashlight along, so that you can scope out the perfect grassy spot to lie down and stare up into the Tuscan sky.
Sweden | Kiruna
Set amongst the relatively unspoiled, Swedish Lapland territory and 90 miles north of the Arctic Circle, is the old mining town of Kiruna. From the end of May to mid-July, this region of the world experiences days filled with 24 hour sunlight; then, the months of December and January bring with them a period of perpetual darkness. Don’t assume Kiruna goes into hibernation mode, though. The winter season is the prime time to try to witness the captivating glow of the northern lights. Your chances of seeing the radiant waves of colorful light here are high, and the local tourism companies cater to sightseers with a number of enticing excursions. From snowshoeing to dog sledding or taking a sleigh ride to boarding a tour bus, there are guided trek options sure to please most anyone. If you are feeling a bit adventurous, spend a night at the ICEHOTEL while in this neck of the woods.
England | Stonehenge
What better setting is there to admire constellations than in the company of one of the Seven Wonders of the World? Access to Stonehenge is generally restricted to looking at the prehistoric monument from a roped-off distance, but there are a few exceptions to this constraint. During summer and winter solstices, people are permitted to get a much closer encounter with the massive circle of bluestones. It is also possible to arrange an evening visit to the World Heritage Site outside of the general admittance hours, but this needs to be requested in advance.
Whether you are an astrophysicist or someone who simply marvels at the beauty of a starlit sky, the stargazing destinations above are the perfect addition to anyone’s trip itinerary. For the best rates on flights to Europe, book your airfare to one of the above stellar locations with 1800FlyEurope.com.